Occasionally, Belled likes to present nostalgia from a new or different perspective, so for this issue we're proud to bring you an exclusive article from Deborah D. Phillips-Carroll, a Little Rock artist whose painting of the Villa Marre earned her a place forever in Designing Women history.
In addition, we take a look at the acclaimed film festival winner, Sordid Lives, featuring our own Delta Burke, as well as update you on the status of another Delta's projects -- DAG.
'Designing Women' . . . How Great Thou Art
A DWFC Exclusive Report
by Deborah D. Phillips-Carroll
In the fall of 1987 while preparing to run an advertisement in a monthly publication about the Historic District, I chose to include a painting I had recently finished of the Historic Villa Marre in the Quapaw Quarter district of Little Rock, Arkansas. This historic home was used for private receptions, weddings and special functions and had most recently been chosen to be the model for Julia Sugarbaker's home on the new Designing Women show.
Designing Women was a new series featuring four identifiable female characters from the South with many similarities to my female friends and relatives. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, a Poplar Bluff native who wrote most of the show's early episodes, used names of many people and places familiar to Arkansans. The show was an instant hit and became my favorite show to watch. I even took time to record the shows in order to treat myself to "Designing Women Marathon Afternoons" when needing to relax -- and I have done so for the last 13 years.
Also during the fall of 1987, it was announced that the entire cast, as well as the dynamo team of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and her husband Harry Thomason, was going to be at a benefit to raise money for repairs to the Villa Marre. There was a local fan club sponsoring the event, and Bitty Martin, Rita Scott, LaDawn Fuhr and Paige Beavers planned the evening. Everyone rushed out and bought the limited tickets for the event scheduled for Friday, September 27th, 1987. The night was clear and the excitement was tremendous. The Villa Marre, a beautiful home that usually sits on a quiet corner in a historic district, was now the closest thing to Hollywood that Little Rock had seen. The backyard had been set up with a stage, music and tables where you could visit with friends or have your program signed by the cast.
Pictured above: Bitty Martin, LaDawn Fuhr and Page Beavers of Little Rock's original Designing Women Fan Club standing in front of the Villa Marre painting on the Designing Women set.
As a last minute thought and hoping to get signatures on it, I took with me that night the Villa Marre painting -- just completed on the 19th of September. My friend and I pushed our way through the crowd in the house to get to the backyard where sat the cast, all smiles and hugs with Little Rock's finest. I first approached Meshach Taylor. He was distinguished and friendly with a refreshing smile -- not unlike the character he plays, Anthony Bouvier. After waiting my turn I slipped my watercolor painting of Sugarbakers in front of him asking him to sign it. He was impressed with the painting and ask how he could get a copy of it for himself. He signed it, "To Deborah, a very talented lady. Meshach Taylor." I was thrilled!
The crowd was elbow to elbow by this time in this small backyard and it was hard to find your way to the cast members, but I made my way toward the line to the stage where Delta Burke sat while she signed autographs. She was beautiful in a blue dress with her hair up, if I remember correctly. When it was my turn, I showed her my painting to get her attention before asking for the autograph. Delta looked up and smiled -- inviting me to sit beside her on the stage while she asked me details about how I did the painting. She said that she thought they should have a copy of it on the show. I was breathless and honored that she was interested in a little artist from Little Rock. While she was signing the sky in the painting and talking to me, an impatient man in line said, "Would you please hurry up, there are others that want her autograph." Delta looked up at him and said in her best Suzanne voice, "Sir, you will just have to wait. She is a friend of mine!" Needless to say, I ranked this among one of my finest moments. She was stunning, charming and very friendly. She signed the painting, "To Deborah -- A fine & talented artist -- Love, Delta Burke."
Sitting at a table close by was Annie Potts. She was precious and more petite than I had expected. She had a crowd of people around her and was signing autographs. When I approached her with my painting she remarked about how much she liked the painting and thought it should be a poster for them or that it should be on the show. Annie was just as cute and spontaneous as her character Mary Jo is on the show. Linda Bloodworth was able to create characters that had resemblance to the actors portraying them, and Mary Jo and Annie seemed to be very similar. She was upbeat and friendly to everyone she met. She called a few people over to see the painting while she signed it, "To Deborah -- love your work. Love Annie Potts." With three of the cast loving my painting you can imagine how ecstatic I was by this time. My friend had gotten lost in the shuffle, but who cared! I was having the time of my life.
There were so many people; I was pushed in the line to the house where Jean was standing in the hall. All of my life I had been doing portraits but never had I been compelled to tell a perfect stranger that she was beautiful -- but I did say that to Jean Smart. She had not been in the crowd outside because she had not been feeling well, so she had found a place to rest in the house. She was tall, thin and had a flawless complexion that made her face look like porcelain. She seemed to have a shy and reserved personality like Charlene has had in similar situations on the show. Her signature on the painting says, "Deborah -- Best Wishes, Love Jean Smart." She disappeared from the crowd so many people did not get the opportunity to meet her.
At this point my head was so big from the compliments on my painting, it was hard to get it through the door. I was on a quest to get everyone's signature. Standing tall, handsome and confident in the doorway was Harry Thomason, husband of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and producer of the show. Little Rock was a familiar place to him having been his hometown at one time. His going from being a coach at a High School to a successful producer and owner of Mozark Productions gave many people hope to be able to fulfill their own dreams of going to Hollywood. I moved toward Harry and held my painting up for him to sign. As he signed, "Harry Thomason -- Producer Designing Women" I said, "You know, everyone that has seen this painting thinks it would be great to put it on the show." He looked up and smiled and remarked that it would be a good idea to do that. He told me to contact the production company and make arrangements. Yippee!!! The people on my favorite show had not only signed my painting but they wanted it on the show! Life couldn't get better than that.
The evening was almost over before I caught Dixie Carter and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason going out the gate. Much like her character Julia Sugarbaker, Dixie was the epitome of grace and decorum. She was characteristically dressed, thin and stunning. They were trying to get away from the crowd but politely took a moment to sign the painting. Beside her was Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. Linda looked very pleased that the evening was so successful and maybe even amazed at the reception she had from all of her fans in Little Rock. Linda had broken all the rules and all the expectations for a Southern girl to make it big in Hollywood, much less be the sole writer for a successful television show about a Decorating Firm. Linda was confidant, poised and had a trail of fans trying to get her attention. When she signed, "Linda Bloodworth-Thomason" on my painting, it was complete with the signatures of the entire initial cast. What an amazing night.
Click here to view a close up of the autographs from the painting.
For days after the event I could think of nothing else. Getting my painting on the show, my favorite show, was a dream come true. I did another painting like the one that they had signed and it was shipped off to Mozark Productions. Being an Advertising and Marketing person I took this opportunity to share my happiness with other fans. When I was contacted by production about when the painting would first appear, I thought the episode had an appropriate title; "How Great Thou Art." Of course they didn't mean -art- literally; the show was about the hymn, but I liked to think it was because of Great Art! There was a television store in my neighborhood and I persuaded them to let me have a 'Watch Party' at their store, and it was covered by our network affiliate, KTHV, Channel 11. All of my friends were invited and every television in the store was set to Designing Women. It was an honor to have my painting make its debut on an episode that was so touching. Dixie Carter has a beautiful voice, and when she sang "How Great Thou Art" there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
From season to season they put the painting in different locations on the wall by the stairs. The first time it was shown was in the second season on Feb. 22, 1988. The previous week I thought there was a glimpse of it during the show, "The Incredibly Elite Bona Fide Blue-Blood Beaumont Driving Club". A charming lady from Arkansas, Joann B. Martin, had won a walk-on for that show at the silent auction.
Pictured: Joann B. Martin (center) in her winning walk-on role. The photo (click to enlarge) is a little fuzzy, but notice the great view of the staircase and balcony.
"Tornado Watch" on February 26, 1990, had the Sugarbakers Design Firm hit by a tornado after a wild night with interesting characters. While they were cleaning up after the storm the camera showed the staircase and only one painting had survived the storm. There it was swinging on the wall -- my painting of Little Rock's own Villa Marre.
For the next few years I remained in touch with Mozark Productions and had a ball writing them letters about the great shots they had of my painting, but that those ladies kept getting in the way! Even to this day, the pride that I feel when I see a glimpse of the painting on the reruns of Designing Women helps me to relive the fun that it has brought me. During the shooting of the show, exterior shots of the Villa Marre were done showing the different seasons, days, nights and circumstances.
Everyone that I have ever heard talk about Designing Women can only sing the praises of the show. The professionalism of the cast, the timeliness of the topics and the wonderful words that were written by Linda Bloodworth-Thomason -- as well as the additional writers that came later -- made this show one that can never be duplicated. The topics and storylines were stretching the boundaries in Hollywood at the time but did wonders to put the 1980's in a capsule for all time. I will always admire the accomplishments that Linda had with this show as well as other projects that she has worked on to bring pride and honor to the women in her life.
Now, through the power of the Internet and through the wonderful Designing Women Tribute website, I am able to share my experience with fans around the country. In addition, I hope to soon announce that there will be a print of my painting available for purchase with a share of the sales going to help with the restoration of the Villa Marre. It has been fun feeling that I was part of the Designing Women family and making the prints will go for a worthy cause. Our Historic Properties are an important part of our lives and should be appreciated through restoration.
Thank you for all of the good times, Designing Women. You are missed.
Deborah D. Phillips-Carroll
**Photos from the personal collection of Deborah D. Phillips-Carroll, used with permission.
Delta Burke & An All-Star Cast Join Del Shores in 'Sordid Lives'
This summer, the acclaimed Film Festival entry Sordid Lives -- featuring Delta Burke in an ensemble cast -- finally makes its way to theaters.
Based on a play by award-winning playwright Del Shores, the film puts a comedic twist on a story of unconditional love, acceptance and "coming out" in a Texas family. Sometimes it takes a death to bring a family together -- in this case, the death of Grandma Peggy who was carrying on an illicit affair with a married man in a seedy Texas motel. It was the motel sink that got her when she tripped on G.W. Nethercott's (Beau Bridges) wooden leg. Her death brings home her grandson (Kirk Geiger), a struggling gay actor who must now face coming out to his family -- a group of wacky, trailer trash Texans who are constantly feuding.
His mother, Latrelle (Bonnie Bedelia), has a few problems to work out. Not only is she in denial about her son being gay, but she doesn't want to accept the circumstances of her mother's death and is constantly fighting with her sister La Vonda (Ann Walker) -- not over what they will get, but whether or not mamma is gonna wear a mink stole in her coffin. La Vonda has her own troubles too . . . she wants to get their brother (Leslie Jordan) out of the mental institution he's been in for over 20 years to "recover" from a bad case of homosexualism with a touch of transvestitism (he's lived his life dressed as Tammy Wynette), and she's best friends with her mother's illicit lover's wife Noleta Nethercott (Delta Burke).
Now Noleta is a woman scorned, and out for revenge. She goes a tad over the edge the night before the funeral and tries her hand at a bit of Thelma & Louise-style revenge therapy -- with La Vonda serving as her partner in crime!
Plus, throw in Olivia Newton-John as a honky-tonk lesbian singer named Bitsy Mae -- along with a collection of eccentric townsfolk played by such character actors as Newell Alexander, Sarah Hunley, Earl H. Bulluck, Rosemary Alexander and Beth Grant -- and through it all, the family members and friends are able to, accept, or at least join together for the funeral -- which of course has a few last minute surprises.
The film marks the directorial debut for playwright and screenwriter Del Shores, whose hit plays that have opened in Los Angeles include Southern Baptist Sissies, Sordid Lives, Daughters of the Lone Star State, Daddy's Dyin'. . .Who's Got The Will? and Cheatin'. Shores also wrote and executive produced the feature film Daddy's Dyin'. . .Who's Got The Will?, based on his play, for Propaganda/MGM in 1990. His television credits include Mr. & Mrs. Smith (writer/producer), Ned & Stacey (writer/producer), Touched By An Angel (writer) and pilots for every network.
Married for ten years before coming out in 1995, Shores claims Sordid Lives as his "coming out" play, which ran for a full year in Los Angeles where Del directed and produced. The 1999 film adaptation debuted at film festivals around the country last year, winning numerous awards including several Best Film and Audience Awards, paving the way for plans to release the film gradually around the country. On May 11th, Sordid Lives made a limited theatrical release in Los Angeles at the Sunset 5 Theater, and in Dallas at the Regent Highland Park Theater. Both theaters will be airing the film through this Memorial Day weekend. In addition, the Dobie Theater in Austin, Texas will be premiering the film this Friday (May 25), and a date of June 8th has been set for the San Francisco release at the historical Lumiere Theater.
Though many mainstream critics have panned the film for its "playbound" style and insultingly stereotypical script, Shores insists that the dialogue all rings true from his childhood in Texas, and the film has gotten solid audience reviews. So if you're up for a rip-roaring good time, keep you eye out for Sordid Lives this year in your area. We'd love to hear your feedback.
Official Sordid Lives Website &
Regent Entertainment Publicity
Photos used with the permission of Regent Entertainment
While we're on the topic of Delta, we thought we'd share the fate of her recent series DAG. I'm sure by now most of you have heard that the series has not been picked up for fall, however you may not know that not every episode aired. NBC expanded its initial order of 13 episodes to 17, but decided not to air the entire run -- ending the series after 15 episodes.
The final episode to air was actually the final filmed episode, serving not only as the intended season finale, but also as a fitting close to the series with Agent Daggett being promoted back to the A-Team.
However, may fans were disappointed not to have seen two of the episodes, and now NBC has scheduled at least one of them.
An unaired episode of DAG entitled "Mr. Daggett Goes to Washington" has been placed on the NBC schedule. This episode of DAG will air in its regular time slot on Tuesday, May 29th at 8:30pm EST. The second episode was orginally scheduled for June 5th, but has been pushed back indefinitely and will probably be rescheduled for sometime this summer. So, if you're a Delta fan, be sure to tune in!
Don't forget to Email "Belled" with reader feedback and to tell us where you think the "Designing Women" characters would be today for future issues!
(61) For which of his sons is Daddy Jones in town to buy a birthday present?
(62) What pet name does Daddy Jones call Bernice?
(63) What is Mrs. Peace's favorite color?
(64) What is Mary Jo's birthday present to Reese?
* Answers will appear in the next issue.
Trivia Answers from Issue #15
(57) On what film project did Hal Holbrook and Dixie Carter first meet?
"The Killing of Randy Webster"
(58) Which part of Reese was bitten in the bar fight in "Nightmare From Hee Haw"?
One of the hillbillies bit his ear.
(59) What is the age difference between Julia and Reese?
Reese is 10 years older than Julia.
(60) In what scene did Reese make his first appearance on Designing Women?
Reese first appeared in the restaurant scene in "I Do, I Don't"