This issue of "Belled" presents the fourth and final installment in our multi-issue celebration of Designing Women's 15th Anniversary. And as Breast Cancer Awareness Month draws to a close, this issue examines Designing Women's contribution to awareness and serves as a reminder that being aware extends beyond just October.
In addition, we'll fill you in on where Dixie Carter is moonlighting with husband Hal Holbrook as well as announce the winners of last issue's Emeril contest.
So enjoy, and please let us know what you've thought of our 4-part anniversary series by dropping a quick email to Belled@topthat.net.
"Old Spouses Never Die"
Be sure to check out the Episode Summary from Columbia Tri-Star for this episode. The summary page includes all the quotes referred to in this feature, as well as photos, commentary, and facts.
The episode "Old Spouses Never Die" was a milestone in Designing Women
history. Not only was this the episode that marked the triumphant return of
the series from its dreaded hiatus after a strong letter-writing campaign,
but it also presented the first in a series of strong women's issues for
which the series would be remembered. This one-hour episode touched the
hearts of the audience more than any other episode would that first season,
and it firmly established DW as a higher caliber of television.
The primary story arc of "Old Spouses Never Die" is the growing relationship
between Mary Jo and J.D. After months of dating, Mary Jo is torn between
her feelings for J.D. and her long-wounded self-image. Her ex-husband's
infidelities have left her feeling inadequate and undesirable as a woman,
and -- to add insult to injury -- her ex-husband, Ted, has taken to implying
Mary Jo is an unfit mother. Sexually, Mary Jo has always exhibited
timidity, but now even her motherhood seems in question to her, and the
result is virtual paralysis.
As was often the case in the first season of DW especially, Mary Jo voices
her frustration to her best friend, Charlene. Though Mary Jo's anxieties
are most clearly pronounced regarding what she's feeling as a result of
Ted's condemnations and the constant intrusions of J.D.'s ex-wife, she also
lets it slip that she has yet to consummate her relationship with J.D.
Charlene (admittedly a bit surprised that Mary Jo and J.D. haven't slept
together yet) is quick to get to the heart of the matter and seize what's
most critical in Mary Jo's current state of affairs -- the here and now.
After tending to Mary Jo's concerns about being a bad mother, Charlene
astutely and strongly counsels her friend: "Ted's just trying to control
you. You can't let him stop you from living your own life!" Even Julia
later offers "I think it's time you took the top of the cookie jar," but
Mary Jo is still frozen. She's barely been able to acknowledge her feelings
of inadequacy to herself at this point, let alone talk to J.D. honestly
Meanwhile, Anthony is battling his own fearful demon: Mr. Bebe, a thug from
his past who refuses to stay there. If Anthony can't come up with $5000 for
Mr. Bebe, he's "dead meat" -- and nothing Anthony has done to turn his life
around since his "unfortunate incarceration" can squelch the threat -- not
even Suzanne's valiant (even if misdirected) effort to tell off one of
Bebe's henchmen. With no hope of coming up with the payoff, Anthony is
consumed with finding ways to hide from Mr. Bebe and run away from the
problem at hand.
Intimate relationships, past mistakes, and financial problems. Issues which
wreak havoc on all of our lives at one point or another and often seem
If we're lucky.
In fact, Mary Jo's relationship problems with J.D. and Anthony's
life-and-death situation with Mr. Bebe aren't what viewers most remember
about this episode.
We remember our breath being taken away when Charlene whisked into
Sugarbaker's and announced that she didn't have cancer. We remember our
shock (exhibited on our behalf through Mary Jo, Julia, and Suzanne) that
cancer was even ever a possibility for Charlene (or any of them/us) before
Charlene happily announced it as a fear of the past.
And we remember our realization that Charlene's happy announcement wasn't
As was often the case as the series continued to explore issues, Charlene's
pure trust in people and sheer optimism made her the ideal character through
which writer, Linda Bloodworth, brought such issues to light. In this
episode, we see Charlene -- previously pumped with excitement over her Jerry
Lee Lewis tickets and contemplating such burning questions as who "Cole" of
coleslaw fame was -- suddenly facing her own mortality. Charlene's optimism
and good nature directs her to follow her doctor's advice and let him worry
about the lump in her breast. This particular and common reaction by the
character allowed Linda to expose a critical factor of breast cancer,
something that hit very close to home for both herself and her husband,
series co-creator Harry Thomason -- whose mother had recently passed away
from the disease.
At the time this episode originally aired, "Breast Cancer Awareness" didn't
exist in the social consciousness as it does today. As Linda Bloodworth
mentioned in last edition's exclusive interview, many of the issues she
raised on DW are not only still relevant, but most are unresolved if not
worse. Regarding breast cancer, however, the media and society in general
have not only improved regarding medical and educational programs, but the
bar continues to be raised.
October in particular, which has become Breast Cancer Awareness Month,
offers a wide array of media designed to teach women how to detect early
signs of cancer and its treatment, not to mention businesses and
entertainers working to raise funds for further medical research.
Television actresses are popping up all over their home networks making
public service announcements, and Lifetime Television just aired its annual
Women Rock! Girls & Guitars, concert -- all dedicated to the fight against
The most resounding message in these programs? Early detection. In spite of
all the progress and media attention given, about 192,000 women will be
diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and staggeringly close to 40,000
will die of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, the
nationwide community-based voluntary health organization, many of these
lives could have been saved by early diagnosis.
Charlene's case is an example of early detection -- a lump in her breast
found during a regular, routine exam; but without the subsequent tests and
diagnosis, she's in critical danger of the disease progressing past her
chance of survival. Though she trusts the "expert" advice of her physician,
Charlene isn't aware of his history of misdiagnosis and quite normally sees
no reason not to accept his advice to not worry about it. When Julia, Mary
Jo, and Suzanne urge her to get a second opinion, Charlene reasonably
argues: "Why should I get a second opinion? I LIKE this one!"
The Thomason's very personal experience with the misdiagnosis of breast
cancer prompted Linda to show her family's anger through the eyes -- and
mouth -- of Julia Sugarbaker. But unlike most of Julia's issue-based
theatrical tantrums designed not only to make a point but also to entertain
the audience, her comments to Charlene's doctor are rational and serious.
"You don't depend on medicine. Your weapon is intimidation. You're a
seemingly kind, benevolent authority figure who tells women to let you do
their worrying for them. Well there's just one thing wrong with that, Dr.
Mitchell; you don't have to do the dying."
With encouragement from her friends and co-workers, Charlene does get a
second opinion and schedules a biopsy. In the days preceding the test,
Charlene exhibits acute fear regarding the result and even goes so far as to
bequeath her most prized positions to her friends. Charlene is fortunate to
have a support system which is so critical for patients, family, and friends
facing breast cancer -- people who encourage her and emphasize the positive,
but who also allow her to express her fear honestly.
Since often women associate much of their self-worth with their breasts,
both sexually and reproductively, the fear of mortality among women
diagnosed with breast cancer is compounded by conflicting feelings about
their femininity and sexuality. Having two aunts who died from breast
cancer, Charlene decides she could live with a mastectomy if that's what her
survival entailed, and her greatest concern is losing her life: "It's just
that......I've never had children. I've never been to Europe. I've never
even seen Jerry Lee Lewis in concert."
Interestingly, Linda Bloodworth was able to further explore the part the
disease plays in women's lives in general and their self-image in
particular, through Mary Jo and her feelings of inadequacy in her
relationship with J.D. Though Mary Jo's insecurity stems from her
ex-husband's infidelities, her perceived lack of sexual experience, and the
doubt raised regarding her fitness as a mother, the result is still akin to
the situation faced by women whose breasts have been scarred, reduced or
removed because of breast cancer. Although the correlation was not direct
in this episode, DW subtly presented the emotional ramifications with which
many breast cancer patients struggle through Mary Jo.
Baring witness to Charlene's honesty regarding her fears seems to lend
courage to Mary Jo regarding her own. Surely, too, her friend's testimonial
that Mary Jo must live her own life when Charlene is now potentially
battling for her own has something to do with Mary Jo's ability to finally
be honest with herself and with J.D. about her fear of being intimate with
him. As a result, Mary Jo breaks through her fear, and she and J.D. take
their relationship to the next level. They even manage to draw lines with
their ex-spouses during a high-noon meeting of sorts in order to give
themselves the space in which to nurture their relationship. Though J.D. does
most of the talking during the confrontation, it serves to remind Mary Jo
how impressive it is being a team -- especially after fighting all her
Anthony, too, finds the courage to clear the hurdle previously thought
insurmountable. After realizing that if he runs from Mr. Bebe now, "I'll be
running from hoods the rest of my life," he goes to Bebe and tells him
straight out what his situation is and that Bebe is just going to have to
put his money where his mouth is. Bebe acknowledges respect for Anthony's
courage and gives him the opportunity to clean the slate through a single card draw
-- which Anthony wins.
When Charlene's biopsy results come back benign, her new physician
emphasizes that her battle isn't over -- every lump needs to be checked and
Charlene will have to be vigilant. At this point, no one has to remind
Charlene, or Mary Jo, or Anthony, Julia, and Suzanne, how precious life is;
as they celebrate their health and good fortune in having the family they've
become to count on, we know that they've all been changed, too. So have
many of us.
If the happy endings all around in this episode seem unrealistic, that's
okay. After all, Designing Women is what it is -- a situation comedy. But
it certainly deserves credit for raising consciousness through the genre and
contributing to a great number of real-life happy endings through this
episode. As Harry Thomason recalls: "We did an episode about breast cancer
that was based on a misdiagnosis of my mother's breast cancer by a doctor,
and we got hundreds of thousands of letters, and then we got many letters
from women that said 'After I saw your show I went and got a second opinion
and it saved my life.'"
**SPECIAL NOTES: TIPS FOR EARLY DETECTION
The American Cancer Society recommends that women age 40 and older have a mammogram every year. A mammogram is a x-ray of the breast that can detect cancer when itís very small which is often several years before a woman or her doctor would be able to feel or detect it.
Between the ages of 20-39, women should have a clinical breast examination administered by a health professional every three years. After the age of 40, women should have a breast exam by a health professional every year. Women age 20 and older should perform breast self-examination (BSE) every month.
It is good to perform breast self-examination (BSE) on a regular basis in order to get to know how your breasts normally feel so you can easily detect any changes. If a change does occur, you should see your doctor as soon as possible for evaluation. Changes may include:
swelling or lump in the breast or underarm area
nipple pain or turning inward of nipple
redness or soreness to the nipple or breast skin
discharge other than breast milk
Although most of the time these changes are not cancer, you should consult a physician to make sure. When found and treated in its earliest stage, breast cancer is highly curable. The American Cancer Society says that the five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer is 96% -- but early detection is the key.
"Entertainment Tonight: The Real Designing Women" - 4/00
American Cancer Society
WebMD/Lycos Health Guide
Technical research by Tara Sweeney
Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook Star in 'Love Letters'
Saturday, November 3, 8pm
E.J. Thomas Hall, Akron, OH
"Belled" Readers in the Cleveland area are in for quite a treat this coming
weekend! Designing Women and real-life couple Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook
will be in Akron performing A.R. Gurney's critically and popularly
acclaimed, Love Letters.
Love Letters is a sidesplitting and heartbreaking, two-person play about a
lifelong friendship, told entirely through letters. Andrew Makepeace Ladd,
III (Holbrook), a young boy born into wealth and privilege, and Melissa
Gardner (Carter), a young girl from a broken family who struggles for
identity and opportunity, begin scrawling notes to each other as childhood
classmates and the play chronicles a lifetime of emotions up through their
last written goodbyes.
Since taking Broadway by storm in 1989, Love Letters has been presented
regularly worldwide, starring many high profile thespian couples. Though
"Belled" Readers will most widely recognize Mr. and Mrs. Holbrook as Reese
Watson and Julia Sugarbaker, their theatrical backgrounds are extensive.
Most notably, Holbrook's famous portrayal of Mark Twain has earned him
numerous awards (including Tony and Drama Critic's Circle Awards), and
Carter has garnered critical praise for her performances as Mrs. Arbuthnot
in Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance, Blanch DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Maria Callas in the award winning play Master Class.
A.R. Gurney, Love Letters' playwright, is also award winning. As one of
America's most prolific and produced playwrights whose work focuses on the
issues and realities of middle-class American life, Gurney is
the recipient of a Drama Desk Award in 1971, a Rockefeller Award in
1977, and two Lucille Lortel Awards in 1989 and 1994.
Tickets for this one-time-only performance in the area range from $30
to $40 and can be purchased through the E.J. Thomas Hall ticket office
at 330.972.7570, as well as on their website (www.ejthomashall.com) and through TicketMaster.
Dixie and Hal are also tentatively scheduled to perform Love Letters
in other venues across the country next year. For more information, please
visit the Calendar section of dixiecarter.com.
The Cabaret: dixiecarter.com
Photo credit: @2001 Paul Smith, FeatureFlash
'Emeril' Contest Winners!
Plus, Burt Reynolds sounds off
Thanks to everyone who entered last issue's Emeril contest! Three winning entries were randomly drawn from the submissions, and we'd like to take this opportunity to announce the winners. But first, here's the answer to the prize-winning question:
What dish does Nora (Emeril's wife) want for dessert for her special birthday?
The Answer: New Orleans Lemon Icebox Pie
Cogratulations to our 1st and 2nd runner-up winners, Meredith Emigh and Melissa Schroer, who will each be receiving an Emeril script signed by the series' cast. The scripts are from a very special episode "The Sidekick" featuring an incredibly funny performance by Robert Urich and guest star Burt Reynolds -- whose appearance has already made national headlines.
And a very special congrats to our grand prize winner, Sandra Martinez, who will be receiving not only a signed copy of the script, but also a set of autographed Emeril Lagasse cookbooks, courtesy of Mozark Productions.
Thanks again to everyone who tuned in and participated.
In other Emeril news, NBC has announced that the series will not be airing during November, but is expected to return to the NBC schedule sometime in December with new episodes, including the already infamous "The Sidekick". "Belled" editors, Amie and John Paul were present at the taping of "The Sidekick," and as you may have already heard from national news outlets such as Variety and Access Hollywood, Burt Reynolds' on-camera comments included unscripted statements such as:
"If Jimmy Stewart, who was a general, and the Duke were around today, what they'd say to Osama bin Laden is what I want to say to him: 'In all sincerity, KISS MY ASS!'"
NBC has reportedly cleared this and other remarks made by Reynolds, and the episode is expected to air in December.
So with Burt Reynolds, coupled with an over-the-top performance by the always entertaining Robert Urich -- you won't want to miss it!
**Photo credit: NBC Publicity
(85) Which celebrity did Anthony introduce himself as after meeting the hitchhiking derelict who claimed his name was Calvin Klein?
(86) What entertainer was Charlene so excited to see in this episode?
(87) What prized possession did Charlene give to Mary Jo when she thought she was going to die?
(88) What did Anthony claim was wrong with him when Clifford and Otis found him in the hospital bed in Charlene's hospital room?
* Answers will appear in the next issue.
Trivia Answers from Issue #21
(81) On last week's Emeril which character made reference to a potential Designing Women reunion?
Jerry McKenney played by Robert Urich
(82) What recurring role did Sherri Shepherd (Melva) have on Everybody Loves Raymond?
Robert's partner, Sargent Judy Potter
(83) What other Linda Bloodworth show not mentioned here aired back-to-back with Women of the House on CBS Wednesdays?
(84) Which of Linda's series did Alice Ghostley (Bernice, DW) make a guest appearance on following Designing Women?