'The Real Designing Women'

Entertainment Tonight - April 22, 2000


On April 22, 2000, Entertainment Tonight aired its momentous Designing Women retrospective. Each of the original cast was featured in new interviews, sharing memories and anecdotes of their time on the series, coupled with informative background information on the show.

  • Segment One - Creating and casting the show, with fond memories.

  • Segment Two - Fans unite to save the series from cancellation.

  • Segment Three - The tackling of controversial topics.

  • Segment Four - Cupid strikes the set.

  • Segment Five - The press war that divided the series.

  • Segment Six - Delta's public struggle with her weight.


  • Segment One

    When it came to 80's era sitcoms, prime time was a comedic boys club ruled by Bill Cosby, Michael J. Fox, and Ted Danson. But in late September of 1986, four feisty Southern belles arrived on the scene, and they were ready to hold their own with the big boys.
    DIXIE CARTER: It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment.
    ANNIE POTTS: It was really sort of a ground-breaker.
    JEAN SMART: It was nice because there was no ego at all.
    DELTA BURKE: It was like a little band. Everyone has a different note to play, and we all came together and made music.

    It was like no other show on TV at the time. These Designing Women -- Delta Burke, Dixie Carter, Jean Smart and Annie Potts -- came along and slammed the door on centuries old stereotypes.
    DIXIE: We were the first Southern women anybody's noticed who had a grain of sense. We were smart, sassy, Southern women.
    But was America ready? Some early reactions cast a doubt.
    ANNIE: At first they thought "We don't want these women in our face like this." Y'know it wasn't exactly Laverne and Shirley.

    The actors, however, knew they had something special.
    DELTA: Right off the bat it felt as if we'd been together for a couple of years and the banter was happening really fast.
    DIXIE: At the first reading of the script, for example, when I heard Annie and Jean cut loose ... ::gasp:: ... I was just thrilled!

    Incredibly, none of the actresses has to audition for their roles. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason created the show with them in mind. In 1982 she had cast Delta and Dixie in the short-lived sitcom Filthy Rich, and Linda had asked Jean and Annie to co-star in one episode of 1985's Lime Street starring Robert Wagner.
    ANNIE: Jean and I went over and played these insane criminal sisters. It was very funny.
    So when the network asked for a new show, Linda knew exactly what she wanted, sort of, according to her husband and Designing Women Producer/Director Harry Thomason;
    HARRY THOMASON: She said "I want to get Jean Smart, Annie Potts, Delta Burke, and Dixie Carter and just have them talk.
    But the president of CBS wanted to know just what these working ladies would do.
    HARRY: She said "I don't have any idea." And they said "Well, they've gotta do something." And she said "Well, how 'bout they're designers?" And that's how Designing Women came about, all in the space of two hours.
    But Delta says the network was nervous about re-teaming her with Dixie.
    DELTA: So they cast someone else in the part, and I was just devasted, 'cause this was my part and she'd written it for me. But then it didn't work out, and I came it at the last 24 hours or 48 hours, something like that, and got to do the part.

    Now came the hard part. The first season, Linda wrote every single episode, becoming the first person to ever accomplish that feat.
    JEAN: ...And she wrote them in longhand, as I recall, on a legal pad, and usually the night before we started rehearsing. And I loved the fact that Linda would give us these long, sometimes PAGE long monologues ..... [although] sometimes she would give them to us the night of the show! Luckily the four of us were like word processors, and we just learned them and spit them out.

    Accompanying the four female leads were Richard Gilliland as Annie's boyfriend and Dixie's real-life husband, Hal Holbrook, as her TV beau. Hal repeatedly turned down the part until Linda played dirty.
    HAL HOLBROOK: Linda came to me one day and said "Hal, do you really want someone else making love to your wife?" I said "Okay, alright alright. I'll be in it."

    Meshach Taylor joined in the fourth episode of the first season as ex-con handyman, Anthony. He was the only black actor to audition.
    MESHACH TAYLOR: When I went in to audition for it, there was nothing written at all, it was strictly improvisational. And by the way, that was not an audition for a series regular. That was only a one-time shot.

    Meshach made such a splash, they gave him a full-time job. But the impression he made is nothing compared to one of his favorite moments that involved Dixie. In a scene gone wrong, she was supposed to take off her coat and reveal a red, white and blue outfit;
    MESHACH: She whipped open her coat, and everybody said ::gasp:: because her dress was all the way up here (motioning to his stomach) and she had on pantyhose, but she didn't have anything else on but that, and it was very revealing. And it's funny because she calls Hal "Mr. Holbrook," and she said "Oh, Mr. Holbrook. I'm so upset." And he said "I know, Darling, I know. Everybody out there saw your fancy, but it was very pretty." (Meshach laughs)

    Jean will never forget the sight of Dolly Parton. In 1990, Dolly starred in a dream sequence just after Jean had given birth in real life but was still wearing padding on the show because her character was pregnant.
    JEAN: Here's the gorgeous creature who's probably a size one, this incredible beaded gown, Scarlet O'Harra waist, all this hair, six inch heels -- she still came up to my shoulder, I swear.
    The country queen was such a fan she had asked to be on the show. Another avid viewer was none other than a future President. Linda had worked on Bill Clinton's campaign for Governor of Arkansas, and a band led by the President's brother Roger provided music on the set. Alice Ghostley, who joined the cast in the second season, remembers Roger well.
    ALICE GHOSTLEY: He was an awful lot of fun, and a nice man. I liked him a lot.

    As the show climbed to the top ten, the lives of the cast changed; or at least their pocketbooks did.
    DELTA: Dixie and I were just thrilled with the money.
    DIXIE: Designing Women let me throw silk all over the walls in my house, which I loved doing.
    DELTA: Jean's saying "I don't know. I don't want the money to change my life." Dixie and I just want to go ::slap, slap:: "What's wrong with you?!" We called her the actress. Jean was the actress. They called me the star.
    Today they all realize that it was a priceless experience. Delta knows exactly why it remains a classic.
    DELTA: Because it was so well written, and we were so damn good.



    She plays Kelsey Grammer's over-sexed sidekick on Frasier, but did you know that Peri Gilpin made a guest appearance on Designing Women the same year that Frasier hit the air?

    Segment Two

    Although Designing Women was a critical success from the very first episode, audiences were slow to discover the Southern sitcom, and after less than a year on the air, CBS shocked the cast by abruptly pulling the plug.
    DELTA: I got a phone call saying that they might be taking us off the air.
    MESHACH: It was devastating. We didn't understand why they didn't love us more. Y'know, or why they wouldn't stick with us a little bit longer to see if the show would have found its legs.

    Although CBS officially called the show's exit a hiatus, the cast was worried Designing Women would never return to the network schedule. They felt they had been abandoned by CBS, which aired the sitcom in four different timeslots in the first year alone.
    JEAN: They did move the show a lot. I remember my mother calling me up one day and saying "How do they expect any of us to find the show?"
    MESHACH: Some of us felt like it was because it was a show about women. When it came time to make a decision about what should go --- get rid o' them broads.

    Eager to save his show, Co-Executive Producer Harry Thomason rallied the Virginia-based group Viewers for Quality Television who started a letter-writing campaign, and the cast asked ET to help them get the word out to fans.

    In a 1986 on-set interview;
    DIXIE: Maybe they're waiting to see if public opinion is gonna be really strong for us. I mean, it would be major if people who did like our show write in and call and say that you liked us and would like to see us back.....on Monday nights.
    ANNIE: Write into Television City. Sign it to Bud Grant.
    Bud Grant was then the president of CBS and the focus of the letter-writing campaign. The Designing Women even went on a publicity tour, asking fans to deluge Grant's office with letters.
    DELTA: I had no shame. I would go on the road and say "Please, please write in, otherwise my poor sick grandmother will be out in the street with no roof over her head.

    All their efforts payed off. Letters poured into Grant's office in what was called the largest public outcry after the removal of a series in TV history.
    HARRY: And over 40,000 letters went to Bud Grant's office. The U.S. Post Office was making special deliveries to his office, and he was not a happy camper.
    MESHACH: The way they saw that is every letter is equal to like 2000 people who feel the same way. All of a sudden, you've got a couple million people that are really pissed that the show is off the air.

    Conceding defeat, Grant called Thomason with some good news.
    HARRY: I've sent a limo. You get all the women in the limo and come over here.
    DELTA: We were all called off to CBS, and there was a white flag on the flagpole.
    DIXIE: We were brought back, we were moved off of whatever horrible time we wound up, we were moved back to Monday nights, and from that moment on we were a hit.

    The show returned to the air in reruns and ratings instantly improved. As the cast got ready to begin filming their second season, ET was onhand to celebrate their triumphant return.
    In a 1987 cast party interview;
    DELTA: I'm just so grateful, and thankful and glad and relieved. I'd like to think that we'll all grow old doing the show. I'd like that.
    ANNIE: I only want to know what it feels like to be coming back for the sixth season.



    Segment Three

    Because the sitcom's co-creators were politically active, they made sure that Designing Women was one of the rare network series that tackled tough social issues, from racism to sexual harassment, and they tackled them hard.
    DIXIE CARTER: Rape, AIDS, breast cancer, abuse, menopause we did. We did a bunch of stuff.
    It seems no topic was off limits on Designing Women. Writer and executive producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason wanted to explore controversial subjects with intelligence and humor --- a new approach for sitcoms in the late eighties;
    DELTA BURKE: She was able to tackle all kinds of subjects because it was important to her.
    ANNIE POTTS: It was very much her soapbox.
    But at least one cast member wondered if it would work.
    JEAN SMART: I've always sort of felt that if you're going to be funny, then be funny, and let someone else do the drama in another project. Y'know you always see these shows where "It's a very special episode of....whatever" but I felt like Linda pulled it off, and we pulled it off, and those are the shows that people still often come up to me and say "Oh, that was one of my favorite episodes."

    The first season set the tone. Besides humorously dealing with the everday dramas of these sassy Southern ladies, the show tackled sexual harrassment and re-entering the dating scene after divorce. One poignant episode of that freshman year was inspired by a personal experience of Linda's husband, Co-Producer Harry Thomason.
    HARRY THOMASON: 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."
    The exploration of controversial topics continued in season two. Condoms for teens, interracial dating and women in the ministry received attention. So did AIDS, a subject close to the heart of the episode's writer.
    MESHACH TAYLOR: Linda Bloodworth-Thomason's mother died of HIV, which she contracted through a blood transfusion, so the Thomasons were very committed to getting information out there about HIV and AIDS.
    ANNIE: It certainly won us a place forever in the hearts of the gay community.

    Most people would find little amusement in racism, sexual harrassment or world hunger, but Designing Women struck the right cord. Though CBS gave Linda full reign, her liberal political leanings at times upset cast members.
    DIXIE: I would get to put forth some of Linda's political ideas or sociological ideas that were perhaps a little bit farther to the left than I was comfortable with.
    But Dixie and Linda found a way to compromise...
    DIXIE: If I would say the things that Linda wanted me to say, I would get to sing in one show a season, at least.

    And the cast was proud that their on-air debates led to real life discussions.
    DELTA: It worked because the way that Linda's words are..... she was able to artfully combine the comedy and have the humor where people would actually laugh, and then just seamlessly blend on over into the emotional.

    Although they never won any Emmys, the stars of Designing Women continue to have a loyal following. Now years after the show, we're catching up with the cast.
    JEAN: It had become a very cushy 9-to-5 job, and I didn't want to get quite that comfortable yet.
    Jean Smart left the show after five seasons and jumped right into a couple of other short-lived sitcoms, High Society and Style and Substance.
    JEAN: If I was ever afraid of being typecast, boy it hasn't happened.
    Jean also did a brief turn on Frasier this season playing a character as far away from sweet Charlene as she could possibly be.
    JEAN: I had so much fun. I got to play this psychotic woman that Kelsey had been in love with since high school. Going on that set is amazing. They have it down to a science, and they all still adore each other, and they adore doing the show.
    Smart also starred on the winter hit Snow Day but doesn't necessarily prefer film to TV.
    JEAN: I don't deliniate much between the two, except that television pays a lot more chucking.

    MESHACH: I did miss Anthony. I missed the things that Anthony said and the situations he would get into.
    Meshach Taylor also jumped into another sitcom, Dave's World with Harry Anderson, and this spring he was a panelist on the pilot for an updated version of To Tell the Truth.

    DIXIE: Designing Women had seven years and that's history -- I call that history, and I miss my companions on that show all the time. I don't watch the reruns because it makes me sad.
    Though Dixie Carter has the fondest memories of Designing Women, she's made a successful transition to CBS's hit show, Family Law.
    DIXIE: It's the best role I've had a shot at since Julia Sugarbaker. It's Southern, which means the notion that I can do something other than Southern, I guess, is gonna be.........well, nobody's ever gonna believe that.

    ANNIE: I immediately went into another series. That didn't stop for me at all. I went right to work.
    Annie Potts did two sitcoms after Designing Women, Love and War with Jay Thomas and Over the Top with Tim Curry, but soon grew tired of the format.
    ANNIE: I stopped doing half hour. I felt that that had really run its course for me. I just didn't want to tell another joke (smiling).
    Now Annie stars in the Lifetime series Any Day Now, but it weighing the possibility of quiting TV altogether.
    ANNIE: If I go two more years on Any Day Now, I believe that will make it something like seventeen consecutive years in prime time series television, and (smiling) I think that's long enough.



    Did you know that in 1993, both Della Reese and Sherman Hemsley made guest appearances on Designing Women? They played Meshach Taylor's in-laws after his character married actress Sheryl Lee Ralph.

    Segment Four

    When it came to men, their characters loved them and left them and constantly fought the battle of the sexes, but for Jean Smart and Delta Burke, playing those roles actually led to true love.
    DELTA BURKE: From the first day he came on the set, which was June 19, 1987, we've been together.
    JEAN: I met my husband, Richard Gilliland, on the fifth episode we shot.
    There was something in the water on the Designing Women set. Two of the show's stars, Dixie Carter and Hal Holbrook, were already real life husband and wife, and it wasn't long after Sugarbaker's opened for business that true love blossomed for two more of the feisty Southern belles.
    HARRY: From the first time Gerald McRaney walked on the set and Delta looked at him, everybody said "Uh oh, there's probably gonna be a wedding here." And sure enough, there was a wedding. And then of course, Jean Smart; we invited Richard Gilliland on to guest, and sure enough, the same thing.......

    At the start of the second season, producers decided to introduce Dash Goff, one of Delta's ex-husbands. The casting director had a few people in mind for the part, including fellow Southerner Gerald McRaney, star of the hit show Simon and Simon.
    DELTA BURKE: She said, "I'm considering either John Ritter or Gerald McRaney to play your first ex-husband." And I said, "Oh, get that Gerald McRaney. I think we'll have good chemisty."
    And get him she did. The two had briefly met once before and shared a very memorable hug.
    DELTA BURKE: Later he said my left bossom made an impression on him, which was the whole point of the hug.
    In the first scene they did together for the show, the script called for a very passionate kiss.
    DELTA BURKE: And we weren't just shooting it. He took my face in his hands and kissed me, and he was so good -- the kiss -- I had to stop, I just completely forgot my lines and I couldn't keep talking.
    JEAN: The two of them were completely inseparable after that. They were like two peas in a pod, and they seemed absolutely perfect for each other. He just swept her off her feet; I think he proposed on their second date.
    With her co-stars in attendance, Delta and Gerald walked down the isle on May 28, 1989.
    RICHARD GILLILAND: It was like the royal wedding. I mean, I didn't go to the royal wedding, but I feel like I did. There had to be four or five hundred, plus, people there. All I could think about was 'how much did this cost?'
    DELTA BURKE: I figured, y'know, I was never gonna get married, and here I am getting married. And I'm making good money on this show, and I'm spending all of my money on this wedding. And it was this extravaganza production. When I entered, there were supposed to be -- whatever the music that was playing, trumpets were supposed to play with it. But they got confused, and instead did some sort of triumphant trumpets blaring or something. And that's how I end up coming down the isle, with trumpets blaring.
    JEAN: It was as only a Southern belle could pull it off. It was great, great fun.

    Richard Gilliland was invited to do a recurring role on the show early in the first season, playing the love interest of Annie Potts. He already knew most of the women on the show, with one important exception...
    RICHARD: The first day that I got there, we had the table reading and I just locked eyes with Jean, maybe because she was the only one that I didn't know, and it was kind of...hello! And there was just something magical and special that happened there, so I wanted to recur.
    JEAN: I had never met him, and I just.......as Dixie would say "Got to have me some of that!"
    DELTA BURKE: It really was like a cupid with the arrow thing --- it was very immediate. She got really girly.
    But Delta had a little secret.
    DELTA BURKE: Jean's asking me all kinds of question, like what's he like? Does he have a girlfriend? So what's the deal? You didn't go out with him did you?
    JEAN: Delta. I don't know if Delta knows that I know this, but Delta and Richard went out a couple of times a few years before Richard and I met, and she was very sweet and she never told me, because it probably at the time might have upset me.
    Within four months of their first meeting they were engaged, and before the first season was over, wedding bells had rung.
    DIXIE: Hal and I were living in Brentwood/Bellaire area, and Jean and Richard got married in the garden behind our house.
    And they've been married ever since.

    And if there was a cupid at work, just maybe it was the show's producer, Harry Thomason.
    HARRY: Right....it felt like we were matchmakers there for a while.



    Segment Five

    As the cast wrapped up its 4th season, the cast had reason to celebrate; the show has scored its highest ratings to date. But a battle was brewing behind the scenes that ultimately tore the series apart.

    From 1990 interviews:
    GERALD MCRANEY: People have attacked my wife, and I was witness to quite a few of the abuses that she described in her press release, and I just don't feel that I can keep my mouth shut about this situation anymore.
    HARRY THOMASON: We believe that you shouldn't air dirty laundry in public, and it's ironic that we've all been drawn into this very public display.

    As the cast and crew of Designing Women began filming their fifth season, a public war of words and press releases was being waged. In one corner: producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason. In the other: Delta Burke and Gerald McRaney. The battle between these two married couples erupted when Delta was asked about working conditions on the set.
    From a 1990 interview:
    DELTA BURKE: It's tough and very last moment, very crazy, very stressful. But the girls are pros, and they work quickly and great together, and we pull it off.
    Although she declines to discuss the details now, in 1990, a visible weary Delta described how filming episodes of Designing Women stretched from one morning to the next.
    DELTA: We come in at 11, and we'll shoot quite often until 2 in the morning and sometimes 5 in the morning.
    GERALD: That's 11 in the morning, not 11 in the evening. 11 in the morning until -- I think your record is 5:30 in the morning.
    DELTA: Yeah, 5:30 in the morning. And, y'know your brain goes dead at at certain point.

    Though she never mentioned the producers by name, the message was clear, and the Thomasons fired back by revealing that Delta had once been suspended for delaying production by being late and not showing up for work.
    From 1990 interviews:
    HARRY: She didn't show up for work the first day, showed up 6 1/2 hours late the second day.......
    Burke also accused Thomason of berating her in front of the other actors. Describing one incident to ET, she said "He physically blocked my way from the door until he decided to allow me to leave. This abusive behavior continued until Mr. Thomason learned that my fiance was on his way." The sniping escalated.
    HARRY: Only in Hollywood do things often go unanswered. All kinds of charges are made and people say that's just show business. Well we don't believe that. This is a business like any other business, and if people level a charge at us that is untrue, then we expect to respond to it.
    GERALD: The mistake that these people have made is they've launched an attack against a woman of courage. And having none of that commodity, the attack is going to fail them.
    HARRY: She's been unhappy the last couple years and we've known it, we just don't know what to do about it.
    GERALD: Everytime they make a public statement, they say that they wish this could end. Well, if they want it ended, shut up.

    Despite the tension, Delta continued to work on the series, but the emotional tug-of-war took a toll on her costars.
    MESHACH TAYLOR: It wasn't just "I'm angry at you guys." She really would get so depressed that she couldn't stop crying.
    JEAN SMART: We tried to remain as neutral as possible about it and not take sides, but it became increasingly difficult.
    ANNIE POTTS: The show had been running five years at that time, and the last year or more that we were on it seemed like ten. It was hard to come to work and do the work because there was all that other junk.
    JEAN: I think there was fault on both sides. And, y'know, in a way I suppose a lot of shows go through that, and we'd had three years where it was a breeze, but the last two were a little difficult.

    This behind-the-scenes drama dragged out for months. Eventually Delta departed the show after five seasons. Now, years later, Delta admits that some of the tension came from all the press surrounding the controversy.
    DELTA: It just does a number to you, and there's no way you can be prepared for it because it's sort of like childbirth or Vietnam; you can try to understand it, but unless you've been through it, man, you just really can't comprehend. So, that blew me away. That was really hard.
    HARRY: And look, it's to everybody's credit that Delta and Linda are still friends to this day, did another show together, and I'm sure they'll work together again in the future.

    As Delta was departing the series, Jean Smart also turned in her notice. She left to pursue other acting projects and spend more time with her family. To fill the gap, producers brought in Julia Duffy and Jan Hooks. No one missed the fight, but they missed the spark.
    HARRY: It was never the same, there's no doubt about it, and there's no denying it. But it was still a good show, but by then Linda and myself had moved on to concentrate on Evening Shade over here, so we were somewhat disconnected from the show after year four.
    ANNIE: When Julia Duffy came in, I think they made a mistake with that character. I think they made a character that wasn't very likable. I think that tarnished the show.
    Julia Duffy left after her first season.
    JULIA DUFFY: It was just something that seemed to be for the best, at the end. There was only one season after that, but it certainly was not the easiest job that anyone ever had on that set, so the one year was plenty.



    Segment Six

    She played Suzanne Sugarbaker with flashy confidence and became a sex symbol overnight. But behind her sultry image, Delta Burke hid a private pain -- an intense insecurity linked to her struggle with her weight.
    DELTA: It's been quite the journey. When I started the show I thinked I weighed 140, which for Hollywood is just 'big fat girl.'

    For Delta Burke, fighting the battle of the bulge was nothing new. She had done so earlier as a Southern beauty queen and was no stranger to starvation diets. As early as the show's second season, she was already feeling the pressure to be thin.
    DELTA: You always hear rumors, and I heard a rumor that the network was gonna fire me if I didn't lose weight, so I started panicking.
    HARRY: And that's a myth that sort of lives on that the studio, or Linda and myself, or the network was on her about her weight. And nothing could be further from the truth.
    But Delta took it as gospel.
    DELTA: So I went into panic mode, y'know. Because in my twenties I'd always starved myself trying to be thin enough for the jobs because I was always being told "You're not thin enough." So then that becomes the button to push on you to make you go just completely freaky. And that's what I did. I began to panic about it and starve myself again, and I couldn't pull that off anymore.

    By the third season and after her marriage to Gerald McRaney, the tabloids set their sites on Delta.
    DELTA: And they're saying bizarre stuff, like I'm chasing Annie Potts around the stage trying to get a Snickers bar from her or something and she's locking herself in her room.
    ANNIE: It was heartbreaking, and we would say "Don't take it personally."
    JEAN: I don't know how she handled it. I really don't know how she did it. I don't know if I could have.

    But as her weight increased, and the tabloids continued their assault on her, Delta knew the subject could no longer be ignored on the show.
    DELTA: It had become this huge issue, no pun intended, and I was trying to have a little dignity about it. And finally, I went to Linda because it had not been addressed on the show, and went to Linda and I said, "We need to do a show about the weight."
    The episode, "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?" had Suzanne confronted the issue of her weight at her high school reunion.
    DELTA: I remember just before, or right around the time we were doing "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?" I did an ET interview, and it was the first time I spoke about the weight, and it was part of my trying to come to terms with it.
    From the 1989 interview: Ok, I'm not thin, I'm not perfect, but I'm pretty great. And just believe in yourself again, and you start to enjoy life again. And I thought, I want to do that. I don't want to have that taken away from me.
    The performance earned Delta an Emmy nomination -- the only one any of the four lead actresses would earn during the run of the show.
    DELTA: I began to feel better and stand taller and have more of a voice about the whole issue of the weight. And it was just a wonderful, wonderful moment for me.
    But despite the breakthrough, Delta's weight continued to climb.
    DELTA: Suzanne changed, and she became kind of a broad, kind of sassier. Her voice changed, her walk changed.
    JEAN: In a way, Delta became funnier and funnier. In a way, it seemed to give her some sort of freedom not having to be 'the beautiful one.'
    But what Delta was gaining in laughter, she was losing in self esteem.
    DELTA: I was just so down, and so depressed, and figured that I should just quit the business if I'm just this fat cow. And Annie would say........
    ANNIE: 'It doesn't make you any less sweet, any less funny, or any less beautiful.'
    DELTA: I just kind of shut down, and (half-jokingling) was not the fascinating persona you see before you today. I kind of just shut down and wanted to disappear and not draw any attention -- 'Please don't look at the fat girl over in the corner.'

    By the fifth season, Delta's depression was being felt by everyone on the set.
    DIXIE: It was evident. Well, we were all very close, so we all knew each other's business.
    MESHACH: She couldn't come out of her dressing room. I would go in, and we would talk for an hour. And we would get to the point of the discussion where she understood she had to get up and come out. And she did.
    While everyone agrees that Delta's performance never suffered, she left the show after year five.
    DELTA: Then I just kept going up and up and up, and got up to 215, which was just....I couldn't believe I had... 'What has happened to me?' I was miserably unhappy, and then started the slow process of losing it. But it took a long time.

    Today, after spending the last few years living with her husband in New Orleans, Delta is back in Hollywood working on several projects, and says she's got plenty of advice to offer.
    DELTA: Y'know I'm out here again, and I'm meeting all these young actresses, and every single one of them is doing the same things I did in my twenties. So now I'm out there, "Honey, baby, don't do it. I've been there, let me tell you, this is how you do it. You're beautiful, you're gorgeous."
    At 145 pounds, Delta is radiant and says she's never felt better.
    DELTA: I feel really wonderful. I look at life now, and feel so secure and confident now. It's such a different woman. I love how I feel now, this is such a wonderful time of my life, and the most powerful or beautiful that I've ever felt.



    When the Designing Women finally closed the doors at Sugarbaker's in 1993, reruns of the series had already been sold to 200 different U.S. TV stations -- and at that time that was the widest distribution in history, and you can still see those reruns today.


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