Delta Burke, who plays the feisty Suzanne Sugarbaker on “Designing Women,” issued a feisty counterattack Thursday in the war of words being waged with her producers in the news media, charging them with abusive and insulting behavior toward her. But she said that she will report to work when production resumes Monday.
Burke’s four pages of comment, released through her publicist, Annett Wolf, amounted to a fervent, point-by-point rebuttal to last week’s angry statement by the CBS series’ executive producers, Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, about the actress’ allegedly churlish behavior on the set. They in turn were responding to an interview with Burke in her hometown Orlando, Fla., Sentinel, in which she said that she hadn’t “wanted to be there (on the show) for some time now. It is not a good workplace, not a good environment.”
The actress didn’t specify her complaints but the producers appeared to take it all to mean that she wanted off the series and said that if she didn’t show up, she “won’t be allowed to work anywhere else until 1992" because her contract has two seasons to go.
Burke said Thursday that she never had any intention of leaving the series. Publicist Wolf said that Burke had sent letters to both CBS and Columbia Pictures Television, which underwrites the series, affirming that she will be returning to work. Spokesmen for both companies declined comment.
In the statement, Burke confirmed that she’s been “unhappy with working conditions on the series.” She said that the cast and crew have “generally been very supportive of me and they have my public acknowledgement and thanks for that. . . . But I have not received that support from the Thomasons.”
She cited the Thomason statement last week as evidence and said that Bloodworth-Thomason had described the statement as having been designed to “verbally annihilate and assassinate Delta.” Wolfe said that this comment had been made to a Burke representative.
Bloodworth-Thomason, who created “Designing Women” and has written most of the episodes, told The Times that on behalf of the six producers on the show and “the entire crew,” she would stick by the original statement. She said that the latest Burke comments were “a complete untruth” except for a reference to Thomason yelling on the set.
She said that her husband has yelled on the set on occasion and referred to one alleged disrupting of a shoot by Burke for which Thomason came to the set from his hospital bed, in his gown, and got an ovation from the crew.
As for Monday’s return to work on “Designing Women” and Burke’s role in the series, she said, “It will be work as usual.”
As timing would have it, the verbal warfare erupted just as Burke was being nominated for an Emmy for best actress in a comedy series, the first such honor for any of the four women stars on the four-year-old series.
Burke said that she’s proud of the show: “During our first season, I gave up all my free days, weekends and weeks off to promote ‘Designing Women,’ sometimes doing three to five public appearances in a day. When the fate of the show was in jeopardy, I cancelled my Christmas vacation to go on the road and do talk shows and interviews, asking the public to write in and save the show.”
In his statement last week, Thomason had referred to production having been shut down for three days on the final episode last season “because Delta said that twirling a baton violated her dignity.” Burke fired back that “production has never been shut down nor delayed because of me” and said that she had no objection to the baton--"I’d even twirled one at Linda’s request at hers and Harry’s wedding"--but “I wanted to choreograph and rehearse the baton scene sometime before performing it cold before an audience and cameras.”
Time was lost only because “an incomplete script was delivered on a Wednesday to be shot the following night. Thanks to an incredible cast and crew, this episode finally got done,” she said.
Burke complained that some scripts were written about “my various personal problems” without her approval and said that when she received a death threat, an additional guard was placed at the sound stage, “despite Bloodworth-Thomason’s ridicule of my fear.” Then in the next week’s script, her character Suzanne received a death threat, she said.
As for Burke’s weight gains, which have been noted with fierce regularity in the tabloid press, Thomason had said that very few producers would say “no problem” when stars show up “having undergone such a substantial weight gain, when they were hired to play a beauty queen.”
Burke said that the producers had never been so accepting; in the first season, she said, she was told over and over that she had a weight problem, and in the second season she was “threatened with dismissal.”
“It has always been my understanding,” the actress said, “that the character is a former beauty queen and has been since the pilot. I am also a former beauty queen (Miss Florida) and, coincidentally enough, both Suzanne and I held our last titles 16 years ago. Over a 16-year period, things happen, even to former beauty queens.
“After much personally hurtful publicity, Ms. Bloodworth-Thomason saw fit to take advantage of an idea that I brought to her and helped develop, which became (the episode titled) ‘They Shoot Fat Women, Don’t They?,’ of which we are all duly proud.”
Thomason, who directed most of the episodes, was nominated for an Emmy for that show.
At one point in his statement, Thomason had referred to “several run-ins with Delta.” The actress described one of these when “Mr. Thomason assembled the entire cast in his office and began one of his tirades, accusing us all of being ungrateful, screaming at us in a threatening manner, throwing things at us, and when I refused to accept this abuse and attempted to leave the room, 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 the way.”
The fiance, now husband, was Gerald McRaney,, star of the series “Major Dad,” also on CBS.
Thomason also maintained that his wife had never said a cross word to Burke. Burke countered that Bloodworth-Thomason “insulted me on numerous occasions, accused me and other cast members of ingratitude, repeatedly told me that neither I nor any other cast member was necessary for the continued success of ‘Designing Women,’ and falsely stated to the press and cast that I had been suspended from the show.”