AN APPRECIATION : A Farewell Chat With the Sugarbakers : Television: An evening with ‘Designing Women’ was like a night out with the girls: makeup, men and the unfairness of life.


The Sugarbaker girls and I used to be tight. Starting back in ‘86, we’d get together every Monday night after the kids had gone to bed.

An evening with “Designing Women” wasn’t exactly like a night out with the girls, but it was easier and almost as much fun. It was a quick fix, but I considered those 30 minutes of chick-chat quality time. I didn’t even fold laundry when we were together.

I reveled in the Southern accents. The Sugarbakers sounded just like the girls I grew up with in Texas. And they talked about the same things too: makeup, men and how life wasn’t fair. I learned some great cosmetic tips from them. Spit in your frosted eye-shadow will enhance the color. I railed along with them as they trashed the Billy Bobs and Arlen Specters of the world. And commiserated when they lost loved ones. We were like sisters.


My favorite times were after Suzanne (Delta Burke) put on a few pounds. Using the carbo-dating method, I’d say that was about ’88. By then everyone in the group had refined their idiosyncrasies to a delicious degree and they were wearing some fabulous clothes. They must have had a secret source of income. Those girls never worked, so how else could they have afforded all those new clothes? There was something going on.

The Sugarbakers aged nicely. Julia (Dixie Carter) looked better and better each year. Maybe it was a very heavy hand with the mascara wand or a light touch on the scalpel--who knows? She never said. But it didn’t take her long to become the reigning grand dame. Her hair went high-rise and her skirts shrank in both directions.

Julia was very Old Plantation. She had perfect posture. She was prim, prissy and repressed. She always perched on chairs as if her knees had been super-glued together. And she refused to get down and wallow in the dirt with everyone else. She sniped from the sidelines. But when the situation called for a reckoning, you could count on Julia to provide it. It began with her soft syrupy “I don’t think so . . . ,” which was her windup before she threw some fast balls.

I certainly cheered her on. She said what all of us were thinking as we backed out of a volatile situation. She was the Dirty Harry of womankind. “I don’t think so” became the female equivalent of “Make my day.”

When we first met, Suzanne was too much--too much hair, makeup, attitude and a taste-free fashion sense. The self-involved ex-beauty queen was astounding. She had a complete and total disregard for other people. Is it any wonder we all loved it when she started to plump?

Still, if she was there, and too often she was MIA, her presence guaranteed a good time. She would never allow the conversation to get too politically correct or boring, steering back to herself, her ex-husbands or hygiene products.


I cheered Suzanne too, but silently. She also said what many of us were thinking but were too ashamed to admit how shallow we were.

Fortunately, the group had Mary Jo Shively (Annie Potts) and Charlene Frazier (Jean Smart). They were sane, honest and had good souls. Charlene was unencumbered with many of life’s educational experiences. But that made her all the more dear.

My relationship with the Sugarbakers began to unravel when they began to act in very odd ways. The old gang was being replaced with family members of the kind that are usually kept locked in the basement.

Then there was Anthony Bouvier (Mesach Taylor), an ex-con who was always hanging around. Looking at his stats you’d think there might be some interesting possibilities, gay perhaps, or maybe half an interracial relationship or marriage. But he passed himself off as a straight law school student who had a soft spot for loud, domineering women.

Suzanne disappeared. They said she went to Japan and never mentioned her again. It was handled like an unwanted pregnancy in the ‘60s.

That’s when I quit hanging around. When I would occasionally stop by, I felt like I’d made a mistake ever being friends with them.


I hear they’re tight with some loud mega-rich Texas woman now, B. J. Poteet (Judith Ivey). But I haven’t had the nerve to meet her.

I’ll probably see the Sugarbakers tonight. They’re having some big to-do, probably one of those antebellum gown events they love to throw. But I swear it’ll be the last time.

* The last original episode of “Designing Women” airs at 9 tonight on CBS, Channels 2 and 8.