Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bless Their Hearts: Five Favorite Famous Southern Women

Why didn't someone freeze former Texas governor Ann Richards' brain before it was too late?

People like her don't come along every day. Richards was smart, spunky, deeply Southern and proud of it. Who could ever forget her "that dog won't hunt" keynote address to the 1988 Democratic National Convention? Not me, that's for sure.
I was thinking of Richards recently, perhaps because I'd love to see a Southern woman with her fire and spirit out on the campaign trail this year, elbowing out some of these tired presidential candidates. And thoughts of Richards led me to ponder the famous Southern women, past and present, I've greatly admired.

Frankly my dears, Southern women are my favorite type of female--and not just because I grew up in a house full of them. Here are five of my favorite, well-known Southern women, with more to come in future blog posts.
Lillian Hellman, born in New Orleans, didn't really have a strong Southern sensibility, though she wrote beautifully of her Southern roots in her autobiographical works such as An Unfinished Woman and Pentimento. Her play The Little Foxes is a grand piece of Southern melodrama, and the Bette Davis movie version is superb. Hellman's 1934 play The Children's Hour was perhaps the first Broadway production to tackle the highly taboo topic (at the time) of lesbianism. She fought with lots of other writers (most notably Mary McCarthy), she had an off-and-on relationship with Dashiell Hammett for decades, she was accused of fabricating her memoirs. I guess she was pretty Southern after all.
Holly Hunter, Georgia-born, is one of my favorite Southern actors ever. She's excellent in every film or TV show in which she appears, most notably Broadcast News, The Firm, The Piano (she won an Oscar), Copycat, and Living Out Loud. She still has that thick Southern accent, she still talks out of one corner of her mouth, and we don't get to see her nearly as often as we should.

Pearl Bailey, from Virginia, had a hit cabaret act decades ago known for its playfully randy songs. Pearlie Mae, who called most people "honey," had style to spare. She exuded warmth, humor, and a slight air of mischief. And honey, girlfriend had pipes. Her rendition of Supper Time was one of the best I've ever heard. Pearl won a Tony for playing Dolly in an all African-American production of Hello, Dolly! in 1968 and injected some real emotion in that show's rousing show stopper, Before the Parade Passes By. At age 67, Pearl received a B.A. degree from Georgetown University, and she wrote several books. Note to Queen Latifah: Please play Pearl in a movie. I'll even write the screenplay, honey.

Dixie Carter, Tennessee born, was due to appear in a cabaret show in San Francisco shortly before she passed away in 2010. I'd love to have heard her sing, to have basked in her awesome Southern womanhood. Designing Women, for which she was most famous, wasn't a terribly good sitcom, in my humble opinion. But when someone crossed Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie's character), and I pity the fool who did, you sat back and watched Dixie have at 'em all. "And that's the night the lights went out in Georgia!" was the climax of one of Dixie's most memorable tirades. If you've never seen it, treat yourself to the clip below.


  1. I love Holly Hunter and loved Living Out Loud. There is a special place in my heart for southern women, for good reason too, My mother is one and so are my daughters. : )

  2. Loved the video. I only wish she was around now. Would have loved to hear her scorch Rush...

  3. Loved Anne, who I had the pleasure of meeting a few times, and love Holly!

  4. hallelujah! super choices!