Remembering an Evening with Dixie Carter

Tonight, I am deeply saddened by the loss of Dixie Carter to the film community.

A kind, caring, and compassionate woman, she played a vital role in helping me and my team get to the places that we have reached today.

I was 18 years old, and it was the weekend before I began as a freshman in college at Georgia Southern University. I was producing my first feature documentary, That Guy: the Legacy of Dub Taylor, with one of my future production partners, Mark Ezra Stokes. We had gotten a lot of character actors, western enthusiasts, and historians to come on board, but we were having a hard time getting “names.”

That’s something that a lot of first time filmmakers have a difficult time doing.

We were working with agents across the country to book actors who had worked with Dub Taylor during his 50 year career. This was difficult, as many of them had died or weren’t interested in working with people on such a low budget.

That’s when Dixie Carter stepped in.

After contacting her agent, Dixie contacted Mark directly with a phone call. He worked his charm on her, and she granted us an interview at her childhood home in Mclemoresville, TN, where she was caring for her ailing father.

We piled up in the car at 5:30 AM and arrived around 3:00 PM, to find this sign as you entered her little hometown, reminiscent of my city of 150 people:

The house was what you’d expect, a big old southern house:

We arrived, and the housekeepers directed us into the study, where we waited for her to make her grand entrance. They informed us that she wanted to provide Sweet Tea and Cookies as a snack, since we had traveled so far to see her.

Now, if you’ve ever worked in documentary film, you know that this is an unusual phenomenon.

You normally get in, do your business, and get out, because people have other things to worry about.

Not here, not her.

A few moments later, she arrived and began the interview. Dixie wasn’t feeling very well that day, but she wanted to make sure that we got the content we were looking for. While the topics circled around the Western, her work with Dub Taylor on “Designing Women,” etc, she said something that has always stuck with me.

Referring to American society, she stated “We’ve lost our sense of romance and beauty.”

At first, I thought it was an old lady being sentimental for the old days, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more I agree with her.

There are so many things that “enhance” our daily lives, there isn’t particularly any sense of mystery and wonder anymore. We have to one-up ourselves and build on each new innovation. We forget the simple things in life.

Common courtesies are one of these simple things, and this is something Dixie never forgot.

She wanted to put us up in her guest house, because she kind’ve knew we didn’t have the money to stay in a hotel, and provide us with a dinner. Alas, we got a phone call on the way up that another interview we needed to get would be the next morning in Atlanta.

We had to pull an all-nighter after driving since 5:30 in the morning, exhausted already.

Since she didn’t want us to go hungry, she sent us with Pimento Cheese and Pineapple sandwiches and two gallons of Sweet Tea to get us going through the ride.

She took us on a tour of the grounds, with remnants of her husband Hal Holbrook’s birthday party. He had just left the night before to go do a play on Broadway.

The way she carried herself with class and grace reminded me of my own grandmother, even some of my former teachers.

The fact of the matter is, Dixie Carter was the first person who was willing to take a gamble on a couple of young guys who weren’t sure what they were doing.

She kept commenting about how impressed she was with our dedication to work with her, but we were equally and even more excited about her willingness to work with us.

Though I never got the chance to see Dixie in person again, she stayed in touch with our team at JamesWorks Entertainment via email. She always wanted to know what we were up to, what new projects we were doing, and always, to stay in touch.

I’ve been doing this film thing for a few years now. While I have a lot to learn, the first lesson I ever learned in film came from Dixie Carter.

If you treat people with kindness and respect, it reciprocates, and people are more likely to work with you.

Sure, this isn’t a great revelation. But when you’re a young, impressionable 18-year-old, the people you work with help form the ideas you have about working with others.

Dixie Carter taught me that dedication and a little extra work ethic opens doors that you never thought were possible. Just because you have enjoyed a successful career and worked with a variety of talents around the globe, it doesn’t entitle you to be a nasty human being.

Believe me, there are a few of those out there.

After working with Dixie, we were able to attract other “names” and other people, because she opened the gate for us. We weren’t a couple of kids with a camera anymore, because we were serious about doing our work.

Agents and publicists started to pay attention, and today, we have worked to have so many more opportunities that weren’t even a chance for a couple of idealists from South Georgia.

Since then, I’ve been able to make films across the United States, Europe, and Africa, winning awards and visiting festivals across the country. I’ve met lots of people, each teaching me something along the way.

But out of all the individuals I’ve met on this journey, there are only few that haven’t lost their sense of romance and beauty.

Dixie Carter was one of them.

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    • teddy
    • April 11th, 2010

    Well said and very true.
    Thank you for sharing.

    • Kasey
    • April 11th, 2010

    She was such a classy Southern lady, and will be terribly missed. It feels like so long ago when we went to meet her in Tennessee, and we look so young in those pictures. We have definitely come a long way, thanks to her and other people that believed in us.

    • Lisa
    • April 11th, 2010

    What a wonderful tribute to Ms. Dixie. Thank you for sharing this with us James.

  1. James, this is beautiful. I had no idea until I saw your post on Facebook that she had died. You’ve provided quite tribute to her.
    Maureen

  2. Well done James.

    • claire angle
    • April 11th, 2010

    What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful, gutsy, elegant lady. She will be missed by all who knew her, and those of us who wished we had.

  3. That’s really all it takes, isn’t it? just one hand offered to help you up…

    Condolences to you all today…thanks for posting this.

    • christine Napier
    • April 11th, 2010

    James, that was a beautiful tribute to Ms Dixie. I can see that she made a very big impression on you and because of that you will give back in your work. Take care cousin. Christine 🙂

  4. Thank you for sharing your memories of an extraordinary woman and actress.

    I wish you continued success with your work.

    • Pam Graves
    • April 12th, 2010

    This was very touching. As a Tennessean, I am very proud of Dixie and loved Designing Women.

    You have her homwtown name wrong in your tribute though. It’s Mclemoresville not Murfreesboro.

  5. Thanks for the correction, Pam — I’ve updated it, and knew better, especially since I had the picture posted.

    • jeannine ratter
    • April 16th, 2010

    I was so sorry to hear of her passing. Somewhere she is serving sweet tea and cookies. May I say she was the last of the “great dames”. I can still hear her on Designing Women with “Ray Don”. RIP great lady

  6. James, this was an awesome post. What a amazing women and an amazing story. I am sorry to hear about her passing. But, thanks for sharing such an awesome experience. What an awesome way to start your career. Thanks for sharing!

    • Judy Strickland
    • December 8th, 2013

    It’s been a long time since you posted this. I was a great fan of Dixie Carter and expecially loved that she never compromised her Christian values and beliefs. That, in my opinion, is what made her who she was; a genuinely nice lady who loved God and allowed that love to shine through every element of her life. I was broken hearted when she died; especially of ovarian cancer. That’s a tough one to cure but what a fight she fought. Even after her stroke just before she died and she was unable to move or talk – she was still fightng; trying to move her fingers. What a great lady she was and she managed to hold on to her values, her great personal ethics and grace in Hollywood. This is not an easy thing to do, but Dixie was one lady who kept in tact what many loose in the world of show business. She remained, a woman of faith, family, personal ethics and, of course, romance and beauty. Dixie’s not resting in peace! She’s in Heaven with her God; singing in that great Heavenly Choir!! Our great loss is Heaven’s gain. God Bless Dixie’s family.

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