Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Currently Known For:
Actress, Producer, and Writer
1980s - 2000s
July 30, 1956
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"If you want to say it with flowers, a single rose says 'I'm cheap!'"
A TV icon, Delta Burke was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" at her high school in 1974, and she has livd up to that expectation in more than a few ways. Most viewers may know her from the classic sitcom Designing Women (1986-93), but she has proven herself a talented star on stage, in film, and everywhere else an actress can ply their trade, and all without conforming to what a typical star is "supposed" to look like.
Delta Burke was born July 30, 1956 in Orlando to a single mother, and was adopted by realtor Frederick Burke after his marriage to her mother, Jean. Burke was always a beauty, and in 1974, while still a senior at Colonial High School, she would be the youngest contestant ever to win the title of Miss Florida. Before long she had a scholarship, thanks to the Miss America Organization, and made her way to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Burke's first gig on television was actually an appearance on Bozo the Clown (1974), one of the benefits of being Miss Florida. She worked on the show for six months as magician Herbert L. Becker's assistant before heading to London.
After graduating from the London Academy, she was able to find work in television starting with the made-for-TV movie Zuma Beach (1978), the miniseries The Seekers (1979), and replacing Stacy Nelkin as Bonnie Sue Chisolm on the CBS western series The Chisolms (1979-80). A number of roles would follow, including one-off roles on The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo (1980), Nero Wolfe (1981) and The Fall Guy (1982). She had a part on Filthy Rich (1982-83), appearing on fifteen episodes, but while she had no trouble finding parts in the early 80s, she needed a major leading role to give her career some real traction, and she finally landed it on Designing Women (1986-91).
Delta Burke fills out an ensemble cast with Dixie Carter, Annie Potts, and Jean Smart as the titular women, with Mschach Taylor filling in the male lead. The title was a play on the show's premise, with the women running an interior design firm, Sugarbaker & Associates, and on the old phrase referring to women who always have a scheme up their sleeves. Delta Burke's Suzanne Sugarbaker was an ex-beauty queen, so not too much of a stretch for the real life Miss Florida.
There was some backstage drama, owing in part to the fact that Burke won two Emmy nominations for the series in 1990 and 1991, with the rest of the cast being overlooked. Behind-the-scenes labor disputes also contributed to the difficulties on set, and by the end of the fifth season Delta Burke was let go from the series. While her time on Designing Women would end on a sour note, the show had established Delta Burke as a TV icon, and she would eventually reconcile with co-star Dixie Carter, featuring in an episode of Family Law (2002) together.
"Sometimes, when you feel low on yourself, that's just when you have to go out there and be photographed or do a scene where you're hot stuff. You're always working on it."
Film and Broadway
Throughout the rest of the 90s, Delta Burke would stay very active on television, leading the series Delta (1992-93) about a country music hopeful, voicing the character of Viola on 26 episodes of The Mighty Jungle (1994), and featuring in one-episode and recurring roles for Lois & Clark (1996), Any Day Now (1998-99), and Touched by an Angel (1996-2001). She returned to the role of Suzanne Sugarbaker to star in Designing Women spin-off Women of the House (1995), but the show failed to become as big a hit as the series that preceded it.
It was becoming clear that while Delta would never have to look very hard to find a job in television, it was unlikely that she would repeat the success that she had found on Designing Women, and it was time to branch out.
"I thought, I've just got to check out Hollywood, so I sent out pictures and resumes."
Auditioning for film, Delta Burke soon had a small role in the Mel Gibson romantic comedy What Women Want (2000), and then played the stepmother in a film adaptation of Hansel & Gretel (2002). She began pursuing stage roles in the 2000s, featuring in Broadway productions of Steel Magnolias (2005) as well as the classic Thoroughly Modern Millie (2003).
Since then, her credits have become somewhat sparse. She had a number of TV appearances throughout the 2000s, but her biggest role in the 2010s was the pilot for Counter Culture (2012), a sitcom about a group of aging stars running a diner together. The pilot never went to series, but like fellow failed pilot favorites Lookwell and Heat-vision and Jack, it does have its fans.
While Delta Burke has generally stayed out of the spotlight in recent years, she has not yet officially retired, and her next major project may be right around the corner.
"A year would go by and I'd realize I love the acting too much and it is my identity and I don't know how to be anything but an actress. It's who and what I am, so I always come back."