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November 25, 2021

Delta Burke Received a Death Threat & Needed Additional Bodyguard on ‘Designing Women’ Set

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Delta Burke starred on the CBS sitcom series "Designing Women," attaining two Emmy Awards nominations. On the ground, however, things were different as she alleges to have constantly received threats of dismissal. 

Delta Burke rose to fame as the heavily made-up Suzanne Sugarbaker in "Designing Women." Born in Florida to a single mom, Burke is the oldest of two siblings, sister Jeniffer and brother Jonathan.

Explaining how her name came to be, she says right after she was born, her mom asked her uncle who she resembled. Her uncle said she looked like their cat "Delta," and her mother named her that. 

Left: Delta Burke during Delta Burke stops by Barracuda Bar to promote "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at Barracuda Bar in New York City, New York, United States. Right: Delta Burke stars as Suzanne Sugarbaker, in the CBS television series "Designing Women." | Source: Getty Images

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At 16, she joined a "Miss Flame Contest," which represented the local fire department. Amused by the crown, she participated in several other beauty pageants, which she says she would join depending on how big the crown was. 

She became State Miss Flame, and during her final year in high school, she took over the Miss Florida title. Winning Miss Florida made the youngest ever to hold the title in the history of pageants. 

Following her win, she was awarded a scholarship from the Miss America Organization, through which she attended a study program at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

Gerald McRaney and Delta Burke during Delta Burke Makes Broadway Debut in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" and After Party at The Marquis Theater in New York City, New York, United States | Photo: Getty Images

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DEBUTING HER SCREEN CAREER

She made her screen debut when she appeared on the ABC-TV show "Bozo the Clown," where she played a magical assistant to Herbert L. Becker. 

In 1980, she appeared on "The Chisholms," as Bonnie Sue Chisholm, then as the young widow Kathleen Beck on the 1982 "Filthy Rich." Between 1984 and 1986, she played Diane Barrow in "1st & Ten."

BECOMING SUZANNE SUGARBAKER

In 1986, she left "1st & Ten" when she landed her breakthrough role in the CBS sitcom "Designing Women." She portrayed the vain and self-centered Suzanne Sugarbaker on the show.

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The show chronicled the lives of four women and a man who ran "Sugarbaker & Associates," an interior designing firm in Atlanta, Georgia. 

While on the sitcom set, Burke began struggling with her weight, which soon became a subject of discussion on many tabloids. By the time she left the show, her weight had hit an all-time high of 215 pounds.

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Following the media's constant obsession with her weight, Burke asked the show's producers to address the issue in one episode. They named it "They Shoot Fat Women, Don't They?" which instantly succeeded.

Gerald McRaney and Delta Burke at the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills on September 14, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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The actress has also spoken out about her struggles with type two diabetes and depression. Still, she discloses that her husband, Gerald McRaney, has been supportive and even loves giving her insulin shots as a way of caring for her. 

GETTING FIRED FROM THE SHOW

Despite the show's success, the running was anything but smooth, and in 1991, the sharp-tongued former beauty queen was dismissed unceremoniously.

Her co-stars on the show were happy to fuel the speculations, describing Burke as difficult, demanding, and unbearable to work with.

American actress and comedian Delta Burke, circa 1990. | Source: Getty Images

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The show's creators Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, claimed that Burke's attitude change began when she started dating McRaney. Producer Doug Jackson shared that sentiment. 

He claimed that before Burke and McRaney became an item, she was fun and easy-going, but that soon changed.

Burke, however, dismisses those claims, saying that her stay on the show did not work out because the producers abused her psychologically while on set. She also claimed that the Thomason's would not quit pressuring her to lose weight.

Actors Delta Burke and Gerald McRaney attend the Television Academy's Performers Peer Group Celebration at The Montage Beverly Hills on August 21, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.

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She says the set was an unbearable place to work in, and even when she sought help from those she thought would come to her rescue, they gave her the cold shoulder. She adds during a phone interview with Deseret News:

"There's still a lot of emotion there. A lot of frustration and anger. I felt very much the fall guy."

Burke was unhappy with the working conditions on-set for a long time. She sacrificed a lot for the show's success, including working weekends and giving up her free days.

Gerald McRaney and Delta Burke at the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 10, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. | Photo: Getty Images

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She claimed to have done up to five public appearances a day and traveled during her Christmas break to do talk shows and urge the public to write in, in a bid to save the show. 

THE DEATH THREAT

Burke had a lot of negatives to share about her time on set and even claimed that she received an incomplete script, supposed to be shot in a day. Luckily for her, the cast and crew made it work, and they shot the scene as they were supposed to. 

But besides the undone scripts, Burke claims she began receiving scripts highlighting her problems and all that without her consent. According to Burke, the Thomasons, instead of helping, only made fun of her fears.

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Gerald McRaney and Delta Burke at the Village Theater in Los Angeles, Ca. 12/13/00. | Photo: Getty Images

The situation was deteriorating, and when she received a script with a death threat on her character, the production had to hire an extra guard at the sound stage. 

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MCRANEY TO HER RESCUE

In his statement, Thomason said they had had several run-ins with Burke. The actress explained that Thomason had gathered the whole cast in his office and began accusing them of being ungrateful.

She says he screamed and began throwing things at them. Burke could no longer take it, but when she attempted to leave the office, Thomason blocked her physically and would only let her go when he willed. 

Delta Burke(Dag) and husband Gerald McRainey at NBC's party held for the Television Critics Association. The party was held at Jillians at Universal City Walk in Los Angeles, Ca. 7/19/00 | Source: Getty Images

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She says the abusive behavior only stopped when Thomason learned that McRaney was on his way there. Backed by the network, the producers finally had their way and dismissed the actress. 

Following her departure from the show, Burke appeared on Mel Gibson's "What Women Want," then on the sitcom "DAG" and the 2003 musical "Thoroughly Modern Millie."

INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT BURKE

Comical as she is, the most exciting fact about Burke is her infamous food collection. Speaking on the Rosie O'Donnell show in 1996, she opened up about how she loves collecting stuff from wherever she travels.

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Gerald McRaney and Delta Burke at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Ca. 5/11/01. | Photo: Getty Images

She collects foodstuff, such as rolls and buns, which she then shellacs and stores in her freezer. She says the things she collects are pieces of art. Once eaten, they are forever gone, so she prefers to shellac them and store them.

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