Reigning over Mardi Gras with husband Gerald McRaney,
Delta Burke was lighthearted -- and even light-haired
People,  03-16-1992

THERE WERE TWO SURPRISES AT THE annual Bacchus parade, the most raucous of New Orleans's Mardi Gras celebrations last  week. First, Major Dad star Gerald McRaney, 43, presiding as celebrity  float person, pronounced the unofficial Mardi Gras slogan -- Laissez les  bon temps rouler (''Let the good times roll'') -- with a flawless ''New Awlins'' accent. ''You hear that?'' marveled one thrilled reveler, gazing  at McRaney and his wife, former Designing Women star Delta Burke, 35.  ''First time we had a King of Bacchus who said it right!'' But after all,  this was a homecoming of sorts for His Majesty: McRaney lived in New  Orleans from 1967 to 1971, when he was starting out in a local theater company, and he grew up only a few hours away, in rural Collins,  Miss.

The second surprise was Burke's hair -- which during her five years as Women's sassy  Suzanne Sugarbaker was raven-black and teased out into a modified Liz Taylor do. In New Orleans it was short, swirly and brighter than a doubloon.

Burke, a native  of Orlando, explained that she had it dyed ''dirty blond'' for a  forthcoming NBC movie, Day O, a comedy in which she plays a woman with an  imaginary friend. ''Then I decided to go all the way,'' she said. ''I've been trying to talk my mom into having hers done too, so I can claim it's natural.''

Her gray-haired  mother, Jean, was among the family members who joined Burke and McRaney  for a postparade, black-tie party of 8,000 at the Convention Center overlooking the Mississippi River. Mom admitted surprise at Delta's new  hair length. ''I knew it was blond,'' she said, ''but I didn't know it was  cut.''

For all the  partying, though, Burke, who has gained back some of the 30 lbs. she lost last year on the Pritikin diet, was positively mellow while reflecting on  the infamous feud with DW executive producers Linda Bloodworth- Thomason and her husband, Harry Thomason, which ended with Delta being dumped from  the show at the end of last season. (Burke and costar Jean Smart, who left the series amicably, were replaced by Newhart's Julia Duffy and Saturday  Night Live's Jan Hooks.) ''You go through hardships in life, and you start  reexamining things,'' said Burke. ''You gotta keep growing. I always want to keep doing that, because then I'll be a fascinating old lady.''

McRaney spoke  more pointedly about the de-Burked sitcom, which has met with mixed  critical and viewer reaction. ''I think the contrast speaks for itself,'' he said, lapsing into the clipped diction of his Major Dad sitcom character, Marine Maj. J.D. MacGillis. ''I think what the producers of  that show did makes absolutely no sense. Business sense. Creative sense. Any kind of sense. At all.''

But no one's raining on Burke's parade. She has designs on playing a would- be country  singer in her own ABC sitcom, Delta, with a pilot that will air next fall.  To that end, she now has her own production company, Perseverance (''which  ought to tell you something about the way I feel,'' she added). And she  and McRaney, who live in Los Angeles, have just bought a two-story home in  the French Quarter. (He hopes to produce a New Orleans cop series; the pilot shoots in May.)

''I just love this city,'' Burke gushed. ''When I'm flying in and  I see the Mississippi, it's like: 'Yes, home.' I love to come here and have the relatives come.''

Even McRaney became less reserved as he mused municipally. ''This is a magical city,'' he said. ''New Orleans is the one mistress Delta would never  mind.''

Burke smiled,  then quashed that notion with a touch of the old Suzanne Sugarbaker willfulness. ''He might be the king,'' she says, ''but I'm the queen.''

Copyright  1992 Time Inc. TOM GLIATTO RON RIDENHOUR in New Orleans,, pp 34.