Fans of "The Dukes of Hazzard" everywhere are mourning the loss of Peggy Rea, our own graceful Lulu Hogg, as news broke this week of her passing. Though nothing is official online yet, John Schneider paid tribute via Twitter. Rea would have turned 90 next month.
To us here at BRBTV, Lulu was the finest character in the regular recurring cast of the show (we've also always been partial to Abraham Lincoln Hogg in his one brief appearance). And that use of the word "graceful" to describe Lulu -- as well as Rea -- is key. Lulu was married to that ole rascally J.D., after all, and the virtues of her patience and grace, her tolerance and compassion, cannot be overstated. From the moment she first appeared in one of the original five Georgia episodes, "Repo Men," giving Boss the what-for about wanting that Rolls-Royce, we were in deep admiration. She was more than Rosco's "fat sister"; she was our big, lovable, all-knowing, all-seeing mom in shift dresses with an even bigger heart. She did the right thing, she said the right thing, she could melt your heart with a whimper and drive like a maniac, and she was the one true restraint of the horrendous hot mess that was her hubby.
Peggy Rea was already a TV veteran by the time she got this role. She didn't need to be forever endeared to "Dukes" fans to have notoriety and respect in Hollywood. Fans of "The Waltons" already knew her as Rose Burton, and she carried that role through a few of her "Dukes" years, too. She got her start way back in the '50s as a ladies club member on "I Love Lucy," and had a prolific career for decades with roles on "Gunsmoke," "Have Gun, Will Travel," "The Wild Wild West" and so many others. She played the early days of another one of our fave shows, the sitcom "Step By Step," and continued acting through the '90s with shows like "Grace Under Fire."
From a feminine perspective, Rea was a titan in the most important way: She blatantly flew in the face of the Hollywood ideal. She dared not to be thin, blond, cosmetically altered, etc. As Lulu, especially, she was a strong female, a female whose fine characteristics walked into the room 10 minutes before she did, a character who couldn't help but command an audience of acceptance.
As with Sorrell Booke and Denver Pyle who passed on before her, most "Dukes" fans didn't get to meet Peggy Rea, as she was unable to do all the appearances that her younger castmates have been doing in the show's resurgence of the past decade or so. But if she's remembered now as an American "character actress," it's because she had the kind of character we could truly admire.