Harry Z. Thomason (1940–)

Harry Z. Thomason is a film and television producer best known for the television series Designing Women and for his friendship with Bill Clinton. Thomason made the casting of people of Southern heritage more popular, replacing the ignorant hillbilly type with a more wry, witty, sophisticated Southerner.

Thomason was born in 1940 in Hampton (Calhoun County). After moving to Little Rock (Pulaski County), he became a high-school speech teacher and football coach.

Beginning with Encounter with the Unknown (1973), he wrote, produced, and/or directed the movies The Great Lester Boggs (1974), So Sad about Gloria (1975), The Day It Came to Earth (1979), and Revenge of Bigfoot (1979). He then moved to television, where he produced the television movies A Shining Season (1979) and To Find My Son (1980). A year later, Thomason produced the series The Fall Guy, and then, in 1982, he coproduced a mini-series called The Blue and the Gray.

In 1983, he married writer Linda Bloodworth, a native of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, and they formed Mozark Productions, which gained recognition by producing the television series Designing Women, which ran from 1986 to 1993 and featured a more sophisticated view of Southern life than was common at the time. It was a comedy about four Georgia women who were interior decorators. Though the series was set in Atlanta, it featured noteworthy Little Rock images. The site of the design firm was represented, in exterior shots, by the Villa Marre, located at 1321 Scott Street, while the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion stood in as the home of one of the main characters.

Following the success of Designing Women, the husband-and-wife team of Thomason and Bloodworth-Thomason produced other television series, such as Evening Shade in 1990, which starred Burt Reynolds and was named for the Sharp County town in northern Arkansas; Hearts Afire with John Ritter in 1992; and Women of the House with Delta Burke reprising her Designing Women character, Suzanne Sugarbaker, in 1995. In 2001, Thomason began producing Emeril, a television series with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, and in 2003, he produced The Designing Women Reunion. Thomason cast fellow Arkansan Billy Bob Thornton in several episodes of Evening Shade and, later, in Hearts Afire as John Ritter’s best friend. Thornton and his then wife Pietra named one of their sons after Harry Thomason.

Thomason was also a friend of Arkansas governor Bill Clinton. When Clinton ran for president in 1992, Harry Thomason produced a filmed biography of the candidate called The Man from Hope, which was showcased at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Thomason was the business partner of Darnell Martens in an air-charter consulting firm called Thomason, Richland & Martens, which worked closely with the Clinton campaign to provide transportation services. After Clinton’s election, Thomason served as co-chair of the Presidential Inauguration Committee and had White House access to advise the president on events and image considerations. Early in Clinton’s first term, Thomason became involved in the investigation of the White House Travel Office, known in the media as Travelgate. He also ended up testifying before the grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Thomason was inducted into the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in 1996.

Thomason later directed the television film Denver Summit of the Eight regarding the G-8 Summit in 1997. In 2000, he produced Legacy, a retrospective of the Bill Clinton presidency, for the Democratic National Committee, and Hillary 2000 for the New York primary in which Hillary Clinton, ran for the U. S. Senate. In 2004, he produced The Hunting of the President, a documentary examining the efforts to discredit Bill Clinton. He was director and executive producer of The Last Ride in 2011, a movie that was filmed in Arkansas. Thomason, along with Bloodworth-Thomason, co-produced the award-winning documentary Bridegroom (2013); Bloodworth-Thomason was the director.

In 2019, he published a memoir, Brother Dog: Southern Tales & Hollywood Adventures. That same year, he began producing the podcast The Story You Never Heard.

A new staged version of Designing Women, written by Bloodworth-Thomason and directed by Thomason, premiered at TheaterSquared in Fayetteville (Washington County) in September 2021.

For additional information:
“Harry Thomason.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0859707/ (accessed December 13, 2023).

Martin, Philip. “Harry Thomason Teaches History Again in Podcast.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, December 1, 2020, pp. 1E, 6E.

Soloski, Alexis. “Onstage, ‘Designing Women’ Sheds the Shoulder Pads, Not Its Politics.” New York Times, September 29, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/29/theater/designing-women-play-arkansas.html (accessed December 13, 2023).

Thomason, Harry. Brother Dog: Southern Tales & Hollywood Adventures. Little Rock: Parkhurst Brothers Publishers, 2019.

Nancy Hendricks
Arkansas State University


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