Larry Hagman and the gang head back to the ranch on ‘Dallas’
- Last Updated: 11:44 PM, June 9, 2012
- Posted: 10:21 PM, June 9, 2012
Blood may be thicker than water, but oil is thicker than both.” That is the precise moment in the first hour of TNT’s reboot of the iconic night-time soap opera “Dallas” when you realize that one of the greatest television villains of all time, J.R. Ewing, is really back, Stetson hat, gold watch, shiny belt buckle and all.
Tell actor Larry Hagman that it’s a great line and he says, “I know it, darlin’.” His scene-stealing grin still has punch, 21 years after the original series went off the air. Hagman, now 80, looks remarkable for a man who’s had a liver transplant and survived a cancer scare. (Hagman has declined to specify the cancer type.) He sits in a fluffy arm chair in a suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, as energized as a tycoon who’s just struck new oil. For a while, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was America’s biggest TV star, and at $100,000 per episode, its highest paid — and all because of the second-season cliffhanger: Who shot J.R.?
At the time, Hagman was in the midst of contract renegotiations, and wouldn’t come back from a European vacation until Lorimar, the production company, paid for the privilege of having the conniving J.R. Ewing back to run his oil and cattle empires. It paid off handsomely for everyone involved: The series went on for 12 more seasons, forced other TV shows to end their seasons with cliffhangers and was syndicated around the world. When J.R.’s killer was revealed, 83 million viewers watched. Those were the days.
“It was wonderful,” says Hagman. “I was king for a while, and in some countries, like Germany, I still am.”
But Hagman isn’t the only familiar face returning to the series, which is shooting again at Dallas’ famed Southfork Ranch, an independently owned working ranch known for hosting rodeos and weddings. Patrick Duffy, now 63, reprises his role as the “good” brother, Bobby Ewing, and Linda Gray, still stunning at 71, returns as J.R.’s ex-wife, Sue Ellen.
In real life, these three are as thick as thieves, having been, in Duffy’s words, “best friends for 35 years.” They don’t see each other that often: Hagman’s in Malibu, Duffy’s on an Oregon ranch and Gray lives outside of Los Angeles. But over the years they have called each other as rumors surfaced that this or that producer wanted to remake “Dallas.”
Gray remembers every painful detail. “About two years ago, the three of us got a call: Would you be interested in coming back? And we said, ‘Of course.’ And nothing happened. And then we heard it was going to be a movie and that John Travolta was going to be J.R., and J.Lo was going to be Sue Ellen. So the press would say: Who do you want to play Sue Ellen? And I said, ‘That’s insulting! I want to play Sue Ellen!’ And Patrick and Larry said the same thing. Finally, I got so upset, I said, ‘You know what? If they can do in two hours what we did in 13 years, God bless them.’ ”