It was only five days ago that I admitted to having never watched Dallas. It was an innocuous post, published only because I was lazy and it was the day before Thanksgiving. Then Larry Hagman died two days later, and I realized I would have to say something bigger than that post, something about Hagman and Dallas and Dallas.
I chose a different route. Below are the recollections of a couple of our editors, two who’ve worked with and around Hagman. They’re better suited than me.
But before that, read our story from earlier this year about Dallas. Then jump.
I only met Larry Hagman a couple of times, interviewing him briefly at the Dallas International Film Festival last year and, in late September, at the 2012 Cattle Baron’s Ball.
Both times he seemed not only entertaining, but bluntly and refreshingly honest. Not only about his personal foibles but about his role as J.R. Ewing, the cartoonishly fiendish oil baron on the iconic Dallas TV show.
At DIFF, I asked about a book by his I Dream of Jeannie co-star Barbara Eden, who’d written that during the making of that TV series, Hagman had been rough on the crew members, and once even urinated on the set.
She’s absolutely right, Hagman replied. “I was an as—–,” he said. “But I’m not an as—– anymore.”
Reportedly he’d cleaned up his act after quitting drinking and undergoing a life-saving liver transplant.
At Cattle Baron’s at Southfork Ranch, where Hagman helped raise funds for the American Cancer Society, I asked him about TNT’s successful Dallas remake, successor to the CBS hit he starred in from 1978-1991.
“It’s like a license to steal,” he allowed. Was he surprised by the reboot’s strong ratings? “Pleasantly surprised,” he said.
The remake’s success, and Hagman’s role in it, called to mind the fact that, despite the city of Dallas’ embrace of the show today, it wasn’t too many years ago that the city’s establishment was quite willing to dismiss Dallas as the fusty relic of an un-hip, un-trendy era that blessedly had passed.
At a public event in 2004 to roll out the city’s new marketing tagline, “Live Large, Think Big,” I remember how sloganeer The Richards Group, then-Mayor Laura Miller and DCVB head Phillip Jones recalled how Europeans continued, stubbornly, to identify Dallas with J.R. and the other Ewings. I also remember how embarrassed and sort of annoyed the city leaders seemed by that association.
At the DIFF event last year, Hagman told me that TNT’s “new” J.R. would show no signs of mellowing with age. “He’ll be the same as—– he always was,” he promised.
In the end, I guess you could say, Hagman–or was it J.R.?–had the last laugh.
- Glenn Hunter
Lisa Blue Baron’s 60th birthday party doesn’t start for an hour. But VIPs like Dallas‘s Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Brenda Strong and Larry Hagman are already at the Blue Baron estate on Preston Road. As part of Lisa’s celebration, Hagman is to announce the launch of the Larry Hagman Foundation. It is to benefit underserved children in the creative arts.
It was just a year ago that the Dallas crew had been dealt a daunting blow to the TNT revival of the Dallas series. Just before filming, Hagman had been diagnosed with cancer. The international media had gotten wind of the Dallas’s lead’s illness, but not the specifics. Word had gotten out that it was prostate cancer. Neither Larry nor his inner circle denied it. More importantly, they didn’t confirm it. They knew it was tongue cancer, but all were sworn to secrecy.
In the library, Hagman is being interviewed by WFAA-CH. 8’s Ron Corning about the foundation announcement. He looks thinner and grayer than he did just a month before at the Cattle Baron’s Ball.
As the crowd of guests assembles in the Blue Baron backyard, they wait for Hagman. While Duffy and Gray go onstage to introduce him, Hagman stands at the base of the stage next to Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Bensen and the Hagman Foundation’s Lara Ashmore. Just as the introduction is winding down, he starts to take the steps leading up to the stage. The twosome on stage tell him they’re not through yet. Looking frail, the 81-year-old slowly heads back down the steps. Someone offers him a hand. He smiles and waves them off.
Then it is his time to talk to the crowd including Mayor Mike Rawlings, Skip Hollandsworth, Holly and Stubbs Davis, Caroline Rose Hunt, Laura Miller and husband Steve Wolens, Annette and Harold Simmons, Gina and Scott Ginsburg and Molly and Doug Barnes. He knuckle-bumps Patrick, but Linda will have none of that. She wants a hug and a kiss. Hagman gladly accommodates.
With a politician’s smile and a gleam in his eyes, he thanks all and tells about his newly created foundation. As he leaves the stage, he is surrounded by guests. Everyone wants to have their photo taken with him. One man wants him to sign his three ornate vases. Larry signs one, then a second one. When the third one is put in his hands, Larry signs but quickly moves on to being photographed with Lisa’s three daughters.
Unlike the more robust man who had been the hero of the rain-sodden Cattle Baron’s Ball just a few weeks earlier, he has a gray cast about him and seems thinner. His wing-like eyebrows aren’t as devilish.
Eventually he manages to slip to a high-top table just between the tented lounge and the mansion. With a bottle of water in hand and hunched over, he settles down with a couple of white-haired friends. Like a Macy’s balloon that has lost its air, he appears to be out of energy but still at ease.
Six weeks later Larry Hagman would end his run as a result of the cancer. But the legend of J.R. would continue.
- Jeanne Prejean