J.R. Ewing–he’s mean, he’s rich, and he’s back

Back in business: Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman

Way back when TV first started feeding my family, the biggest star there was was Larry Hagman. Dallas was on at least a dozen TV Guide Canada covers in the ’80s as readers couldn’t get enough of J.R., sexy Victoria Principal, Southfork and all those Ewing shenanigans.
TNT hopes to strike oil again with its reboot of Dallas, which starts Wednesday night at 9 p.m. ET (simulcast on Bravo in Canada).
Dallas the first time around was like Mad Men and American Idol all rolled into one. It was a big, fat, cheesy soap opera, but some A-list actors (Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis played the founding family) and that rousing theme song just seemed to elevate it into Must See territory–on a Friday night!
Timing is everything and people were less cynical and more fascinated by the lifestyles of the rich and famous back then. The back-stabbing Ewing clan just seemed like the go-to family at the dawn of the Reagan years.
Not just TV Guide, but new magazines like People and new TV magazines like Entertainment Tonight just kept feeding the Dallas-mania.
Heck, I even did a “celebrity chef” story for TV Guide Canada on Ken Kercheval’s popcorn farm. (Kercheval played J.R.`s nemesis Cliff Barnes). “Who the heck gets into farming these days,” Hagman told his buddy Kercheval back before ethanol subsidies made farming chic again.
Hagman was a pretty tough get by the time I was actually writing anything for the Guide. He was already notorious for his “Silent Fridays” where he refused to speak at all.
Hagman, recovering from treatments for throat cancer, looked frail but was in fine form last January at the TV critics press tour in Pasadena, Calif. There with old pals Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray and the rest of the cast of the new Dallas, he talked about those “Silent Fridays” in the post session scrum.
He says he doesn’t observe the talking ban anymore, “but I should because I talk too damn much on the weekends.”
It was a doctor who told him to rest his voice on weekends so he literally stopped talking at all on Fridays–for 20 years. “I had to kind of mime,” he says, saying the silent treatment actually helped him get rid of tension.
So did gallons of alcohol. Hagman is candid about his binge drinking, a lifelong addiction that nearly cost him his life. Only a liver transplant saved him.
Hagman is also famous among founding TCA members for a party he hosted at his house in Malibu 25 or so years ago. I wasn’t there but former Toronto Star man Jim Bawden says it was one for the ages. There were so many people in Hagman’s house the washroom blocked up and folks who had to go had to go next door–to Burgess Meredith’s house! There they found the Penguin, awake and in his housecoat, sitting at his table with several critics having their own little party well into the night.
There’s also a side story about one nosy reporter who went upstairs at Hagman’s house and went through his sock and underwear drawer. Back then critics would go to any length to get to the bottom of a story.
Hagman never held a grudge, attending the 20th anniversary of the TCA Awards six summers ago in Los Angeles. With him at the time was his wife of 58 years Maj and former TCA president and Houston resident Anne Hodges.
It was fun to see him swarmed a bit like the old days at last January’s press tour. The main difference between J.R. then and J.R. today is an obvious one. “I’m playing my age,” says the 80 year old. “That slows you down a little bit but I’m still as mean as ever—maybe a little meaner because he’s got more experience at it.”
Could anybody else ever play J.R.? Somebody almost did when there was talk of a Dallas feature film–John Travolta!
“He’s a wonderful actor,” Hagman said last January, recalling that the two worked together on the film Primary Colors. “He could play the hell out of it, but…I’m better I think.”
Producers now might see Travolta more as Miss Ellie.
For more on Hagman and the new Dallas, follow this link to the story I wrote earlier this week for The Canadian Press.

Follow @BillBriouxTV

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