We lost one of the great television legends last Friday. Larry Hagman who had battled health problems for years finally succumbed to complications from throat cancer. The Big “C” was the only thing that could take down J.R. Ewing.
Larry Hagman was so much more than what people saw on television. He was funny, unpredictable and adventurous in a way that most people can’t even imagine. You never knew what to expect when you went to work every day. One morning he showed up to set in a purple gorilla suit and walked around like it was normal. I’ll never forget everyone just going about their business saying, “’Morning Larry!” Larry was always like that, fun and lovable.
I joined the cast of “Dallas” in 1981. Ronald Reagan had just become President and our economy was fighting back from the brink of disaster under Jimmy Carter. Throughout the 80’s while I was on the show I was aware of how wealth and prosperity were handled. The writers for the show wanted to provide a good balance and they based the show on the idea of “good vs. evil”. Greed vs. generosity were the two values of the Ewing brothers, Bobby and J.R.
The show began at the end of the 70’s, a point when the American people were trying to escape from the downward spiral America was on. It was the era of mass inflation, gas lines, skyrocketing interest rates and out of control government. “Dallas” came along and people around the world could watch the drama, tragedy and excess of the wealthy Ewing family. Somehow watching the rich and privileged go through pain made your troubles small in comparison.
When I joined the show it was just after the huge “Who shot J.R.” storyline. The show was a massive hit and was a phenomenon around the world. I remember having a conversation with Larry in the makeup trailer one morning and we were discussing why J.R. hit such a nerve with people and why they hated him yet loved him at the same time. He said that it was a fine line to walk to make that character work. He knew that if he played J.R. as a “rich, greedy, miserable SOB”, no one would get hooked. He said that most people want to “be” J.R.; they want the success that comes from hard work and struggle, but once they have it, they want to be Bobby with the generous character and loving family. Larry had to give them a reason to connect with him so he had to create that raised eyebrow and that J.R. smile to reel people in and love him for his evilness. The producers and writers went with it and Larry created one of the greatest villains of all time.
“Dallas” tackled storylines that were headlines of the day. During the 80’s prosperity was making a comeback. Storylines revolved around the oil cartels and the profits to be made. People were making money again; the stock market grew which manifested in the purchase of big cars, big homes and fashion labels everywhere. It was the era of the “Yuppies” who were making big salaries and living high and there was even optimism and hope among the average folk. Excess was everywhere. I laugh now when people ask me about the show. I say, “Everything was big; big hair, big shoulders, big jewels. We had it all!”
That was then. The magic world of “Dallas” had to come to an end at some point. Things are different now. No longer are people enamored with the rich and powerful. Class warfare has turned all of Wall Street into villains and thieves. Money is evil and success is becoming something to be hidden. There is no “love-hate” relationship with a big Texas oil man like “J.R.”, now it is only hate and anger.
Larry had it right. He knew how to create that magical balance that we have lost these days. There will never been another one like him, and there will never be another J.R. quite like the one Larry created.
I smile when I think of all the wonderful memories I have of my years on “Dallas” and I will say to Larry what he used to say to me at the end of the day…”See ya later Darlin’!”