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Sue Ellen Ewing in Dallas

"Fight - Sue Ellen doesn't fight. She takes it all inside. That's why shes the one who always gets hurt" - Bobby Ewing, 1983

She is the most poised of the great Texas beauties. She’s Sue Ellen Ewing, J. R.’s wife, John Ross’s mother, the President of Daughters of the Alamo, the chairperson of the fund-raising committee for the underprivileged, and a founder of the Dallas Home for Wayward Boys. But she’s also an alcoholic and an adulteress, and an excellent actress because of it. It’s hard to imagine her any other way than what she projects at a luncheon at Gardens Restaurant or at an exclusive showing at Madam Claude’s—a lady, a gracious Southern belle, a savvy, sophisticated woman of extraordinary hospitality— but when Sue Ellen falls off her stage, she falls hard. Whether the real woman is the one in public or the one in private, no one can be sure, but there is one sure thing: all the world can love Sue Ellen, except Sue Ellen herself.

Sue Ellen Shepard was born and raised in Dallas. Her father was an alcoholic, and soon after Sue Ellen’s sister, Kristin, was born, he deserted the family. A short time later, he died. Her mother, Patricia, with a modest income of her own, never remarried but chose, instead, to concentrate on her lovely daughters. As Sue Ellen recalls, "Mama wanted her girls to have every-thing she wanted and couldn’t get by herself. We were like dolls, created just to fulfill Mama’s wishes. Mama wanted wealth, position. She decided to get it through us. It wasn’t in Mama’s plan to fail." Sue Ellen was reared to be the best, to marry the best, and, growing up as a born people-pleaser, she did exactly as she was told.

She was a straight A student in high school, with particular talents in French and cooking—a combination which her mother readily approved of. She developed an awesome set of social graces, which, though gratifying to her mother, made Sue Ellen a little scared inside. Oh, yes, she enjoyed being well liked—and perhaps worshiped a little—but the Sue Ellen she was projecting was not necessarily the Sue Ellen she felt inside. People thought her ex-traversed, when, in fact, she was quite shy. She felt uncomfortable meeting new people but found herself mechanically offering a radiant smile and what she hoped was an agreeable persona. It was an act, and she knew it, but that was the way life was. Everyone pretended that way, right? Her job was to please her mother and others, and, in exchange, she would grow up and be happy. And so, as insurance for the future, Sue Ellen banked on being perfect.

When she entered the University of Texas at Austin, she was quickly launched as the reigning queen of the campus—unheard of for a fresh-man. She was undeniably the most gracious, beautiful creature to appear on the social scene for some time. She was invited to join all of the sororities and she moved into one her freshman year, where she had two roommates—which she liked, since she had never been away from her mother and sister before, Sue Ellen made varsity cheerleading and had her choice of virtually any man on campus, hut it was Clint Ogden with whom she fell in love, and he didn’t fit into any of her carefully laid plans.

Clint was a poor student—their dates usually consisted of picnics with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—and Sue Ellen did the unthinkable: she found herself wanting to physically consummate their love. Clint cut basketball practice and Sue Ellen cut cheerleading and the two checked into a four-dollar-a-night motel with a bright neon sign, and the deed was done. Sue Ellen was elated with this side of life and felt no guilt, as she loved Clint and wondered how to manage to marry him (her mother would have a stroke!). But it was not meant to be.

At her mother’s urging, Sue Ellen went for the highest honor for a young woman in Texas: to be Miss Texas and represent the Lone Star State at the Miss America Pageant. She won the local competition in Dallas hands down and went on to grace the stage in Fort Worth at the Miss Texas Pageant in July 1967. The lights were bright on stage, but Sue Ellen could see that there at the judge’s table sat the infamous JR. Ewing, heir to the throne of Ewing Oil. She was attracted to him instantly, as he was to her. They formally met after the pageant, after Sue Ellen was crowned Miss Texas.

Sue Ellen and JR Ewing marry at Southfork Ranch

Sue Ellen had many suitors other than Clint, men with a lot of money, so that wasn’t what overwhelmed her about this man. It was his eyes. "They always seemed to be hiding secrets," she said later. And when he spoke, his powerful voice and hearty self-assurance sent splendid shivers down her spine. Their first date was to dinner at Donahue’s (Sue Ellen politely ordered a spinach salad but couldn’t eat, she was so nervous), followed by the best seats at the Dallas Symphony. JR. was bored by classical music—he stared at Sue Ellen the entire performance—but Sue Ellen was enthralled by the music and by this man beside her. With her stunning beauty and his dashing good looks, they made an incredible couple, turning heads everywhere they went in Dallas.

 

Poor Clint got lost in the shuffle. Sue Ellen had met her man. She loved JR., and, he was rich, powerful, and distinguished. He would satisfy both her and her mother’s needs. Only, how to catch him? Sue Ellen played it exactly the way her mother had always told her—hard to get, and under no circumstances should she go to bed with him until they were married. It was not easy to maintain her ladylike reserve with JR—his animal magnetism made her dizzy with desire at times—but he respected her wishes. Eventually the strategy worked and JR. asked her to marry him. Sue Ellen gleefully accepted, but was terrified when JR. brought her to Southfork to meet his parents, the legendary Jock and Ellie Ewing. She knew how devoted JR. was to them and was sure they’d never like her. To her nervous surprise, Ellie liked her right off, and JR.’s daddy soon did too. Oddly enough, it was Sue Ellen’s mother who was not so keen on the marriage. She wanted Sue Ellen to marry Billy Frampton, heir to an empire in oil and coal and diamonds and uranium.But Sue Ellen, exasperated, had it out with her, and Mrs. Shepard finally set-tied for JR. as a son-in-law.


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