The show can and will go on…. But will never be the same again.
Ewing Reviewing podcast presenter Cristo Foufas looks back at the times he met Larry Hagman, and asks can the Dallas brand survive without the great man himself?
As someone who considers himself to be a Dallas obsessive, a little part of my childhood died on the weekend of November 24th 2012.
Announcing on my LBC 97.3 Radio show the breaking news of the death of our beloved Larry Hagman was one of the most difficult pieces of journalism I’ve ever undertaken. Partly because of the fact I’m a fan, but mostly because his portrayal of JR Ewing was such a huge part of my history.
I don’t remember a time in my life when the character of JR Ewing wasn’t a part of it. Either from the show’s original transmission, re-watching old clips on Youtube, seeing the repeats on CBS drama, or reliving magic moments as recollected on the forums right here on Ultimatedallas.com. By relishing in Larry’s deliciously delivered dastardly dialogue we were all fooled into thinking this icon would live forever.
Cristo meets Larry Hagman and Linda Gray
And in many ways he will. That footage will always be there. Larry’s portrayal of JR Ewing, which led to Dallas becoming the most successful TV show of all time, will never die. It will remain a permanent testament and tribute to a fine actor, and an even finer gentleman.
I first met Larry Hagman about eleven years ago when he was over in the United Kingdom promoting his Autobiography, “Hello Darlin”. I was a wet behind the ears Entertainment Journalist not long out of college, and securing an interview with my personal icon for the small gay radio station I was working for was daunting to say the least.
But I had nothing to fear. I was welcomed into his hotel suite in Mayfair with open arms by Larry and his lovely wife Maj. I sat on their King Size bed whilst Maj fussed over my producer and I fixing us drinks and snacks and making us comfortable. She took us into different rooms showing us memorabilia and gifts the couple had been given from the various TV interviews they’d been doing during their visit. There were no PR people, no personal assistants, just Larry, Maj, my producer and me. For that hour we were literally part of the Hagman family.
We’d brought Larry a Caftan as he was fond of wearing them on his silent Sundays (Larry never spoke on a Sunday as he liked to have a day of silence in a world where he spoke solidly for he other six days of the week). He was absolutely thrilled at the gesture, so much so he gave me his home address and insisted I stop in to see him and Maj if I ever make it to Malibu.
The interview was full of facts and memories from Larry’s amazing career. From what I remember he spoke about his time living in London during the war, his aforementioned Silent Sundays, and of course his time on Dallas, including his reasons for needing his best friend Patrick Duffy back on the show. I’ve not heard the interview for years (It’s on minidisk, that’s how long ago it was!) but if there’s enough demand for it I’d happily dig it out and transcribe it for everyone on Ultimate Dallas.com
He was a true professional putting this young nervous entertainment reporter at ease. When we’d finished he thanked me, and complimented me on how well informed and well researched my questions were. He didn’t need to do that, but it was important to him and Maj to let me know I’d done a good job, and its something I’ve never forgotten.
In the years since I’ve interviewed many A list stars, but few were as open, reassuring and friendly as Larry. I reminded him of that interview in August when I met him this time for the launch of Dallas on Channel 5. This was a much more formal affair, having been arranged by the army of publicists from the various TV networks involved in the show. As I sat in front of Larry and his co-star and best friend Linda Grey, I said “Larry you gave me your address back in 2001 and asked me to visit you in Malibu after I gave you a Caftan”.
“And did you visit?” He asked
“No” I replied.
“Well why the hell not?!” was his cheeky response. Linda smiled proudly having obviously heard this kind of banter from her friend a million times before.
And when I asked Larry, Patrick and Linda why they were returning for the Dallas reboot, they all had the same answer. “We wanted to work again with our best friends” So it came as no surprise to hear both she and Patrick Duffy were at his bedside at the end.
So can the show survive without the icon that is JR Ewing?
This isn’t the first time Dallas has faced a crisis of this nature. Back in 1981 Jim Davis, who portrayed the patriarchal Jock Ewing, died in-between seasons. Davis, like Hagman, had also been fighting cancer, had been expected to survive, and, as with this case, producers were forced to incorporate the death into the show.
Jock’s absence and subsequent death made for some of the most interesting Dallas storylines over the shows history; The Ewing Oil voting rights, the reading of the will, the ensuing battle for Ewing Oil, the battle to break Jock’s will, even the introduction of the Ewing cousins claiming a third ownership of the company years later couldn’t have happened without Jock’s death being a part of the show. All fantastic storylines, all as a result of Jock Ewing’s death.
That’s not to say the new Dallas producers don’t have a tough challenge on their hands. Hagman died mid season with only six of the fifteen episodes having been filmed. As this was unexpected he’ll presumably have to die off screen which will always make die- hard fans less satisfied than seeing a Bobby Ewing- esque final death scene.
But, as with the death of Jim Davis, this could also be a fantastic opportunity to take the show to the next level. There were episodes in season one of the Dallas reboot which barely featured Larry Hagman at all, and they were still great television.
So the show can survive without JR. This could be perfect catalyst for a whole raft of storylines over JR’s estate. What exactly will his will contain? Who’ll get his share of the oil under Southfork? Will JR’s other children feature in the will? Are we aware of all of JR’s assets or will some now be revealed after his death? What effect will his death have on Sue Ellen? And Bobby? Will the death be related to Cliff Barnes’ continued quest for revenge against the Ewings? Will JR get the last laugh?
And most of all, will John Ross be able to live up to his Father’s reputation and legacy now he’s no longer around?
This was the eternal question, which haunted JR, Bobby, Ray and Gary in the original Dallas; Sons trying to make their father’s proud in life and in death. And that question still stands after the death of the character of JR.
Will Dallas be the same without JR? Of course not, and nor should it try to be. But it’s a great chance to take the show into a different direction and use the creative license JR’s death gives so the writers can come up with some fantastic ideas.
Executive producer Cynthia Cidre is passionate about getting this show right . If you listen to the recent interview I did with her you’ll hear she’s devastated to have got some minor facts wrong in season one.
She’s reassured fans that JR, and Larry will get the send off they deserve in this series, so I for one am happy she’s at the helm, and can’t think of a better person to take the show to the next level.
After all no-one can deny Larry Hagman loved his co-stars, loved Texas, and loved playing just about the best TV character ever. To have his show continue bigger and better than ever is what he would have wanted, and I for one can’t think of a better tribute to the man who helped create the biggest TV show in the world.