Hagman was born Larry Martin Hagman[ in Fort Worth, Texas. His mother, Mary Martin, was a popular Broadway actress and his father, Benjamin Jack Hagman,was a district attorney. In 1936, when Hagman was only five, his parents were divorced. He lived with his grandmother in Texas and California. His famous mother became a contract player with Paramount in 1938, and occasionally brought him to her movies. In 1940, his mother met and married Richard Halliday, giving birth to a daughter, Heller, the following year. Larry attended the strict Black Fox Military Institute.
When his mother moved to New York City to continue her Broadway career, Larry Hagman continued to live with his grandmother in California. Just a couple years later, his grandmother died and Hagman would go back to living with his mother. In 1945, at age fourteen, while attending boarding school, he began drinking heavily which would lead to serious health problems later in life. In 1946, Hagman moved back to his hometown of Weatherford, Texas, where he worked as a ranch hand for his father's friend's company. Upon attending Weatherford High School, he was drawn to drama classes and reputedly fell in love with the stage in particular with the warm reception he got for his comedic roles.
Hagman developed a reputation as a talented performer and in between school terms, would take minor roles in local stage productions. In 1949, Hagman graduated from high school and his mother suggested that he try out as an actor.
Hagman began his acting career in Dallas, Texas working as a production assistant and acting in small roles in Margo Jones' Theater '50, during a break from his one year at Bard College. He appeared in The Taming of the Shrew in New York City, followed by numerous tent show musicals with St. John Terrell's Music Circus in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Lambertville, New Jersey. In 1951, Hagman appeared in the London production of South Pacific with his mother, and stayed in the show for about a year.
In 1952, Hagman was drafted into the United States Air Force, during the Korean War. Stationed in London, he spent the majority of his service career entertaining U.S. troops in the UK and at military bases in Europe.
Stage/TV and film actor
After leaving the Air Force in 1956, Hagman returned to New York where he appeared in the Off-Broadway play Once Around the Block, by William Saroyan, and received excellent reviews. This was followed by nearly a year in another Off-Broadway play, James Lee's Career. Despite his success, his career was overshadowed by his mother's fame, which was in ascendancy due to her starring role in the TV movie, Peter Pan. Larry Hagman's Broadway debut occurred in 1958, in Comes a Day. Hagman appeared in four other Broadway plays, God and Kate Murphy, The Nervous Set, The Warm Peninsula and The Beauty Part.
During this period, Hagman appeared in numerous, mostly live, television programs. He joined the cast of The Edge of Night, as Ed Gibson, in 1961, and stayed in that role for two years. In 1964 he made his film debut in Ensign Pulver, which featured young unknown, Jack Nicholson. That same year, Hagman also appeared in Fail-Safe, opposite Henry Fonda.
I Dream of Jeannie
After years of guest-starring in many TV roles, and starring in a less successful series the previous year, he hit the jackpot in 1965, by playing Barbara Eden’s TV boyfriend, Major Anthony Nelson in the sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie, for NBC. The show had climbed into the Top 10 in its first year and was NBC's answer to both successful 1960s magical comedies, Bewitched and My Favorite Martian.
In its first season, NBC executives decided that the show should not be filmed in color which was prohibitively expensive at the time. However, by the second season in 1966 the show was filmed in color in recognition of the widespread uptake of color televisions by the viewing public.
By 1970, Jeannie was running out of steam and during the last season, Hagman’s character finally married Jeannie.
After Jeannie was canceled, Hagman had two other short-lived series in the 1970s: Here We Go Again and The Good Life. He made guest appearances on television shows like Love American Style, Medical Center, and McCloud. He also appeared in such television films as Getting Away From It All (1972), Sidekicks (1974), The Return Of The World's Greatest Detective (1976), Intimate Strangers (1977), and Checkered Flag Or Crash (1977).
Hagman also appeared in the theatrical films The Group, Harry and Tonto (1974), Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), The Eagle Has Landed (1977), Superman (1978), and Primary Colors (1998). He directed (and appeared briefly in) a low-budget comedy/horror film in 1972 called Beware The Blob (a sequel to the classic 1958 horror film, The Blob). Some have jokingly called this "the film that J.R. shot".
In late 1977, after he quickly turned down the role of Dr. David Banner in The Incredible Hulk, Hagman chose to leave the good guy image behind and took on the starring role in Dallas, which was the first long-running, 1980’s prime-time soap opera to make the big time.
Hagman read the script for the role at his wife’s suggestion, and they concluded it was perfect for him. Another attraction for Hagman was that as a native Texan he did not have to travel that far from his hometown, which gained great exposure and notoriety from the series.
He was cast as conniving older son and businessman, J.R. Ewing, a man whom everybody loved-to-hate. Co-starring on the show were a number of unfamiliar, yet promising actors, including Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal, as J.R.’s younger, nice brother and his sister-in-law, Bobby and Pamela Ewing.
In mid-1978, the producers thought that the series was originally supposed to be about Bobby and Pam, and it wasn’t originally intended to be a ratings bonanza, with producers anticipating having to cancel the show after only five episodes.
However, thanks to the strong fan following for Hagman's portrayal of J.R. from Day 1, he was credited as being the star who saved the show being offered a second season, on the strength of excellent first season ratings. His co-star Linda Gray also received a starring role, as JR’s long-suffering wife. Overall, the cast got along very well with Hagman, particularly Duffy, who would often spend weekends with the Hagmans. The chemistry between Hagman and Duffy was convincingly like sibling rivalry which made for exciting onscreen exchanges and equal screen time for Duffy's character, something to which Hagman had no objections.
Seen in over 90 countries, the show was a worldwide success and Hagman became one of the most reliable and supportive network stars. As the star of the show, Hagman drew on many of his youthful experiences of growing up in Texas to bring depth to J.R.'s irascible character. While J.R. played out a complex love/hate relationship with his "Dallas" family, Hagman enjoyed a relaxed and warm relationship with his castmates, often playing practical jokes to lessen the tension caused by tight filming schedules and highly emotionally charged scripts.
By the end of its second season, Dallas was a bonafide hit. Producers were keen to capitalize on J.R.'s love/hate relationship with his TV family, building anticipation to a fever-pitch in a cliff hanger season finale in which J.R. is shot.
At the beginning of Dallas' third season, audience and actors were guessing “Who Shot J.R.”. During the media build up, Hagman was involved in contract negotiations delaying his return in the third season. Holding out for a higher salary, Hagman did not appear in the first episode of the show, despite all the media and fan frenzy over the fate of J.R.
In the midst of negotiations, Hagman took his family to London for their July vacation. He continued to fight for his demands and network executives conceded that the show really could not go on without him. From the third season, Hagman was paid a huge amount per episode.
At the beginning of the third season, writers were told to keep the storylines away from the actors until they really found out who actually shot J.R.; and it took at least three weeks until the culprit was revealed on November 21, 1980.
By near the end of its third season, Hagman’s co-star and TV father (Jim Davis) had been diagnosed with brain cancer in 1981, and despite his condition, he was retained on the show so that he not only died in real-life, but he was also written out of the show, with his character sent off to South America in a plane to work on the oil fields. The following year, Davis’ character died, and the producers couldn’t do a death episode for Davis at the beginning of the fourth season, but had to wait until the following season, where they aired an episode dedicated to Davis' final will and testament and its effect on the Dallas family. Hagman and the rest of the cast attended Davis’ funeral, after the season finale.
For his work as JR Ewing, Hagman was nominated for two Emmys between 1980 and 1981, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, but didn’t win. He was also nominated for four Golden Globes, between 1981 and 1983 and one in 1985, but didn’t win. He was nominated for a Soap Opera Digest Award seven times for Outstanding Villain on a Prime Time Serial, Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial, Favorite Super Couple: Prime Time and Outstanding Actor in a Comic Relief Role on a Prime Time Serial, and won five times. In 1984, his co-star (Barbara Bel Geddes) had departed from the show, when she was on a medical leave, due to a sudden heart attack. At one point, Hagman suggested to his real-life mother (Mary Martin) to play Miss Ellie, but she refused and was replaced with veteran actress (Donna Reed of The Donna Reed Show fame), who was fired from the show, just one year before her death in 1986.
Bel Geddes came back in 1985 and stayed on until 1990. In 1985, his co-star (Patrick Duffy) left the show in order to pursue a career in TV movies, and thanks to Hagman’s wishes, Duffy decided to come back at the end of the 1985-86 season.
The decline in Dallas' fortunes in the late eighties was mirrored in Hagman’s private life. He was drinking continuously and this led him to developing cirrhosis of the liver. During the final season of Dallas, he was with former Jeannie star Barbara Eden, who played J.R.’s conniving girlfriend. By the end of its thirteenth season in 1991, ratings continued to slip and CBS decided to end Dallas after a remarkable run. Hagman was the only actor to appear in 356 of the 357 episodes total. Due to his character's popularity, he made 5 guest appearances on Knots Landing, which itself was Dallas's spinoff in the early 1980s.
Hagman's relationship with Patrick Duffy's family began in the mid 1940s, when this teenaged actor went to spend a lot of time with Duffy's parents. In the reunion, Duffy said of Hagman's friendship with his real-life parents, "Larry knew my parents, before you ever knew me," Later, he said about working with the veteran actor on a weekly series on which it made Patrick really nervous, "I would get a phone call from them, when I was driving my truck, and they said, 'Call this nice Mr. Hagman, maybe he can help you in the business.' And I didn't know who the hell Mr. Hagman was!" Patrick also said of Hagman's tenure on Dallas: "Larry took the part that could've been a joke, just plain 'The Evil Master of the Universe'. And he decided to play J.R. as the hero. Larry believes that J.R. was his knight in shining armour. He thought he'd never done something wrong!" Duffy would also say something about Hagman's character who did everybody more harm than good, "He never actually killed anybody. He fomented revolutions in South America, he had no problems with environmental disasters, he sank ships, he had babies stolen --- he made babies, God knows he was like a rabbit. In fact, my son was his on the show, figure that one out." When the "Who Shot JR?", media was surrounded, Duffy would say of Hagman's contract renegotiation, "Not only it was 'Who Shot JR?', it was 'Who's going to be JR?', and the press took a hold of that, and I think the studio is throwing out people's names, in their negotiations with Larry, and this will scare him, it won't scare him!" Upon Hagman's return to the show, Duffy said, "And he came back and it was grand, you know, it was Larry!" Years before Hagman's hospitalization, Duffy was one of the stars to be emotionally concerned about his drinking behavior, "He came to my house and had cornflakes and Bourbon. And I realized, he was just way out of his league," he said, "We'd arrived for make-up around 7:30 A.M. in the morning and the first bottle will be popped open," the last thing he said was, "He'd continued to imbibe, not just throw it back, but to keep that buzz going, all day long." After the show was canceled and Hagman's short battle against cancer, Duffy still remained close to Hagman.
In January 1997, Larry starred in a short lived TV series named Orleans as Judge Luther Charbonnet. It lasted only eight episodes. Hagman appeared without the toupee he had started wearing during the filming of "Dallas". Hagman appeared as a guest star during the fourth season of Nip/Tuck.
In November 1999, after 29 years, Hagman was finally reunited with his Jeannie co-stars Barbara Eden and Bill Daily and creator and producer Sidney Sheldon on the daytime talk show, The Donny & Marie Show for the very first official I Dream Of Jeannie reunion. The show was filled with loving memories and clips from I Dream Of Jeannie. In 2002 when I Dream Of Jeannie was set to join the cable channel TV Land, Hagman once again took part in a I Dream Of Jeannie reunion with Barbara Eden and Bill Daily, this time on the Larry King Live show for CNN. For the first time ever fans of I Dream Of Jeannie were able to call in and talk to the cast.
On the TV Land Awards in March 2004, Hagman and Barbara Eden were the first presenters to reunite on stage to give out the first award to the best TV twin. The award went to Patty Duke for The Patty Duke Show. In October 2004, Hagman and Bill Daily appeared at The Ray Courts Hollywood Autograph Show.
In March 2006, Larry Hagman once again reunited with his former I Dream Of Jeannie co-star Barbara Eden and went on a publicity tour in New York to promote the First Season DVD of I Dream Of Jeannie. Soon after, he flew back to the East Coast and reunited with Barbara Eden on stage for the play Love Letters at the College Of Staten Island in New York and the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. This was the first time they had acted together since appearing on the TV series Dallas in 1990 when Barbara was a guest on several episodes playing an ex-lover (Lee Ann De La Vega) of Larry Hagman's character J.R. Ewing.
Larry: "Barbara Eden is the most beautiful girl in the world." (Source: USIMDB.com)
Larry: "I was born with success. Lucky for me, I am able to handle it. Also, I damn well deserve it." (Source: USIMDB.com)
Larry on the infamous "Who Shot JR?" episode: "Before that fateful shot rang out, I was merely bemused by the success of the character. Villainy could be fun, and that's how I played it. And if it worked. I mean, I couldn't go down to the corner to pick up my copy of the Sunday New York Times without running into some nubile creature with "JR for President" emblazoned across her chest. Now a higher thriller note had been added. People who once merely wanted JR's autograph demanded to know who shot him as if it were their birthright, and were angry and upset when I told them, truthfully, that I didn't know." (Source: USIMDB.com)
Larry on his own therapy: "Before I tried LSD, I'd been going to a psychologist for a couple of years. I found out about success that you have to fight for it a lot, then when you achieve it, you can't give up the fight." (Source: Focusdep.com)
Larry as to why he loved his second show better than I Dream of Jeannie: "I liked Dallas better because it was more deceptive, you could do more with it." (Source: BrainyQuote.com)
Larry on his raise: "At that time, I was making the largest salary known on television and I didn't want to see it die because those were the years paying off when I wasn't making anything." (Source: Celebrina.com)
Larry on his own intrepretation of redundancy: "My definition of a redundancy is an air-bag in a politician's car." (Source: Thinkexist.com)
Larry: "There are very little things in this life I cannot afford and patience is one of them." (Source: Thinkexist.com)
In 1973, his stepfather Richard Halliday died, and Hagman reconciled with his mother soon after. The two became close until his mother’s own death, seventeen years later. Late in 1990, his mother (Mary Martin) was diagnosed with colon cancer and died just one month before her 77th birthday. Hagman enjoyed a warm relationship with his mother, and she was very proud of her son’s accomplishments.
He has been married to Swedish-born Maj Axelsson since 1954, and they have two children, Heidi Kristina (born 1958) and Preston (born 1962). Longtime residents of Malibu, California, they now live in Ojai, California. He has been a member of the Peace and Freedom Party since the 1960s. Hagman derided President George W. Bush, a fellow Texan, before the Iraq War. At a signing for his book he said "A sad figure (Bush) - not too well educated, who doesn't get out of America much. He's leading the country towards fascism".
In 1982 he was given the honor to crown the winner of 1982's Miss Sweden competition in Stockholm. During the coronation he was wearing a traditional Lapphatt and sang a Swedish folksong.
Earlier in his career Hagman was introduced by Jack Nicholson to marijuana as a safer alternative to Hagman's heavy drinking. Although Hagman says he no longer smokes marijuana and is on a "12-step program," he explains that marijuana
"is benign compared to alcohol. When you come right down to it, alcohol destroys your body and makes you do violent things. With grass you sit back and enjoy life."
LSD was such a profound experience in my life that it changed my pattern of life and my way of thinking and I could not exclude it.
In August 1995, Hagman underwent a life-saving liver transplant after admitting he had been a heavy drinker. Numerous reports state he was drinking four bottles of champagne a day on the set of Dallas. He was also a heavy smoker as a young man, but a terrifying cancer scare was the catalyst for him to quit. Hagman was so shaken by this incident that he immediately became strongly anti smoking. He has recorded several public service announcements pleading with smokers to quit and urging non-smokers never to start. Hagman was the chairman of the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout for many years, and also worked on behalf of the National Kidney Foundation.
These health struggles have actually been turned into a running joke on Jim Rome's radio show, where e-mailers routinely send e-mails signed by "Larry Hagman's liver", usually in reference to things that have failed.
In a 2007 interview he talked about how he's now a major proponent of Alternative Energy
Hagman in popular culture
In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer Simpson in: "Kidney Trouble", Homer's father is waiting for a kidney. Dr. Hibbert says that there was one available but "Larry Hagman took it. He's got five of them now. And three hearts! We didn't want to give them to him, but he overpowered us." Hagman later appeared on the show as the voice of attorney Wallace Brady in the episode "The Monkey Suit."
In the 2004 British horror-comedy "Freak Out," the killer is obsessed with Hagman, even to the point of wearing a giant J.R. Ewing mask by the end of the movie. Another scene in the movie has the killer discussing with the main character that all cool horror movie villains have four syllable names ("Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kreuger") and the killer says "Larry Hagman."
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