The second-season episode “Survival” features one of my all-time favorite “Dallas” moments: the scene where Miss Ellie points a shotgun at a snoopy newspaper reporter and orders him off Southfork.
The confrontation demonstrates how the Ewings, a thoroughly modern family, cling to old values like defending their land. The shotgun, a symbol of the American frontier, is a crucial prop in the scene – but so are the pearls around Ellie’s neck.
Until characters like Peg Bundy and Roseanne Connor smashed the stereotype in the 1980s, pearls were one of television’s most enduring symbols of motherhood. Donna Reed and Barbara Billingsley wore them while doing housework and mediating domestic disputes in 1950s sitcoms, and Barbara Bel Geddes continued the tradition when “Dallas” began in 1978.
Miss Ellie wears pearls a lot during the show’s second season, when “Dallas” is establishing her character as the show’s wise matriarch. The white beads help reinforce the pearls of wisdom Ellie is forever dispensing to her family.
But the necklace is never more important than it is in “Survival,” when Ellie answers the front door at Southfork to find a reporter seeking comment about the crash of the Ewings’ plane with J.R. and Bobby aboard. Ellie doesn’t take kindly to this intrusion, ordering Ray to fetch the shotgun from the hall closet.
Without the necklace, Ellie is just a little woman holding a gun. Add the pearls and she becomes wife, mother and fierce protector of her family.
Ellie doesn’t wear her pearls as often in “Dallas’s” later years (although Reed sports them when she plays Ellie during the show’s eighth season) and we never see the character wield a shotgun after this episode.
That’s OK, because at that point, we know not to mess with Miss Ellie.