On the original “Dallas,” Miss Ellie’s pearl necklace symbolized her role as wife, mother and fount of wisdom. Along with the beloved matriarch’s sack dresses, those little white beads became Ellie’s most enduring signature.
On TNT’s “Dallas,” Ann’s beads serve as visual shorthand for her role as Bobby’s wife and the new woman of Southfork. The first time we see her wearing them, during that terrific dinner scene in “Changing of the Guard,” TNT’s first “Dallas” episode, we know instantly what kind of character Ann is supposed to be.
Of course, putting Ann in pearls automatically invites comparisons to Miss Ellie, which is a bit risky since Barbara Bel Geddes is so revered among “Dallas” diehards. Indeed, while I tend to see Ann’s pearls – along with her Ellie-esque penchant for guns – as affectionate tributes to Bel Geddes’ character, some of my fellow “Dallas” fans seem to view them as cheap mimicry.
Perhaps this explains “The Last Hurrah” scene where J.R. gives Ellie’s pearl necklace to Sue Ellen. It’s as if the “Dallas” producers, anticipating there might be some Ann skeptics in the audience, wanted to make sure everyone understood the character doesn’t have a monopoly on white beads. In other words: Brenda Strong might be playing the new lady of the manor, but Linda Gray has inherited Bel Geddes’ mantle as “Dallas’s” elder stateswoman, so Sue Ellen gets the honor of possessing the pearls Ellie actually wore.
But give Ann her due. In “Truth and Consequences,” the character begins coming into her own, especially in the scene where she meets Rebecca for coffee and offers the confused young woman comfort (“You’re young, Rebecca. You make mistakes when you’re young. It doesn’t mean you can’t change.”), as well as a little tough love (“Your choices are yours.”).
Strong is terrific in this scene, which demonstrates how, even though Ann doesn’t have children of her own (that we know of, that is), she has the potential to become a significant maternal figure to “Dallas’s” younger characters.
I also think it’s notable that Ann is sans necklace when she visits ex-husband Harris Ryland in “Truth and Consequences” and asks him to help slow down the drilling on Southfork. Since Ann’s pearls symbolize her role as Bobby’s wife – and since her meeting with Ryland takes place behind Bobby’s back – it’s probably best she leaves the beads at home.