The Dallas Decoder Guide to Politics, Ewing Style

Sue Ellen is the latest Ewing to hit the hustings. (Photo credit: Bill Matlock/TNT)

The Republicans are in Tampa and the Democrats are headed to Charlotte, but the real political heavyweights are in “Dallas.” Here’s a look at some of the gladhanders, grandstanders and gurus who’ve courted the Ewings’ support – and occasionally, their wrath – on the original series, its “Knots Landing” spinoff and TNT’s “Dallas” revival.

MAYNARD ANDERSON (Peter Mark Richman)

Maynard Anderson

Anderson was an oil industry darling whose appointment to a high-ranking Department of Energy post left Jock and J.R. giddy. But Andreson’s new job was jeopardized when his shrewish wife Melissa threatened to expose his affair with Jenna Wade, Bobby’s old flame. J.R. promised to help out his pal Anderson, which meant using Jenna to try to split up newlyweds Bobby and Pam. J.R.’s ploy failed and Jenna released Bobby from her clutches (for awhile, anyway); the audience never learned if Mr. Anderson actually went to Washington.

CLIFF BARNES (Ken Kercheval)

Cliff Barnes

Cliff had a talent for attracting trouble – his college girlfriend died after a botched abortion and he was arrested for Julie Grey’s murder and Bobby Ewing’s shooting – but he never let scandal get in the way of his ambition. Despite losing bids for state senate and Congress, Cliff was appointed to several cushy gigs, including oil industry watchdog and “energy czar.” Of course, Cliff was too busy trying to beat the Ewings to hold onto any job long. As we learned in the “Dallas” finale, if J.R. hadn’t been born, Cliff would’ve been president!

ALAN BEAM (Randolph Powell)

Alan Beam

Alan was a rising star at Smithfield Bennett, the law firm that represented the Ewings, but he wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in – and above all, he believed in Cliff, whose congressional campaign he managed. (Alan even had the courage to wear a “Barnes for Congress” button to Jock’s birthday dinner!) Too bad it was all a ruse: Alan really worked for J.R., who wanted to sabotage Cliff’s campaign from the inside. The plan worked like a charm, but when J.R. and Alan had a falling out, Alan became a prime suspect in J.R.’s shooting. (FYI: He didn’t do it.)


Martin Cole

When the Ewings needed a candidate to run against Cliff for state senate, they recruited Cole, a Fort Worth city councilman who had the right platform (pro-gun, anti-abortion) and connections (he was married to Senator Orloff’s niece Nancy) but the wrong personality – which is to say he had none. With Cliff gaining in the polls, Jock ordered Cole to fire his speechwriter and buy more TV time; he also instructed J.R. to take Mr. Milquetoast shopping for snazzier suits. Cole won – not because of his image makeover, but because J.R. exposed Cliff’s skeletons.


Dave Culver

Dave, the son of political legend Sam Culver, pushed through a health-care reform bill as a member of the state legislature, but once he moved to the U.S. Senate, his main duty seemed to be flying home to tell the Ewings about the doings in Washington. Interestingly, the family never seemed to mind that Dave recruited Jock for his ill-fated mission to South America. This might be because the senator was one of the Ewings’ most reliable matchmakers: Dave introduced stepmom Donna to Andrew Dowling and hooked Bobby up with Kay Lloyd.


Sam Culver

Sam, a onetime Texas governor and speaker of the house, was one of Texas’s most powerful men. When Cliff was running the Office of Land Management and putting the screws to the Ewings, J.R. tried to blackmail Donna Culver, Sam’s young bride, into persuading her husband to oust Cliff from his perch. Instead, Donna confessed all to Sam, who forgave his wife and threw his support behind Cliff. Sam’s devotion to Donna was admirable, but he wasn’t perfect: After his death, she discovered Sam and Jock once staged a land grab that resulted in Sam’s uncle’s suicide.


Andrew Dowling

Dowling, possessor of the thickest head of senatorial hair this side of John F. Kerry, disagreed with lobbyist Donna Culver Krebbs on every issue, including tariffs on imported oil and U.S. intervention in Nicaragua (how topical, “Dallas”!), but that didn’t keep him from sweeping the very married, very pregnant Donna off her feet. Later, when the Justice Department was about to lay the smackdown on Ewing Oil over J.R.’s escapades in the Middle East, Dowling tipped off the family, which really should have been Dave Culver’s job, but whatever.

WALT DRISCOLL (Ben Piazza) and EDGAR RANDOLPH (Martin E. Brooks)

Walt Driscoll and Edgar Randolph

Here we have a pair of hapless, mustachioed bureaucrats: Driscoll was one of Cliff’s successors at the Office of Land Management, while Randolph was a federal contracting official. Both men were blackmailed by J.R., both tried to kill him (Driscoll with a car, Randolph with a gun) and both turned suicidal, except Randolph couldn’t do that right, either.


Bobby Ewing

When the governor appointed Dave Culver to fill an empty U.S. Senate seat, his party tried to recruit Dave’s stepmom Donna to complete his term in Austin. She demurred, so party leaders turned to Bobby, who ran for the job and won in a landslide. Bobby then hired Cliff as his legal counsel, which might explain why he seemed so unfamiliar with the term “conflict of interest.” Not only did Senator Ewing preside over an inquiry into his father’s plan to build a resort on Lake Takapa, he also participated in a state investigation into the coup J.R. financed in Asia.

GARY EWING (Ted Shackelford)

Gary Ewing

Like Cliff, Gary didn’t let his private demons keep him from taking a stab at public service. Despite a record that included drinking, gambling, an arrest for murder (Ciji Dunne) and multiple marriages (including one to Valene when she was just 15), Gary – the middle Ewing brother – decided to run for state senator in his adopted home of California. He lost, although the electoral defeat probably stung less than the fact Gary’s wife Abby was sleeping with his opponent, Peter Hollister.

J.R. EWING (Larry Hagman)

J.R. Ewing

When J.R. and Bobby were battling each other for control of Ewing Oil, J.R. tried to beat baby brother by opening a chain of cut-rate gas stations. After he plugged them on Roy Ralston’s talk show, the public clamored for J.R. to run for office (presaging Ross Perot’s use of “Larry King Live” as his political launching pad). Nothing came of this, but for awhile, Dave Culver was worried J.R. might run against him. When Dave questioned J.R.’s fitness for office (“All he knows about is oil!”), Ray reminded him about Jimmy Carter: “All he knew about was peanut farming.”


Sue Ellen Ewing

Sue Ellen is running for governor on TNT’s “Dallas,” despite the skeletons she stuffed in her closet during the original series. To recap: Sue Ellen was institutionalized for alcoholism; arrested for J.R.’s shooting; and embroiled in a series of ugly paternity suits, divorces and custody battles. Also, a drunken Sue Ellen was behind the wheel when Walt Driscoll smashed into J.R.’s car, and when J.R. was shot again, she did pull the trigger. The hits keep coming: Sue Ellen recently accepted a donation from sleazy Harris Ryland and blackmailed a coroner.


Miss Ellie Ewing Farlow

Miss Ellie never held office, but she was the only “Dallas”-ite who seemed to possess the political savvy needed to get things done. In her role as a leader of the civic-minded Daughters of the Alamo, she stopped high-rise apartments from being built in Mimosa Park (by the way, did Sue Ellen name that place?) and converted an abandoned building downtown into a homeless shelter. Ellie wasn’t afraid to get personal either: When Jock wanted to build a resort on Lake Takapa, she threatened to divorce him!


Donna Culver Krebbs

Donna was a go-to political gal: She advised stepson Dave Culver, served on the Texas Energy Commission and became an oil industry lobbyist. Like all good public servants, Donna strove for consistency: While she was married to Sam Culver, she began an affair with Ray Krebbs, then married Ray and began seeing Andrew Dowling (while pregnant with Ray’s child). Donna divorced Ray, gave birth to their daughter Margaret, married Dowling and moved to Washington – where she hopefully found the happy ending that eluded her in Dallas.

KAY LLOYD (Karen Kopins)

Kay Lloyd

When the feds discovered J.R. tried to blow up the Middle East to boost domestic oil prices (no, really), the Justice Department shut down Ewing Oil and prohibited the family from using the company name again. Bobby went to work reclaiming the name with help from Kay, a Dowling aide who lived a fabulous lifestyle (chauffered limousine, swanky apartment, designer duds) despite the meager salary she must’ve received as a Capitol Hill staffer. Bobby and Kay became an item, but the romance died when she wasn’t willing to move to Dallas. (Can you blame her?)


Henry Harrison O’Dell

To reclaim the Ewing Oil name, Bobby turned to Jock’s old friend O’Dell, a powerful senator who was eager to help – but only if Bobby agreed to buy him a retirement castle in Scotland. (It turned out O’Dell wasn’t fond of the unnamed state he represented, which he called a “mosquito-infested swamp.”) Bobby was reluctant to play O’Dell’s game until Kay told him that’s how Washington works. In the end, Bobby got the Ewing Oil name back, O’Dell got his castle – and hopefully, the senator’s constituents got a more honorable representative.


“Wild Bill” Orloff

State Senator Orloff was a friendly, backslapping good old boy who did just about anything the Ewings asked of him. Did his eagerness to please have anything to do with the fact the Ewings bought Orloff the house he shared with his pretty little wife Dorothy? Good-government crusader Cliff thought so. When J.R.’s disillusioned secretary/mistress Julie leaked a copy of the trust deed to Cliff, he exposed the Ewing-Orloff shenanigans and Orloff was forced to resign his seat. But he and Dorothy kept their house.


Stephanie Rogers

When Cliff emerged as a public hero after leading an inquiry into an Exxon Valdez-style oil spill involving a Ewing Oil tanker (honestly, how did this company stay in business?), he toyed with the idea of running for governor. Enter Stephanie Rogers, the British-accented PR whiz who promised Cliff she would further polish his image and get him elected. When that didn’t happen, Cliff fired Stephanie, who disappeared faster than anyone could say, “Fake Alexis.”

GREG and ABBY SUMNER (William Devane, Donna Mills)

Greg and Abby Sumner

Sumner was a California state legislator running for U.S. Senate when Gary’s wife Abby offered him a campaign check from J.R. Sumner declined the money but won the seat, only to resign weeks later to go into business. Later, Sumner and Abby married and he went after an appointment as trade representative to Japan – which she got instead.


Fenton Washburn

Washburn was your stereotypical big-bellied Texas sheriff. Although the Ewings owned him, Washburn didn’t hesitate to exert his authority when the family ran afoul of the law: He arrested Jock for Hutch McKinney’s murder, hauled J.R. in for questioning in Kristin Shepard’s death and threatened to arrest Sue Ellen for manslaughter after the car accident that paralyzed Mickey Trotter. He responded slowly when Miss Ellie was kidnapped, which might explain why the next time the Ewings needed the police, there was a new sheriff in town: Burnside (Ken Swofford).


Mark White

White attended the 1985 Ewing Rodeo, giving him the distinction of being the only real-life politician to appear on “Dallas.” (Rival soap “Dynasty” once hosted Gerald Ford and Henry Kissinger.) Of course, White’s cameo ended up being part of Pam’s dream, which might explain why his speech to the rodeogoers was so hilariously brief (“Thank you. Thank you. It’s really great to be with y’all up here today. Thank you.”). Think about it: a politician who limits public pronouncements to just 16 words? If that’s not a dream, I don’t know what is.

What has “Dallas” taught you about politics? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Decoder Guides.”


  1. Sue Ellen’s candidacy seems like a fun story, until you realize that in the real world her past is so checkered she could win a board games tournament. Imagine the vetting team making their report on her! It’s a shame Donna never held office. I think she’d be someone I’d vote for in real life. Great rundown honey!

  2. Margaret Krebbs says:

    Dave Culver and Andrew Dowling were the most altruistic of politicians, yet they were always ready to help out the less than transparent Ewings. Good thing their halos were never tarnished!

    Donna was like real-life Elizabeth Warren, always looking out for the common man, always on the side of the good and just, not afraid to expose and question.

    Cliff was soooo much more interesting a character as a politician. His dirty political dealings made sense and were more believable. Cliff could right the wrongs he perceived done to his daddy and his family’s legacy at the same time he was had real power over the system. That was amazing. Once he tried to beat JR at his own game from the inside, as president of Wentworth, his character became cartoonish and one dimensional.

    Edgar Randolf was the strangest character ever created on Dallas. Everything about Edgar was slightly off. He just looked like a man with a secret wound a little too tightly trying to keep it on the down-low. What risk by creating a reformed child molester as a sympathetic character! Could this guy even have been created now, in 2013?

    But my all-time favorite Dallas politician was Alan Beam. Just the right amount of charm and sleeze, ambition and intelligence, impatience and arrogance. He looked and acted like a transplanted east-coast prep school boy gone Texas. Perfect in every way!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I always felt badly for Walt Driscoll. He was a faithful public servant who didn’t have any skeletons in his closet. He truly loved his wife and job, but because JR blackmailed him he lost his wife, job, home, spotless criminal record, and his life. I don’t know why he teamed up with JR except maybe to earn a living even if it was illegal with hopes of winning back his wife. Unfortuneately, he was destined for this tragic ending events of his life. He deserved a better fate.

    • I think Walt got a little greedy, but that seems to happen to a lot of people who enter J.R.’s orbit. If nothing else, Walt could have spared himself a lot of trouble if he had just married a woman with better driving skills.

      • Anonymous says:

        No,I understand but Walt lost his job at the OLM because of JR’s blackmail. I agree that Walt should have stayed away from JR after he gave JR the variance for pumping oil. Walt’s wife was set up with the hit-and-run but if she had been a better drive then JR would have had to find a another way to blackmail Walt. I like discussing this. When Walt was doing the last oil transport for JR he was getting a meager $500,000 eventhough JR and Holly were getting $20,000,000 apeice. It seemed like Walt wasn’t getting beans considering the risk he was taking. He took this risk in part to win back his wife Carol. So greed was part of it but so was his desire to win back his wife.

      • Anonymous says:

        If I were Walt I would have gone to Jeremy Wendell of Weststar and provided them with JR’s dealings with Cuba. Since JR was willing to let Driscoll stay in jail and Walt was betrayed by JR. Weststar could have provided Walt with a great legal team to have his charges reduced esp. if Walt informed the justice department about the Cuban activity. Weststar would have benefitted with the dissolution of both sides of Ewing oil, Wendell would have been greatful to Walt for his role and given him a good job, money, and even located his wife Carol and tried to bring a reconciliation between him and her. Weststars resources run just as deep as the Ewings and I believe that Jeremy is more honest than JR. This would have been the ultimate revenge against JR.
        If I were JR I would have realized that Walt was still a threat and that getting the Cuban contact would be easier from Walt than by another means. I would have shown up at Walt’s hotel room with $5,000,000.00 which JR could have deducted from Holly’s share, used his powers to eliminate all charges against Walt, convinced Walt’s wife to come back to him, and provided Walt with another job in another state. Walt would still be justifiable upset with JR but these measures would increase Walt’s willingness to give JR the name and also to buy his silence. Pushing Walt around with McSween only blew any chances that Walt would cooperate with JR.
        Where did McSween strike Walt, I could never get a good view?
        When the final audit is completed why was Bobby allowed to include his check from the McCliesch brothers unless Bobby had the audit done prior to the completion of the contest year by say one business day. I thought that the final audit represented the official end to the contest.
        I wish Dallas explained why Carol left Walt. The nice home that Walt and Carol live-was that the home provided to the head of the OLM or did Walt have excess money?
        Walt was a good person who worked hard at his job and was a good husband. He didn’t have a criminal record until his dealings with JR. JR destroyed Walt causing Walt to lose everything. Out of all JR’s victims I feel most sorry for Walt.

      • You’ve convinced me I need to pay closer attention to Walt Driscoll! I hope to review that season of “Dallas” later this year. Based on all of your good insight, I’m really eager to see it again. Thank you!

      • Anonymous says:

        No problem. Even the uncut version of these episodes were a little sketchy. Obviously, Walt needed a raw deal which would result in Mickey’s and Sue Ellen’s accident. It is still fun to apply a non-dramatic response to these situations. But staying away from JR would have been in Walt’s best interest, irregardless.

      • Absolutely. Thanks again!

  4. I loved the classic DALLAS episode where J. R. & the Ewings knife Cliff Barnes out of winning the state Senate seat. As Jock Ewing said “whatever it takes.”


  1. […] new series had acknowledged some of the skeletons rattling around her closet. Given Sue Ellen’s scandalous past, shouldn’t voters have been more skeptical of her […]

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