Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 67 – ‘Making of a President’

She'll drink your milkshake too

She’ll drink your milkshake too

“Making of a President” introduces one of my favorite “Dallas” characters: public relations whiz Leslie Stewart, played to perfection by Susan Flannery. Leslie only sticks around for a half-season so she might not be remembered by some fans, which is a shame because she’s one of the most intriguing women ever seen on this show.

Leslie is J.R.’s equal in every way. To begin with, both are schemers, as we see in the “Making of a President” scene where she charms Bobby into meeting with her, even though he’s trying to keep a low profile with his new alternative energy division. Later, we learn Leslie wasn’t really after Bobby’s business after all; she was just using him to meet J.R.

Leslie and J.R.’s other similarities are on display in the wonderfully written scene where they dine together in a Japanese restaurant. Here, we learn Leslie is just as worldly as J.R. (he learned to eat with chopsticks during the service, she did in New York), just as outspoken (she suggests he’s a “liar,” a “cheat” and a “double-dealer”) and also just as ambitious (she promises to build him “a halo so big, your shoulders will buckle just trying to carry it around”). Best of all, I love how Leslie refers to herself in the third person (“if you were on the side of the angels, you wouldn’t need Leslie Stewart”), just as J.R. is prone to do.

Like J.R., Leslie is also unapologetically sexual. At the end of “Making of a President,” she sleeps with her friend Justin Carlisle, then kicks him out of bed so she can focus on her business dealings. “I need room to maneuver,” she says.

From this perspective, Leslie resembles two other 1980s icons who were often described as “female versions” of J.R.: Alexis Carrington of “Dynasty” and Abby Cunningham of “Knots Landing.” The comparisons are apt, but remember: Leslie came along almost a year before Alexis arrived and a long time before Abby made her mark. Miss Stewart is the real trailblazer.

Not surprisingly, the Ewing men aren’t quite sure what to make of Leslie. During their Japanese dinner, J.R. hints he wants to sleep with her, while Bobby can’t resist commenting on Leslie’s physical appearance when he meets with her in his office. “You’re very knowledgeable and extremely attractive,” Bobby says. In both instances, Leslie smiles politely and changes the subject. Thirty years ago, what else could a woman do?

It might be tempting to feel sorry for Leslie, but the character is far too cool to want anyone’s sympathy, which is why casting Flannery in the role was genius. The actress joined “Dallas” after a lengthy run as heroine Laura Horton on “Days of Our Lives” and watching her in “Making of a President,” I get the feeling she’s thrilled to be playing against type. In many ways, Leslie was Flannery’s warm-up for Stephanie Forrester, the controlling matriarch she’s played on “The Bold and the Beautiful” since its 1987 debut.

As groundbreaking as Leslie is, she isn’t “Making of a President’s” only device to expose the rampant sexism in the Ewing family. This episode also includes a scene where Jock dismisses the threat to his development project posed by the Daughters of the Alamo. “By the time those ladies finish sipping their tea and making sure their hats are on straight, we’ll have a permit,” he says.

We’re also treated to an amusing moment where Miss Ellie, still distressed over Jock’s relationship with Ray, comes home a little tipsy after having drinks with Donna.

“Miss Ellie, where in the hell have you been?” an agitated Jock asks. “Teresa’s been holding dinner for 45 minutes.”

“Well, then,” Ellie responds matter-of-factly. “I guess we better eat it.”

It’s the perfect response – delivered with aplomb by Barbara Bel Geddes – and a nice reminder that Leslie isn’t the only woman who knows how to handle the Ewing men.

Grade: A

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Mama's home

Mama’s home

‘MAKING OF A PRESIDENT’

Season 4, Episode 13

Airdate: January 30, 1981

Audience: 27.1 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Gunnar Hellström

Synopsis: J.R. returns to power at Ewing Oil but finds his friends don’t want to do business with him, so he hires public relations executive Leslie Stewart to rehabilitate his image. Bobby starts an alternative-energy division. Clint tells Sue Ellen he still loves her.

Cast: Robert Ackerman (Wade Luce), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing III), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Ivan Bonar (Milton), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Joel Fabiani (Alex Ward), Susan Flannery (Leslie Stewart), Anne Francis (Arliss Cooper), Tom Fuccello (Senator Dave Culver), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jerry Hardin (Elroy Askew), Ron Hayes (Hank Johnson), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Monte Markham (Clint Ogden), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Robert Sampson (Senator Pascomb), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Noble Willingham (Justin Carlisle), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Making of a President” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. I have to admit I thought Leslie’s grey/white hair was very sexually attractive!

  2. Vance Blankenbaker says:

    By the way, this was also the episode that introduced us to Phyllis, Bobby’s administrative assistant– I mean, um, secretary??!! My how the times have changed!

    I’d consider this another small but notable event in its own right. The episode’s explanation was that Connie was “out sick” and Phyllis was filling in, but I get the distinct impression by the way the camera lingered on her that the writers already knew this was more than just a temp job.

    I’m glad it was. I always looked for Phyllis in every episode throughout the series, though I could not have known that would be the case at the start. Given how small this part was, it makes little sense to me why she would have such a disproportionate impact on the show. Truly Phyllis is a reminder of how a (minor) character’s screen time has little correlation compared to that character’s psychological weight and value to a series.

  3. Vance Blankenbaker says:

    Another first, I believe! Afton sings for the first time in this episode (after “auditioning” for J.R. in his office). . . Her musical performance was a recurrent diversion over many seasons of Dallas.

  4. I commented on the Japanese food scene, but forgot to say I really liked it. lol. When I said her storyline deflated, I meant more like it fizzled out. As you said, the Ewing men didn’t know what to make of her, and I think after a while, the writers didn’t either. She was too hot to handle and I could easily see her booting Sue Ellen right to the curb as a main female protagonist to J.R. (Sorry, Sue Ellen! lol) But she was just another flash in J.R’s pan.

  5. Isn’t it a shame Leslie and Sue Ellen never share a scene? (Neither do Sue Ellen or Julie Grey, for that matter.) I wonder what they would’ve made of each other?

  6. That would have been fascinating to see!

  7. It’s not too late! Maybe Susan Flannery will pop up on the new series. (I know, I know. Highly unlikely. But a fanboy can dream, can’t he?)

  8. I was really fascinated by Leslie Stewart. I find myself grinning all the time when she keeps playing with JR, knowing exactly what he desires – only to prove that she’s the boss in the end. Seeing how JR usually manipulates and uses people, men and women, the way he wants, it just feels *so* good to see him as the one being manipulated this time, by a strong, self-confident woman who never seems to lose control.

    As for her looks, I heard some people say she appeared quite old most of the time, and I agree with that, but I think that’s due to her awful clothes (those dresses with those collars!!) and her hair colour. For example in that scene during the hearing in Austin, with JR being accused of having financed the revolution in South East Asia, with that pale pink dress and her hair pulled back in a bun, she looked like her own grandmother…

    I think what made Leslie sexy to JR was her power. Her independence. That was a great challenge to him. Unlike all the other women JR was with over the course of years, who kept asking for his attention and affection. Leslie was just so “cool”. She wasn’t as “easy” as everybody else. That must have been a totally new experience for JR, something that awakened his instinct as a hunter…
    It reminds me of the fact JR always rediscovered his love and attraction to Sue Ellen while they were separated, and she showed him she could do very well without him. That’s when he got wild about her all over again. As soon as they were back together, it never took long for the “old” JR to reappear.
    So, JR was obviously fascinated by women who were strong and independent.
    As Sue Ellen once put it: “It’s all a game!”

  9. Love this, Balena. It’s nice to know I’m not the only Leslie Stewart fan around here.

  10. Garnet McGee says:

    This episode is the one where I really felt Dallas got back on track after some lackluster early season 4 episodes. The characters are finally discussing the essence of what it means to be a Ewing. The whole episode is about the core concerns of the characters. The Ewing bride’s manifesto that Sue Ellen delivers to Pam is essential Dallas. “Ewing women must make their own lives.” “Ewing men are into power first and affection second.” “For you to survive you can either get out or you can play by their rules” Ewing disease (John Ross has given Pamela Rebecca a bad case of it) “You don’t catch it until you fall in love with one of them. They lavish you with attention and affection. Then they will walk away from you and then you compete with the only thing they know and love, power and more power. Clearly Cynthia Cidre studied this episode when creating John Ross’ evolution from the first episode in s1 to the final episode of season 2. It seems sexist that the women must play by rules created by the men. Hopefully in the new version the women will also be allowed to create the rules too. I can see where Pamela Rebecca is a little bit Sue Ellen and a little bit Leslie Stewart.

  11. I too love the scene where Sue Ellen describes the “Ewing bride’s manifesto.” (Love that term too, by the way.) And your comparison between Pamela and Leslie is inspired. Thank you!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Dallas’s” fourth-season episode “Making of a President,” J.R. and Leslie (Larry Hagman, Susan Flannery) dine in a Japanese […]

  2. […] there’s symbolism in Pam’s do, too. In “Dallas’s” previous episode “Making of a President,” Sue Ellen urges Pam to have an affair with Alex. “Pam, I just want you to protect yourself,” […]

  3. […] sorry to see the show abandon Bobby’s solar energy storyline, an intriguing subplot that began three episodes ago, the character’s move into politics shows promise too. Bobby’s new role as a senator plops him […]

  4. […] is a letdown – and the resolution to Leslie’s storyline is one reason why. Susan Flannery’s midseason debut was smashing, but somewhere along the line, the show’s writers seemed to lose interest in her […]

  5. […] to play the character, whose business savvy, scheming ways and unapologetic sexuality make her J.R.’s equal and the template for prime-time divas like Abby Cunningham and Alexis Carrington. “Dallas’s” […]

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