The Dallas Decoder Guide to Entertaining, Ewing Style

Party on

The holidays are here and that means one thing: It’s party time! Martha Stewart will tell you the secret to successful entertaining is to always make your guests feel comfortable – but to hell with that. If you want to host a really memorable affair, let the Ewings be your guide.

Always on his back

The guest list: Put some thought into it. Do you have a mortal enemy who is obsessed with revenge against your family? By all means, move that person to the top of your invite list. No matter what Cliff (Ken Kercheval) did to the Ewings – he once prosecuted Jock for murder!– Miss Ellie never stopped inviting him to family functions. Why? Because she knew she could count on Cliff to enliven every soiree. Remember the time he incited a mob at a Southfork barbecue? Or the brawl he started at J.R. and Sue Ellen’s wedding reception? Of course you do. Face it: A day or two after your event, no one will remember how pretty your table centerpiece looked. But offer your guests some Cliff-style theatrics and you’ll create memories that’ll last a lifetime.

Off the wagon, in the doghouse

It’s all about tradition. Folks love to get together during the holidays to reminisce – and no one appreciated a stroll down memory lane more than Jock (Jim Davis). When Digger (David Wayne) showed up at one of the Southfork barbecues, Jock waxed nostalgic, recalling the collapse of their partnership decades earlier. He concluded his history lesson by declaring Digger had “been a loser every day of his life,” which sent the recovering alcoholic straight off the wagon. Jock’s tongue-lashing angered Miss Ellie and Pam (Barbara Bel Geddes, Victoria Principal), but Jock suspected the only reason Digger came to the party in the first place was to find an excuse to resume boozing. And as Jock told his family, “I generally try to accommodate my guests.”

Time to go, darlin’

Drink up! Memories shouldn’t be the only thing that flows at your gathering. The Ewings knew a little alcohol could really help guests loosen up and get in a celebratory spirit. For this, we have Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) to thank. Remember when she got tipsy at a Southfork barbecue and blabbed to everyone the intimate details of her marriage? How about the time the Ewings held a bash at the Oil Barons Club and Sue Ellen passed out after taking a nip or two (or three or six) of vodka? Then there was the time our heroine got smashed at Lucy and Mickey’s cookout, swiped J.R.’s keys and wrecked his car. OK, that last one ended up killing the joyful atmosphere at Southfork that evening – but at least it didn’t kill Sue Ellen’s future political viability.

Taste of success

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No one should try to organize a big celebration on their own. Just ask Miss Ellie, who always counted on family and friends to help out – especially in the kitchen. Sister-in-law Jessica Montfort was a whiz at chopping veggies and Donna was an ace sous chef, while J.R. (Larry Hagman) and the rest of the Ewings were happy to serve as Mama’s taste-testers. For the real heavy lifting, though, Ellie relied on the hired help. The Ewings went through dozens of butlers and housekeepers over the years. Some were old, some were young, but remarkably, all of them were named “Raoul” and “Teresa.” Carmen the cook has been at Southfork for a long time too, although we didn’t see her until the Ewings moved to cable.

Guess what?

Parties are for surprises! Do you know someone who’s been dying to share a big secret with the world? Perhaps your event offers the stage they seek. Lucy blurted out her suspicions about Sue Ellen and Peter Richards’ affair at a get-together on the Southfork patio. Cousin Jamie chose a Ewing barbecue to reveal her stake in the family empire. James Beaumont announced he was J.R.’s illegitimate son at a Ewing dinner at the Oil Baron’s Club. The tradition continues: John Ross used Bobby’s birthday party to unveil his plot to drill for oil on Southfork, while Rebecca (Julie Gonzalo) decided the family’s final barbecue at the ranch was the ideal setting to tell Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) about her role in the scheme to break up him and Elena.

Oh, sit

Seating matters. Will your affair include a sit-down meal? Follow the example set by J.R., who always knows the perfect place for newcomers to the Southfork dinner table. He once told Ray, “You sit where Gary used to. You two have so much in common.” Later, on her first night at the ranch, J.R.’s daughter-in-law Michelle Beaumont asked him where she should sit. “Right there,” J.R. responded, pointing to an empty seat on the other side of the table. “Used to be Pam’s chair. I couldn’t stand her either.” J.R. also knew where guests shouldn’t sit. Just ask Clayton (Howard Keel), who got the stink-eye every time he sat in Jock’s old seat. No, seriously. J.R. cut Clayton a dirty look each time he came to the table. Every. Single. Time. For eight seasons.

The price of a clever wit

Keep the conversation lively. Miss Manners will tell you some topics shouldn’t be discussed in polite company – but Miss Manners never attended a Ewing fete. When this brood gets together, every subject is fair game. Once, when Miss Ellie worried that Sue Ellen didn’t eat enough at dinner, J.R. waved around a liquor bottle and said, “She gets all the nourishment she needs from this.” Moments later, he described Pam thusly: “Everybody can see that she’s cracking up, slowly and surely. And who can blame her? I mean, she finds out that her daddy, Digger Barnes, is no relation at all. And her real father is a saddle tramp and a thief. And her mother’s a whore! Who could find it in their heart to hate that poor little girl, huh?” Bobby responded by punching J.R. in the gut. He never could take a joke.

Everybody in!

Two words: “Swimming pool.” If you have one, use it. After all, if you’re going to party like the Ewings, your guests are going to need a place to cool off.

What have the Ewings taught you about entertaining? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Decoder Guides.”


  1. This post was amazing! So witty and clever. And above all – TRUE! I hope the Ewings will use that swimming pool in the new series. It won’t be Dallas without it! Clayton DID get a dirty look every time he sat in Jock’s chair. It was almost like a running joke. Not to mention a lot of Hanky-panky goes on at these shindigs, plus oil deals. It’s such a shame April was not invited to a Ewing BBQ. I love that episode where she cried her eyes out because she was over-looked for an invitation.

    • Oh, darn! I forgot about April’s exclusion. I should’ve included that somehow. She missed a good show too. I think that was the year Dandy Dandridge brought a gun to the barbecue and tried to shoot Cliff.

      Thanks for commenting Lady G. Hope you have a happy Thanksgiving!


  2. barbara fan says:

    So many great scenes and points to consider
    and all the best ones from original Dallas
    nothing memorable for me from any TNT version
    great post once more
    PS Cant wait for wed and the Search!! x

  3. Wonderful and fun posting!

    Know what you need to add? If you are cheating on your spouse, you need to invite your lover. This way you can impress him/her with Southfork. Or you can use it as a chance to have sex in the house or barn…under your spouses nose. Or maybe you use it as an opportunity to rub your spouses nose in it by parading your lover publicly around the party. Or maybe you invite your spouse’s lover to the party so you can manipulate him/her. No matter what the reason….a family party is a good place to get under your spouses’s skin! Or maybe you use the party to announce your undying love to your suspicious spouse. Of course, we all know that these shenagins are pretty much the sole job of one couple…..JR and Sue Ellen.

    Plus, I do have to say that no party is very exciting without JR present. Either he is actively involved in the drama or he is providing the bombastic narrative comments to others’ drama. Think about it. The wedding and Ewing BBQ this past season were not so exciting because JR and his mouth either were not there or were not shown. Now, think about the CB ball…. Only excitement there? JR playing Bobby with the sweet, old man act. Him threatening the lawyer….’I don’t like to hit a man below the belt……but you know I will’. And of course, his very touching and sweet chat with Sue Ellen.

    • So true, Hel! Really good point about the differences between the wedding and the Cattle Barons Ball on the new show. A party ain’t a party without J.R.


  4. Forgot to add…..totally forgot about the JR giving Clayton the stink eye all the time. Actually kind of amazing that he added that touch every time all those years…LOL. Gotta love my JR.

    Plus the one thing that Lucy most certainly shares with JR…the total lack of filter on the mouth. Her comments at parties rivaled his. LOL…..

    • Yes! I was actually going to make a point about Lucy, who is second only to J.R. when it comes to quips, but I thought my post was getting too long as it is. I’ll have to devote a whole other post to Lucy’s wisecracks.

  5. Everybody ended up in the pool at J.R. and Sue Ellen’s wedding. For every main character that got tossed in, they took two bystanders with them.

  6. Breaking news about Larry Hagman! I think my heart literally just dropped. 😦

  7. Larry wouldn’t want u 2 be sad C. B., nor any “DALLAS Decoder” fans. He’d want u to remember all of his aqua adventures both in & out of the Southfork Ranch pool. Such as in hottubs with very pretty ladies to lock in another deal for the greater good of the EWing Oil Company Limited & the legacy of Jock Ewing, the master who started the entire empire! I loved it when ol’ J. R. gave a romantic pool tumble to Marilee Stone in her pool just to close a deal. He didn’t want to b/c she was Seth’s widow, but it was Marilee’s intiation, so he knew that in order to “get the deal done”, he’d have to “get the romantic job done” with her!

  8. Mary Ann says:

    My favorite was Oil Baron’s Ball fight. JR was his usual finest, Cliff speech though predictable but honest, best part was Bobby hitting Mark, Mark deserved it!!!! Mark is a lousy fighter, Bobby would have pummeled him if he had been given more of a chance . Then again Bobby was better than Mark, that is why Pam could not get over him and truly loved him to the end. Mark was just a temporary, inept distraction, who faded quickly. Also great was the confrontation between Jenna and Pam in the ladies’ room, Jenna you may have been the first for Bobby but you were not the best or his one true love (you were his young love, but Pam was his adult/grown up love) Pam was and will always be.


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