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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”