The Dal-List: 15 Great ‘Dallas’ Scenes Featuring Larry Hagman

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Once and future king

Larry Hagman made magic every time he appeared on “Dallas,” so coming up with a definitive list of his greatest scenes feels like an impossible task. Instead, let’s just call this a list of 15 performances I love.

Dallas, Digger's Daughter, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Pam Ewing, Victoria Principal

The rose and the briar

15. Welcome to the family. On the day Bobby brings Pam (Victoria Principal) home to Southfork and introduces her as his new bride, J.R. cheerfully takes her outside for a pre-dinner tour of Miss Ellie’s garden, where he offers Pam a bribe to “annul this farce.” When Bobby approaches with a concerned look on his face, J.R. explains he’s just “talking a little business” with his new sister-in-law. “Mama don’t like business talk with supper on the table,” Bobby says. “Well, you know Mama. She’s so old-fashioned,” J.R. responds with a chuckle. It was the first time we heard his mischievous laugh, and it signaled the arrival of a different kind of villain. (“Digger’s Daughter”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

The smiling cobra

14. Poor Cliff. When his latest underhanded deal goes awry, J.R. is forced to sign over ownership of one of the original Ewing Oil fields to Cliff. “I can’t believe it,” Cliff says as he reclines in his chair. “After all these years, I finally whipped J.R. Ewing.” It’s a measure of J.R.’s power that we don’t feel happy for Ken Kercheval’s character at this moment. We feel sorry for him because we know this is a temporary setback for J.R. To wit: When Kercheval delivers the line about “finally” whipping J.R., Hagman responds with a slight smile. It’s more unnerving – and oddly, more satisfying – than any dialogue the writers might have come up with. (“Five Dollars a Barrel”)

Dallas, Joan Van Ark,J.R. Ewing, Knots Landing, Larry Hagman, Valene Ewing

Friendly enemies

13. There goes the neighborhood. When the residents of Knots Landing decide to fight Ewing Oil’s plan to drill near the local beach, J.R. comes to town to squelch the protest. Seeing this larger-than-life Texan in suburbia is a hoot. In one great scene, a frazzled Valene telephones Gary at work while cucumber-cool J.R. pulls a book off her kitchen shelf and flips through it. “I just love cookbooks,” he says. In another golden moment, J.R. takes a bite of the sandwich Val has just served him. “Hey, that is good. What do you call this?” he asks. “Tuna fish,” she hisses. Rarely have Hagman’s comedic sensibilities – and his crackling chemistry with Joan Van Ark – been put to better use. (“Community Spirit”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Secrets cry aloud

12. Here comes Kristin. My favorite Southfork dinner scene: The Ewings are entertaining Sue Ellen’s visiting mother Patricia and younger sister Kristin, who has barely concealed her attraction to J.R. When Kristin announces she’s considering putting off going to college, J.R. suggests she could fill in for his honeymooning secretary Louella. And instead of having Kristin stay at Southfork, J.R. recommends putting her up in the company-owned condo. In other words: J.R. sets up his soon-to-be-mistress with a job and a love nest, right in front of his whole family. No wonder Hagman looks like he’s having the time of his life playing this role. (“The Kristin Affair”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Truth and consequences

11. Sock it to him. My favorite Southfork cocktail hour: Ellie worries Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) didn’t get enough to eat at dinner. “She gets all the nourishment she needs from this,” J.R. says, waving around a liquor bottle. Next target: Pam. “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 mother’s a whore!” Bobby responds by punching J.R., and even though we know he deserves it, we kind of feel sorry for him. This was Hagman’s genius: Despite the awful things J.R. said, the actor delivered his lines with such joy, you couldn’t help but root for him. (“The Wheeler Dealer”)

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Miss Ellie Ewing

Mama dearest

10. He’s got your back, Mama. Hagman often said he only accepted the role of J.R. after the “Dallas” producers told him they had cast Barbara Bel Geddes as his mother. I believe it. Every time these two appeared together on camera, you could feel Hagman’s reverence for her. (Fun fact: Bel Geddes was just nine years older than Hagman.) In this terrific scene, J.R. stands behind Miss Ellie as she chastises the cartel for taking advantage of one of Ewing Oil’s misfortunes. Hagman doesn’t have a single line of dialogue here, but he doesn’t need one. Sometimes great acting means knowing when to let your co-star have the spotlight. (“Waterloo at Southfork”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Call waiting

9. Strike! J.R. is down because he hasn’t hit a gusher in Southeast Asia. The phone rings. “It’s the Associated Press,” Kristin announces. “They want to know something about an oil well.” Line 2 buzzes. This call is from Hank, J.R.’s man in the Orient. “Where the hell have you been?” J.R. demands as he takes the receiver. In the background: A drumbeat builds. Slow, steady. Bum. Bum. Bum. Finally, J.R. exclaims, “Yee-ha! We hit!” This scene is brilliant because it mimics a gusher: The news about J.R.’s strike trickles in before his joyful rupture. Hagman directed the sequence, proving he was just as clever behind the camera as he was in front of it. (“Mother of the Year”)

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Omri Katz

The legacy

8. “This is Ewing Oil.” When J.R. finally goes too far with one of his schemes, the Justice Department forces the Ewings to sell their company. J.R. is giving John Ross one last look around the office when Jeremy Wendell, Ewing Oil’s new owner, enters and orders father and son off the premises. “Take this eyesore with you,” Wendell says as he reaches for Jock’s portrait. “Wendell!” J.R. shouts. “Touch that painting and I’ll kill where you stand.” Hagman takes the picture off the wall, holds it aloft and – with trumpets sounding in the background – says to young co-star Omri Katz, “John Ross, this is Ewing Oil.” The boy smiles. So do we. (“Fall of the House of Ewing”)

Dallas, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, J.R. Ewing, Sue Ellen Ewing

Lest the truth be known

7. Out of the frying pan… J.R. is fixing his breakfast plate in the Southfork dining room when he notices Jock comforting a distraught Miss Ellie. It seems Bobby has just told them he’s leaving the ranch because he’s fed up with J.R.’s dirty deeds. That’s when Sue Ellen chimes in, pointing out J.R. has driven away another Ewing brother. Dumb move, darlin’. J.R. responds with a vicious tirade, calling his wife a “drunk and an unfit mother” and announcing it’s time to send her back to the sanitarium. This is J.R. at his most menacing – which is remarkable since Hagman holds a strip of bacon the whole time he delivers J.R.’s venom-filled speech. (“A House Divided”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

Sins of the father

6. Another close shave. An adult John Ross is in a barbershop getting shaved while J.R. tells him a story that demonstrates how J.R. loved – and feared – Jock. Quietly, J.R. takes the razor from the barber, holds it to John Ross’s neck, yanks off the towel covering his son’s face and reveals he knows the younger man is planning to double-cross him in their scheme to seize Southfork. Then J.R. says, “I don’t blame you for trying to screw me. I was never much of a father during your formative years. And I’d like to make up for that.” As J.R., Hagman could be tough, but he could also be very tender – sometimes all at once, as this scene demonstrates. (“The Price You Pay”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Revelations

5. Tears for Sue Ellen. After J.R. has a very pregnant, very alcoholic Sue Ellen committed to the sanitarium, our heroine escapes, steals a car, wrecks it and goes into premature labor. With the lives of both Sue Ellen and newborn John Ross hanging in the balance, J.R. sits with Bobby at his wife’s hospital bedside and recalls happier times. He concludes his moving monologue by saying, “Oh, Bobby. She’s got to live. She’s just got to.” With this line, Hagman purses his lips, shuts his tear-filled eyes and bows his head. It’s an early glimpse of J.R.’s humanity – and one of the few times the character cries on camera. (“John Ewing III, Part 2”)

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy

The brothers Ewing

4. Mourning Daddy. Jock’s death sends J.R. into a deep depression. He stops shaving, stops showing up for Ewing family dinners and even stops showing up for work. Finally, Bobby (Patrick Duffy) has enough. Barging into J.R.’s bedroom, Bobby yanks him off the bed, drags him across the room, makes him look at himself in the mirror and reminds him their Daddy built the company not just for them, but also for their children. “It’ll never be the same, Bob,” J.R. responds. Hagman’s delivery of this line never fails to move me. Before this moment, we’d seen J.R. break a lot of hearts. This time, he broke ours. (“Head of the Family”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Daddy’s little darlin’

3. Welcome to fatherhood. For months after John Ross’s birth, J.R. all but ignored the child because he secretly suspected Cliff is the father. Cliff thought the same thing and eventually filed a lawsuit to gain custody, prompting him and J.R. to take blood tests to determine the child’s paternity once and for all. On the night of one of Miss Ellie’s charity dinners, the results come in and prove J.R. is, in fact, the father. Armed with this knowledge, our tuxedo-clad hero enters the Southfork nursery, picks up his son, holds him close and kisses him. No dialogue is spoken. None is needed. The look on Hagman’s face – pride, relief, joy – says it all. (“Paternity Suit”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

The Ewing touch

2. Reminiscing. After a long day at work, J.R. comes home and finds Sue Ellen asleep in John Ross’s nursery, having dozed off while rocking him. She awakens and helps J.R. put the boy in his crib, and then the couple moves into their bedroom, where they recall their courtship. The dialogue beautifully captures the unique qualities Hagman and Gray bring to their roles. (Sue Ellen on J.R.’s eyes: “They always seemed to be hiding secrets. Things you knew about the world that no one else knew.”) The conversation also reminds us J.R. is not a hateful man. He loves many people, and none more than Sue Ellen. Theirs is the greatest – and most complicated – romance Texas has ever known. (“New Beginnings”)

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

True confessions

1. Brotherly love. J.R. finally does the right thing when he ends the war for Southfork and returns ownership of the ranch to Bobby, but the drama isn’t over: Bobby suffers a seizure and is taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. Standing at his brother’s hospital bedside, J.R. holds Bobby’s hand and pleads with him to wake up. “I’m going to tell you something you never heard me say before,” J.R. says. “I love you, Bobby, and I don’t know who I’d be without you.” With this line, J.R. acknowledges what the audience has always known: He’s incapable of checking his own worst impulses; he needs Bobby to do it for him. This is a deeply moving moment in its own right, but it takes on added poignancy now that we know Duffy was at Hagman’s side when he died. It’s also comforting to know J.R.’s greatest fear – having to face life without his beloved baby brother – will never be realized. How sad for us, though, that we must now face a world without Larry Hagman. (“Revelations”)

What do you consider J.R. Ewing’s greatest moments? Share your choices below and read more “Dal-Lists.”

Comments

  1. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh, your list made me laugh, nod in agreement, and made me cry!

  2. beautiful collection – It’ll never be the same, Bob!
    Outstanding- again!

  3. I stopped and had to read this again. Did you know that the scene mentioned in #3 generated over 10,000 letters that were sent into the studio the week it first aired? CBS had never had that many letters sent to them over one issue/scene. Think about what that meant in the very early 80’s. Doesn’t seem like a big deal now with all the social media and with the internet. But that was huge ….huge back then!!!!

    • I didn’t know that! That’s really impressive. All those people bothered to write a letter, put a stamp on it and mail it to CBS. Really demonstrates the power of television to move people.

  4. Excellent collection. I had not seen the Knot’s Landing Guest appearances. Thank you for sharing..

    • Thank you! If you have an opportunity, you should check out all of Hagman’s appearances on “Knots Landing.” His first one (“Community Spirit” from “Knots Landing’s” first season) is the best, but the others are entertaining too.

  5. barbara fan says:

    So many great scenes to choose from and I love your choices
    RIP Larry Hagman and thanks for the memories and long live JR Ewing

  6. Paul Adams says:

    There’s a great scene between Larry Hagman/JR and Joan Van Ark/Valene in ‘The Reunion’ at the start of Season 2. JR lays down the law to Val to basically get lost and says if she does everything he demands she’ll get “a cheque for $10,000 and a one way plane ticket to LA”
    Val asks what she’ll get if she doesn’t do what he says.
    With brilliant timing JR responds “A one way plane ticket to LA!”

    Pure genius.

  7. Georgia Henderson says:

    thanks for the great list. in my opinion welcome to fatherhood which you placed at #3 is Larry’s best scene. I am not surprised so many people wrote in, the scene was amazing, one of the few tv moments which made me cry. it just shows what a moving actor Larry was, he will be truly missed.

    I also loved he’s got your back, mama, when I first watched it I felt JR was being put in his place by Miss Ellie. but after reading what you have to say I have to change my opinion.

    thanks again for your list, as well as your deeply informative and moving website

    • Thank you! I appreciate your comments. I considered making the scene between J.R. and John Ross my top choice. It was a really close call between the final three. Honestly, I love them all though.

  8. I thought I was the only person who ever has hung onto the way Hagman said “It’ll never be the same Bob”. And the comment about Hagman at his most menacing while holding a piece of bacon almost made me spit my coffee on my monitor!

  9. Dan in WI says:

    I’d move your #8 up to #1 on my list. That scene with John Ross and Jeremy Wendell had everything. It has the iconic portrait which desperately needs to make a comeback in some capacity. It featured JR playing what seems to be two conflicting emotions: defiance and acceptance in perfect harmony. He truly knew Ewing Oil was gone and would never be back in its then current form. He knew he would have to rebuild in a different place with different oil fields and different assets. But the classic JR defiance was there too. He’s JR Ewing. Of course he’ll claw hsi way back to the top.
    The scene of course payed tribute to the multi-generational legacy of the Dallas family. The spirit of patriarch Jock looms so large here. But we also have John Ross looking on. You can even see the resolve in his eye. There is no doubt in his mind either that his Daddy will rebuild something that will be passed down to him.
    Honorable mention also goes to Williams Smithers performance here too. I love the way he plays backing away from the portrait after tells him he’ll kill him where he stands. He plays it with a non-challante “whatever” attitude. Without uttering a word he essentially tells JR “You’re no longer a threat to me, I’ll let you be a big man with your big threats. I just got done twisting the knife and it’s time to move on to the next thing anyway. I no longer care enough to dignify that with any further response.”

    • Great analysis, Dan. Your thoughts on Jeremy Wendell’s performance are interesting. I need to watch the scene again and pay attention to him.

      Thank you, as always.

      • I read that scene differently. Wendell was all, rightfully, cocky, having beaten J.R. once and for all (as far as he was concerned), but when J.R. said “I’ll kill you where you stand,” Wendell knew J.R. was telling the truth. And that’s why he just stood there and didn’t say anything.

      • I think you’re right, J.R. All I know is I get chills every time I watch that scene.

      • Well, as you know, J.R. was not a violent man. He could be menacing when it came to using his wealth and power to threaten someone. But, physically, he was pretty much a coward, who would rather pay some henchmen to beat up someone if he needed to. And that’s what made this scene so powerful because it was one of the rare times where J.R. was clearly angry enough to get physical. I think the look Hagman had in his eyes showed that THIS time J.R. really would have beaten Wendell to death with his bare hand if Wendell had dared touch that picture.

      • Good analysis, J.R. Another example of J.R. getting physically violent is when he slaps Wille Joe Garr in “Fallen Idol.”

      • And there was when he confronted James, after Cally told J.R. that James got her pregnant. He burst into James’s apartment, grabbed him by the shirt
        and yelled at him for betraying him. He didn’t actually hit him, but he looked like he wanted to, and James looked scared.

      • Yes! And what was his line? Something like, “You’ve got no morals. You’ve got no scruples. You may be worthy of me yet.” Hagman was great in that scene.

  10. I loved it, Great TV! If only the new generation of reality TV watchers knew what great TV was about 1 hour a week! I love Dallas so much, I just broke down a go to about JR. I never knew it would hurt me so much( his passing).My bucket list is to one day go to Southfork!

  11. Great list, great read. Thank you.

  12. Robb Hawley says:

    What would have made that scene with Jock’s portrait even better would have been JR knocking out Jeremy Wendell which somehow.. someway… NEVER happened… it should have!

  13. I don’t remember #7 at all.

  14. Great list! Of those, #3, #6 and #8 are my favorites. #3 was Larry’s favorite. So sad there will be no more J.R. Old age added a certain toughness to him that was fascinating to watch, as in #6.

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