J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman and Me

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

My hero

Like his famous alter ego, Larry Hagman dodged death so many times, I assumed he was going to live forever. Waking up to the news last Saturday morning that Hagman was suddenly gone left me feeling a little dazed. Without putting much thought into it, I grabbed an old J.R. Ewing publicity shot, scanned it and reached for my laptop to tap out a quick tribute for Dallas Decoder.

As fate would have it, my previous post was a transcription of the next-to-last scene from “The Search,” the “Dallas” episode where Jock is presumed dead. When I logged into my site, I was greeted by a shot of Bobby standing in the Southfork dining room, breaking the news to Miss Ellie that Daddy isn’t coming home. In that instant, I wondered: Where is Patrick Duffy right now, and does he look as heartbroken as he does in this old picture?

That’s when I lost it.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. I was weeping over the death of a television actor, a man I’d never met. Yes, I’m a “Dallas” fanatic, but I’m not much of a crier. So as I sat on my sofa shedding tears, I kept telling my husband Andrew how silly I felt. He held my hand and told me I shouldn’t feel embarrassed.

I see now that Andrew was right. Whether or not I knew Larry Hagman wasn’t the point. What mattered is that he had touched my life. Maybe J.R. Ewing wasn’t a real person, but the sense of loss I felt at that moment was very real.

It took me a few days to figure all this out and find the words to express it. The breakthrough came when I realized J.R. has been part of my world almost from the beginning. I don’t remember when I watched “Dallas” for the first time, but it must have been in the spring or summer of 1980, when the show was 2 and I was 6. I didn’t always understand the stories I saw on “Dallas,” but I couldn’t get enough of the glamorous trappings – the ranch, the offices, the cars. Mostly, though, I loved the rapscallion at the heart of it all.

J.R. Ewing was my hero. I can remember spending Saturday afternoons “playing ‘Dallas’” with Joanna, the girl who lived next door. Together, we would recreate the scenes I had watched on the show the night before. In our backyard world of make-believe, I always cast myself as J.R. Joanna was assigned all the other roles: Sue Ellen, Kristin, Cliff.

In middle school, my love of “Dallas,” “Knots Landing” and the era’s other prime time soaps was one of the things that made me realize I was different from the other boys. The other boys realized this too, and they made my life miserable. That’s when my appreciation for J.R. deepened. Even though I saw him do a lot of bad things each Friday night, I so admired how he carried himself. No one pushed J.R. around. Words never stung him. It was the kind of power I wanted for myself.

I used to fantasize about silencing my sixth-grade tormentors with clever, J.R.-style ripostes. Sometimes I’d imagine staging fiendish acts of revenge to make the mean kids sorry for picking on me. What these imaginary ploys entailed, I cannot recall. I couldn’t have been older than 11 or 12 at the time, so how devious could my maneuvers have been? Was I going to frame one of my bullies by making it look like he’d copied his homework?

I eventually outgrew my secret desire to plot and scheme like J.R., but I never outgrew my admiration for his swagger. J.R. never apologized for who he was, and eventually, I learned to be proud of who I am. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not the kind of person who brims with self-confidence. I’ll never have J.R.’s moxie. But I did learn a lot from him about standing up for yourself and having the courage to go after the things that matter to you.

Since I started Dallas Decoder and began re-watching the original series with fresh eyes, I’ve found myself thinking about Larry Hagman as much as I do J.R. What a phenomenal talent. Much has been made in recent days about Hagman’s gifts. There’s not much I can add here, except to say this: Larry Hagman wasn’t an actor. Larry Hagman was a wizard. He didn’t perform. He made magic.

People who knew Hagman have talked a lot this week about how the lines that distinguish him from J.R. blurred with time. I don’t doubt it. But I also believe there was a part of Hagman that was just plain Larry.

I thought about this a few days ago, when I watched the “Dallas Reunion: The Return to Southfork” retrospective. At the end of the special, Hagman and his longtime co-stars are sitting in front of an audience, reminiscing. At one point, the camera cuts to a shot of Hagman laughing. He’s so tickled, his eyes crinkle. This isn’t J.R.’s mischievous chuckle. It’s Larry’s hearty guffaw. It made me think: I know J.R. and I love him, but I wish I could have known Larry too.

I was lucky enough to have one encounter with Hagman. It happened during the fall of 2004, when I was working as a newspaper reporter. CBS announced a conference call for journalists to interview Hagman and Linda Gray about that “Return to Southfork” special, which was going to air in a few days. My editors weren’t interested in a story about a “Dallas” clip show, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to let that stop me from participating in the call. This was my chance to finally speak to my hero.

When the time came, I sat at my desk in the newsroom, dialed the number on the press release and listened to the moderator’s instructions. Each reporter would be allowed to pose a single question to Hagman and Gray. Fair enough. Except when it was my turn, I didn’t ask a question. Not really. I gushed. I went into full-fledged fanboy mode, telling Hagman and Gray how much I loved them, their characters and all things “Dallas.” At one point, I acknowledged I sounded like a sycophant. Hagman chuckled and called me “sickie.” J.R. Ewing took a dig at me! I was over the moon.

I’ve thought about that call a lot this week. I cherish the memory, but I also wish I could get a do-over. I wouldn’t gush this time, and I wouldn’t ask Hagman a question. I’d simply thank him.

What did Larry Hagman mean to you? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Comments

  1. Thank you for your moving tribute to a legendary actor and and amazing character. It opened my eyes to how he really touched our lives in a major way – and over such a long time.
    I love your suggestion for an intrigue against school bullies. Being a teacher, I wonder if I could still pull that off…

    • Well, I’m glad I didn’t follow through with any of the ploys I dreamed up. I don’t think I could’ve pulled off plottin’ and schemin’ the way J.R. did.

      Thanks for commenting, Stephan. I appreciate it.

      Chris

  2. This was a touching post, Chris. I’m from Peru and I share most of your feelings for Larry because he was the star of two of my favorite TV shows. I used to watch I Dream of Jeannie when I was a kid and laughed at every single trouble Larry’s character got in because of his sexy genie.

    I had never watched Dallas until six years ago and when I did, I just fell in love with the show. J.R. was just a genius and became my idol instantly. I like the show so much that I have all the seasons on DVD and I watch it now with my girlfriend and she loves it too.

    This was all because of Larry and his stunning performance and J.R. Now, Dallas is hardly going to be the same. I just hope the writers give J.R. the proper farewell, the one that a pop culture icon deserves.

    PS: I like your picture. I’m gonna put it as my screensaver if you don’t mind.

    • Thank you, Diego. I loved Hagman in “I Dream of Jeannie” too, but “Dallas” is the show that captured my imagination and never let go. As far as his funeral, I agree: I hope the writers give him the farewell he deserves.

      And by all means, use the picture as your screensaver. Maybe I’ll use it as mine too!

      Thanks again for your comments.

      Chris

  3. Such a wonderful tribute, it made me cry. So many things I’ve learned from this tribute. I loved how you wanted to use some of J,R.’s plots against the bullies. Really wished you had. I am quite sure he had the funeral he deserved. Out of all this admiration you had for Larry Hagman, I am happy he gave you some self confidence.

  4. I ahve been a fan for many years, since I was a child thinking they left a Ewing behind, and these are exactly my thoughts! Thank you!!!! and thatnks to you for expressing them so elegantly.

  5. Chris, as usual your post is wonderful and spot on perfect!

    I totally understand your feelings. I have shed a few tears ( ok maybe more than a few) this past week. I too just kept saying that I couldn’t believe I was crying over someone I have never even met. But the truth is that when I look back on my life…he was a big part of my life as a teen…I loved him and loved Sue Ellen too. Hours were spent in conversations about the show….to the point it seriously annoyed others I knew…lol. Afterwards I would catch it in reruns and later caught the DVDs …….and would still be amazed at JR and the level of talent Larry brought to the role. I was so immensely happy when I saw those first teaser show of Dallas TNT…and have been totally thrilled every time I heard/hear that theme song. It was joy at seeing old friends from my teenaged years.

    You are right he was a wizard. No matter how many times I see his old stuff…I still am amazed at his talent. he is my favorite actor of all time.

    i am grateful we get to see 5/6 more episodes of new stuff from him. I know the show where the character dies is going to be a towel level cry. It will be saying goodbye to both Larry and to a character I have loved for a long time.

    I also want to say thanks to you. Your reexaminations of the old episodes are so much fun to read and to check out the art photos. I love your critiques…it is always clear that you are a huge fan and you always give insightful analysis. They bring back a lot of old memories. Love them…and love that you are such a fan…..

    Thanks for the lovely tribute!

    • What a nice message. It sounds like we had similar experiences with “Dallas.” I spent hours upon hours talking about the show when I was growing up. (OK, I still do. Poor Andrew.) And like you, I was so happy when “Dallas” came back this year. Just hearing that music and seeing Hagman’s smile was thrilling.

      Thanks so much for sharing your memories and also for your kind words. I really appreciate this.

      Chris

  6. This is a very nice remembrance essay honey. As I watch the original series, I have a renewed appreciation for Larry Hagman’s acting. And the new show won’t be the same without him.

  7. barbara fan says:

    Another wonderful post and like you I shed a tear or two – definitely over Barbara and now Larry, people who touched your life and got into your heart. I was lucky to meet him more than once and he didnt disappoint, he was everything I thought he would be and more and the world will be a duller and sadder place without the wonderful, charismatic, enigmatic and captivating Larry Hagman – but thanks for the memories and thanks for Dallas – He will never be forgotten, he was a one off and a TV legend.

    • Thank you, BF. How wonderful that you got to meet Larry Hagman! I love how you described him. You’re absolutely correct: The world will be a sadder and duller place without him. Thanks again for your comments. I always appreciate them.

      Chris

  8. Margaret Krebbs says:

    I only discovered original Dallas a few years ago, so don’t have the same deep rooted memories and feelings as many, but I must admit to feeling greater loss over the death of Hagman, someone I only knew as a fictional character, than I’ve felt over many people who’ve passed that i have actually known. I guess it’s because Hagman created a character that did unbelievable things believably. Hagman was a true artist.

  9. This was a gorgeous tribute. I had to laugh about the thoughts of plotting against schoolmates back in the day. I wish I had thought of it during my lousier school years too. But then again, I had never watched J.R Ewing in action. And it’s amazing you got to make the phone call. I’m sure you will always treasure that!

  10. Like you, the character of J.R. Ewing also had a significant impact on my life, including adopting the nickname “J.R.” as the name I use in life. I was a little older then you were when I first started watching and became hooked, I was in Junior High, but I loved it. Hagman’s death also hit me pretty hard. I can’t remember the last “celebrity” death that I actually felt sad about. I said @ the time that a major regret was that I never got a chance to meet, just once. I’m so envious of you that you got that chance.

    • Yeah, I was really lucky to speak to him. It sounds like he was a big influence on your life too. It’s cool that your name is J.R.! I once considered trying to go by my first and middle initials, “C.T.” Doesn’t have the same ring to it.

      Thanks so much for commenting. I appreciate it.

      Chris B.

Trackbacks

  1. […] written before about how much Hagman has meant to me, but that’s not what this is about. I don’t need to see him win a trophy or receive an awards […]

  2. […] almost greedy. Likewise, while I’ll always regret that I never got to meet my hero, I did get to speak to him on the phone once. How lucky am I? By most accounts, Hagman was a hell of a guy — joyful, generous, wise, […]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: