The Dal-List: Sue Ellen’s 10 Most Memorable Moments (So Far)

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Mourning star

Sue Ellen WeekAs the indomitable Sue Ellen Ewing, Linda Gray has captivated television audiences since “Dallas’s” 1978 debut. Sue Ellen Week continues with this list of the character’s greatest moments from her first 35 years.

Brian Dennehy, Dallas, Linda Gray, Luther Frick, Sue Ellen Ewing, Winds of Vengeance

Command performance

10. Lady sings the blues. Crazed cuckold Luther Frick (Brian Dennehy) holds the Ewings hostage in the Southfork living room and forces Sue Ellen to don her Miss Texas bathing suit and sing for him. Humiliating? Yes, but it also demonstrates Sue Ellen’s willingness to do what’s needed to help her family survive a crisis. Moreover, this is one of Gray’s gutsiest — and smartest — performances. I especially love the final scene: After Jock and Bobby rescue everyone, Sue Ellen grabs her coat and exits the room, head held high. It’s an early glimpse of the character’s resilience: No matter what indignities may be visited upon Sue Ellen, she almost always walks away a lady.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Mother of the Year, Sue Ellen Ewing

Mama’s here

9. Embracing motherhood. When John Ross is born, Sue Ellen comes down with a Southfork-sized case of post-partum depression — and who can blame her? She’s emotionally devastated by her ongoing struggle with alcoholism, the collapse of her marriage to J.R. and her doomed affair with Cliff, who dumped her to preserve his political viability. With help from her shrink Dr. Elby, Sue Ellen finally realizes how much “little John” needs her, so she goes home, picks up the boy and holds him for only the second time since his birth, 13 (!) episodes earlier. It’s a powerful moment — and it sends baby-obsessed sister-in-law Pam running away in tears, so bonus points for that.

Dallas, Guilt by Association, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, TNT

Set ’em up, Sue

8. Defeating the governor. When Sue Ellen discovers smirktastic Governor McConaughey suppressed evidence that would exonerate the Ewings in the investigation into their rig explosion, she glides into his office, pours a drink and announces she’s going to expose his malfeasance. McConaughey is not pleased. “You can never trust a drunk,” he seethes. Sue Ellen agrees, but says that’s beside the point as she places the glass on his desk and slides it toward him. “This drink, governor, is for you. You’re going to need it. Because now that I have the goods on you, you’re going to do what I want.” Dayum! Our gal really did learn at the feet of the master, didn’t she?

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Clean and sober

7. On the couch. After Sue Ellen hits rock bottom, J.R. once again commits her to a sanitarium, where she receives treatment from tough-love therapist Dr. Gibson (the terrific Bibi Besch). In an insightful exchange, Sue Ellen tries to blame her drinking problem on her parents and J.R. — until the good doctor sets her straight: “Sue Ellen, I don’t think it matters whose fault it is. What matters is where you go from here.” When Besch delivers this line, watch Gray’s eyes; it’s almost as if you can see the light go on inside Sue Ellen’s head. This moment marks the beginning of one of “Dallas’s” most satisfying storylines: Sue Ellen’s journey of self-discovery. Too bad it turned out to be Pam’s dream.

Dallas, J.R. Returns, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

She’s the boss

6. Joining the oil business. After a five-year absence, J.R. returns to Dallas and stages an elaborate scheme (does he do any other kind?) to persuade Bobby to buy back Ewing Oil from Cliff. The plan works like a charm … but wait! Baby brother has a trick up his sleeve too: He sells half the company to his new business partner — Sue Ellen, who can’t resist needling her ex-husband when she reveals her new career to him. “I was thinking about all the fun pillow talks we’ll have … about gushers and dry holes,” Sue Ellen says with a wink. The master is justifiably impressed. As she walks away, he turns to John Ross and says, “Your mama’s a hell of a woman.” We couldn’t agree more.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Mandy Winger, Deborah Shelton, Sue Ellen Ewing

You tell her, honey

5. Schooling Mandy. At the Ewing Rodeo, a newly sober Sue Ellen turns a corner — literally and figuratively — when she runs into Mandy Winger (Deborah Shelton), J.R.’s latest extra-marital squeeze. Sue Ellen treats Mandy with compassion, urging her to get away from J.R. before he destroys her. When Mandy refuses to listen and turns to leave, Sue Ellen grabs her by the arm and delivers a hard truth: “Isn’t it strange how the mistress always thinks she’s smarter than the wife? If she’s so smart, why is she the mistress?” In the hands of another actress, this scene might have come off like another catty soap opera confrontation, but Gray infuses the material with power and poignancy.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Rock Bottom, Sue Ellen Ewing

Oh, Sue Ellen

4. Hitting bottom. Sue Ellen tries to comfort J.R. after Bobby’s funeral, but he responds with devastating cruelty, sending her on her worst bender ever. Over the course of the next day or so, Sue Ellen’s purse, car and wedding ring are stolen, leaving her wandering the streets. She winds up in a cheap motel, where she catches a glimpse of herself in the mirror and shouts, “J.R. is right. They’re all right. You are disgusting. I hate you!” Finally, she stumbles into an alley, where she’s so desperate for a sip of booze that she accepts a swig from a bag lady’s bottle. I love how Sue Ellen’s outfit symbolically unravels along with her identity, but more than anything, I love Gray’s riveting, no-holds-barred performance.

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

Union of equals

3. A night to remember. Not long after recovering from his shooting, J.R. comes home and finds Sue Ellen asleep in the Southfork nursery, having dozed off while rocking John Ross. The couple put their son to bed and retreat to their own room, where they quietly reminisce about the early days of their courtship, reminding each other why they fell in love in the first place. Besides serving as a rare moment of peace for two characters who are usually at war, this scene shows how Gray is Hagman’s equal in every way. Think about it: It’s one thing to see J.R. and Sue Ellen lobbing insults at each other, but to make their love feel authentic and believable? That takes real talent. Lucky for us, Gray and Hagman had it in spades.

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Who Done It?, Who Shot J.R.?

Triumph!

2. Catching Kristin. When Sue Ellen is arrested for shooting J.R., the Ewings toss her off Southfork — but our heroine refuses to give up. Sue Ellen gets out of jail, figures out she’s being framed and heads to the ranch to reveal the truth to J.R. As it turns out, the real culprit is visiting the ranch too — and when Sue Ellen spots her, Gray delivers the most famous line in “Dallas” history: “It was you, Kristin, who shot J.R.” Eighty-three million viewers watched this scene on the night it debuted. It was the cliffhanger resolution the world had been waiting for, but more importantly, it was the moment Sue Ellen returned to Southfork and to J.R.’s side — the place she always belonged.

Dallas, J.R.'s Masterpiece, Linda Gray, TNT

She is us

1. Mourning J.R. No one takes J.R.’s death harder than the woman he loved more than any other. On the night before his funeral, Sue Ellen goes into his bedroom, caresses a framed photograph from their wedding and drowns her sorrows with glass after glass of his bourbon, ending two decades of sobriety. The next day, when the Ewings gather at the cemetery to bury J.R., Sue Ellen confesses her relapse and delivers a haunting eulogy for the man she calls “the love of my life.” Gray is mesmerizing in these scenes, which draw upon the remarkable 35-year history between J.R. and Sue Ellen. Her deeply moving, Emmy-caliber performance also unites “Dallas” fans in shared catharsis. Through her, we were able to express the grief we felt after the death of our hero. It’s the moment Sue Ellen became our avatar. Then again, isn’t that what she’s always been?

Now it’s your turn. Share your choices for Sue Ellen’s most memorable moments below and read more “Dal-Lists.”

Comments

  1. My favorite: Sue Ellen becomes strong and buys Valentine Lingerie and uses it as a vehicle gain revenge on JR by making Mandy undesirable to him as well as too busy to be with him. There is a payoff scene where Sue Ellen sits JR down to watch a videotape of a televised interview of her as the sucessful owner of Valentine. Now the JR reaction is masterfully played by Larry as his face conveys his emotions. First the light comes on as JR connects the dots on just how Sue Ellen manipulated Mandy. It ends up with actual geniune admiration. I believe in that moment he gained a respect for the new/strong Sue Ellen that he never had before.
    Now this scene would be largely repeasted in Sue Ellen’s final episode as she shows him the movie she made only that time JR didn’t walk away with admiration. But this scene was the original and I like it best because of the admiration aspect.

    • Dan, I just watched this scene the other day. It made the first cut on my “10 most memorable moments” list. I definitely wanted to include a scene where Sue Ellen wins J.R.’s respect, and I ultimately went with the scene from “J.R. Returns.” It felt a little more meaningful to me than the TV interview scene, probably because John Ross is present. But you make a good point about the scene you reference, which is that it’s the first time we see the new, independent, strong Sue Ellen.

      As always, thanks for your comments.

      CB

  2. Jennifer Irons says:

    I absolutely agree with your #1 on the list, Chris B. Linda Gray was absolutely perfect in that scene and it was completely believable that she would start drinking again after JR’s funeral. She had been through hell and back with and because of him! Linda has always been so convincing portraying an alcoholic.

    • Thank you, Jennifer! I went back and forth about the top two choices and which one deserves the number one spot. I ended up choosing J.R.’s funeral because it’s such a powerhouse performance from Ms. Gray. I’m glad you agree.

      CB

  3. I am lovin all the Sue Ellen love! 🙂

  4. Oh no, you left off Sue Ellen’s Westar scheme and scene!

    “I’ll never forget this, Sue Ellen,” JR says.

    Sue Ellen, after the ‘eat shit’ grin and clapping, “I certainly hope not.”

    Or when Sue Ellen is informed that she didn’t kill JR by shooting him: “You mean that bastard is still alive!”

    And congratulations on the interview!

    • Thanks, sunnycd! The Westar scene was a definite contender for the top 10. But fear not! You’ll probably see that scene highlighted before Sue Ellen Week is over.

      Thanks again for your feedback. Loved your responses during this week’s #DallasChat, by the way.

      CB

  5. I love all the scenes you mentioned and many many more. I would have made it a Top 25 List. There is certainly enough material. Some other contenders …

    1. The last 3 episodes recently critiqued by you leading up to Ewing Inferno. All three episodes had some fantastic work that you already highlighted.
    2. When she told Bobby her secret in the sanitarium.
    3. When she let Mandy Winger know she was behind Valentine Lingerie.
    4. The whole episode of Paternity.
    5. Already mentioned but the West Star Board Scene.
    6. When SE shows Jock and Miss Ellie what there son is really all about from the notes from her PI but JR already had switched. So dramatic!
    7. At Lucy’s wedding, when the real JR finally comes homes and she’s dancing with Clint and he tell’s her he’s married … “Aren’t we all!”
    8. Mistress of the manor scene during Jock’s heart attack.
    9. I’d like to report a double murder … this is “Sue Ellen Ewing”
    10. Toasting her pregnancy … “Chances are it’s yours JR … chances are”
    11. Punching JR at the Oil Baron’s Ball
    12. Coming into JR’s room and treating him like a stud service
    13. First Ewing BBQ … “That Barne’s girl is going to have a baby named Ewing”
    14. “Tell me JR which slut are you going to sleep with tonight” … LOVE this scene!
    15. Her last scene showing JR her little movie … She was on top!

    Congrats on the interview and thanks for the site. I love following it!

    • Frank, I love your list! I strongly considered including your numbers 2, 3, 9, 12 and 15. (No. 9 is a particular favorite of mine. I love that line.)

      At some point I’ll do a more definitive list and I’m sure many of these scenes will be included. And hopefully you’ll see some of these scenes highlighted on my site before the week is over.

      Thanks for your feedback. I really appreciate it.

      CB

  6. Love your list. I would also include:
    When she tore up Mandy’s contract;
    The scene In “No Greater Love” (from original season 11) when she puts John Ross’ interests first and allows him to move back to Southfork BUT she makes JR sign legal documentation giving her FULL custody of him.
    When she totally owns JR in Act of Love when JR figures out she cheated on him and the baby MIGHT NOT be his. “What are you gonna do about? How ya gonna tell daddy that it isn’t yours, that it’s somebody else’s? What’s he gonna think about ya then?”
    And I’m glad someone mentioned the end scene of “Divorce Ewing Style”. That scene was awesome. The way Sue Ellen goes from calm to crazy upon realization that JR switched the PI reports and commences to wailing on his “arse”. LOVED IT!
    I also liked the scene in Mastectomy and also the one in Executive Wife when she schools Pam. Any time Sue Ellen gets to let the audience know that she knows more than she’s given credit for, I’m for it!

    • Isis, my dear! Thank you so much for your comments. I like your suggestions. I’ll keep all of these in mind when it comes time for the definitive list of Sue Ellen’s greatest moments.

  7. I’m only 38, but damn, can I date Miss Texas? Sue Ellen Ewing/Linda Gray is hot!

  8. Loved the list! So many great scenes to choose from. One of my all time favourite scenes is when she tore up Mandys contract. Love it so much! And the scene when she is on her way out to see Pam, but JR think she is meeting Cliff, and well – the whole thing ends with him in pain;) So funny! 🙂
    Actually, today is an especially good day to be a Sue Ellen-fan, It’s Linda Grays birthday (Happy Birthday Linda!!) and season 2 of the TNT series finally starts showing here in Sweden! Yay! In honour of the day I tried to give myself a Sue Ellen kind of hairdo today, with a big swoop bang. I feel fab! 🙂

  9. I love this moment when she is with a baloon on the hallway when JR get out of the room after making love to his new wife cally (and the music is so good too)

    other scene : the slow enter to hell…i mean Holly Harwood loving room !

    and extra-bonus : the scene I hate most : her plan to cheat JR from his conquest of Westar in 1988. Did she think at this moment she have a SON ?

  10. I agree totally with No.1. My other picks
    2. Confronting J.R after seeing him in bed with Holly
    3. Being held hostage by Luther
    4. The scene where she tells Bobby about her affair in the sanitarium
    5. When Cliff breaks up with her
    6. Embracing motherhood
    7. The scene discussing JR3 paternity in Act of Love
    8. Confronting the Governor
    9. A night to remember
    10. Getting rid of the Winger tramp.

    And basically any other screen time she has lol.

    • I love your list, Michelle. For No. 10, which scene with Mandy do you like best? There’s one from the middle of the 10th season (where Mandy praises Sue Ellen as she’s walking out the door), and then there’s one at the end of that season, when Sue Ellen famously calls Mandy a viper. Personally, among those two, I think I prefer the earlier one.

  11. When I saw Dallas for the first time, it was a scene of Sue Ellen in jail. My brother had to fill me in on what was going on and who everyone is. He told me that Sue Ellen shot JR or at least is in jail for shooting JR. It was weird because the most important question in America was “Who Shot J.R.?” When I watched her on television I immediately lost my former television crush on Barbara Feldon “Agent 99” of Get Smart and developed a new one on Sue Ellen Ewing. Her character fascinated me. Sue Ellen fascinates me today. I am unable to think of any other character in television history who had grown so much, and displayed such depth as her. J.R. was always J.R. and I am not taking away anything from Larry Hagman or any of the other greats of Dallas. Linda Gray is always welcome on my television set. Of all the aspects of Sue Ellen, she never is dull and I never once really knew what she was going to do. Totally unpredictable.

    • Nicely stated, Jumpsteady. And I completely agree. Sue Ellen has come a long way since we met her all those years ago. I can’t wait to see what she does next!

  12. Bit late with my comments, but loved catching up on Sue Ellen week! One of my favourite scenes is the ladies lunch gathering where Sue Ellen has a ‘girl’s talk’ with Kimberly Cryder and after the implication that Kimberly is having an affair, Sue Ellen tells her she’s not unattractive….in an obvious sort of way. She then glides off in that wonderful, super sexy Sue Ellen walk and swishes right past Miss Ellie and Mavis.

  13. My vote for top two are: Season 9: “Those Eyes” that scream in the hospital sent chills through my entire body. It ended the fight between JR & Dusty;need I say more. Secondly, Season 9: “Close Encounters” Heart to heart with the Winger tramp. (priceless…)

Trackbacks

  1. […] begins tonight with a special edition of #DallasChat, followed later in the week by posts on her most memorable moments, her witticisms and some surprises. Visit each day and join the […]

  2. […] characters are experiencing by being held against their will. Linda Gray steals the show with her gutsy performance in the scene where Frick forces Sue Ellen to sing for him, but there are also examples of the Ewing […]

  3. […] J.R.’s Greatest Moment: Who shot J.R.? Sure, taking a couple of slugs to the gut is no fun for our hero, but at least he makes billions of dollars in a risky offshore oil deal before he’s gunned down. Oh, and in case you didn’t hear, J.R.’s assailant turns out to be Kristin, his sister-in-law/ex-secretary/ex-mistress, who’s revealed as the shooter in one of the most-watched broadcasts in television history. (Props to Sue Ellen, who figures it all out.) […]

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