#DallasChat Daily: What Were ‘Dallas’s’ Best/Worst Recasts?

Barbara Bel Geddes, Claude Earl Jones, Clifton James, Colleen Camp, Dallas, Dan Ammerman, David Ackroyd, David Wayne, Digger Barnes, Donna Reed, Dr. David Gordon, Dr. Harlan Danvers, Duke Carlisle, Gary Ewing, James Canning, Jenna Wade, John Zaremba, Josef Rainer, Keenan Wynn, Kristin Shepard, Margaret Michaels, Mary Crosby, Miss Ellie Ewing, Morgan Fairchild, Pam Ewing, Philip Levien, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, Sam Anderson, Ted Shackelford, Victoria Principal

“Dallas” recast several roles over the years. Which ones worked? Which ones failed?

Among the choices: Miss Ellie (played by Barbara Bel Geddes and Donna Reed), Gary (David Ackroyd, Ted Shackelford), Pam (Victoria Principal, Margaret Michaels), Digger (David Wayne, Keenan Wynn) and Kristin (Colleen Camp, Mary Crosby). There were also three Jennas: Morgan Fairchild, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley and Francine Tacker, who isn’t pictured because I couldn’t squeeze her into the collage.

Additional choices: Dr. Harlan Danvers (Dan Ammerman, John Zaremba), Jimmy Monahan (James Canning, Philip Levien) Duke Carlisle (Claude Earl Jones, Clifton James) and Dr. David Gordon, who was played by Josef Rainer on the original show and Sam Anderson on the TNT series.

Your #DallasChat Daily question: What were “Dallas’s” best and worst recasts?

Share your comments below and join other #DallasChat Daily discussions.


  1. Dan in WI says:

    I’m going for the second most obvious recast: Digger. I have a feeling Miss Ellie will win and make no mistake about it that wasn’t a good one. But Bel Geddes wanted/needed out at that point and what were they going to do? Kill Ellie and Bobbie in quick succession? (Maybe that could be a future #DallasChat: Who would have been a better recast for Ellie? I don’t think I know the answer.)
    I’m going with Digger because Wynn fundamentally changed the character. Digger was a broken but spitefully prideful man. How could be anything but and Wayne portrayed that perfectly. Wynn made Digger into a loveable old grandpa of sorts and played way too much grace and dignity for what should be a broken man. It just didn’t work.

  2. Digger for me, much preferred David Wayne. He was how Cliff described his daddy. Although miss ellie will win.

  3. Agree with the comments about Digger and Donna Reed was not a convincing Ellie – but most of that was down to BBG’s superb performance rather than anything particularly bad on Reed’s part.
    The best recast was Priscilla Presley as Jenna Wade – especially in the first few episodes when she was a waitress in Billy Bobs – she was so gorgeous and those tight jeans!!!!
    I also liked the fact that although basically a “good” character she wasn’t a drippy goody-goody (unlike a certain rival for Bobby’s affections I could mention) and had a bit of fight in her.

  4. The worst recast on Dallas was the recasting of Miss Ellie. When they replaced Barbara Bel Geddes with Donna Reed, I cringed. Reed’s Miss Ellie was more one-dimensional than Bel Gedde’s Miss Ellie. Bel Geddes made the character and with someone replacing her with another actress would be like replacing Larry Hagman with another actor to play JR. It wouldn’t be the same character. it would just feel awkward.

  5. Worst Recast … Donna Reed without a doubt
    Best Recast … Mary Crosby … she was a perfect bitch

  6. I don’t remember Francine Tacker as Jenna. It’s hard to compare Morgan Fairchild and Priscilla Presley because Priscilla played her for so much longer. And I think she was great, but Fairchild is obviously a good actress too, so if she had stuck around I’m sure she would have been good in the role. Same with David Ackroyd vs Ted Shackelford. Shackelford has much more experience in the role, so we’re all used to him, but from what I remember in the first appearance, Ackroyd was good. And he actually looks more like he’d be J.R. and Bobby’s brother than Shackelford. So who knows how that could have turned out.

    I hate to say Donna Reed as the worst, just because of who she is, but it just didn’t work.. I wonder what would have happened if they’d hired Mary Martin, like I heard was considered at the time?

    Margaret Michaels almost feels like she doesn’t belong in this category, since her biggest role on the show was playing a different character who just happened to look like Pam, and only actually played Pam for one brief scene.

  7. Mary Crosby Kristin WAS Kristin, although Colleen was good in her brief crack at the role.
    I have to agree that the second Digger was not the broken man we had been introduced to.

  8. I have to disagree on the recasting of Miss Ellie. I LOVED Donna Reed in that role. She brought class, grace and style to Southfork in a way that Barbara Bel Geddes’ version of Miss Ellie never could while wearing her frumpy house dresses. As for the recasting of Kristen Shephard and Jenna Wade, I’d have to say Mary Crosby and Priscilla Presley win hands down. They were both EXCELLENT! I’d love to see Priscilla reprise the role again in the TNT version.

  9. In my opinion, all those who favour Bel Geddes so much are wrong. From all points of view, Reed was more like a Texan matriarch than Bel Geddes. The down-to-earth approach so much praised is just not Texas. I assure all those afficionados that one more year in the role, and everybody would have embraced Reed’s approach and completely forgotten Bel Geddes.

  10. sunnycd says:

    All the flak Donna Reed took for Miss Ellie! I loved Barbara Bel Geddes, but all Miss Ellie did in the 84-85 season was take down Jock’s picture and cry for Bobby and Donna Reed looked great with Howard Keel.

    Best recast: Ted Shackelford (and Melinda Clarke as Tracy, hopefully).

  11. Gary Ewing is a rare example of a character who was played equally convincingly by both actors, perhaps in slightly different ways but good as Ted Shackleford was I can easily imagine David Ackroyd playing him in Knots Landing.
    I agree Morgan Fairchild was okay as Jenna and if she had carried on playing her we’d be none the wiser – the 2nd actress who played Jenna was pretty awful (somebody called Francine Tacker) – her acting was so bad she made Charlene Tilton look like Dame Judi Dench!

  12. Morgan Fairchild was a way superior Jenna Wade to the former Mrs. Elvis Presley.

  13. So many people played the same character but I guess that’s natural with a long running series. Jeb Ames was an early one and did anyone notice that Jimmy Beaumont was played by two different kids? Not unusual as they were brothers, but brothers who looked fairly different. I digress. To answer the question, I tend to like the originals for the most part. This goes strongly for Digger, Miss Ellie, Pam, and Jenna. I also like the originals of Kristen and Gary but I think the second actors got to take them to new heights. They had a lot more time with them that’s for sure. Priscilla maybe just wasn’t a good actor, or was just written to be to brittle and humorless. I just don’t like Jenna as played by her.

  14. Garnet McGee says:

    I can only comment on what I’ve seen so far but the DIgger recast wasn’t great even though Wynn was a great actor. He did not sound like a Texan. I have to say that he did a convincing job in his final episodes. I may be in the minority but I thought Francine Tacker was interesting in her short stint as Jenna. Morgan Fairchild was also good. The role was consistently well written but Presley was the worst recast. She is not a trained actress and it shows.

  15. Best: Mary Crosby and Ted Shackelford. Both outshined the originals. Shackelford was more like a Ewing brother to Bobby physically because they both had great body’s. Both strong, built guys – just as you would expect a Ewing man to be. I also like Presley best of the 3 Jenna’s.

    Worst: Donna Reed, who was 180 degrees the opposite of BBG’s portrayal of Miss Ellie.

  16. I preferred the first Digger (loved when he sang The Yellow Rose Of Texas) , the first Jenna, the second Gary and the second Kristen.

    I liked recast of Pam, though she was not that beautiful like VP and although I believe no one was better to play Pam than VP, I would have accepted her as a full time recast just to continue to see Pam, Bobby and Christopher as a family and to see her work as an actress.

    The worst of course is Donna Reed as Miss Ellie. She was not that great of an actress and did not seem to fit in with the Dallas cast. She was good in It’s A Wonderful Life way back then (ah was that her?), but just did not bring that creativity or talent to Dallas, glad when BBG returned.

    • I’m with you, Maryann. The first Digger was the best and if we couldn’t have Victoria Principal as Pam, I would’ve gladly taken Margaret Michaels.

  17. I agree that Donna Reed was mis-cast. But she wasn’t a bad actress. From what I can tell she played the role exactly the way she was asked to do. In this season they continued to glam up Dallas – for the better or the worse. And rightfully they thought that Reed could support the approach to more glamor. And this doesn’t only show in the changed personality. It was also the material that was given to Reed. She was all good, all elegant with big hair, jewelry and everything. She never scolded JR like BBG’s Miss Ellie did and would do again later. Interim-Ellie was super sweet to everybody.

    And also: Her story lines and dialogues sucked! Big time. Just listen for example to the dialogues Reed was given when she was being compassionate to Donna (Krebbs that is) or others. Very poorly written. I’d say it wasn’t Reed’s fault at all. They got exactly the Ellie they asked for but only later found out that this personality wasn’t what the show needed. They turned the character again 180 degrees a year later. Just look at BBG in the upcoming dream season. She was back to ole frumpy and baking and potting plants for half of the season just to rebuild Ellie’s personality. So yes, bad recast based on a very bad decisions of the producers.

    When I watch Reed’s Ellie I just pretend I’m watching Ellie’ s long lost sister watching after her family while Ellie is out on a long vacation.

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