Linda Gray’s eagerly awaited memoir, “The Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction,” includes her reflections on life, her memories of “Dallas,” and lots of fun anecdotes — like the time Elizabeth Taylor jokingly referred to her as “the bitch with the long legs.” I spoke with Gray recently about the book, which will be released Tuesday, September 8.
Am I speaking to the “b” with the long legs?
[Laughs] You’re so funny. I think so, the last time I looked. Yep, that’s me.
I can’t bring myself to use the actual “b” word to describe you, but I guess Elizabeth Taylor could get away with it.
Yeah, she could. I just thought it was so funny because when she said that, everybody in the room fell down and laughed.
Well, before we get into that, let me just say: I love this book.
No, seriously. This book makes me want to be a better person.
Oh, bless you. I really spoke from my heart, and I wanted people not to become better people. I wanted to sort of put them on a little leash and yank them a bit and say, “Come on, people. You got a short life here. Instead of whining and complaining about everything, you could be doing something else, and here’s what helped me over my speed bumps.”
That’s what I took away from your book: You have to choose to be happy yourself. It’s such a simple thing, but I think we sometimes need to have someone else point it out for us.
We forget. All this stuff [in the book] is not earth shattering. It’s not new. This is just a loving reminder that we all have speed bumps. We all have things in our lives that aren’t perfect, but we get over them, and it’s the way we choose to get over them that makes a difference.
One of the things that struck me is that you have a few things in common with Sue Ellen. You both struggled in your marriages, for example.
We had things in our lives that were parallel, but J.R. and Sue Ellen were much more volatile. My marriage was just kind of — I should never have married him. He should have been the funny, great guy that everybody loves — the life of the party — but I shouldn’t have married him.
I think that comes through in the book. Your marriage wasn’t the happiest, but it wasn’t as dramatic as Sue Ellen’s.
My ex-husband was just like, “Oh, she’s off working.” He didn’t quite get it. It was like he was trying really hard to understand what was happening, but he didn’t like it. He wanted me to stay home, and then when this whole “Dallas” thing came about, it threw him. But he wasn’t a bad guy. It just wasn’t meant to be, and I knew it early on.
It seems to me as if you and Sue Ellen had similar experiences, but you came out of them as very different people.
Oh, brilliant. Yeah, absolutely.
And in a way, Sue Ellen helped you deal with your mother’s alcoholism.
Sue Ellen on many levels was a huge gift to me. “Dallas” allowed me to confront my mother in a lovely way.
When you were cast on the show, you showed her your scripts so she could see how drinking affects families.
That’s what I mean. That’s my gift. I was able to physically hand them to her and say to her, “Please read these. This is TV, everything is over the top, but I want you to see that the issue is still here.”
And that wasn’t easy for you.
It was the put-everything-under-the-rug, never-talk-about-anything generation that I grew up in. Alcoholism was never mentioned because “everybody drank.” So that’s something Sue Ellen really gave me — the healing I got with my mom.
In a way, Sue Ellen also paved the way for you to meet your idol, Bette Davis.
She was like my acting coach in my head because I thought she was the most authentic. I thought, “Wow! This is who I would like to emulate.” And when I was doing “Dallas,” they approached me about playing her role in a remake of “Now, Voyager.” I thought, “Oh, come on. No. I’m not doing that.”
And then she called you.
I will never forget it. I was feeding the cats in the kitchen, and they were crying, and I had the can opener in my hand, and then this voice says, “Miss Gray? Miss Davis here.”
You do a good impression of her!
She said, “My assistant will call you, and we’ll have a meeting,” and I said, “Fine.”
So what was it like when you finally met her?
Oh, my God. This was my idol. I’m sure I was incoherent. But she was wonderful, and she took me over to the window to look out at the water, and that’s when she said, “I’ve been watching [‘Dallas’].” And I thought, “Oh, no. Bette Davis is watching me act?” But she was a huge fan of the show.
In the book, you write that she proceeded to give you her opinion of the entire cast — but I noticed you left out what she said.
It wasn’t anything shocking. She was just so astute — so aware — that she could tell who people were just by watching them act.
That’s one of the fun stories in the book. You also write about hard things, like missing your son’s high school graduation because you had to work.
That was just so awful. My son is this angel. He’s very forgiving. And I had to call him to tell him that I wouldn’t be able to be there. And I kept telling him how sorry I was, and he’d pause and say, “That’s okay.” It made it worse. I mean, it was just one of those horrendous, horrendous moments.
“Dallas” fans are going to want to know what episode this was. You write that it was a scene that involved the whole cast.
I remember we were shooting it in the Southfork driveway, but I don’t know exactly what show it was or which scene it was.
I also love the chapter where you write about directing your first “Dallas” episode. You really had to fight [executive producer] Leonard Katzman for that.
It had nothing to do with him as a person. That’s just how it was at the time. It’s like, “Well, a woman directing? How can this even be?”
How do you feel about Mr. Katzman today?
I feel I know him much better now in retrospect.
I think he was genius at the time. He was totally responsible for every single character on “Dallas” and how they were interwoven in the whole scheme of things. He could write an episode over a weekend and turn it in Monday, and it was brilliant. You have to marvel at that.
Did I get along with him? No. Did I respect him? Yes, because of what he did. But it was a very chauvinistic show. The women were the bookends, as far as I was concerned. But still, underlying that, I think he was a genius.
You also have a fun story about one of the other geniuses in your life — Mr. Hagman.
The Bora Bora story.
Yes. You and Mr. Hagman and his wife get stranded on the side of the road, and when you go to a house to get help, the family is watching “Dallas.”
That’s one of my favorite Larry Hagman adventures. Funniest thing ever.
And then you received a marriage proposal from a handsome young man on that trip.
He was just such a cute little flirt. But Larry and Maj [Hagman, Larry’s wife] were watching me like I was their teenage daughter. Larry was very protective. It’s like, “Who is this guy? What’s he doing?”
Your appreciation for young men is something else you have in common with Sue Ellen. As soon as I read that, I thought, “This is going to fuel the fantasies of many ‘Dallas’ fans.”
Oh good. [Laughs]
And I love the chapter on the Larry Flynt letter.
Isn’t that hysterical?
He wrote to you in 1983, offering you $1 million to pose for Hustler, and you respond in your book, saying you’ll do it if he donates $25 million to charity.
I said the only way I’ll do it is if he gives $25 million to end senior hunger, which is an issue I’ve worked on for years.
So what are you going to do if he says yes?
That’s what I said that to [my publicist]. He said, “Oh, yes, darling. We will have photo approval.” I said, “Photo approval?” No. I’ll have to be wrapped in gauze or something!
Speaking of photos: We should point out that no animals were harmed in the making of the book’s cover. That’s faux fur you’re wearing.
That’s a shot from People magazine. My grandson [Ryder Sloane] took another photo of me with L.A. in the background, holding a yellow hardhat. I was in a really short, cute black dress. It was fun, flirty, fabulous, and it went with the title.
I love that shot. It appears inside the book.
At one point, that was supposed to be the cover. My husband shot the back cover at the beach when I was 23, and so I thought, how fabulous: My grandson gets the front cover; my ex-husband gets the back.
That would have been cool.
The people in New York really like the shot with the fur, but I love the shot my grandson took.
I know you’ve got to get to your next interview. We never did get to the Elizabeth Taylor story. I guess everyone is just going to have to buy the book.
You’re so sweet. Yes, buy the book!
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