Dallas Scene of the Day: ‘It’s Up to Me to Run This Family’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Lucy Ewing, Mama Dearest, Miss Ellie Ewing

Late show

In “Mama Dearest,” a sixth-season “Dallas” episode, Miss Ellie and Lucy (Barbara Bel Geddes, Charlene Tilton) sit at the Southfork kitchen table late at night.

LUCY: Was what J.R. did really so wrong?

ELLIE: It was wrong because of why he did it. Only to get the best of Bobby. And it hurt a lot of our friends at the same time.

LUCY: But it was a business deal, wasn’t it?

ELLIE: Yes, it was.

LUCY: You know how I feel about J.R. I mean, I hardly ever approve of anything he does.

ELLIE: Lucy, you’re very troubled about this. Why?

LUCY: Well, Granddaddy would have known that something like this could happen. He knew how J.R. operated. He had to take that into account when he decided that J.R. and Bobby should compete for Ewing Oil. Granddaddy was a very smart man. Especially when it came to business.

ELLIE: [Smiles] Yes, he was.

LUCY: Then how can you try and change what he wanted done?

ELLIE: It’s very difficult for me, Lucy.

LUCY: Well, then don’t do it. I’m sure it’s all turning out just the way Granddaddy expected it.

ELLIE: [Smiles] Oh, Lucy. I know how much you loved him. I did too. And I respected his judgment. I found him very wise. But even when he was alive, things didn’t always work out the way he planned. But then he was around to make the changes and straighten everything out. It’s gone wrong. And he’s not around to fix it.

LUCY: Grandma, are you sure you’re doing what’s right?

ELLIE: No. No, I’m not sure. I don’t want to go against your granddaddy’s wishes. But he’s not here anymore. And it’s up to me to run this family.

Lucy reaches across the table and touches Ellie’s arm.

Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 116 — ‘Mama Dearest’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Mama Dearest, Miss Ellie Ewing

Mother knows best?

In “Mama Dearest,” Miss Ellie embarks on a quest to break Jock’s will and stop J.R. and Bobby’s contest for Ewing Oil. This causes the alliances within the family to shift, sometimes dramatically. J.R. and Bobby both oppose Ellie’s efforts, but when J.R. suggests the brothers join forces to defeat their mother, Bobby refuses. J.R. isn’t on his own, though: He gets support from Sue Ellen and Lucy, who believes the competition for the company should play out the way Jock intended. In the meantime, Pam rushes to support Ellie, which strains her marriage to Bobby.

Some of these reactions are surprising, but all of them make sense. I believe J.R. would be the first to recognize that it would be in his best interest to call a temporary truce with Bobby, just as I believe Bobby would be reluctant to join J.R. because he doesn’t trust him. Likewise, Pam’s allegiance to Ellie feels reasonable, although I suspect Pam’s response has more to do with her own opposition to the contest than it does with her concern for mother-in-law’s emotional wellbeing. More often than not, Pam is a pragmatist.

Lucy’s support for J.R. is unexpected, of course, but notice how she never lets him know she’s in his corner. Even if Lucy agrees with J.R., she isn’t going to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. Instead, Lucy confides her feelings in Ellie. This conversation occurs late at night, when Lucy sits with her grandmother at the Southfork kitchen table and gently questions her decision to break the will. Charlene Tilton, in a lovely performance, manages to convey Lucy’s almost-childlike belief in her grandfather’s infallibility, as well as her confidence that he knew what he was doing when he decided to pit J.R. and Bobby against each other. “I’m sure it’s all turning out just the way Granddaddy expected,” Lucy says. It’s nice to see this character growing up and becoming wiser.

Barbara Bel Geddes, the actress at the heart of “Mama Dearest,” is terrific in this exchange too. She avoids eye contact with Tilton, which helps convey Ellie’s uncertainty about whether her legal challenge is appropriate. Even at the end of the conversation, when Lucy reaches across the table and touches Ellie’s arm, Bel Geddes looks away. Contrast this with her performance in the scene where J.R. joins Ellie for breakfast on the Southfork patio. He tries to turn on the charm, but Mama doesn’t fall for it. “You get a good night’s sleep?” J.R. asks. Ellie looks at him and coolly says, “J.R., I don’t think you really care how I slept last night.” It’s a telling moment: Even if Ellie isn’t sure she’s doing the right thing, she’s smart enough to know she shouldn’t let J.R. know she has doubts. Mama probably would have made a good poker player.

Another great scene in “Mama Dearest” belongs to Patrick Duffy, who also directed this episode. After a frustrated Bobby takes off for a nighttime drive to collect his thoughts, he returns home and finds Pam waiting up for him. Bobby tells her that he’s upset over her decision to support Ellie, and then he explains why he wants the contest to continue. Duffy’s delivery is impassioned; he makes a fist and practically shakes it at the camera as he speaks. The words are as important as the delivery. Here’s his speech:

“Pam, you don’t understand what drove Jock Ewing. And I don’t think you really understand what drives me, either. When I was at the university, making the football team just wasn’t enough. I had to be varsity. I had to be captain. I had to make All-Southwest Conference — and I did! I did all of that. When you and I met, I wasn’t just a roadman for Ewing Oil. I was the best roadman for any oil company. Because that’s what Daddy expected. And that’s what I expect from myself. And J.R. and I are a lot alike because he’s not going to take second best either. You see, that’s why Daddy turned away from Gary. The Ewings must succeed, and Gary didn’t care about that, but Pam, J.R. and I do! Now, Daddy chose that the future of Ewing Oil is going to be in the hands of the son strong enough to run it. And that’s the way it’s gonna be.”

This monologue, besides being one of the highlights of Arthur Bernard Lewis’s script, helps demonstrate why the contest for Ewing Oil is such a satisfying storyline. Bobby is usually the yin to J.R.’s yang, but notice how he doesn’t mention J.R. until almost the end of the speech. This time, Bobby isn’t simply reacting to J.R.’s schemes. For the youngest Ewing son, the contest is as much about proving himself worthy of his father’s expectations as it is stopping J.R. from committing some heinous act. The scene reminds us that Bobby is a pretty interesting character in his own right.

Of course, J.R. remains the most fascinating figure of all in “Mama Dearest.” Throughout this episode, Larry Hagman gives us the feeling his character is genuinely frightened by the prospect that Ellie might stop the contest and sell Ewing Oil out from under him. Notice how J.R. loses his cool with Ellie at the beginning of the episode, after she’s announced her decision to challenge the will, and later when he realizes she’s getting advice from Clayton. (Is it a coincidence that the last time we saw J.R. this rattled occurred after he ran into Clayton and Rebecca at the French restaurant?) I also think it’s telling the lengths he’ll go to shore up support from the other Ewings. When J.R. is trying to persuade Bobby to join him in fighting their mother, he tells him, “We may battle a lot, but I just want you to remember: You’re my brother, and I love you.” The “l word” isn’t one J.R. uses a lot. Later, J.R. stands behind Sue Ellen as she gazes into a mirror and promises she’ll one day be mistress of Southfork and share his power. He really knows how to tell other people what they want to hear, doesn’t he?

J.R. also figures into “Mama Dearest’s” funniest scene, when he arrives at Holly’s home and discovers she runs Harwood Oil from her bedroom. (“You know as many oil deals are made in bedrooms as in boardrooms,” she purrs. The line would be a groaner if Lois Chiles didn’t look like she was having so much fun delivering it.) This is one of those “Dallas” moments that I recall watching as a kid, although my memory turned things around: I mistakenly remembered Holly keeping a bed in her office, not a desk in her bedroom. Either way, I can’t help but wonder why J.R. never followed suit. Imagine how much easier life would have been for ol’ J.R. if the Ewing Oil executive suite had come equipped with a mattress.

Grade: A

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Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Mama Dearest, Patrick Duffy

Rising son?

‘MAMA DEAREST’

Season 6, Episode 13

Airdate: December 31, 1982

Audience: 15.2 million homes, ranking 24th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Patrick Duffy

Synopsis: Miss Ellie asks lawyer Brooks Oliver to help her break Jock’s will. Pam sides with Ellie, straining her marriage to Bobby. J.R. orders Holly to cancel her military contracts so she can refine his crude. Donna urges her fellow energy commissioners to not restore J.R.’s variance to pump excess oil. Bobby pressures the cartel to uncap the Wellington property so he can compete with J.R. Cliff buys a townhouse.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Paul Carr (Ted Prince), Lois Chiles (Holly Harwood), Karlene Crockett (Muriel Gillis), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Bobbie Ferguson (Terri), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), James Karen (Elton Lawrence), Julio Medina (Henry Figueroa), Donald Moffat (Brooks Oliver), Timothy Patrick Murphy (Mickey Trotter), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Robert Pinkerton (Elliot), Priscilla Pointer (Rebecca Wentworth), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Danone Simpson (Kendall), Arlen Dean Snyder (George Hicks), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Joan Staley (Ms. Stockwood), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), Morgan Woodward (Punk Anderson)

“Mama Dearest” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Drill Bits: For Patrick Duffy, Edits Go with the TV Territory

Ann Ewing, Bobby Ewing, Brenda Strong, Dallas, Patrick Duffy, Price You Pay, TNT

Don’t cut Bobby!

TNT’s “Dallas” has given audiences lots of great scenes this season, but some of the best moments – like J.R. and Sue Ellen’s dance at the Ewing barbecue in “The Last Hurrah” – have been left on the cutting room floor.

As Patrick Duffy sees it, that’s showbiz.

“Several of my favorite scenes didn’t make it to the show,” the actor told me during a conference call with bloggers and critics last month. “These scripts are so compact and so intense and every scene is so brilliantly done. You finish filming and you think I can’t wait to see that – and then it’s edited out. … You just can’t put everything in each episode.”

In some cases, scenes are merely shortened, not completely cut. “I had a scene with Jesse [Metcalfe] in a barn, which they only kept the lead-in scene for that,” Duffy said. “And they eliminated it. It was one of my favorite ones [from] that episode.”

TNT’s “Dallas” is the fourth weekly series for Duffy, who takes a Zen-like approach to the cuts. “I’ve learned to let those feelings go and just enjoy what I see,” he said.

Besides, the footage isn’t really lost. “It still exists somewhere,” Duffy said, adding the deleted scenes could wind up on TNT’s “Dallas” DVD releases.

Red, White and Ewing

TNT’s next “Dallas” episode, “Truth and Consequences,” will debut Wednesday, July 4, at 9 p.m. The cable channel had planned to pre-empt the show on Independence Day, when prime-time viewership levels tend to plummet, but reversed course and announced the schedule change yesterday. No reason was given for the about-face.

Speaking of ratings: “The Last Hurrah,” “Dallas’s” June 27 telecast, was seen by 4.1 million viewers, a small dip from the previous episode’s numbers. This week’s audience included 1.4 million adults between the ages of 18 and 49, the viewers advertisers covet.

Hopefully “Dallas’s” numbers will hold steady on July 4. Before “Truth and Consequences” premieres that evening, TNT plans to show back-to-back reruns of “Dallas’s” first four hours, beginning at 5 p.m.

And in case you’re wondering: No, this won’t be “Dallas’s” first holiday premiere.

The old show aired fresh episodes on at least seven official or “almost official” holidays: “Barbecue Two” (New Year’s Day 1982), “Mama Dearest” (New Year’s Eve 1983), “Ray’s Trial” (Veteran’s Day 1983), “Dire Straits” (Valentine’s Day 1986), “Territorial Imperative” (Halloween 1986), “The Call of the Wild” (Veteran’s Day 1988) and “The Sting” (Inauguration Day 1989).

Line of the Week

“Rebecca, you strike me as an extremely resourceful woman. I’m sure you’ll figure that out.”

I loved John Ross’s comment to Rebecca in “The Last Hurrah” – not just because Josh Henderson’s delivery was so Hagman-esque, but also because the line kind of paid tribute to the enigmatic Rebecca, who is becoming one of my “Dallas” favorites. (By the way: If you thought Julie Gonzalo was terrific in this week’s episode, wait until you see next week’s installment.)

I also couldn’t help but notice John Ross’s line echoed the “compliment” J.R. gave his favorite sister-in-law (“You’re a very clever woman, Pam. You’ll think of something.”) in “Fallen Idol,” an episode from the original show’s second season.

Take a Shot of J.R.

A reminder: This week’s “Dallas Drinks” offering is The J.R., a shot of bourbon, peppermint schnapps and black-as-oil coffee liqueur. It’s mighty delicious – the recipe comes from Cook In/Dine Out – but it has a lot of kick. You’ve been warned.

While I’m shamelessly plugging my own stuff, a reminder that I’m in the midst of critiquing the original show’s “Who Shot J.R.?” episodes. My “A House Divided” critique was posted this week; I’ll get to the “No More Mr. Nice Guy” two-part episode next week, followed by “Nightmare” (Monday, July 9) and “Who Done It?” (Tuesday, July 10).

“Drill Bits,” a roundup of news about TNT’s “Dallas,” is published regularly. Share your comments below.