A Farewell to Barnes: Remembering Ken Kercheval

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, Ken Kercheval

Lone star

Cliff Barnes was a loser, but Ken Kercheval was anything but. By portraying Cliff as an endearing jackass, Kercheval won the hearts of “Dallas” fans and created a character who, in some ways, was as essential to the show’s success as Larry Hagman’s J.R. Ewing. Cliff could be petty, foolish and hopelessly oblivious, but Kercheval brought so much humanity to the role, you couldn’t help but like the schmuck. Deep down, I bet some of us even rooted for him.

Kercheval’s death this week has unleashed a torrent of Cliff clips on social media, reminding everyone how good he was in his career-defining role. Talk about an actor with range! Cliff was the bumbling nemesis who prompted many of J.R.’s most memorable quips (“Oh Barnes, you just get dumber and dumber every day”) and the unlikely lothario who treated so many of the show’s leading ladies like Texas dirt, but he also was the wounded soul who sweetly reconciled with his runaway mama over a bowl of licorice; the protective big brother who knowingly winced when he heard the radio bulletin announcing that Pam’s true love Bobby had been mowed down in her driveway; the humbled avenger who sat on a park bench with Miss Ellie and sought forgiveness for waging war on her family. In the hands of a lesser actor, Cliff would have been just another soap opera character whose motivations changed with the wind. Kercheval made him real.

The true secret to Cliff’s appeal, though, lay in his rivalry with J.R. With the exception of Patrick Duffy and perhaps Hayden Rourke, did Larry Hagman ever have a better on-screen foil than Ken Kercheval? I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite scene between J.R. and Cliff, but their schoolyard showdown-style exchange of insults in the 1984 episode “And the Winner Is …” stands out. Kercheval and Hagman are fire and ice here: While Cliff rages (“You can’t stand the fact that Barnes-Wentworth is going to be bigger than Ewing ever dreamed of being!”), J.R. stands his ground, calmly burrowing ever deeper under Cliff’s skin (“You’re going to bankrupt your mama’s company and wind up just like your daddy: a drunk and a bum”). Despite all the bluster, Kercheval always injected a hint of envy into his performance, letting the audience see that Cliff didn’t want to beat J.R.; he wanted to be J.R. Once you realize that’s where Cliff is coming from, how can you not feel for the poor slob? After all, who among us doesn’t want to be J.R.?

Cliff Barnes, Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Ken Kercheval, Larry Hagman

Mutual admiration society

Truth be told, I think J.R. secretly admired Cliff’s tenacity, although like his character, Kercheval never got the respect he deserved. Despite being the show’s most delightfully unpredictable performer — you didn’t watch Ken Kercheval, you experienced him — he never scored an Emmy. (Neither did Hagman, but at least he got nominated.) Just as puzzlingly, Kercheval was in “Dallas” from the beginning and did as much as anyone to transform the show into a hit, yet he wasn’t promoted to the opening credits until the third season. Of course, once he finally showed up, the close-ups chosen for his three-way split screen captured the character in all his multi-faceted glory: Confused Cliff, Chipper Cliff, Crabby Cliff. Perfect.

Regardless, Kercheval ended up getting the last laugh. Besides Hagman, he was the only member of the cast to appear in all 14 seasons of the original series before going on to appear in the first reunion movie and all three seasons of TNT’s sequel series. Altogether, Kercheval logged 360 hours of “Dallas” across its various incarnations, second only to Hagman, who clocked more than 380 hours. And while Cliff never became an icon like J.R., Kercheval’s character made his mark in popular culture nonetheless. A Washington Post editorial once derided then-Vice President George H.W. Bush as “the Cliff Barnes of American politics — blustering, opportunistic, craven and hopelessly ineffective all at once” (ouch). Kercheval also deserves credit for making pocket squares seem so stylish in the 1980s — and is it possible his cheapskate character did more to popularize Chinese food in the American diet than Panda Express?

It’s been touching to see so many of Kercheval’s former cast mates honor him online this week, especially Audrey Landers, whose Afton Cooper did so much to humanize Cliff, and Julie Gonzalo, who holds the distinction of being the last “Dallas” actor to share a scene with Kercheval during the final season of the TNT series. Linda Gray, Charlene Tilton and both of Kercheval’s on-screen sisters, Victoria Principal and Morgan Brittany, also wrote nice things about him, along with Leigh McCloskey. As far as I can remember, McCloskey’s character, pretty-boy plastic surgeon Dr. Mitch Cooper, never shared a meaningful moment with Cliff, yet McCloskey penned a lovely tribute to Kercheval on Facebook, remembering how kind the actor was to him when he joined the cast. Everyone, it seems, had affection for “Kenny.”

Tributes like these are a reminder that while the rest of us have lost a favorite TV star, the cast members are mourning the death of an old friend. Kercheval somewhat famously used to say he never watched “Dallas” when it was on the air. As he explained when I interviewed him in 2012, once he played a scene in front of the cameras, he felt no compulsion to tune in on Friday night and watch it. But Kercheval also talked about how much he enjoyed working with actors like Gray, Landers and his close pal Barbara Bel Geddes, and he expressed amazement that people still recognized him as Cliff, even when he traveled abroad. I didn’t include this in the published interview, but I asked him if he thought it was strange that fans like me still obsess over “Dallas” after all these years. His matter-of-fact answer: “Yeah.” He added that he appreciated the fans and was thankful for their support, but in the end, the show was just a show. “I mean, you know, to me, it was just a job,” he said.

Fair enough. To him, maybe “Dallas” was just a job. But didn’t he do it well?

What are your favorite memories of Ken Kercheval on “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Listen Up! Texas Monthly Podcast Dives Deeper Into ‘Dallas’

Larry Hagman, Linda Gray

Story behind the story

Texas Monthly has a new gift for “Dallas” fans: a two-part podcast from Max Marshall, the writer whose sweeping oral history of the series appears in the magazine’s October issue.

Marshall gives listeners the story behind his story, including how he came up with the idea for the article, how he was a non-fan who became seduced by the “Dallas” mystique, and how he has come to see the series as a kind of living thing that changes with the times.

You’ll hear moving and candid comments from Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and Charlene Tilton. You’ll also hear from lots of other folks, including Leigh McCloskey, Roseanna Christiansen (!) and even yours truly (although I shudder to think that’s what I really sound like).

The podcast is available on Texas Monthly’s site. You can also download both parts from iTunes. Happy listening.

Making History: Texas Monthly Tells the Story of ‘Dallas’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Jim Davis, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Texas Monthly

Bigger than Texas

Texas Monthly marks “Dallas’s” 40th anniversary with a big, sweeping oral history of the series.

The article, written by Max Marshall, boasts a huge cast, including David Jacobs, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, David Paulsen, Kristina Hagman, TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz and virtually everyone else you can think of (even me!). There are also several rare behind-the-scenes photos and lots of fresh insight into the show, its role in shaping television and its place in Texas culture.

Read it for yourself at TexasMonthly.com — and be sure to pick up a copy of the print version, which appears as the cover story in the magazine’s October issue.

‘Dallas’ Stars to Reunite for 40th Anniversary Fan Events

Charlene Tilton, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Steve Kanaly

Home again

Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly will headline two fan events in March to mark the 40th anniversary of “Dallas’s” debut.

“Southfork Fan Day” will be held Friday, March 30, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas. This event will feature a meet-and-greet with the actors, along with tours of the ranch and its museum. Fans are encouraged to come dressed as their favorite Ewing for a chance to win prizes.

A “Dallas Fan Party” will be held Saturday, March 31, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas. This event will feature live entertainment from country musician Neal McCoy, food and drink, and interviews with the cast moderated by Jody Dean, a local radio host. There will also be “Dallas” trivia and prizes.

Tickets are $125 per person and include admission to both events. Tickets are on sale at Dallas40.com.

“Dallas” debuted April 2, 1978.

The events are sponsored by VisitDallas, a tourism group, and Southfork Ranch. The Feb. 1 news release has more information.

Will you attend the Dallas 40th anniversary fan events? Share your comments below and read more news from Dallas Decoder.

Jared Martin, Forever ‘Dallas’s’ Lusty Dusty

Dallas, Dusty Farlow, Jared Martin

Buckle up

Reading Jared Martin’s obituaries over the weekend, I was struck by how many emphasized his connection to “Dallas.” Entertainment Weekly, Deadline Hollywood and several other entertainment news sites mentioned the show in the headlines announcing his death, while the headers from the Associated Press and the Hollywood Reporter went so far as to also include his character’s Louis L’Amour-worthy name, Dusty Farlow. This is somewhat surprising. Not only did Martin have an extensive career beyond “Dallas,” he appeared in just 34 episodes of the original series, or slightly less than 10 percent of the show’s total output.

Yet numbers don’t tell the whole story where Martin’s “Dallas” contributions are concerned, do they? Dusty might not have logged as much screen time as other characters who came and went over the years, but boy, did he make an impression! We mostly remember him as the suitor who swept Sue Ellen off her stilettos, but you also can make a case for Dusty being the most formidable adversary J.R. ever faced. Unlike Cliff Barnes, whom J.R. regarded as a nuisance, Dusty was a genuine threat. He was as rich and as handsome as J.R., and his ranch, the Southern Cross, was even mightier than Southfork. Worst of all, Dusty’s daddy Clayton showed him the kind of love and respect that J.R. craved from Jock but never got. J.R. didn’t just despise Dusty. He envied him.

Indeed, Dusty and J.R. are at the center of so many memorable “Dallas” scenes. Remember their confrontation near the 40-yard line inside the empty Cotton Bowl Stadium? There was absolutely no logical reason for the conversation to take place there, but where else would you expect “Dallas” to stage a clash between two Texas gladiators? Or how about the time J.R. had to present Dusty with the best all-around cowboy award at the end of a Southfork rodeo? Larry Hagman’s gritted teeth in that scene gave J.R.’s wicked grin a whole new level of menace.

It’s also worth noting that at the end of the original “Dallas’s” long run, after J.R. lost Ewing Oil to Cliff and Southfork to Bobby, the character who came along to grind salt into his wounds was none other than Dusty. “Give my regards to Sue Ellen,” he told J.R. “Oh, that’s right. I forgot. She dumped you.” On a show that often bungled beloved characters’ final farewells, Dusty got one of the better sendoffs.

Of course, as much fun as “Dallas” had with J.R. and Dusty’s rivalry, nothing really compared to Sue Ellen and Dusty’s romance. He met her when she bumped into him outside a Braddock café, and Martin’s very first line on the show — “Let me help you, ma’am,” delivered as Dusty bent down to collect Sue Ellen’s dropped packages — proved prophetic. Dusty was always helping her pick up the pieces of the life she kept shattering. When J.R.’s goons tried to snatch little John Ross from Sue Ellen’s arms during one of the couple’s custody wars, Dusty swooped in with his own hired guns to save the day. When Sue Ellen went on a bender after Bobby’s death, Dusty whisked her away to a motel so she could dry out for the funeral. He was her knight in shining spurs, although he wasn’t perfect. Never forget that Dusty ultimately chose the rodeo circuit over Sue Ellen — a sign, perhaps, that he carried the craziness gene that drove his mother-slash-aunt, Lady Jessica, over the edge. I mean, what Texan in his right mind would choose to hang around smelly horses instead of sexy Sue Ellen?

Dallas, Dusty Farlow, Jared Martin, Linda Gray,, Sue Ellen Ewing

Lady and the cowboy

Through it all, no matter what “Dallas” gave him to do, Martin was one of the show’s most reliable performers. Part of it was his physical appeal: With his smoldering eyes — once described by People as “Newmanously blue” — Martin could give millions of viewers the vapors with just one look. But this man could act, too. Dusty was lusty, and Martin often delivered his lines through a clenched jaw, as if it took everything the character had to contain his passions. His scenes with Linda Gray were especially fiery. Dusty and Sue Ellen didn’t love each other as much as they burned for each other. It’s a credit to both actors that they could take a well-worn trope like the cowboy and the lady — something everyone was doing during the “Urban Cowboy” era of the 1980s, including “Dallas” with its Ray/Donna pairing — and make it feel fresh.

Of all the great scenes Martin and Gray had over the years, one of my favorites remains the time a fur-draped Sue Ellen was reunited with a wheelchair-bound Dusty, one year after the audience believed he perished in a plane crash. (Long before Patrick Duffy’s Bobby was reanimated in the shower, Dusty became the first “Dallas” character to rise from the dead.) The reunion scene is Sirkian: tight close-ups of tear-streaked faces and soapy dialogue like “don’t make me see myself every day in your eyes,” but Gray and Martin bring so much conviction to the material, you can’t help but feel moved. The actors shared a bond in real life, too: When news of Martin’s death broke last Friday, Gray tweeted that she had “such beautiful memories” of working him; his son Christian responded to Gray, telling her that Martin “loved working with you as well.”

Besides “Dallas,” Martin appeared in dozens of other shows and movies, including a starring role on “War of the Worlds,” a promising sci-fi series that petered out after two seasons in 1990. He also was a painter and photographer, and last year, he joined forces with Robert Mrazek, a former New York politician, to co-direct “The Congressman,” a comedy starring Treat Williams. Martin also taught acting and directing, including co-founding a nonprofit group that introduces inner-city kids to filmmaking. In recent days, artists who knew Martin as a mentor have posted tributes to him on social media.

I get the sense Martin took great pride in his work after “Dallas,” but I hope he was also proud of his association with the show. It remains fashionable to dismiss “Dallas” as a 1980s frivolity; just a few months ago, “Twin Peaks” co-creator Mark Frost told an interviewer that “Dallas” was the kind of show that he and David Lynch “wouldn’t be caught dead watching.” It was a snotty comment that ignores “Dallas’s” many contributions to shaping modern television drama, including its role in popularizing prime-time cliffhangers, serialized storylines and all the antiheroes who’ve followed in J.R.’s boot steps. And while it’s always sad to lose actors like Martin, their deaths also give us occasion to remember all that was great about “Dallas” — and how much it has meant to the art of television.

What are your favorite memories of Jared Martin on “Dallas”? Share your comments below and read more opinions from Dallas Decoder.

Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy to Reunite for ‘A Dallas Retrospective’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing Bourbon, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy

Family reunion

In case you haven’t heard: Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy will reunite for “A Dallas Retrospective,” a one-night-only panel discussion in which the stars will reminisce about all things “Dallas.”

The event will be held Thursday, March 23, at 8 p.m. in Dallas. The sponsor is J.R. Ewing Bourbon, which was introduced in 2014 and recently announced a new marketing campaign.

Robert Wilonsky, a columnist for the Dallas Morning News, will moderate the discussion.

“A Dallas Retrospective” will be held at the Winspear Opera House, which is part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center.

Ticket prices ranges from $29 to $49, plus handling fees. Tickets can be purchased online at www.attpac.org, by phone at 214-880-0202 or by visiting the AT&T Performing Arts Center at 2353 Flora Street.

Will you attend “A Dallas Retrospective”? Share your comments below and read more news from Dallas Decoder.

#DallasChat is Cooking Up Something Special for Nov. 21

Barbara Bel Geddes, Bobby Ewing, Charlene Tilton, Dallas, Donna Krebbs, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Miss Ellie Ewing, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing, Susan Howard, Victoria Principal

Past supper

Dallas Decoder’s next #DallasChat on Twitter will be Monday, November 21, from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern time.

This will be our second Thanksgiving-themed #DallasChat, so the topic will be “Talkin’ Turkey II.”

If you’re new to #DallasChat or need a refresher, here’s how it works: During each hour-long discussion, I tweet 10 questions from my Twitter handle, @DallasDecoder. Participants respond to the questions and comment on each other’s answers, making each chat a big group conversation.

Here are three tips:

• Each #DallasChat question is numbered (Q1, Q2, etc.), so your responses should include the corresponding number (A1, A2, etc.).

• Include the hashtag #DallasChat in your tweets.

• During the discussion, enter #DallasChat in Twitter’s search field. This will help you watch the search results so you can follow the conversation. Click “All” to see all the related tweets.

I hope you can participate in our discussion. See you there!

Got suggestions for #DallasChat questions? Leave them in the comments below.

#DallasChat Will Bring You Thrills and Chills on Oct. 24

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

Hold the door!

Dallas Decoder’s next #DallasChat on Twitter will be Monday, October 24, from 8 to 9 p.m. Eastern time.

This will be our second Halloween-themed #DallasChat, so the topic will be “Oh, the Horror! II.”

If you’re new to #DallasChat or need a refresher, here’s how it works: During each hour-long discussion, I tweet 10 questions from my Twitter handle, @DallasDecoder. Participants respond to the questions and comment on each other’s answers, making each chat a big group conversation.

Here are three tips:

• Each #DallasChat question is numbered (Q1, Q2, etc.), so your responses should include the corresponding number (A1, A2, etc.).

• Include the hashtag #DallasChat in your tweets.

• During the discussion, enter #DallasChat in Twitter’s search field. This will help you watch the search results so you can follow the conversation. Click “All” to see all the related tweets.

I hope you can participate in our discussion. See you there!

Got suggestions for #DallasChat questions? Leave them in the comments below.

The Dallas Decoder Interview: Kristina Hagman

Dallas, Eternal Party, Kristina Hagman

Kristina Hagman

“The Eternal Party,” a biography of Larry Hagman written by his daughter Kristina Hagman, was published last month. I interviewed her recently about the book and her memories of her famous father.

Let me start by expressing my condolences on the recent death of your mom, Maj Hagman. I enjoyed learning more about her in your book. She was a pretty resourceful woman.

She was a doer. Resilient, handy, innovative. She came up with all sorts of things.

For those who haven’t read “The Eternal Party,” can you talk about why you decided to write it?

I was hoping [the book] would instigate larger communication about my father — that other people would then share their stories, and lo and behold, that is just what’s happening. I’m hearing so much. It’s making the whole picture of my father so much more complete. As I put out my stories, people are coming back to me with their stories, and I’m getting a much more rounded knowledge of who my father was.

What sorts of things are you hearing?

My father used his celebrity to reach out to people, and when people contacted him, he often formed long-term bonds with his fans. He would communicate with people over decades. And then there is a story in the book about a little boy who was missing his dad during the Vietnam War and met Dad, who realized that this little boy needed a male father figure — someone to pay attention to him, to hold his hand. I think that may have been one of the very first times that Dad really understood that there was a healing power to celebrity.

I love that story because I suspect that’s how a lot of us saw your dad — like a father figure who came into our living rooms every week.

Yeah, and that’s how he said it. I was with him — I think I was about 8 at the time — and he took me aside and said, “I am in this boy’s living room once a week, but he can’t see his dad. How would you feel if you couldn’t see your dad?” He made it real for me.

Something I struggled with when I read your book is, I always feel like people of notoriety deserve their privacy too, and yet you reveal some personal information about your dad.

And about myself. I figured if I was going to be forthcoming with him, I was going to put myself out there too.

Kristina Hagman, Larry Hagman

Don’t worry

Did you struggle to decide what to disclose and what not to disclose?

You know, I read your commentary and your concerns that my father had never really talked publicly about his infidelities — that was a struggle for me to decide [to disclose]. But when I looked at telling the story of our family’s life, covering up that lie created such a big hole in the fabric of our reality that I had to not leave it out. It was part of the character of J.R. People who are famous often need a whole lot of love, and people who are famous don’t become famous alone. There’s a lot of people propping them up and helping them and giving them all that energy that they need. And my mom, as much as she wanted to, couldn’t give him everything.

You mention J.R. How much did your dad have in common with him?

Obviously, number one, they’re both Texans. Dad had incredible role models to draw off of, real Texans that were in his life, in his childhood. I think to be that good — because he was really good as J.R. — you have to bring a piece of yourself to it.

Something that struck me is J.R. struggled with his relationship with his father, and in real life, your dad had an interesting relationship with his mom [Broadway star Mary Martin]. Do you think he drew upon that when he was playing J.R.?

Certainly there were similarities in the competition of … wanting to be as good as your parents, or better. J.R. wanted to show the world that, “Yeah, I respect my dad, he was so great, but I’m going to be even better than he is. I’m going to take this to the next level.” And Dad loved and respected and admired his mother, but he was determined to take it to the next level.

The other thing that I find interesting is your dad had this reputation as a very carefree person, but he must have been a really hard worker too.

Oh, he was. Dad was incredibly disciplined. He used to use a reel-to-reel tape recorder to tape all of his lines. It was like a suitcase — that’s how big it was. And he developed a special technique where he would read the entire script — his lines, everybody else’s lines — and he’d go [makes a clicking sound], and then he would leave a blank spot. He would sort of say it in his head, and then he would read the line.


He spent hours and hours, every single day, no matter what state he was in, recording his lines, going over his lines, playing with them. When I was a young actress, he said, “Learn your lines backwards and forward. Laugh it. Sing it. Say that line with marbles in your mouth. Turn it into a joke. Say that line — even if it’s a funny line — as if you were going to kill somebody with those words.” And he would say, “You play with it until it becomes really comfortable and malleable.” He was incredibly disciplined.

Did he rehearse a lot?

All the time. He rehearsed over and over and over.

Did you ever rehearse with him? Did you ever read Sue Ellen or Bobby’s lines for him?

No, no, no. He worked with Linda [Gray] and Patrick [Duffy], right there on the set.

Speaking of the set: You made a few appearances on “Dallas” over the years. What are your memories of being on the show?

Some of Dad’s best memories were working with his mother. He was in “South Pacific” in London with his mom. And he thought it would be fun for us [to work together] — that we would relate to one another more. Even after I pretty much gave up acting, I would still come back to L.A. and do a day or two on the show with him, and so I got more of that intimacy of being his co-worker as well. That was a wonderful way of bonding.

Your final episode was the first segment that Linda Gray directed. Do you remember being directed by her?

Was that the masquerade party?

It was the episode after the masquerade party.

You know, frankly, the reason I’m not an actress is when I was doing that stuff, I was so nervous, I had stage fright. You know how everything goes blank?

Oh, sure.

I don’t remember too much except that Dad was there saying, “Breathe. Relax.” [Laughs]

Is that why you didn’t pursue acting full-time?

I was so terrified. I got a gig doing “Sound of Music.” I played Liesl. My mouth would get so dry that I’d have to put Vaseline on my teeth because when I smiled, my lips would stick to my gums. And at a certain point, after about three years, I realized that I didn’t have to do something that made me terrified.

Kristina Hagman, Larry Hagman

Be happy

Was your dad okay with that?

More than okay. I think that he really wanted me to have a family. He felt that family was the most important thing there is. He really wanted me to be a mom and he didn’t want me to have a career that kept me away from my children. So when I started full-time painting and making art, he really, really encouraged that.

He displayed your art in his homes.

Oh, always. Part of the reason that I became a painter, when I was a very young kid, my parents framed things I made and put them on the wall. I really encourage anybody with a kid who has some interest in making art that … taking the time to put it in a frame and show your friends — you can’t replace that kind of encouragement with any kind of class or grade that a teacher can give.

One of the sweetest pictures in the book is the shot of you and your dad in front of a garage-door mural you painted.

Yeah, I love that picture too.

So I have to ask: Your dad had so many great roles over the years. Did he have a favorite?

J.R., definitely. He loved playing that role and he loved the opportunity to do it for so many years, to hone it. Bar none. I think he also quite liked his role in “Harry and Tonto.” I think that that was possibly his most vulnerable, raw piece of acting that he ever did in his career.

What about you? Do you have a favorite performance?

I think it’s the “Harry and Tonto” one. My dad didn’t cry very often, and he pulled out the stoppers on that one.

So what is it like now, when you see your dad in a movie or a TV show?

Oh, golly, it does make me miss him. There are so many things I love about him. I love his voice. When his voice would be dubbed in other languages, they’d often put a very deep voice, but he had a barrel-like, funny, giggly — for a man, a somewhat high-pitched voice. Perhaps it’s the sound of his voice that gets me more than anything.

What do you see as your dad’s legacy? I feel like he helped invent modern television — we wouldn’t have shows like “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” if there had been no “Dallas.”

Absolutely. I feel like the ensemble work with his other cast members is now something you see in so many shows. He was a great fan of “The Sopranos.” And he was very excited about the direction that television has taken since “Dallas.”

Did he see J.R. Ewing as a precursor to Tony Soprano or Walter White?

Yeah, I think he’d see these young guys and go, “Hmm, probably couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t done it first.”

And he always took credit for the “Friends” actors getting those huge salary increases too.

He really did think that everybody should have his due. If somebody’s going to make money off of his work, he wanted it to be him. [Laughs]

Kristina Hagman, Larry Hagman

Feel good

For an old hippie, he was a pretty shrewd businessman, wasn’t he?

Oh, yeah, he was, and it was a bit of a game for him. That was better than chess, better than poker, for him.

More parallels with J.R.

Probably. Oh, he loved the nuance, how to get the right publicity. He loved how to work with the public. He loved the attention.

Getting back to his legacy: I feel like your dad has never received the recognition that he deserved for “Dallas.” How he never won an Emmy, I’ll never understand.

Here’s an insider story about Dad and the Emmys. Like you said, he made it possible for other actors after him to get good money for their work. Dad had this idea that these awards shows make a lot of money and the actors don’t get paid for it, and he frequently complained about that. And maybe that’s why the Emmys never gave him an award.

Interesting. I wasn’t aware of that.

I think he didn’t attend them often because he said, “I don’t want to attend something and have somebody else make money off of me and my attendance.”

What a shame if that’s the reason he never received the recognition.

Who knows what the reason is? I’m certainly not on the Emmy committee.

The other thing that I really appreciate about your dad is that he had a concern for the planet. He was an environmentalist.

Definitely. And that was a reason to write the book, frankly. I really wanted people to know that J.R. was not just J.R., that Larry Hagman was an environmentalist.

So where, ultimately, do you feel your book fits into your dad’s legacy?

It’s called “The Eternal Party” because Dad wanted every day to be a celebration. Yes, there are difficult parts in my book, but there’s difficult parts in everybody’s lives. To me, the takeaway is: Living a good life is the greatest cure. Enjoying life, celebrating each day, no matter what kind of difficult things happen, that is the thing that I’d like people to walk away with most.

And that’s a great lesson.

Like he said: Don’t worry, be happy, feel good.

Share your comments below and read more Dallas Decoder interviews.

Remembering Larry Hagman, the Life of the ‘Party’

Dallas, Kristina Heidi Hagman, Larry Hagman

Party people

I’ve always believed famous people are as entitled to their privacy as anyone else, which is why I hesitated to read “The Eternal Party,” the new biography of Larry Hagman written by his daughter Kristina. The pre-publication publicity made it clear the book would contain information that Larry might have preferred to keep private, and so after I received my copy, I struggled with what to do with it. Curiosity eventually got the better of me, and ultimately I’m glad it did. “The Eternal Party” challenges some long-held beliefs about its subject, but Kristina mostly paints a sweet, loving portrait of her father. She also sheds light on how he brought J.R. Ewing to life, which is all I really want from a book about Larry Hagman in the first place.

“The Eternal Party” is framed as a mystery — a nod, perhaps, to the “Who Shot J.R.?” phenomenon that marked the zenith of Larry’s fame. The book opens with Kristina recalling her father’s final hours as he lay dying in a Dallas hospital in 2012. In his delirium, the notoriously carefree actor begs for forgiveness, prompting Kristina to spend the rest of the book re-examining Larry’s life. She documents his indulgences with his favorite substances — ground that Larry candidly covered in his own 2001 memoir, “Hello Darlin’” — and also shares private details about her parents’ 58-year marriage. The latter passages left me torn. My sense is that Larry and his wife Maj wouldn’t want some of this material to be public knowledge. On the other hand, as a student of “Dallas” history, it’s interesting to ponder the parallels between the Hagmans’ marriage and J.R. and Sue Ellen’s. How much did Larry draw upon his personal experience when shaping this part of his character?

Other passages in “The Eternal Party” show how the J.R. traits that “Dallas” fans know so well were rooted in mundane aspects of Larry’s domestic life. Remember the menacing glare J.R. would offer his enemies when he was about to destroy them? Kristina recalls her father wearing the same scowl when he was trying to housebreak the family’s German shepherd puppy. In another amusing tidbit, she details the years before Larry’s “Dallas” wealth, when the vagabond Hagmans frequently relied on the kindness of others. This includes future “Dallas” co-star David Wayne, who allowed the family to stay at his home whenever they needed a place to crash. Imagine: Digger Barnes offering shelter to a down-on-his-luck J.R. Ewing. The mind reels.

Kristina also has kind words for Larry’s friends and “Dallas” co-stars, Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy. She recalls Gray giving him dietary advice after his cancer diagnosis and Duffy standing near her frail father during their public appearances, “always ready to offer a steady hand in case he needed it.” In another poignant memory, Kristina describes accompanying an aging Larry to Pike Place Market in Seattle, where no one recognized him. (In true Hagman style, though, he purchased a giant, stuffed red lizard from a vendor and walked around with it on his shoulder, helping him get the attention he craved.) The book’s most heartbreaking moments include Kristina’s struggle to come to terms with a sexual assault she suffered at the hands of a neighbor, Larry’s efforts to care for Maj after her Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis, and the final chapter, when the author finally solves the mystery of why her father had forgiveness on his mind at the end of his life.

Mostly, though, “The Eternal Party” is about Larry and Kristina’s relationship. She clearly adores him, even if she doesn’t always understand his choices. Likewise, even though I have reservations about some of the disclosures, that doesn’t mean I don’t value the book. In an especially illuminating scene, Kristina recalls accompanying Larry to a public appearance on a military base, where he met a little boy whose father was away in combat. The child knew Larry as Major Nelson on “I Dream of Jeannie” and had come to think of him as a father figure. Kristina writes:

“The boy was so happy, and the way his sad face brightened had a huge effect on Dad. I think he may have had an epiphany that day about his ability to make a difference in people’s lives, and he helped me understand his responsibility to everyone who supported our family by watching him on television. From that day on, I understood that my father would never be mine alone; he belonged to his public.”

More than anything else in “The Eternal Party,” this story makes me appreciate the author, and her willingness to share her famous father with the rest of the world.

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