1978 is when Dallas first debuted, and no one was ready for the dramatic nighttime soap opera. Everyone needed to know just what the oil-rich Ewing family would get up to next, and the most important question on everyone’s lips, “Who shot J.R.?!” After 357 episodes and 14 seasons, Dallas said goodbye in 1991, but our prayers were answered as TNT rebooted the show for three seasons! Plus, Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), and Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing) all reprised their roles. To fully celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary, we’ve dug up 15 facts you should know about the big Texas family.
Not Feeling It
David Jacobs, the series creator, didn’t know that the show would be set in Dallas. That happened by chance. Jacobs had a development deal with Lorimar Television and had written a tale about Ewing Oil in 1977. After Lorimar executive Michael Filerman read the story, he said, “‘Yeah, it was fine. But I changed the name,’” Jacobs told the Texas Observer. “And I said, ‘Well, what did you call it?’ He said, ‘Dallas! It sounded better than Houston.’”
Not So Classy
“Dallas was fairly modestly mounted: Southfork was big but no mansion, and now and then the characters wore jeans to breakfast,” Jacobs wrote in The New York Times. “Dynasty was perhaps the most extravagantly produced series in the history of episodic television: the sets were more opulent, the wardrobe more expensive, the lifestyles more ostentatious—the characters dressed for breakfast and wore jewelry with lingerie. During almost any other period, Dynasty would have been regarded as more vulgar than Dallas. In the mid-80s, however, Dynasty was widely viewed as the classier of the two shows. As it happened, both Dallas and Dynasty faded as the Reagan Presidency faded. Indeed, Dynasty could not survive the changing of the guard. It was gone by the end of George Bush’s first hundred days.” No doubt that Dallas was a less classy version of the series Dynasty.
Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing) and Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing) were heavy drinkers on set. “I [Patrick Duffy] would have a glass [of champagne] with him, but then he would continue for the rest of the day with many more bottles,” Duffy said. “At lunch, we would go off and find a restaurant, have a couple of drinks with our meal. Late afternoon before we wrapped, it was time for a little toddy. Then, after we wrapped, we would sit in the dressing room and have another little drink before we went home to have drinks before dinner and a bottle of wine with dinner and a little after-dinner drink before going to bed.” Duffy realized he had a problem and quit drinking. Whereas Hagman said, “I was drinking five bottles of champagne a day [during the filming of the original series], but I was never drunk.” Okay then!
A Minor Role
In the pilot, Linda Gray (Sue Ellen, J.R.’s wife) was only meant to portray her character for a few seasons. In a minor role, heck she didn’t even have a name due to her limited screen time. The casting crew had wanted Mary Franna to play the part but Gray really impressed them – so much so that they made her a main cast member! “I remember in the first episode sitting on the couch and the camera went around and shot close-ups of everybody just to get reaction shots, but I was the only one without any dialogue,” Gray said to Ultimate Dallas. “Larry was talking all the time, and Patrick was saying a few things, Jock was talking, Miss Ellie, and Pamela—everybody had something to say but me. As J.R. was going on and on, I stared at him and all this stuff started going on behind my eyes. It was like, ‘Who are you and why are you carrying on like this? You are the most idiotic pain in the ass kind of man on the planet. Why would I be married to you?’ So when it came to my close-up, I just projected that. Then CBS saw the chemistry between Larry and I and said, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here? Let’s investigate.’”
No Bad Guys Here
The series creator and Hagman didn’t think that J.R. was a bad guy, even if he got shot twice. “J.R wasn’t that bad. He was a businessman, which is bad enough right away. But I don’t know. He took care of his family. I wouldn’t call him bad; he was just an oil man,” said Hagman of his character. Jacobs wrote in The New York Times about J.R., “He wasn’t created that way. In the first draft of the pilot script, J.R. was a more conventional bad guy. It was the hero, Bobby, whom I thought was more freshly conceived: player and playboy, the apple of his father’s eye, likable but immature.” However it was CBS who wanted Bobby to be more “conventionally heroic.”
Hagman used his real life experience to portray his character so well. He grew up in Texas and had grown up digging ditches and building swimming pools for some rich oil man with four sons. Hagman said that “it was soul destroying” work and “I figured that life was not for me so I became an actor … I learned not so much about the oil business but about oil families, and when [the oil man] died, there was kind of a war to see who would take over the business and one of the sons won, and I modeled my character after that son.”
The Fall of Communism
Dallas had a massive global audience, including Russia and Romania. Romanian President Nicolae Ceaușescu had finally allowed it to play on air as he was tricked into believing that the show was anti-capitalist. “I think we were directly or indirectly responsible for the fall of the [Soviet] empire,” Larry Hagman once said to the Associated Press. “They would see the wealthy Ewings and say, ‘Hey, we don’t have all this stuff.’ I think it was good old-fashioned greed that got them to question their authority.”
A Romanian Version
Actually Romania loved the series so much that Ilie Alexandru, a tycoon, built a hotel complex and named it “Dallas” because he wanted to be just like J.R. Ewing. Alexandru also had horse stables, polo fields, and a replica of the Eiffel Tower on the hotel grounds. The hotel no longer exists though but it’s incredible to see just how influential the series really was.
We already said one of the big questions of
When Patrick Duffy asked to leave the show at the end of season eight, he was excited. He felt that because of the show’s popularity, he had the chance to capitalize on his own success, even have his own show instead of sharing the glory with his cast members. However, that’s not what happened and Duffy eventually came back from the dead (as he was killed off in season eight) to reprise his role. “I went back on the show because they asked me to and I realized that was the best place to work and I was back with my best friend,” said Duffy.
Victoria Principal refused to come back to the show once she was killed off. Why? Because she knew the story of Bobby and Pam was like “Romeo and Juliet” and she didn’t want to ruin that. “I cannot be held responsible for any choices made by producers, once I left Dallas, but I do take responsibility for my decision, not to risk tarnishing Bobby and Pam’s love story, with a desperate reappearance.” The producers tried to stop her from leaving, offering her a huge amount of money to stay, which would have made her the highest paid actress on TV at the time, however she still refused.
This Ain’t Dallas
In 1985, Dallas was the inspiration behind Hank Williams Jr. writing the hit country song, “This Ain’t Dallas.” The lyrics went a little something like, “This ain’t Dallas and this ain’t Dynasty / This is a real-life two-job working family / And I ain’t J.R., you ain’t Sue Ellen, we’re just man and woman holding this thing together.” How many shows can say they ever inspired a song? Not many we’re sure.
Guys, there is actually a Dallas video game, if you can believe it. It’s called The Dallas Quest and it was invented in 1984 by Datasoft for the Commodore 64 computer. The game’s premise shows Sue Ellen summoning the player to Southfork where she asks them to locate an oil field map and return to her. If the player thwarts J.R. and returns the map, they earn $2 million dollars. Although the game wasn’t very Dallas-y as you were usually fighting angry cattle, monkeys, and the Ewings.
Anything But That
Executive producer Cynthia Cidre worked on the 2012 reboot and she didn’t want it come out as campy. “This is not Dynasty,” Cidre said to Ultimate Dallas. “No slur on Dynasty, but this is not a show where people pull each other’s hair out, falling in fountains. This is a show with real emotion and real passion about the land and about love. I’m just taking it seriously. However, the caveat on that is that this is Dallas and we want to have fun. We want to love to hate the bad guys, have some flair. The situations are slightly pumped up as it’s melodrama and it’s a soap, but we’re grounding it in real human behavior. You’re gonna have fun, double crossing and scheming. We’ll have that, but it’s not in any way camp.”
During the mid 90’s, Linda Gray was actually fired for a brief time on Dallas. Why? She asked for a pay raise and requested the opportunity to direct episodes just like Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy had. However, Hagman stepped in and threatened to leave the show because he strongly felt that they could have J.R. without Sue Ellen.