Saying goodbye to ''Dallas''
”Happy families are all alike,” wrote Tolstoy. ”Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Too bad Leo never met the Ewing clan; they could have given him story material that would have curled Anna Karenina’s hair. Love them or loathe them, when Southfork’s residents were at their thriving, conniving best, you couldn’t turn your back on them without becoming a pop-culture outcast. When Dallas first flickered across TV screens on Sunday, April 2, 1978, nobody could have imagined it would become the signpost of an era — a long, lewd, delectably lurid family feud, megadosed with sex, money, and cattle, that both foretold and outlasted the Age of Greed and provided the most abidingly awesome villain in TV history. Surely the Smithsonian, which houses such tube talismans as Fonzie’s leather jacket and Archie Bunker’s wing chair, can find a way to display Dallas‘ most durable image: J.R. Ewing’s 10-gallon oil slick of a grin.
On May 3, after 356 installments of the kind of behavior that gave new meaning to the phrase ”Texas crude,” the Ewings will become history. On these pages is our tribute to Dallas: the greatest moments, the best lines, the faces whose names you never knew, the plot twists that still have viewers scratching their heads, and the ways we’d like to see J.R. hang up his hat. Not forever, we hope — surely sometime he’ll have the last, nasty laugh.
THE DIRT ON THE REAL SOUTHFORK
Outside Parker, Tex., a security guard stands at the Southfork gates, which once swung open for camera crews and limousines. The mansion itself is proud but silent, a metaphor for Texas’ subdued post-oil boom economy. Last year the owner of Southfork — the ranch used for Dallas‘ exteriors — defaulted on a loan, and in January the gates closed.
It had a brilliant career. In 1978, after using a more rustic place in the pilot, Dallas executive producer Leonard Katzman went wildcatting for another ranch to play Southfork and found Duncan Farms in Collin County, 20 miles northeast of Dallas; it had a main house worthy of the grand Ewing clan and a patio swimming pool perfect for floating corpses. And, get this: The owner was a millionaire land developer named J.R.
”I didn’t think the show would last six months,” says Joe R. Duncan, who had custom-built the 8,500-square-foot, six-bedroom house in 1970. But he and his wife, Natalie, and their three teenage sons immediately took a shine to the cast and crew, who spent three months a year in Dallas. (Southfork’s interiors, which were modeled on another Dallas home, were shot on soundstages — first in Burbank and later in Culver City, Calif.) The cast escaped the east Texas summer heat in the air-conditioned house. ”They’d order Chinese food, or (Larry) Hagman, he’d get going on something. My wife says sometimes everybody lay there,” says the real J.R., ”with their heads on each other’s stomachs and they’d get to laughing.”
Then came the tourists — ”We’d be out mowin’ on the weekend and there’d be people gawkin’ up at the house and takin’ slivers off the fence,” Duncan says. He rechristened the place Southfork and soon his sons were selling Southfork T-shirts out of an old Dodge van by the gate. By 1981 tourists were paying $4 to trace J.R.’s bootsteps across the grounds. Duncan built a party barn for corporate barbecues, sold clear plastic paperweights embedded with genuine chunks of Southfork dirt, and peddled $25 deeds to square-foot Southfork lots. By 1982, Southfork had edged out the Kennedy assassination site as the Dallas area’s No. 1 tourist attraction.
In 1983 a tourist unsuccessfully sued Duncan for $450,000 when a horse bit her (”Tourists and Thoroughbreds don’t mix,” he says). By 1984, he and his wife had had it with the tourist trade. ”Like anybody, we like to sit around on Sunday morning and read the paper with a cup of coffee,” he says. ”We could still do it, but there’d be people looking in the window.” Duncan sold the house and 40 acres of the ranch for $7 million to the Collin Commodore Ltd. partnership headed by Terry Trippet, a tall Texan who wrapped his Stetson in a gold and diamond hatband. He turned the house into a hotel, charged $2,500 a night for a three-bedroom suite, installed a rodeo ring, and built a 183-foot-tall red, white, and blue oil rig out back.
Even though Dallas stopped shooting at Southfork in 1989, going to a soundstage instead, about 300,000 tourists still poured in annually. They paid $6 apiece to roam the grounds and $13.95 for a breakfast of eggs, biscuits, and gravy — ”J.R. and Bobby’s favorite dishes.” The partnership failed to pay back the loan on the ranch, however, and Dallas’ Glenfed Financial Corp. foreclosed in January.
But Duncan, who still owns 124 acres of Southfork, remains in business. His shop there sells Southfork T-shirts, caps, and shot glasses, and customers can gaze at the house — free of charge — from his property line 100 feet away. He doesn’t think Dallas‘ cancellation will end pilgrimages to the land of the Ewings. ”It’s still going overseas,” Duncan says. ”A couple from Germany stopped by the other day and told us they just found out Bobby married April.” — Jess Cagle
BETWEEN THE LINES
Oil, alcohol, and Dallas’ ratings — was it coincidence, or something more?
Nielsen Ratings Run high from 1978 until 1985, then turn downward and bottom out in 1991
Oil Prices Rise from ’78 to ’81 then drop off and bottom out in 1986. Rise from ’87 to ’90.
Sue Ellen’s Blood Alcohol Level Rises from 1978-79, then falls to low point in 1982. Climbs steadliy until 1986 where it reaches its peak, then drops sharply and levels out until 1989.
CLIFF-HANGERS: FOUR FAVORITES
1980: Who Shot J.R.?
1983: Ray accidentally torches Southfork
1984: Bobby takes bullets meant for J.R.
1986: Bobby steps out of a season-long dream
A HIT OIL OVER THE WORLD
You could tell that Dallas had conquered the world when the world’s leaders began to denounce it. ”I would not be surprised,” Danish Center Democrat Erhard Jakobsen warned darkly in 1982, ”if Dallas was planned by a circle of leftist intellectuals in Hollywood as a socialist slander campaign. This series reinforces the idea that capitalists behave as dirty dogs.”
That it did, and a year later, the dogs had really arrived: At an arts conference in Paris, the French Socialist cultural minister, addressing, among others, Graham Greene and John Kenneth Galbraith, indicted the show as a sinister example of ”American cultural imperialism.”
Perhaps the united political front against the Ewings and their ilk arose because they were much more popular than the politicians. More than half of all Danes watched every early episode. When J.R. was shot in 1980, an estimated 25 million Brits tuned in. By 1982, Dallas was No. 1 in Israel; it became a hit practically everywhere from there to Indonesia. Dallas has been seen in more than 100 countries, according to its syndicator, Worldvision Enterprises. Japan alone proved immune. ”Dallas crashed and burned here,” says James Bailey of Tokyo’s Mainichi Daily News. ”Some say it’s because the Japanese have tightly knit families and didn’t like the Ewings’ internecine warfare, but I doubt such cultural theories. It was just programmed against an invincible show, The Best Ten, starring the two most popular TV personalities in the country.”
Everywhere else, Dallas beat everyone and everything. ”When J.R. got shot, it was what we call ‘a streetsweeper’ in Germany,” says Karen Martin of Germany’s Burda Publications. ”Everyone was home watching Dallas. Germans do like the idea of the strong man. They’re law-obedient and they like the fact that (J.R.) treats his mother well. And he does not take any s— from anybody. That part of his appeal was global.”
The Ewings may even have affected the course of history. George Steiner, writing in London’s Observer in 1990, said, ”With Dallas being viewed east of the Wall, the dismemberment of the regime may have become inevitable.”
Alas, the decline of J.R.’s empire was inevitable, too. Last year, a mere 6 million to 8 million English viewers watched the show each week. ”It’s quite passe,” says Rosalind Sharpe of London’s Independent Sunday newspaper. ”Dallas has become an adjective: ‘That’s a bit Dallas, isn’t it?”’ — Tim Appelo
TEX-LEX: A DALLAS GLOSSARY
bar be cue n 1: annual Ewing bash, usually ending with brawl, catfight, or unexpected appearance of old enemy
black sheep n 1: any member of Ewing family not interested in making money
boy n 1: Jock’s way of getting the attention of J.R., Bobby, or Ray
Cap ri corn Crude n (1982) 1: tell-all about the Ewings by daughter-in-law Valene
cod i cil n 1: most important part of any Ewing will, lease, or contract. Usage: ”According to this newly discovered codicil, I own Ewing Oil.”
fif ty-nine n 1: estimated age at which Ewing children may leave Southfork
going out of town n 1: one way an actor can leave Dallas (see also: car crash, explosion, plane crash, shooting, poisoning, facial disfigurement, job in another city, asking for too much money)
hay loft n 1: Lucy and Ray’s bedroom
los er n 1: Cliff Barnes
lush adj 1: opulent, lavish (see Ewing mansion) n 2: J.R.’s pet name for Sue Ellen
ma ma n 1: J.R.’s cry of distress
night cap n 1: only form of beverage consumption after 9 p.m. at Southfork
Oil Bar ons’ Ball n 1: Social event of the season; good place to make deals, revive old grudges, or show up plowed
Scotch n 1: breakfast at Southfork
Scotch and so da n 1: lunch at Southfork
Scotch on the rocks n 1: dinner at Southfork
tramp n 1: J.R.’s pet name for Lucy
Val en tine n 1: line of lingerie that made Sue Ellen an entrepreneur
weak ling n 1: J.R.’s pet name for his brother Gary
Wil lard n 1: ”Digger” Barnes’ real first name — Mark Harris
WILL TEXAS SENATOR LLOYD BENTSEN MISS J.R.?
”About as much as those Texans at the Alamo would have missed Santa Anna.”
For the Ewings, who dwelt and dealt in excess, more was always better. And what could top two weddings — to the same person?
1978-79: Gary, J.R.’s black-sheep brother, and his ex, Valene, start the trend when little Lucy, their child, reunites them. They retie the knot, and Knots Landing is born of their union. When last seen over there, they were headed for the altar for the third time-don’t ask.
1982-83: After Sue Ellen divorces J.R. in the 1981-82 season because of his infidelities and cruelty, he tries to win back her hand, along with little John Ross’ voting shares in Ewing Oil. With trepidation, she acquiesces.
1984-85: Problem niece Lucy Ewing and Mitch the medical student patch up their failed marriage after three seasons apart. And when their wedding bells ring for the second time at Southfork, they inspire Bobby to propose to Pam a second time. She says yes, leading to a dream that lasts for 31 episodes.
1988-89: Never to be outmaneuvered, J.R. marries a second bride twice. His second two-timer is Cally Harper, whom he first seduces in Arkansas, an act that enrages her hillbilly clan. To escape bodily harm, he marries her. Then he flees to Dallas. She follows him to Dallas, and they have a second, big wedding. After a couple of seasons, she divorces him.
And then, for contrast, there’s poor, long-suffering Bobby. His childhood heartthrob, Jenna Wade, who abandoned him at the altar when they were young, does it to him again (during a split from Pam) in the 1984-85 season. — Kelli Pryor
SUDS N’ DUDS
In the show’s heyday, Dallas-inspired gewgaws sprouted up like oil wells on a flat Texas plain. By the time 41.5 million viewers tuned in on Nov. 21, 1980, to finally find out who plugged J.R., that dastardly Ewing had become a one-man merchandising bonanza. Every other car seemed to sport a ”Who Shot J.R.?” bumper sticker. T-shirts, buttons, posters, and pens nominated J.R. for president. Cans of beer were brewed and labeled ”J.R. Ewing’s Private Stock” — the kind of beer, boasted the brewery’s vice president, that ”a man will buy because it says a lot about him without him even opening his mouth.”
Through the years, fans could buy the Southfork Grill, just like the one the Ewings used to broil their T-bones. There was a porcelain whiskey decanter shaped like J.R. wearing his 10-gallon Stetson and standing on a wind-up pedestal that played the Dallas theme. There was a packaged role-playing game called Dallas, in which players got to be their favorite characters. There was a coffee-table book titled The Complete Book of Dallas: Behind the Scenes at the World’s Favorite Television Program (Harry N. Abrams Inc.).
Before it was all over, Dallas devotees could plunk down $50 for a 24-karat-gold belt buckle sporting the Southfork ranch logo. And in 1986, Dallas — the cologne, the aftershave, the deodorant — hit stores.
The sweet smell of success? Nope. In 1990, the well ran dry: The cologne was taken off the market. Eau it goes. — Kelli Pryor
How did we love to hate J.R.? Let us count the ways:
1978-79: When Jock has a heart attack, son J.R. keeps no bedside vigil with the other Ewings. Instead, he is out making deals on the assumption that his daddy will die. (Daddy lives.)
1980-81: Disgruntled after revolutionaries cause the nationalization of an Asian oil field, J.R. incites a successful coup.
1980-81: When Marilee Stone complains about J.R.’s business practices, saying they drove her husband, Seth, to suicide, J.R. replies: ”I didn’t ask you here to nitpick.”
1982-83: After a temporary victory in the fight for Ewing Oil, J.R. tells outsmarted brother Bobby: ”Your assets are frozen in the middle of Canada, Bob. You took the high road, and I took the low road, but I got the company before you.”
1986-87: In yet another Saddam Hussein-style approach to international relations, J.R. hires a mercenary to blow up oil fields in the Middle East. — Kelli Pryor
JACKIE COLLINS ON J.R.’S SEX APPEAL
”He’s prepared to do anything to anyone! And women have always found bad men to be good!”
NOTABLE QUOTES FROM DALLAS
*”If he should win… Ewing Oil might well… cease to exist!”
* ”J.R., this time you’ve gone too far. I swear I’ll make you pay if it’s the last thing I do.”
* ”Can’t we eat in peace for once?”
* ”It’s time for you to choose, Bobby — Ewing Oil or me.”
* ”Can I pour you a drink?”
* ”That’s enough — both of you! Your daddy would be ashamed.”
* ”Wait a minute — you mean we’re related?”
* ”Haven’t you heard? He’s been shot. The doctors don’t know if he’s going to… (sob)… pull through.”
* ”I don’t know what you’re talking about, Sue Ellen. Have you been drinking?”
* ”B-but… I thought you were… dead!” — Mark Harris
STORIED HOUSTON LAWYER RICHARD ‘RACEHORSE’ HAYNES
”They ought to find whoever was the most wronged person by J.R., have that person shoot J.R. — not kill him, but shoot him pretty good — and then close out the series. Or have a trial where a jury exonerates the person because J.R. was such a butt in his relationships. Then they could shut the series down and the world could be at ease.”
The Ewing boys and girls were forever jumping the Southfork fence and kicking over the traces. All that carrying on created some oddly twisted branches in the family tree:
1978-79: Conscientious Bobby Ewing runs into old girlfriend Jenna Wade and spends the next six seasons wondering whether he’s the father of her daughter, Charlie. He’s not.
1978-79: J.R.’s wife, Sue Ellen, becomes pregnant — but is it by J.R. or by his arch-enemy Cliff Barnes? A blood test finally proves the baby is J.R.’s.
1978-79: Pam Ewing thinks Digger Barnes is her daddy until Digger tells her she’s really the daughter of ex-ranch foreman Hutchison McKinney.
1980-81: Ranch foreman Ray Krebbs finds out that Jock Ewing isn’t just his boss, he’s also his pappy. Even though his long-dead mom was just another of Jock’s extramarital sweethearts, the ever-magnanimous Miss Ellie invites Ray to join the family.
1981-82: With relief, Bobby and Pam discover that J.R. isn’t the biological father of their adopted son, Christopher.
1983-84: Another puzzling multiple-choice question for Sue Ellen: She’s not sure whether this baby (which she miscarries) belongs to J.R. or to Peter, her son’s camp counselor.
1988-89: When Cliff meets Pamela, the daughter of lounge singer Afton Cooper, he suspects that Pamela is his own child because they both suffer from the same hereditary disease.
1989-90: James Beaumont, J.R.’s illegitimate, hunky son by Vanessa Beaumont — the only woman who ever broke J.R.’s heart — comes to live at Southfork in its waning years. — Jess Cagle
WAIT A MINUTE!
Liars! Cheats! Not the Ewings, the writers. The Dallas creative team never let logic or reason get in the way of a good plot twist. A few gems:
1980-81: When ranch foreman Ray Krebbs finds out that Lucy Ewing is actually his niece, viewers are asked to conveniently forget that anything ever happened between them. Wrong. Everyone saw them romping around in the hayloft during the first season.
1984-85: While Barbara Bel Geddes is out for surgery, nobody at Southfork notices that Miss Ellie looks an awful lot like Donna Reed.
1985-86: In a desperate attempt to bring Bobby Ewing back to the show after he was run over, his wife, Pam, wakes up and realizes the entire preceding season was just a dream. That being the case, her sister-in-law Sue Ellen (on skid row) never went through her season-long road to recovery from alcoholism. But Sue Ellen sobers up anyway (because actress Linda Gray requested that she not have to play a drunk any longer). — Jess Cagle
With pioneer spirit, the Ewings fought the law. Occasionally — but only occasionally — the law won.
1978-79: Kristin Shepard, the scheming sister of Sue Ellen Ewing, is set up by J.R. and arrested for prostitution.
1979-80: Patriarch Jock Ewing is arrested in the murder of ranch foreman Hutchison McKinney, whose skeleton was unearthed from Southfork soil.
1980-81: Sue Ellen is booked for the attempted murder of husband J.R. (though no homicide attempt was ever more justified).
1981-82: J.R. is arrested in the murder of Kristin, who’s found floating in the Southfork swimming pool.
1982-83: J.R. is arrested in Cuba — it’s just a formality — when he makes a secret trip to sell a million barrels of oil there.
1983-84: J.R has young Peter, Sue Ellen’s barely legal lover, framed for cocaine possession.
1984-85: Cliff Barnes — Wile E. Coyote to J.R.’s Road Runner — is arrested for the attempted murder of Bobby.
1984-85: Jenna Wade, Bobby’s girlfriend, is arrested for the murder of her husband, Naldo.
1989-90: When Duke Carlisle whips J.R.’s son James at cards, he learns nobody fools with the Ewings: J.R. has Carlisle’s daughter arrested for cocaine possession. — Jess Cagle
Drinks consumed per episode (estimated average): 22
Ounces of alcohol consumed over 356 episodes: 62,656 (enough to fill a two-mile-long row of shot glasses)
Bequest to each of Jock Ewing’s four sons in his will: $10 million
Bequest to Miss Ellie: $50 million
Bequest to granddaughter Lucy: $5 million Shots of J.R. per episode of Dallas (average): 48
Shootings of J.R. during run: 4
Number of Ewing heirs the audience knew about after the first episode: 4 (Miss Ellie, Lucy, Bobby, J.R.)
Number of Ewing heirs the audience knew about after the 356th episode: 11 (Miss Ellie, Lucy, Bobby, J.R., …and Ray, John Ross III, Gary, James Beaumont, Christopher, Gary’s son Bobby, Gary’s daughter Betsy) Face-slappings per episode (average): 0.6
Floor of the Ewing Oil building on which J.R. and Bobby have offices: 31
Number of characters played by two actors: 6 Pamela Ewing (played by Victoria Principal and Margaret Michaels) Gary Ewing (David Ackroyd and Ted Shackelford) John Ross Ewing III (Tyler Banks and Omri Katz) Digger Barnes (David Wayne and Keenan Wynn) Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes and Donna Reed) Kristin Shepard (Colleen Camp and Mary Crosby)
Number of characters played by three actors: 1 Jenna Wade (Morgan Fairchild, Francine Tacker, Priscilla Presley) — Mark Harris
ENDINGS WE’D LIKE TO SEE
*J.R. wakes up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette. It’s all been a dream.
*J.R. ticks off Hannibal Lecter.
*J.R. goes into the woods with Twin Peaks‘ Major Briggs, turns into an owl.
*J.R. turns good after being exorcised by a team of experts from 20/20.
*thirtysomething‘s Gary takes J.R. for a little ride.
*J.R. is ruined when he writes a tell-all about the oil cartel, You’ll Never Drink Lunch in This Town Again.
*J.R., dressed in a peanut suit at his young son’s birthday party, is shelled to death by a rogue elephant.
*Larry Hagman falls victim to another round of CBS layoffs.
*The Korean War ends, and they all go home. — Mark Harris