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March 31, 2018 at 11:00 AM EDT

For nine memorable years on Dallas, Victoria Principal portrayed unsophisticated Texas belle Pam Barnes, who married into the wealthy Ewing clan. In 1987, the actress turned down a contract that would have made her the highest-paid actress on TV. Here, Principal looks back on her turbulent last month on TV’s ratings powerhouse.

The first five years on Dallas were so unbelievably wonderful — then some key writers departed, and by year 7 there was a decline in the writing, which was an enormous part of my decision to leave. I informed the producers during renegotiations in the seventh year that I would only stay for two more. They wanted a longer contract, and I said no. I was completely transparent.

Cut to two years later when I was busy creating my production company and looking for scripts, when my rep was approached about my negotiating to stay longer. Since this had all been done two years prior, it was quite a surprise. They felt that because others had left and returned, perhaps I would have a fear factor, and if they waited until the last minute, that would influence me to stay for less money. What they didn’t understand was how committed I was to leaving. It was belated and somewhat insulting. So my polite response was “I’m leaving.”

There was a lot of pressure. At first it was flowers and notes. But apparently I wasn’t behaving in the way they expected an actress to behave, so my parking space was taken away; I had to park off the MGM lot. The pressure intensified until they made an offer that completely caught me off guard: A few days before my final scene in the car accident, I’m offered a per-episode salary that would have made me the highest-paid woman on TV. There are moments in life when you discover your true character. That night I slept like a baby, because I wasn’t for sale.

The last day I filmed, the scene didn’t involve any of my costars. They were all gone. The cast and even Larry Hagman didn’t know I was leaving because it was [production company] Lorimar’s responsibility to inform them. I had an enormous cake brought in and had shirts made for everyone on the crew that said, “It was all a dream. Love, Victoria.”

Afterward I flew to Texas for a charity event. When I got back, I was supposed to make a joint announcement with the producers about my departure, but instead Lorimar announced they had let me go. I’m not going to say what I did, but I took the necessary hours to think about it and met with my attorneys and the producers. A new statement was reissued, but it was a bit like the tail wagging the dog. I learned a lot from playing Pam. She was someone with such innate goodness and who was courageous in fighting for what she believed in. It was really a privilege to play her.

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