J.R.’s Baaaack!

Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy on the Glory Days of ‘Dallas’

Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, and Patrick Duffy talk to Maria Elena Fernandez about coming back to ‘Dallas.’

Everett Collection

“I’m here!” announced actress Linda Gray as she entered a Beverly Hills hotel suite, where her friends and Dallas colleagues, Larry Hagman and Patrick Duffy, were busy ribbing each other. As Gray hummed the Dallas theme song, she took stock of the room: “Oh, you’re in here with a woman. I don’t stand a chance!”

Many TV casts claim to become family, but these TV icons have been friends for 35 years and are truly a tight pack. Although the last time they worked together was in 1998, when the last of the three Dallas movies aired, they are in constant touch by phone, email, and text. So far, Gray has been unsuccessful at getting her best friends to tweet.

“I have never done a tweet in my life!” said the 80-year-old, larger-than-life Hagman. “I wouldn’t even know how.”

Their lasting friendship was forged in 1977, when they met for the first read-through of the script for the Dallas miniseries that led to the pop-culture phenomenon. Hagman showed up to the studio that day with Champagne bottles in leather saddle bags and greeted Gray with “Hello, darlin’.’”

“I thought, Oh, this is trouble,” said Gray, 71. “It was and it continues to be. And it’s delicious.”

So delicious that the three actors are reprising their iconic roles as J.R. Ewing, Sue Ellen Ewing, and Bobby Ewing in TNT’s new Dallas, which premieres on June 13. The series is more a continuation of the Ewing family saga 20 years later than it is a remake. Hagman, Gray, and Duffy, 63, recently met with The Daily Beast to talk about the new show and revisit the past, spilling some secrets along the way.

Duffy: We consider this season to be Year 14. It’s as if you just stopped watching for a while but we kept filming.

Gray: And the interesting thing it’s how we felt when we went back there. It was almost like we’d been there a month ago and we just picked right up again. It was so easy.

Hagman: Well, we didn’t have to look for our characters—that’s for sure.

Duffy: We’re talking about feelings, Larry.

Gray: You don’t know from feelings.

Duffy: Feelings you don’t know shit about!

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Gray: You just study your own lines and forget what everybody else is doing.

Hagman: OK, I’ll try to read your parts one day. Even though you’re in the scene with me, I’ll try to read it. Even though it hasn’t helped me at all.

Duffy: It doesn’t change his acting at all.

Gray: He doesn’t care what we’re doing.

With that revelation, Hagman pretended to snore and the discussion turned to the Mother of All Cliff-Hangers, the season finale that kicked off a trend in American television.

TV’s first cliff-hanger: Who shot JR?

(Season 3, episode 54, “A House Divided,” aired March 21, 1980)

It’s been written that Hagman was opposed to J.R. Ewing’s being shot.

Hagman: Are you kidding? That’s what gave me the initiative to ask for more money. People write everything and that’s bullshit. They picked it up for another three or four shows and didn’t have a bible for that. So they thought, ‘Let’s just shoot the son of a bitch and figure it out later.’ They figured out during the hiatus who shot me. I loved it. Are you kidding me? About 30 people got to shoot me. They filmed so many folks. We had the cameraman, the girl who keeps the script. Everybody got to shoot J.R. They just kept lining up. Pow, pow, pow. While we were lit, everybody was like, ‘I wanna shoot him! Call craft service! Tell them to get up here right away.’

Gray: They took me to a recording booth and I’ll never forget this. I kept asking, ‘What am I saying?’ I had no idea. There was no script. Nothing was ever written down. They said, ‘Here’s what you’re going to say.’ The line was in a voiceover: “Kristen, it was you who shot J.R.” Nobody saw it so the cameraman couldn’t report it. Nobody could be there.

Hagman: So you knew the whole time and you never told me?

Gray: That’s correct.

Duffy: She told me right away!

Gray: I tweeted him. I remember being on [Good Morning America with] David Hartman and he asked me: ‘Has anyone guessed in your family?’ And I said, ‘Yes, one of my children.’ The show came and went. I hadn’t even left the studio and I called my house. I thought they’re going to call my house and ask my kids, so I called the house so fast and told them not to answer the phone until I get there.

Kristen Did It: The World Waits for an Answer

(Season 4, episode 58, “Who Done It,” aired Nov. 21, 1980)

Hagman: Oh my dear, I was offered $250,000 if I would tell a reporter in London. They would be sequestered in a hotel. Three newspapers from London, The Hague, South Africa, and they all pooled together. And they’d be sequestered as I told all the different ones. I thought J.R. would do it! But I was negotiating for a raise in salary so I didn’t do it. But if I wasn’t negotiating, I think I would have.

Duffy: The cast was the last group on the planet to learn about it because Lorimar threw a big party for us in a restaurant in Los Angeles the night it was going to be revealed. Of course, people on the East Coast were going to know three hours ahead of time, right? And so they took us into this restaurant and we had this great party. And they literally locked the doors. As soon as New York knew, their families were phoning Los Angeles. We were the last people on the planet to know.

Gray: When we opened the door at Chasen’s, the press was all there. Mary Crosby (who played Kristen) was there. They were mental. It was huge.

Duffy: You just couldn’t do that today. It was fun. It was a great period in television.

Hagman: I thought that was a good idea, but Mary didn’t think so because she knew [Kristen] was going to die sooner or later. And she says she never worked again—it ruined her career. I had lunch with her yesterday. She looks great. She’d go somewhere and they’d be like, ‘That’s the girl that tried to kill J.R.’ It’s just as well, she had two beautiful kids and I’m the godfather.

A Patriarch Passes On: Jock Ewing Dies

(Season 5, episode 90, “The Search,” aired Jan. 8, 1982

The death of actor Jim Davis from multiple myeloma in 1980 shook up the Dallas family. After considering replacing Davis with another actor to play Jock Ewing, the producers decided to kill off the head of the family.

Duffy: He had really passed and we watched him pass. We saw the deterioration. The beautiful thing was that the company kept him working as long as he wanted to. Even beyond when he looked good, they figured out a way for him to be on set. It fed him to not feel like he was being shoved to the side. But we watched that and it was really devastating to watch. And then to do those scenes—going down to South America, looking for Daddy—it was very interesting and very hard. But then he was with us for 13 years because that picture was always above the mantle. And we talked about Daddy all the time.

Hagman: Thank God.

Duffy: And now we have a picture of [Barbara Bel Geddes who played Miss Ellie and died in 2005] and him together on a big picture we hang in the South Fork living room. Their characters are still very important to the show. We still do things on the show in reference to those characters. They have a shelf life that is non-ending.

Hagman: And it’s so much better than the picture of Grandpa Southworth. I’ve never been able to say that. Momma (Bel Geddes) would say, ‘South—oh fuck.’

Duffy: She always sounded like Sylvester.

A Nation Mourns: Bobby Ewing Dies

(Season 8, episode 191, “The Swan Song,” aired May 17, 1985)

When Bobby Ewing took his last breath in a hospital, women everywhere sobbed.

Hagman: I love that part. We got so many laughs out of that.

Gray: Did you read that script?

Hagman: I read it. I was there.

Duffy: It was sad.

Why did you leave?

Gray: We have to go because he’s going to lie.

Hagman: Why did he leave? Because he was a dumb fuck, that’s why! (With that, Hagman dramatically walks into the next room).

Duffy: I left at the end of my contract, after seven years. The show was very well known, very successful. We were all very well known as actors on it and I didn’t know it was gonna last 13 years. It was at a peak, so I thought if there was any time to step off something successful and parlay that into something else successful, I’m gonna do it. Obviously, I’m not a good businessman because I left the show and I worked but I didn’t make any big splash like I thought. And then I got a call from himself (points to Hagman who has returned).

Hagman: I was told by the producers, ‘Call your friend and ask him back.’ I said, ‘Fuck it, I want a raise if I’m gonna do it.’

Duffy: Leonard Katzman, who was a dear good friend of mine, a mentor almost, knew Larry could be the only one that would get me to entertain the idea of coming back to the show.

Hagman: With one caveat! I said, ‘Leonard, pay him more money. Simple. Appeal to his heart.’

Duffy: So I get to say I’ve been on every year of Dallas, even though that year I was only on for five seconds. Larry left me a phone message saying, ‘Come out to Malibu, let’s get drunk. I want to talk to you.’ My wife and I listened to it and I turned it off and I said, ‘They’re going to ask me back on the show.’ She said, ‘The only way you can come back on Dallas is if it was all a dream.’ She’s a very literate person and she knows her Shakespeare and Alice in Wonderland or The Wizard of Oz. That was her instinct. So when I talked to Leonard after Larry convinced me, he said, ‘It’s going to be a dream.’ I thought OK, the two people I respect the most think it will work as a dream so I’m gonna go with this.

Hagman: Not me. I didn’t think it was gonna be a dream.

Duffy: I don’t respect you.

Hagman: Oh, OK, that’s probably what it is.

Sue Ellen Hits Rock Bottom

(Season 9, episode 193, “Rock Bottom,” aired Sept. 25, 1985)

Gray spent the majority of her time on Dallas playing drunk. Who can blame her, after getting married to J.R.? Gray shared her favorite drunk scene.

Gray: It was during the dream year. To me, I loved it. As an actor, I was in makeup and hair for 20 minutes, and they put goopy stuff in my hair and put a little thing and said I was ready. It normally took Sue Ellen two hours to get ready. I was so excited. Can’t I just stay like this for a long time?

Hagman: As a bag lady!

Gray: Yes, as a bag lady! You could see her demise. I had asked them to stop Sue Ellen from drinking. Eight years, I was bored. I kept having affairs and drinking and affairs and drinking. I said, ‘Actor bored. It’s gonna show on film. Can I do something else?’ They went, ‘Oh, darling, you’re so good at it!’ That was the year Leonard Katzman left and it was a mess. Then I talked to the new people. ‘Hi, new people. Sue Ellen’s bored. I’d like to stop drinking.’ So they decided to let me stop drinking, but we’re going to take you down. Way down. And I thought, oh shit! But it’s better than being bored. I had no idea I was going to be drinking out of a paper bag with a bag lady. So we went down and we went down big. For an actress, it was genius. I got to go to this drunk tank with all these wonderful actors in Dallas. Lou Diamond Phillips was one of the pimps on the street when I was wandering aimlessly. And he was like an extra walking down the street. I had this great Valentino dress. The wardrobe lady just ripped it and I was like, no! Wonderful stories like that that I just loved because it was different. It wasn’t the very well groomed, very well dressed, coiffed Sue Ellen. As an actor, it was yummy just to chew it up.

Hagman: My favorite moment was when she says, ‘I need somebody to love’ and J.R. says, ‘I’ll get you a warm puppy.’

Gray: And as he backed out of South Fork driveway, I thought just what a nasty guy this is. It was such a bad line. But then I turned around and standing in the driveway after you left was Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly). And I just needed someone to love. The next morning, after I’d been with Ray, I was sitting by the pool and Ray comes out and says, ‘Good morning, Sue Ellen,’ in a very sexy way. And I said, ‘It’s Mrs. Ewing.

Hagman: Whoa.

Gray: You didn’t read that part either?

It Was All a Dream: Bobby’s Alive!

(Season 9, episode 222, “Blast from the Past,” aired May 16, 1986)

Much to Pam Ewing’s relief, it turned out Bobby Ewing was not dead. The ninth season ended with Bobby mysteriously appearing in Pam’s (Victoria Principal) shower. The scene was shot in secret.

Duffy: For the same reason they sent Linda into the recording studio with no crew or cast, they knew if the crew of Dallas filmed me in the shower, somebody would put it together. So Leonard Katzman hired a production company in Los Angeles and we went to their production house and they built a shower and we spent the whole day filming an Irish Spring commercial. I would be in the shower all wet and the door would open and I would turn around and say, ‘Good morning.’ And beat, beat, beat, and then: ‘And you can have a good morning too if you wake up like the Duffy family with Irish Spring.’ Cut!

Gray: That is genius.

Hagman: We gotta get that footage!