When I read about Larry Hagman’s death in the newspaper, the first thing I did was text my oldest daughter, Carrie. “Larry Hagman died!” Carrie and I used to watch the original Dallas together every Friday night, and we both love the new update on TNT. Carrie responded a few minutes later with: “I know. Now we will never find out what J.R. was up to this time!”
Carrie’s response really typifies what the character of J. R. Ewing was all about: the towering man in the big white cowboy hat was constantly up to something, and it was never good. It was, however, always interesting—enough so that millions of viewers turned in every Friday night to see his latest scheme unfold. We were rarely disappointed. J. R. wasn’t above using anyone to get what he wanted, including his own parents. If he had a soft spot, it was his son, John Ross. But even then, he wasn’t above using his boy against his on and off again wife, Sue Ellen, in his latest power grab.
To those of you who weren’t avid Dallas fans, I’m sure J. R. sounds like a terrible character with no redeeming values. The type who, as writers, we are told to avoid using as main characters in our stories at all costs. Why? Because readers supposedly can’t relate to people like J. R., characters who are simply too one-sidedly evil for readers to relate to. Normally, I agree with that rule of thumb. Dallas’s writers must have as well, as initially Hagman was signed to do only six or eight episodes of the show’s debut season back in 1978. Instead, J. R. loomed larger than life for Dallas fans over the course of an amazing 14 year run. Take that, rule of thumb.
There’s little doubt Hagman’s portrayal of J. R. is what led TNT to revive the show this past summer. To the developers’ credit, they were smart enough to include Hagman in the update, as well as Patrick Duffy (J. R.’s righteous little brother), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen, J. R.’s ex-wife), and Ken Kercheval (J. R.’s long-time wannabe nemesis). Early ratings were so strong that another full season was ordered after only a few episodes had aired. Fortunately for fans, Hagman managed to film enough scenes for six episodes of season two, which will begin to air in January. The show’s writers did an excellent job of blending the old characters with the new generation, enough so that the new Dallas has a good chance of remaining on the air for awhile. Another generation of back-stabbing Ewings. Who could ask for anything more?
Thanks, Larry! And rest in peace, J. R. We will always love you.