Larry Hagman: Hissable heavy loves evil role
If Larry Hagman had a mustache, he’d probably twirl it as he goes about his dirty work.
On another show, he’d be a villain. On CBS’ Dallas, he’s the hero.
Hagman is one of TV’s most hissable heavies. All he’s missing is that mustache, a top hat, black cape, and a damsel tied to a railroad track.
Larry Hagman has a juicy, lip-smacking role, and he plays it to campy perfection. His J.R. Ewing is rotten to the core. If he had a redeeming feature, he’d probably swap it for cash, and use the money to swindle somebody.
A nighttime soap opera
Dallas is the dark side of all those family series. The oil-rich Ewings are at each other’s throats, scheming to do each other in — or in bed with the wrong mate.
It’s soap opera at its best, with the added attraction of flashy cars, helicopters, pumping oil wells and other assorted toys of the rich. But the oil, the cattle ranch, the rest, are just props. The story is about the family. It is pure trash, and Hagman wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love it,” he says, a malicious grin on his face. “It’s so much fun. Nice guys don’t have any fun. I get to love all the ladies, stab all the men in the back. I get to rape, steal, and pillage.”
Hagman, who spent five years as the milquetoast astronaut in “I Dream of Jeannie,” says, “I love being a bad guy. I took my son camping at Joshua Tree, and when we went to town, a girl said, ‘Grandma, do you know who that is?’ Her grandma said, ‘Yeah, and I don’t like him.'”
JR Ewing inspires instant hate. At a recent Hollywood charity dinner, the celebrities hissed Hagman as he walked by. “Isn’t it great to be that rotten — and be so popular?” he asks. “It must strike some familiar chord in people. Something they identify with.”
Hagman is in a Chinese restaurant with his Swedish-born wife, Maj, and his daughter, Heidi, a fledgling actress who has a small role on the show. Heidi says, “It makes Daddy a nicer man at home. He gets to vent all those things on Dallas.”
He also relishes his private eccentricities. He carries a cane, and wears a feather-topped 10-gallon hat, a buckskin jacket with fringe long enough to trip over, hand-tooled cowboy boots, and drives a bread truck converted into a camper.
He laughs and says, “Sure, I’m flamboyant, ’cause it attracts attention and it’s fun. I live exactly like I want to, and it doesn’t hurt anyone.”
From Texas to California
Hagman, Texas-born son of superstar Mary Martin, lives in a beach-front house in Malibu. His wife designs and builds jacuzzis — “I mean she jumps right in there and builds them with her own hands!”
Dallas, a creation of David Jacobs, premiered last March, and ran for five episodes in a spring tryout. It returned in the fall, and has been doing well in the ratings.
The series is from Lorimar Productions, which otherwise makes such homey shows as “The Waltons,” “Eight Is Enough,” and “Married: The First Year.”
The Dallas debut
The series opened last year with the marriage of the son and daughter of two warring families, the Ewings and the Barnes.
Jim Davis is “Big Daddy” Jock Ewing, who struck it rich by double-crossing his partner, Digger Barnes, played by David Wayne. His younger son, Bobby (Patrick Duffy), marries Digger’s daughter, Pamela (Victoria Principal). Pamela’s brother, Cliff (Ken Kercheval), has made it his life’s mission to bring down the Ewings.
Rounding out the cast are Barbara Bel Geddes as Jock’s wife, “Miss Ellie”; Linda Gray as J.R.’s wife, Sue Ellen; Steven Kanaly as ranch foreman Ray Krebbs; and Charlene Tilton as Jock’s granddaughter, Lucy. Other characters wander in and out. You really need a chart to keep up with who’s who, and who’s doing what to who.
WATCH DALLAS NOW: Stream the classic TV show, or get it on disc
Hagman says of the show, “People love to see rich people being bad. Bobby and I are always trying to get into a moneymaking position, but every deal we make falls through. J.R.’s really a rotten businessman, and everybody’s on to his swindles.
He arranged for his sister-in-law to have a miscarriage — he pushed her. “My wife is pregnant by my arch enemy, Cliff Barnes. I tell her I don’t give a damn — it’s going to be an Ewing and my heir. An old girlfriend comes back, and has an affair with my father and is murdered.
“This is television’s equivalent to those supermarket novels. Something’s happening every minute.”
How did he get the role? “They wanted a total (expletive deleted), and mine was the first name on everyone’s lips.”
Hagman, who has a role in the movie “Superman,” says “Compared to the real Texas, this is milquetoast. It’s a nice little fairy story. If you told the real story, you couldn’t get on the air.”