On the Set: Dallas Says Goodbye to J.R. Ewing
Larry Hagman | Photo Credits: Zade Rosenthal/TNT
A banquet hall in the posh Dallas Petroleum Club, high atop the city's Chase Tower, has been decorated with lavish floral bouquets and framed photographs of TV legend Larry Hagman in his sweet, smilin' heyday. "This is the episode where we honor Larry, as well as his character," Patrick Duffy (Bobby) says of Monday's Dallas, which addresses Hagman's untimely November death by murdering, memorializing and burying J.R. Ewing — all within a single hour.
Among the photos are classic J.R. shots snapped on the original Dallas set back in the '70s and '80s, as well as personal photographs provided by Hagman's family. "There's one where Larry looks like he's saying something naughty," says Deborah Shelton, who reprises her role as onetime J.R. mistress Mandy Winger. "He was the life of this show."
"He is Dallas," says Cathy Podewell, who portrayed J.R.'s young bride, Cally, and hadn't seen Hagman since his 70th birthday party in 2001. "I was flattered and honored to be a part of this." Dallas diehards may raise an eyebrow watching J.R.'s first wife, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), make nice with both women, but Gray rationalizes, "Twenty years have passed; people grow up."
Not since the original series' 1991 finale have so many Dallas vets appeared in a single episode — and perhaps never before have so many appeared together in a single scene. Only someone like Hagman could lure three big-name locals — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Mayor Mike Rawlings — to do cameos as themselves. "These people had such remarkable respect for Larry, J.R. and the show," says executive producer Michael M. Robin, "that they changed their schedules to accommodate us."
As for the notable no-shows — namely Priscilla Presley (Jenna), Susan Howard (Donna) and Victoria Principal (Pam) — "There were certain people we reached out to who just weren't available," Robin says. "But anyone from the past could show up when a storyline makes sense."
There's still much for nostalgia buffs to savor, including Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly) and Lucy Ewing (Charlene Tilton) referencing classic insults that J.R. threw out back in the day. "I remember like it was yesterday when J.R. told Lucy, 'Why don't you get that junior plastic surgeon you married to design you a new face — one without a mouth,'" Tilton says.
"There are a lot of J.R.-isms in this episode," says Kanaly, who lives on a citrus ranch in Ojai, California, close to where Hagman spent his final years. "This is quite a unique situation for me, having already been to two real memorials for Larry. When we come together for J.R.'s graveside service, that will be my final goodbye."
Besides tributes paid by family and friends, the episode features plenty of drama, with recovering alcoholics and former in-laws Sue Ellen and Gary Ewing (Ted Shackelford) finding themselves tempted by the bottle — and each other. Then J.R.'s lifelong archenemy, Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), crashes the service and "really throws a wet blanket over the whole thing," Kercheval says.
The episode, titled "J.R.'s Masterpiece," plants the seeds for an epic "Who Killed J.R.?" murder mystery, with J.R.'s son, John Ross (Josh Henderson), accusing Cliff of doing the deed. And while punches are thrown, none of the vets is on the receiving end. "Back in the day, Cliff Barnes would have been the first person hit," Duffy says. "But we can't lay a finger on each other anymore because we'd fall down and break a hip."