A second marriage maybe the triumph of hope over experience, but when Dallas’ dastardly J.R. Ewing reweds Sue Ellen on CBS this week, whoa, pardner, it’s the lie that binds. The five-year-old show seemed to lose some steam last year when Sue Ellen fled J.R.’s abuse to traipse off with cowboy Dusty Farlow. So last summer cast and crew gathered at suburban Dallas’ “Southfork Ranch,” in suffocatingly humid heat, to film the reunion of TV’s favorite couple. The writers have supplied Larry Hagman, 51, who plays J.R., with a suitable ulterior motive for the new merger: his desire to ensure his son’s place in the Ewing empire. As the cameras prepared to roll, thunder-heads built up over Southfork, and Patrick Duffy, who plays J.R.’s good brother Bobby, expressed doubts about the remarriage’s prospects. “J.R., I don’t think you have your heart in this ceremony,” he cracked in an aside to Hagman. “No, just my wallet,” replied Hagman. “I see stormy times ahead.” As if on cue, a thunderclap and torrential rains broke from the clouds, and everyone scurried for cover in the garage. Linda Gray, looking elegant at 42 in Sue Ellen’s silk wedding outfit, joked, “If you believe in omens, this one is rather clear.” Seeking her own omens, PEOPLE correspondent Sue Reilly shared the pleasures and discomforts of the location shoot. Her report follows.
The storm’s rumbles weren’t the only ones heard last summer on the set of Dallas. For eight weeks the cast and crew sweltered in the prairie heat that hit 110° in the shade and, intensified by the bright TV lights, seemed to Hagman like “hell fire.” Since the series’ inception, the shooting in Dallas has become a grudgingly accepted ordeal caused by the March-to-June script-writing schedule. “Just when the weather gets cool in California,” Hagman grumbles, “we go back there so we can work in big drafty sound stages doing interiors.”
The heat frays the cast’s dispositions. Victoria Principal, embarrassed and upset by gleeful press accounts of her then recent breakup with Andy Gibb, mostly sulked alone. Charlene Tilton sat out the shoot in L.A., awaiting the birth of her child (Cherish, born in August), while Linda Gray arrived in Dallas sporting a shortened coiffure, which Dallas director-producer-godfather Len Katzman thought was out of character for Sue Ellen. Meanwhile Hagman, earning an estimated $100,000 per episode, muttered about being overexploited by behind-the-scenes moneymen. “I sat sometimes and watched those I Dream of Jeannie reruns and I’m not making a dime from them,” said Larry, who co-starred in the 1965-70 series with Barbara Eden. “But those pencil pushers are making millions. Well, it ain’t gonna happen to this guy again.”
Despite Hagman’s gripes, the Texas-born-and-bred star seemed genuinely pleased to be back in Dallas. For one thing, he had the whole family assembled: wife Maj, 50, a designer; daughter Heidi, 24, a fledgling actress; and son Preston, a 20-year-old charter airline pilot, all comfortably ensconced in the $4,000-a-month, 12-room house Larry rents each year in the rolling green hills on the outskirts of town.
Furthermore, being in Dallas gave Hagman, who always lives life to the fullest, the opportunity to do something he loves: playing both J.R. and good-old-boy to a real live Texas audience. Many weekend mornings he and Maj zoomed off in a Cadillac to the Dallas Tortilla Factory, a crumbling stucco building in an area of the city that looks like a border-town barrio. There they ordered an 11 a.m. breakfast of Carta Blanca beer and tamales smothered in hot sauce. Another favorite Hagman spot was the Buckhorn Trading Post near skid row. “The trading post is the place I buy all my guns,” he explained. “Hell, I got a damn arsenal.”
One 115° afternoon Hagman rented a Texas Taxi—a chauffeured white Cadillac convertible with steer-horn-adorned grille, climbed into the front seat and announced, “I’m going down to the Post to look at a set of six-foot steer horns that I want to buy to put on my mobile home.”
An hour later, clad in Western outfit and cowboy hat and with his new horns lashed to the Caddy’s trunk, he took a detour through Dallas’ business district doing his “J.R. for President” number: top down, waving a can of Lone Star beer and tipping his hat to crowds of delighted pedestrians. Loud, honky-tonk music blared from the Caddy’s radio. “Damn!” hollered Larry to the driver, “I wish you had the theme song from Dallas!” The driver cruised on, passing an office building which Hag-man declared he would buy and convert into a private fishing pond. “You put the lake in the bottom of the building,” he explained, “stock it real good and then you can control the climate and bugs. Hell, I could fish whenever the urge came over me. It would always be perfect fishing weather. And perfect fishing. Hell, yes, I’m serious!” It’s not for nothing that one of the flags adorning his home back in Malibu bears Hagman’s personal motto “Vita Celebratio Est” (Life is a celebration). During his stay he frequented all the best restaurants in Dallas, greeted guests to his home with a glass of champagne, and reveled in playing both court jester and Louis XIV in his Texas kingdom.
Not that Larry will confess to owning Texas-size assets. “People think I’m rich,” he shrugged. “Well, I may be one of the highest-paid actors on TV, but next to some of these Texans, I’m a pauper. Preston and I once talked about buying a plane and having him fly me, but I can’t afford to do it. Kenny Rogers, who makes about 10 times what I do each year, has a goddam jet. I fight for every cent I’ve got, but I don’t go back on promises. When I renegotiated with Lorimar [the Dallas production company] two years ago, I told them I would not come back with my hat in my hand asking for more, and I haven’t. Actors have to have self-respect, and they can’t always be looking for it from other people.”
There are times, however, when Hagman doubtless wishes he had gone back for more. Like the day the temperature reached a searing 115° by 10 a.m. Hagman was in a gloomy mood. “Place is a goddam jungle,” he declared, as his makeup man in an air-conditioned trailer applied brown goo to Larry’s thinning pate and graying sideburns. About 75 tourists were baking in the sun in an area cordoned off from the Southfork set. They had paid $10 apiece to the Southfork owners for the dubious privilege of gawking at the backs of the actors’ heads. The actors take refuge in the fan-equipped garage when they’re not shooting, but just about everyone suffered from eye trouble, dehydration or heat prostration. Dallas’ on-set nurse, Linda Gehring, armed with buckets of cooling alcohol solution and salt tablets, did what she could for them and became a heroine.
On the first day of the wedding shoot, Linda Gray wandered about, arms outstretched like a scarecrow’s. “When I put my arms down I sweat all over,” she moaned, then added in a mock-Sue Ellen voice, “Oh, God, don’t say that! You know Texas girls don’t sweat, honey.”
Hagman’s temper was heating up too. He was irritated that Lorimar wouldn’t pay round-trip gas mileage for his $100,000 motor home from L.A. to Dallas. The company does, however, rent the motor home just so Hagman and the other male stars who don’t smoke can use it as an on-location dressing room. He’s also disenchanted with the Lorimar company cops, who, when the temperature hits 110°, nip into the motor home for a shot of air conditioning. “I don’t want to be a tough ass and not let the cops use it,” he says, “but they come in here and turn on the air conditioning and watch TV and s—!” Hagman has said he is tired of being taken advantage of. “I’ve always had this need to have people like me, and in some ways it’s been my undoing,” he has noted. “I’ve always tended to give in to people, to see the other guy’s side. Well, I’ve found out the hard way that the other guy is looking out for his side.”
The next working day everyone’s mood changed. The sudden rainstorm washed away most of the bad feeling, and there was a sense of excitement: This was the wrap-up for episode No. 10—the wedding. Someone handed Linda Gray and Larry a present wrapped in silver wedding paper, which Gray removed to reveal—what else?—a toaster. Hagman snatched it out of her grasp, saying he was going to put it in his mobile home. “We haven’t even gotten married again and already we’re dividing the community property!” she laughed. Then the lights went up and the couple started to take their vows as Barbara Bel Geddes, Victoria Principal, Patrick Duffy, Howard Keel and the rest of the cast looked on. Katzman, a tremendous smile on his face, yelled jubilantly, “That’s a print!” The tension lifted; Hagman and Gray turned and grinned at each other. “Say, honey,” drawled Larry, “what do you say after this here service, you and I get in my mobile home and take a little tour of wine country?” “Sure, honey,” replied Linda coyly, “but only if we bring my husband and your wife along.” Larry, looking for Maj, chuckled, “I wouldn’t have it any other way, darlin’.” Then corks popped, champagne fizzed, crowds gathered round, and for a few moments during this torrid Dallas July, not even J.R. seemed to notice the heat.