WARNING: This article concerns the May 17 Dallas cliff-hanger. You may learn things here, shocking things about Patrick Duffy and his Bobby Ewing character, that you may not like or want to know in advance. So take 10 seconds and think before proceeding.
Good. Glad you stayed. Since Duffy’s not talking to anybody else, you’ll be the first of the 40 million expected to watch the show to learn what happens to Bobby. Let’s set the stage. It’s spring at South fork, and J.R. and company have gathered to celebrate the wedding of Lucy Ewing to Mitch Cooper, whose romance has survived their previous marriage and divorce. After the vows, the tears and the champagne, Bobby and several guests go into downtown Dallas. While they are walking down a street, a car veers suddenly into the group and begins bearing down on one of them. (Sorry, but it wouldn’t be fair to say which one or who’s driving; the show deserves to have some secrets.) Frozen in horror, they watch as the driver accelerates toward the target. A man steps forward to deflect the inevitable collision of metal and flesh. He is Bobby Ewing, J.R.’s good-guy younger brother, performing an act of heroism that will cost him his life. In a hospital deathbed scene attended by most of the cast, Dallas’ Dudley Do-Right hangs up his white hat for good—leaving behind a chunk of Ewing Oil and raising questions: Can America’s high-rated nighttime drama weather the loss of a pivotal character? Will Bobby be resurrected in the form of another actor? And—not incidentally—what kind of Texas tempest could have possessed Patrick Duffy to give up a $40,000-a-week job in a hit that could easily last another seven seasons?
All of this conjecture amuses Patrick Duffy, 36, who displays a prankster’s spark offscreen unlike anything you ever saw in the Boy Scout Bobby. Duffy’s sure that Dallas can live without him. Look at Charlene (Lucy) Tilton, who, like Duffy, has been on the series since its 1978 inception. Tilton won’t be back in the fall either. But there’s a difference the tactful Duffy doesn’t mention. The producers decided to phase out Tilton. It was Duffy who put the death sentence on Bobby. Seven years of playing a good guy proved two years too many for Duffy, who frankly calls Bobby “boring. There is no place to go with the character.” Duffy wants more action. “Dallas started out to be a pretty energetic show,” he says. “It had lots of outdoor stuff and barroom brawls. Now it’s just talking and kissing—boardroom and bedroom.”
Still, Duffy is not uncaring about how Dallas addicts might react. He doesn’t want another actor to replace him and told the producers so. “I didn’t want Bobby to disappear in a fiery ball in the sky and come back as someone different who parachuted to safety.” A similar incident happened on Dynasty Dallas’ arch rival) when Pamela Sue Martin survived a plane crash to return as Emma Samms. But Duffy’s motivations, he says, are also selfish. “I would feel terrible looking at someone else doing that part.”
So when Bobby dies on May 17, he dies. Dallas executive producer Phil Capice admits “it’s a problem.” A Bobby-type character will be introduced next season to be played by Dack (Paper Dolls) Rambo, but it takes years to build a character of Bobby’s popularity. “We tried to convince Patrick to stay,” says Capice. But a promise of more varied scenes and an extra $10,000 a week didn’t sway Duffy. “I want something new,” he says.
Duffy realizes that he’s been pegged in some quarters as an ingrate: “There may have been some feeling that, ‘Look what we’ve done for you, and now you’re leaving.’ ” Duffy’s 10-year-old son, Padraic, was aghast when Dad broke the news. “I said, ‘Sooner or later the word is going to get out, and before someone at school says something, I want you to know I’ve quit Dallas.’ Padraic said, ‘What new show are you going to be on?’ I told him I didn’t have another, and he screamed, ‘You quit Dallas and you don’t have another show to go to?’ ”
The kid may be on to something. McLean Stevenson didn’t become famous by exiting M*A*S*H, and Pernell Roberts looked around a lot after checking out of Bonanza. Not that Padraic and brother Conor, 5, are in danger of starving—or even of having to leave their pricey private school. Dallas has made Duffy a millionaire and, while he and wife Carlyn, 45, don’t exactly live like the Ewings, they own three show horses and four cars and they buy caviar (“a favorite treat”) by the bulk. Their five-bedroom house in Tarzana may be modest, by Hollywood standards, but it has a kidney-shaped pool, a wine cellar and an altar room where the couple (both Buddhists) chant together.
In short, Duffy can afford to hold out for the kind of part he’s always wanted: a suave, Tom Selleck-style adventure hero. Television agrees with him (“I’m the opposite of those people who say they’re doing TV only until they get their film career going”). Although he admits that typecasting could be a problem, he’s confident that Dallas won’t be his last series. “I was one of the major parts of the show, I’m young and I’m one lucky son of a gun,” he says. “I’m counting on that luck to keep me active for another 30 years.”
Luck hasn’t always been a part of Patrick’s life. Born in Townsend (pop. 1,587), Mont., he was the second child of Terence and Marie Duffy, who ran a tavern. The family was “exceptionally poor,” Patrick says. After finishing high school in Everett, Wash., Duffy entered the professional actors’ training program at the University of Washington, graduating in 1971. Soon after, he met Carlyn Rosser. She was touring with a small ballet company, and he was working as a narrator for the Seattle Symphony. “I was sitting in on all these rehearsals,” Duffy says, “looking at all these beautiful women in leotards. I was in pig heaven.”
Never mind that Patrick looked like a pinup even then; Carlyn was not impressed. “I thought he was boring,” she says. It was Buddhism that brought them together: “I had come back from a long trip and walked right into rehearsal and started working really hard, and he said, ‘How do you do that?’ I told him that I chanted, and introduced him to Buddhism, and eventually our love came out of that.”
The two lived on little more than love after they were married in a Buddhist temple in 1974. They occupied a “cockroach farm” in L.A. while Patrick took odd jobs to support Carlyn and Padraic, who had been born 10 ½ months after their wedding. At the end of 1976, when the producers of Man From Atlantis called him in for an audition, “I didn’t have enough money to buy a swimming suit, so I had to do it in my underwear,” Patrick says.
Poverty became a thing of the past as soon as Patrick won the lead in the sci-fi series. He was paid about $3,000 a segment, and one week after Atlantis was canceled, he was cast as Bobby Ewing. “Five different scripts were offered to me, and at that point it was a crap shoot. Carlyn and I said, ‘Let’s chant for a while,’ so we chanted and said, ‘That one.’ It turned out to be Dallas.”
In his incarnation as Bobby, Duffy saw his character through kidnapping, divorce, a near-fatal shooting and assorted professional crises, including an aborted career as a state senator. (See Trivia Quiz on page 60.) The opening scene of Dallas’ first episode showed Bobby bringing his bride, Pam (Victoria Principal), home to Jock and Miss Ellie. The two broke up in the fifth season and Bobby took up with Jenna Wade (Priscilla Presley). This year’s pre-cliff-hanger plotline suggested that the Barbie and Ken of Southfork might be headed for a reconciliation. “After the divorce,” says Patrick, “I thought, ‘Boy, Bobby will start dating like crazy.’ [The producers] said, no, that I had to be good. But we were always sort of getting back together because the couple was so firmly established in the minds of the audience that the scriptwriters couldn’t walk away from it.”
Being paired with Principal (whom Duffy calls “the upstage artist of the world”) was difficult at first. “We were in a constant state of competition,” Patrick says. “We were very territorial in front of the camera, and it was a strain.” Their relationship improved during Dallas’ third season, when Duffy made his debut as a director. “I developed an appreciation for her, and I think for the first time she started to trust me. Some of the best scenes on the show were between Victoria and me, and they happened after we got comfortable with each other.”
Some of the show’s most compelling action, in fact, has taken place offscreen—what with salary battles, a Screen Actors Guild strike, the 1981 death of Jim Davis, who played Jock, and the prolonged illness of Barbara Bel Geddes, the original Miss Ellie. Replaced this season by Donna Reed, Bel Geddes will reclaim her role in the fall. But it is Donna’s Miss Ellie who watches her son Bobby die.
Even Duffy’s final days on the set were marked by a measure of melodrama. During the filming of the deathbed scene, “there were lots of real tears,” Patrick reports. “Everyone was involved emotionally. It wasn’t because the character was dying—we were all feeling bad about leaving friends. We had established something we knew would no longer exist.”
After Bobby breathed his last, Steve (Ray Krebbs) Kanaly and Duffy reminisced about their offscreen duck-hunting expeditions, and Hagman presented him with a Colt .45 engraved with the words, “To Patrick Duffy from his brother Larry Hagman…Thanks for the last seven years of your life.” Despite the tears, Patrick says, “I felt a real relief when I realized it was all over. I couldn’t be more happy with the way they offed the old guy. He’s gone, and he can never come back.”
Note to Patrick Duffy: Television is a tricky business. Tune in to Dallas on May 17, like the rest of us, just to be sure.