By David Wallace
March 21, 1983 12:00 PM

In a bow to ratings pressure, Sue Ellen and J.R. were rehitched last December, and back at Southfork things have never been better. Ironically, at the same time, Linda Gray, the 42-year-old actress who plays the strange, neurotic Mrs. Ewing on Dallas, apparently has been wrapping up her 20-year marriage to independent art director-producer Ed Thrasher. Last week it was confirmed that she had moved out of the Canyon Country home the couple had shared with their children, Jeff, 18, and Kelly, 16.

It was a split that took even cynical Hollywood wags by surprise. Ranked alongside such long-running unions as the Paul Newmans’ and the Gregory Pecks’, Gray and Thrasher were often held up as proof that not all showbiz marriages are made to fade.

Linda, the daughter of a Culver City, Calif. watchmaker, met Thrasher when she was an 18-year-old model and he was working for Capitol Records. He pursued her with cards and flowers until they wed in 1962. “I was,” she says with a laugh, “the only 21-year-old virgin married that year.”

Modeling led to acting for Gray, with parts on series such as Marcus Welby and McCloud. Eleven years ago the couple and their children moved from suburban Encino to a rustic three-acre, five-bedroom spread 60 miles north of Los Angeles, complete with swimming pool, tennis courts, horses, dogs and, recently, chickens. The move initially terrified her. “I’m a city girl,” says Linda, “and I thought, ‘I don’t want to live out here, it’s a mess.’ ” But Thrasher, 50, the son of a former L.A. councilman, persevered, and she says, “He finally convinced me.”

Country life, in fact, posed few problems until Gray landed the role of Sue Ellen in 1978. Although it led to the recognition she’d always hoped for (“Someday I’d like to be known as one of the great broads of Hollywood”) plus an estimated $50,000 per episode, she paid a price. Her workday began at 5 a.m. with a 90-minute trip in her white Mercedes convertible to MGM’s Culver City studio. “After five years you get a little tired of it,” she said of the commute, but added, “It’s the only time during the day or evening I’m alone—no phone, no kids, no dogs, no one yapping at me.”

Work, of course, brings frustrations. “I get tired of Sue Ellen being so wimpy,” she admits. “I get bored with the fact they don’t make her a little smarter. I have a lot of input, but it doesn’t fit in with the overall plan.” After a 12-hour day on the set, she faced the return trip home, arriving around 8:30 p.m. too tired to eat dinner. The pressures finally convinced her to hire a secretary and a housekeeper. “I was going crazy,” she says. “I had to let go of the fact that I was Superwoman.”

Linda is now holed up in Malibu with daughter Kelly, a junior at a private school in the San Fernando Valley. Jeff is a cinematography student at UCLA. Despite rumors of other men in her life, she and Thrasher have vowed to remain friendly. “I’m sure it’s very painful for them,” says a friend. But, adds Gray’s press agent, Richard Grant, “I’m 99 and 99/100 percent certain they will not get back together.”

Linda is making plans for her immediate future. During the series’ shooting hiatus (March to May) she plans to play. “My fantasy is to go to an island and just lie in the sun and run on the beach and have no phones and no people bothering me. I will do it,” she says adamantly. “I’m tired and I’m cranky and I just can’t handle it anymore.”