Sunset at Southfork

NIGHT HAS FALLEN OVER SOUTH-fork. J.R. Ewing, who has ruled this rancho notorious like a Medici prince for more than a decade, wanders through its dark and ghostly halls. His face is ashen; gone are the blood-and-feathers smile and the sparks in his eyes kindled by the delicious thrill of sticking it to his fellowman. Now J.R.’s world is in shambles. His wife, his son and heir and his illegitimate son have all deserted him. He has lost Ewing Oil to his rivals, lost Southfork to brother Bobby. With his life passing before his eyes, J.R. walks into an empty room, opens a desk drawer and pulls out the pearl-handled revolver that belonged to his daddy, the late Jock Ewing. Is this, then, the end of J.R.?

Whatever the fate of everyone’s favorite diamondback rattler, at least we know that, incredible as it seems, this is the end of Dallas. After 13 years and 356 episodes of family feuding, fussing and fighting, of alcoholism, adultery and nervous breakdowns, of bribery, blackmail and ruin, CBS and the show’s producer, Lorimar Television, finally board up Southfork for good with a two-hour finale on Friday, May 3 (9 P.M. ET) featuring Joel Grey as a guardian angel who, in the style of It’s a Wonderful Life, shows J.R. what the homestead would have been like had he never lived. On hand are almost all of the series’ familiar inhabitants, some absent in recent years. (A notable exception: Victoria Principal, who played Pam, declined to participate.)

The ratings, once Texas tall (the show was tops in prime time for three seasons in the early ’80s), are now the Nielsen equivalent of a lapped-out oil field, with the Ewings finishing in 61st place during the 1990-91 season. Still, it’s hard to imagine Friday nights without J.R. to kick us around; Dallas leaves behind a mighty impressive set of television credentials. The second-longest-running dramatic hour in prime-time history (after Gunsmoke), the show has, week after cliff-hanging week, titillated and tantalized millions of viewers across the land. Not to mention over the seas, where fans in 85 countries found the show’s intensely American blend of sex, power and money too lurid to resist: In Turkey parliament recessed so representatives could find out Who Shot J.R.

Well, J.R. survived that particular attempt on his life (which in 1981 generated the second highest Nielsens in prime-time history—trailing only M*A*S*H’s 1983 finale) and lived to wallow in sex, power and money for another day. Viewers delighted in his deadly charm as he ran roughshod over his oh-so-earnest rival, Cliff Barnes (see box), manipulated his own family to the point of madness and drew to his bed—and discarded—enough luscious women to field three units of Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. When J.R. smiled and drawled, “How yew, darlin’?” prudent women ran for cover. As they say down in Texas, J.R. was just plain a dawg.

The dawg who has played J.R. with lip-smacking relish all these years, Larry Hagman, 59, didn’t actually find out that his day was done until he’d finished his final scene in early February and returned to his Malibu home. Then he got a call from the show’s executive producer Leonard Katzman, telling him that this particular party was over. Cut to: a different sort of party, two months later, at the posh St. James Club in Los Angeles. Hagman and his wife of 36 years, Maj, are enjoying a celebration after a screening of Mister Johnson. Usually, at such a do, Hagman reluctantly heads home early so he can get up at 5 A.M. Not tonight, Maj. When she suggests that they call it a wrap, Hagman flashes that fabled grin and drawls, “I’m out of work, darlin’. We can stay out all night if we want to.”

Hagman usually wants to. Dubbed the Mad Monk of Malibu by his friends (and a few foes), Hagman, hard worker that he is, has nonetheless dedicated himself to a sybaritic lifestyle that would plumb wear J.R. out. “He’s a party animal,” says Katzman. “He’s got more energy than any six guys I know.” Colleagues found that drive useful in the early days of Dallas. “Nobody knew who we were,” recalls Steve Kanaly, who played J.R.’s illegitimate half-brother, Ray Krebbs. “Larry used to pack us all into his bakery van and drive us to the best restaurants. Then he’d walk in and go straight to whoever was in charge and say, ‘Hi, how y’all doin’? Remember me, Major Tony Nelson from I Dream of Jeannie? Do you think you have a table for us?’ He was a helluva lot of fun.”

But the relative anonymity was short-lived. In 1983 Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow) was with Hagman in his motor home on the Southfork grounds in Dallas, shooting exteriors. “They had these tour buses that took tourists around Southfork,” Martin remembers. “One went in the wrong gate, and the people got out and began walking around. We could hear them asking where J.R. was. They were right outside our door, and if they’d known he was inside they would have pulverized the motor home. Squished it. I remember looking at Hagman and seeing something in his eyes. A hunted look. And I knew that he’d never be alone again.”

But now that the crush is over, Hagman is primed to enjoy the spoils. Sipping a morning glass of champagne at his Malibu home, Hagman sits back and observes, “Hell, I’m on vacation for the rest of my f——— life.” He doesn’t even have to get up to lie in the sun; he just pushes a button and the ceiling rolls back. This is but one exquisite feature of the house Hagman bought for $115,000 back in 1966, after he had landed his first major TV role on the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. “It was just a pink shack then,” Hagman says. “I put down $15,000 and went to bed for three days. I’d never spent so much money.” Estimated value now, after extensive remodeling: $15 million. Nor is it the only place where Hagman can hang his many hats. He and Maj also own a home in Santa Fe, a 200-acre ranch outside Santa Fe and an apartment in Manhattan—and are busy building a mountaintop retreat in Ojai, near Ventura, an hour’s drive from Malibu. To get from here to there, he can choose from a Rolls-Royce, a Lexus, a Mercedes-Benz, a van and two Geos. What does that make him worth? “I haven’t the foggiest f——— idea,” Hagman says.

If Hagman owes this bounty to Dallas, he owes his role as J.R. to Maj. The son of the late musical star Mary Martin, Hagman had bounced around onstage a lot in his early years, then met Maj, a Swedish-born costume designer, while serving with the U.S. Air Force in London. They married in 1955 and returned to New York City, where he resumed his career. His five years in Jeannie helped him along, but his career was languishing until he received a couple of scripts in 1977. Hagman favored The Waverly Wonders, a sitcom that, very briefly, starred New York Jet turned actor Joe Namath. Maj liked the Dallas script better. As she recalls: “I told him, ‘It’s got wealth, it’s got helicopters, it’s got a bunch of gorgeous broads, and it’s what television need—-a nighttime soap.’ ”

Maj called it, all right. Hagman loves to remember the moment when he saw his shot. “It was when all the Who Shot J.R.? crap hit the fan. I had just turned 50 and realized they couldn’t do the show without me. So I renegotiated the hell out of my contract. I figured I might as well go for it. If I didn’t succeed, I might never work again. Hell,” he adds, “I still may never work again.”

Of course, he did succeed, thus making himself a millionaire. He even wound up as an executive producer of the show. “Actually,” he says, “that was just a ploy to make me some more money, because there wasn’t any more in the kitty to pay an actor.” Still, producing doesn’t interest him. “It’s like talking with your accountant,” he says.

Right now Hagman is more interested in his new house in Ojai. Eagerly he shows a visitor the master bedroom, with its three walls of glass. “That’s my little closet,” he says. “Hell, it could house a family of Salvadorans for five years.” Hagman is not at all flippant, however, about the room he has set aside for his mother’s things. Martin died last Nov. 3 at 76 after a long bout with cancer, and Hagman plainly took her death hard. Says Joel Grey, a longtime pal: “I think he’s still dealing with it.”

Hagman deals with many demons in singular ways. He practices t’ai chi, leads flag parades down Malibu Beach and doesn’t utter a sound on Sundays. Still, says Maj, her eccentric husband is surprisingly easy to live with. “He doesn’t take up much space,” she says.

It must be said, however, that Hagman and his alter egomaniac, J.R., have occupied millions of living rooms around the globe in three decades now, and Hagman thinks Dallas had a serious impact on world politics. Specifically, he believes the show helped topple the Eastern Bloc dictatorships. “I think the opulence, the consumerism, the food, the cars—these things made [people] want more than their governments provided them,” he says. “You take people who don’t have any food to a goddamned supermarket, they re going to want to stay.”

Whoa! That’s tall talk. Maybe an equal and opposite case can be made that Dallas died with the Reagan era—that what looked like devilish cunning in the ’80s is an indictable offense in the ’90s. J.R.’s spurs may have jingled in the boardroom of his time, but another year of those shenanigans and he probably would have been hammering out license plates over at Huntsville. But if J.R. couldn’t take it with him, Larry Hagman certainly can. Reflecting on his fortune, Hagman sums up with a sentiment that J.R. would have deeply admired: “What am I supposed to do—give it all to the f——— government?”


TODD GOLD in Los Angeles

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