Victoria Principal, Now Rescuing Animals on Her California Ranch, Revisits 'Dallas' 40 Years Later

"I could not imagine not being Pam," Victoria Principal tells PEOPLE of her Dallas character.

Victoria PrincipalCredit: Jeff Katz
Photo: Jeff Katz

Forty years have passed since the Ewing family first started bringing the drama in Dallas. When the show launched in April 1978, star Victoria Principal, who played Pamela Barnes, knew the series would go on to have a monumental run.

“When I went in for the part on Dallas, I had already fallen in love with the show and with the part,” Principal, 68, tells PEOPLE. “So my feeling from the moment I read it was that it was incredibly special and that I really, really wanted to be a part of it. I could not imagine not being Pam.”

Principal landed the role and spent nine years on Dallas.

“The first five years were some of the best television I’ve ever seen,” she says. “And then after year seven, there was a definitive decline. At year seven, it was time for me to renegotiate my contract and I was very candid about my concern and my disappointment; that we had had such good writing and so many wonderful plots, and that when the time came to renegotiate the writers’ contracts, I felt that a number of writers had left because they had not gotten the right deal.”

DALLAS, Victoria Principal, 1978-1991.

So after two more years on the hit drama, a pregnant Pamela died in a car accident. “I wanted an ending that was definitive,” the Japan-born actress says. “And I certainly felt that being blown up was definitive.”

As Dallas continued for five more seasons, Principal went on to appear in numerous TV movies, some of which she produced through her production company, before stepping away to focus on her health and wellness projects. She wrote her first of four books, The Body Principal, in 1983, and launched her skincare company, Principal Secret, in 1991.

“By the time I turned 50 I felt that I wanted to make a change in my life,” Principal says of ultimately leaving Hollywood after appearing in NBC’s Titans between 2000-01. “My interest had shifted in such a way that to not pursue my passion, which more and more really was my skincare company and creating products that could help many people.”

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Since 2012, Principal has had a ranch outside of Los Angeles where she rescues and rehabilitates animals. When TNT relaunched Dallas that same year — complete with original cast members Patrick Duffy, Larry Hagman, Steve Kanaly, and Linda Gray — Principal didn’t want to revisit Pam’s story.

Aside from reuniting with her costars in 2004 for a CBS special, Principal hardly talks to fellow stars.

“There were phone calls, but I didn’t really have get-togethers,” admits Principal. “We never hung out really anyway. We worked together and we had different lives. When I started the show Patrick was married and starting a family, Steve was married and starting a family, Larry was married with children, Linda was married with children. I was single. And so those are very different lifestyles.”

But she’s thrilled that new generations are experiencing the iconic drama. “I’m happy, based up all the emails that I’ve gotten, that people are introducing their children or their grandchildren to Dallas,” Principal says. “I’m so excited that people continue to remember Dallas.”

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