"Dallas is certainly the highlight of my career. There's nothing I've ever done as big, and most actors never had a chance to do anything that big either. Who knows why."
About This Interview
Larry Hagman (1931-2012) was interviewed for three hours in Santa Monica, CA. Hagman spoke about his early days acting on the stage, including a London run of "South Pacific," in which he appeared with his mother Mary Martin. He talked about some of his first appearances in "live" television and his later work in filmed shows, including soap operas (such as Edge of Night) and drama series. He spoke in great detail about one of the two series for which he is most identified, I Dream of Jeannie, where he played "Major Tony Nelson." He spoke about his series co-stars, the behind-the-scenes talent, and memorable guest stars. He briefly talked about several television movies and series he appeared in during the 1970s. He then detailed his work as the star of the popular primetime serial Dallas, playing "J. R. Ewing." Hagman discussed the production of the series (for which he also directed) and talked about memorable storylines and episodes. Among the storylines discussed were the ratings blockbuster of the third season when audiences wondered "Who shot J.R.?" and the surprise return of Patrick Duffy in the show's ninth season. B-roll consisted of Hagman showing off mock-up "J.R. Ewing" $10,000 bills, which he gives out to fans. The interview was conducted by Dan Pasternack on December 7, 2004.
Larry Hagman is best known--throughout the world--for his role as J.R. Ewing, the unscrupulous heir to a Texas oil fortune, on the long-running Dallas, the blockbuster nighttime soap opera which still defines the genre. Less well-known is the actor's earlier work in a variety of media.
The son of musical star Mary Martin, Hagman moved to England as a member of the cast of his mother's stage hit South Pacific after a variety of early theatrical experiences. He remained in England for five years, producing and directing shows for U.S. servicemen, before returning to the United States and appearing in a series of Broadway and off-Broadway plays.
Hagman's first television experience began with various guest appearances on such shows as Playhouse 90. He was then cast in the daytime soap opera The Edge of Night, in which he appeared for several years. In 1965, he became a television star playing Major Tony Nelson, astronaut husband of a beautiful blonde genie, in the comedy series I Dream of Jeannie, which ran from 1965-70. He subsequently appeared in The Good Life and Here We Go Again and was a frequent guest star on a variety of television programs, until undertaking the career-making role of the crafty, silkily charming villain J.R. Ewing in 1978.
Hagman's role as the ruthless good old boy of Southfork would be indelibly associated with American cultural and economic life in the early 1980s. Over the course of 330 episodes, Dallas featured an American family beset by internal problems, many originating in the duplicitous schemes of its central figure, J.R. Ewing, who was a far cry from television's previous patriarchs. Viewers who tuned in could expect a weekly dose of greed, family feuds, deceptions, bribery, blackmail, alcoholism, adultery, and nervous breakdowns in the program that became, for a time, the second longest-running dramatic hour in prime time history (after Gunsmoke). The show's blended themes of sex, power and money also sold well worldwide. When J.R. was shot in March, 1980, the audience totaled 300 million in 57 countries.
Particularly noteworthy was the way in which Dallas made use of the cliffhanger ending. In its "Who shot J.R.?" season-end cliffhanger (the first ever in prime time), fans were left to speculate all summer over the fate of the man they loved to hate and ponder the question of which one of his many enemies might have pulled the trigger. The speculation grew to become an international cause celebre, with the first show of the 1981 season generating Nielsen ratings comparable to M*A*S*H's season finale, and pointing to the overlooked profitability of high-stakes serial narratives in prime time. Hagman's J.R. was influential in making greed and self-interest seem seductive, and the characterization inspired countless other portrayals (both male and female) on spin-off shows such as Knots Landing, and recent nighttime soap operas such as Melrose Place.
More recently, Hagman has been active in anti-smoking campaigns, producing a videotape entitled Larry Hagman's Stop Smoking for Life, whose proceeds went to the American Cancer Society. In 1995, the actor was diagnosed with a liver tumor and later underwent a successful liver transplant.
-Diane M. Negra
LARRY HAGMAN. Born in Weatherford, Texas, U.S.A., 21 September 1931. Attended Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Married: Maj Axelsson, 1954; children: Heidi and Preston. Began career acting in Margo Jones Theatre in the Round, Dallas, Texas; later acted off-Broadway, then Broadway; motion picture debut in Ensign Pulver, 1964; starred in TV series I Dream of Jeanie, 1965-70, and Dallas, 1978-91.
1956-84 The Edge of Night 1965-70 I Dream of Jeanie 1971-72 The Good Life 1973 Here We Go Again 1978-91 Dallas 1993 Staying Afloat
1977 The Rhinemann Exchange
1969 Three's a Crowd 1971 Vanished 1971 A Howling in the Woods 1971 Getting Away from It All 1972 No Place to Run 1973 What Are Best Friends For? 1973 Blood Sport 1973 The Alpha Caper 1974 Sidekicks 1974 Hurricane 1974 The Big Rip-Off 1975 Sarah T--Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic 1976 Return of the World's Greatest Detective 1977 Intimate Strangers 1978 The President's Mistress 1978 Last of the Good Guys 1982 Deadly Encounter 1986 Dallas: The Early Years 1993 Staying Afloat
Ensign Pulver, 1964; Fail Safe, 1964; In Harm's Way, 1965; The Group, 1966; The Cavern, 1965; Up in the Cellar, 1970; Beware! the Blob, 1972; Antonio, 1973; Harry and Tonto, 1974; Stardust, 1975; Mother Jugs and Speed, 1976; The Big Bus, 1976; Checkered Flag or Crash, 1977; The Eagle Has Landed, 1977; Superman, 1978; S.O.B., 1981.
God and Kate Murphy, 1959; The Nervous Set, 1959; The Warm Peninsula, 1959-60; The Beauty Part, 1962-63.
"Hats Off to 10 Years of Dallas!" People Weekly (New York), 4 April 1988.
Adams, Leon. Larry Hagman: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.
Kalter, Suzy. The Complete Book of Dallas: Behind the Scenes of the World's Favorite TV Program. New York: Abrams, 1986.
Masello, Robert. The Dallas Family Album: Unforgettable Moments from the #1 Television Series. New York: Bantam, 1980.
Perlberg, Diane J., and Joelle Delourgo. Quotations of J. R. Ewing. New York: Bantam, 1980.