CBS struck the equivalent of an oil gusher when they decided to put an evening soap opera called Dallas onto their Friday night lineup. Dallas, an hour-long scripted drama, centers on the rich and powerful Ewing and Barnes families who own competing oil companies in Dallas, Texas. The primetime program was originally written to be a five-episode miniseries, but all that changed when producers saw how viewers responded to the show. By its third season, Dallas hit #1 in the ratings and became one of the most popular television programs of the 1980s, with a cast that fans are obsessed with to this day. In honor of the show’s 45th anniversary, we went drilling for the juicy secrets from the set.
Dallas cast: Where are they now?
Today, we can’t picture an episode of Dallas without the familiar faces of the cast who brought the stories to life. But, for many of our favorite characters, there was the possibility that their roles were going to go to someone else. Here, take a walk down memory lane and learn some fascinating behind the scenes facts!
Larry Hagman as J.R. Ewing
Can you imagine anyone but Larry Hagman filling J.R.’s boots? Believe it or not, Hagman was not the producer’s first choice to bring J.R. Ewing to life. Creator David Jacobs originally offered it to Robert Foxworth (yup, Chase from Falcon Crest), but he turned it down. When Jacobs heard Hagman wanted to come in and read for the part, his initial reaction was, “Larry Hagman? The Major from I Dream of Jeannie?” Sadly, while working on the 2012 Dallas series, he died as a result of complications from the acute myeloid leukemia he was battling.
Linda Gray as Sue Ellen Ewing
To this day, Linda Gray’s name is synonymous to her Sue Ellen Ewing persona. Truth be told, producers originally wanted Mary Frann (you got it, Bob Newhart’s TV wife from Newhart) to portray J.R.’s wife. After Linda Gray nailed the audition, she not only got the part, but was quickly upped from a supporting character to one of the starring roles in the series. Gray was nominated for two Golden Globes and an Emmy for her role.
Charlene Tilton as Lucy Ewing
Despite Charlene Tilton pleading to casting director Barbara Miller to let her read for the part of Lucy Ewing, Miller told her she was not right for the role because they were closely eyeing Stephanie Kramer (of the detective series, Hunter). Tilton wouldn’t take no for an answer and went to extremes to land the role, including sneaking onto the studio set for two weeks to prove she was the only one who could play the character. She won!
Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing
Patrick Duffy played the role of Bobby Ewing, the character who famously died and came back to life (Spoiler alert: it was all just a dream!). Duffy was fresh off his success as The Man from Atlantis, and was actually supposed to die after the first five episodes! He went on to reprise his role in the 2012 reboot of the Dallas series.
Victoria Principal as Pam Ewing
Victoria Principal played the role of Pamela Barnes Ewing on the hit series — and before even being cast, somehow knew the part was hers. In an interview with TV Guide, she said, “I had left acting to be an agent and was on my way to law school, but when a friend dropped off a Dallas script, I read it. When I finished, I knew my life had changed — that part was mine. So I called the [casting] person and said, ‘I’m sending someone in.’ She said, ‘Who?’ I said, ‘Just put down my name. It will be a surprise.’ And it certainly was a surprise — I showed up with me!”
Barbara Bel Geddes as Miss Ellie Ewing
Barbara Bel Geddes played the matriarch of the Ewing family. She was the only member of the cast to receive an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Her art imitated her life, when her character underwent a radical mastectomy, something she also endured in 1971. In 2005, she passed away at age 82.
Jim Davis as Jock Ewing
Before Dallas, Jim Davis was no stranger to the western genre, having acted in Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Laramie and The Cowboys. During season 4 of filming, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. While he continued to act as long as his illness would allow, he passed away during the airing of season 4 in 1981.
Behind-the-scenes facts about the Dallas cast
Dallas was not the original name for the show. It was Houston, which at the time was known for oil, while Dallas was known for banking and finance. Producers didn’t feel Houston was a catchy title and Dallas sounded better. By its second season, Dallas expanded into 24 episodes. The success of Dallas paved the way for three spin-offs: Knots Landing (1979-1993), Dynasty (2017-2022) and Falcon Crest (1981-1990). The show ran for a total of 356 episodes and Hagman was the only cast member to appear in every single one from 1978 to 1991.
As far as the Dallas cast of characters goes, J.R. was originally written to be a supporting character, not a starring role and definitely not the lead of the show. Actress Barbara Bel Geddes, who played the Ewing matriarch Miss Ellie Ewing, was only nine-years older than her TV son, Larry Hagman.
Who shot J.R.?
Nearing the end of season three, producers needed to stall for time to determine the fate of Hagman’s character because the actor reportedly wanted more money and unless his contractual demands were met, Hagman was allegedly going to step away from the starring role. By shooting J.R., it gave the producers and the network two different storyline options (J.R. could live or he could die) depending on which way negotiations went.
The “Who Shot J.R.” season finale aired on November 21, 1980, and was watched by 350-million people around the world. Producers wrestled with the mystery — who should be responsible for the crime? The question ignited a phenomenon, which sent fans into a frenzy, causing much debate about different theories.
Keeping the truth a secret
During a TV interview, Patrick Duffy fessed up how multiple scenes were taped using different actors firing “shots” at J.R., including his character Bobby, Sue Ellen, J.R.’s wife, and the late actor Jim Davis (Jock Ewing, J.R.’s father), until the producers were able to decide who was going to be the one to really pull the trigger.
Producers kept all but one cast member in the dark as to who shot J.R. Any guesses who knew the truth? On Entertainment Tonight’s Dallas cast reunion special, Gray raised her hand and said, “I knew all along who the gunperson was because I had to record a voiceover while the show was on summer hiatus saying, ‘It was you Kristen, who shot J.R.'”
Bing Crosby’s daughter, actress Mary Crosby, who starred as Kristin Shepard, was identified as the on-screen shooter who pulled the trigger on J.R. Ewing. Gray never squealed and neither did Hagman when he was told. Gray shared how someone even offered Hagman $250k to spill the beans, which he didn’t. When Hagman met the Queen Mum, she leaned in and asked Hagman politely, “Who did it?,” but he reportedly told her, “not even for you.”
What it was like working with Hagman
Despite his vindictive, manipulative character, surviving cast members told Entertainment Tonight that Hagman was the glue that held everyone together, kept the show going and looked out for everyone’s back on the set.
Before filming for the first episode began, Hagman invited everyone to his motel room, where he hosted a “get to know each other and bonding” session with bottles of champagne chilling in the bathtub.
When Patrick Duffy decided to leave the series to pursue other opportunities, the producers killed his character Bobby in a car accident at the end of season eight. Not long after Duffy’s departure, he recalled how Larry phoned and asked to meet in Malibu for a jacuzzi because he really wanted him to come back to the show. Upon hearing his request, Duffy gave in.
How to bring Bobby back from the dead became a tough question. A round of applause went to Duffy’s real-life wife, the late Carlyn Rosser, who came up with the idea for Bobby’s on-screen wife, Pamela Ewing (actress Victoria Principal), to wake up one morning and realize Bobby dying was just a dream.
J.R. might have been backstabbing, but not Hagman. Gray says she will always be grateful to Hagman for saving her job on Dallas. Producers terminated Gray’s contract when she asked for a pay raise and the opportunity to step behind the camera and direct, like Hagman and Duffy were doing. When they said no, Hagman stepped in and threatened to leave if she wasn’t brought back. Gray was immediately re-hired and got the opportunity to direct in season nine.
Behind the scenes of Dallas
Only the exterior scenes were filmed at the real “Southfork Ranch,” home of the Ewing family. Because the residence was too small for the interior scenes, those were done at Lorimar’s studios. During the famous Ewing family dinner scenes in the formal dining room, Victoria Principal (Pamela Barnes Ewing) recalled how Larry and Patrick would have food fights with one another. And every day before they stepped onto the Dallas set, Duffy said he and Hagman would have a glass of champagne together.
Pranks were quite common on-set, and Principal goes on to say that both Larry and Patrick were notorious for always being up to something mischievous, like the time Patrick pulled a fast one over on Principal, putting a wooden leg prop between his legs when they were getting ready to tape their first bedroom scene.
On-screen, J.R. was either battling with his TV brother Bobby or cheating on his TV wife, Sue Ellen. In real life, the actors called themselves the three musketeers. During the taping of the Dallas reboot on TNT, Hagman passed away from cancer on November 23, 2012. Duffy and Gray shared how they were by Hagman’s side until the end.
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