Audrey Landers, Charlene Tilton, Joan Van Ark, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy and Steve Kanaly spoke to ET for the 45th anniversary.
As Dallas turns 45, ET's Kevin Frazier sat down with cast members Audrey Landers, Charlene Tilton, Joan Van Ark, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy and Steve Kanaly for an anniversary reunion event produced by Dan Gore at Oscar's Palm Springs in California.
"Great to be alive. Great to be in Palm Springs," Kanaly said before he and his co-stars reflected on the legacy of the beloved primetime soap and revisited highlights from the series' 14-season run on television, including throwing a then-unknown Brad Pitt into a pool and the game-changing cliffhanger that left millions of fans wondering, "Who shot J.R.?"
First premiering on CBS on April 2, 1978, Dallas -- which in many ways is the original Yellowstone of its time -- revolved around the sprawling, affluent (and often feuding) family, the Ewings, who owned an oil company and ranch land in Texas. At the center of the series was the marriage of Bobby Ewing (Duffy) and Pamela Barnes (Victoria Principal), while many of their eccentric family members, including the scheming oil tycoon J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) and others, were essential to the show's most wild plots and biggest fights.
In addition to Duffy, key characters included Landers as Ewing sister-in-law Afton Cooper; Tilton as Bobby's sister, Lucy Ewing Cooper; Van Ark as Lucy's mother, Valene Clements Ewing; Gray as J.R.'s wife, Sue Ellen Ewing; and Kanaly as Jock Ewing's illegitimate son, Ray Krebbs.
Remembering Larry Hagman
Not long after the cast's conversation started did things turn to Hagman, who became the only actor to appear in every episode during the series' run, and was thought of as the glue that held everyone together at the time. Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Hagman first appeared on I Dream of Jeannie before becoming synonymous with all things Texas after starring on Dallas.
During his time on the show, he earned two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and was eventually dubbed one of TV's "most beloved villains." In 2012, Hagman died at 81 in Dallas, Texas, following complications from acute myeloid leukemia.
Patrick Duffy: "Well, we're here because of Hagman. That's what he meant to the show."
Linda Gray: "He kept everyone together, everyone happy, everybody engaged."
Patrick Duffy: "And because of his popularity, all of our boats rose with the tide, you know, and we got to ride with him. So, we miss him a lot."
Steve Kanaly: "I was going to say, when we first started, Larry saw this as an opportunity with this ensemble. We would all branch out and take all the press invitations and say yes and go on this television show or that interview so that you could build the show and you can create the popularity and we all did that."
Patrick Duffy: "[Now,] everybody wants to be the bad guy that everybody loves, but Larry pulled it off for 13 years. That's what makes him iconic and unique. He could do it for 13 years and people loved him doing it. That's an unusual thing."
Linda Gray: "I think the charm that he exuded on the show was that he was the best at comedy and then he played this bad guy. So, you know, merging the two was, I think, what brought the people in. Like, 'Wow, look at that smile.' At the end [of an episode], he had just done some dirty oil deal… and he sort of had that smile. So, he wove the comedy and the drama together so beautifully and seamlessly. I think that was one of his gifts."
The 'Who Shot J.R.?' Finale
During its 357 episodes, which makes it still one of the longest-running primetime dramas in U.S. history, Dallas had several notable moments, including the infamous shooting of J.R. and its eventual answer in season 4 with "Who Done It."
And for one, eight-month span, all anyone could talk about was what happened to the infamous oil tycoon during the season 3 finale, "A House Divided," which first aired on March 21, 1980. During its final scene, J.R. is shot while working late at the office, leaving fans to wonder who the perpetrator was at the time.
Patrick Duffy: "Everybody took a shot at [J.R.]. Some of us knew that it wasn't going to be us [while we were filming it]. I mean, I shot J.R. I think Linda shot J.R. Jim Davis [who played Jock Ewing] shot him."
Linda Gray: "Yeah, we all did."
Patrick Duffy: "That was the cover story, you know."
Steve Kanaly: "But they hadn't decided who it was going to be [at the time] and that was the idea."
Patrick Duffy: "They hadn't known yet. They didn't know until the hiatus [between seasons]."
Audrey Landers: "And when it came out in the United States, I was recording in Europe and they were a year behind in the episodes and they kept asking me because there was no social media. And the press didn't leak it and they would say, 'Well, who shot J.R?' And I would say, 'I can't tell you.' But they were a year, like, months and months behind what we were seeing in the U.S."
Steve Kanaly: "Yeah, and they were taking bets on it in Vegas and Europe. People would call me and say, 'You got to tell me because I got to put a lot of money on this.' I didn't know."
Patrick Duffy: "It was such a phenomenon... I was shocked that they didn't do more merchandising to tell you the truth."
Steve Kanaly: "They slipped on that one."
Patrick Duffy: "They could've cashed in like crazy but they just let it seek its own level… I think they were just stunned that it was that successful to tell you the truth."
The Dream Year
In the years that followed, Dallas attempted to top itself with other wild moments including season 9's "Dream Year," in which it's revealed that everything that took place during those episodes, including Bobby's death, all took place in Pamela's mind after audiences see her coming to him in the shower during the finale, "Blast From the Past."
Patrick Duffy: "It came about because Larry Hagman called me. I picked up a message machine in my kitchen, standing there with my wife, and Larry said, 'Patrick, it's Hagman. Come out to Malibu… I want to talk to you.' And I turned it off. I turned to my wife. I said, 'He's going to ask me to come back on the show.' And my wife said, 'Well, you can only do it if the last season was a dream.'"
Linda Gray: "She nailed it."
Patrick Duffy: "Larry didn't know at the moment how it was going to be. I didn't know. But [showrunner] Leonard Katzman knew what he wanted to do. Larry asked me back on the show. And again, it was a hard Yes. I missed the show. I missed my friends. I missed everything about it. So, the deal was struck in his jacuzzi with a bottle of champagne. But then the resolution to do it as a dream was Leonard Katzman’s idea. And nobody on the cast knew, nobody in the crew knew. We didn't. I wasn't in the shower on the set of Dallas. I was in the shower on a set in a commercial studio way across town with a different crew. Leonard Katzman and the unit production manager were the only people who knew. So, we did an Irish Spring commercial, just to be able to use that little turn and good morning, freeze frame and out. So, I enjoyed doing that so much because it meant that the next season I got to come home again and be with my friends."
Joan Van Ark: "I think everybody learns with the power of a cliffhanger. And that became huge."
In addition to the series' many cliffhangers, which became a major part of the serialized nature of Dallas at the time, it also pushed the envelope with various storylines about women's issues, sexuality and substance abuse, especially during the earlier seasons of its 14-year run.
Charlene Tilton: "I just love the continuing storylines. Everybody had really wonderful storylines that they all loved that were groundbreaking at the time. I mean, my character, Lucy, was raped and became pregnant and chose to have an abortion. That was very, you know, provocative at the time. It was taboo at the time."
Patrick Duffy: "It was all before the first commercial break."
Charlene Tilton: "Yeah, right, exactly. And I actually was pregnant with my daughter, Cherish Lee, while I was filming those scenes. So, it was kind of weird for me to be having those conversations with Miss Ellie [Ewing Farlow, played by Barbara Bel Geddes]. And then, my character, Lucy, was engaged to marry a man [Kit Mainwaring played by Mark Wheeler] who had to come out and admit he was a homosexual, that he was gay -- and that J.R. was gonna out him and we stopped. So, there were some great storylines that I loved… and Linda had a lot of things that were, you know, that weren't done at the time on television."
Linda Gray: "It was, absolutely… Miss Ellie had a mastectomy. And that was never on television before they discussed it, and really did it beautifully. Sue Ellen [was an] alcoholic but that wasn't brought out. I mean, [there were] many alcoholics in families across the world and nobody talked about it because that was a time where everything was pushed under the rug. So, it was like, 'Oh well, they're an alcoholic. But don't talk about it… No, don't talk about it.' But then, when Betty Ford came out and mentioned that she had a problem and started the Betty Ford Center, you know, it brought things out that people really at that time in history didn't even talk about."
The series also proved to be a set where women could thrive behind the scenes -- but only after some pushing for more opportunities to direct. In the end, Gray was able to helm several episodes between seasons 9 and 12.
Patrick Duffy: "You directed more than one."
Linda Gray: "I did… Ended up with five. But it was, you know, before all of this now where women have been given opportunities. Back in those days, it was challenging and I had worked with a French woman director, Lilyan Chauvin. I will never forget her and she wouldn't let me even go and approach them until she said, 'You know what you're doing. Now you know everything I learned, every shot, every angle. Everything.' So, anyway, bless her. And when I went to tell them, they were like, 'Nope, not you.'"
Audrey Landers: "Not anymore, thank God."
Linda Gray: "They said, 'If you direct, all the other women will want to direct.' So, I went to all the other women -- Barbara Bel Geddes, Victoria [Principal] and Charlene [Tilton] -- and they all said, 'We don't want to direct.' But that's how different it was. It's a whole different attitude then. Now, it's different, it's wonderful."
Patrick Duffy: "But you needed somebody like a Larry."
Linda Gray: "I needed him, and he was great."
Patrick Duffy: "He was always there for everybody who needed him to be there. That's who he was."
Brad Pitt & Other Guest Stars
Not long into its run, Dallas became the place for notable supporting players, like Priscilla Presley, who played Bobby's former flame, Jenna Wade Krebbs, and guest-starring appearances by the likes of Barbara Eden, Susan Lucci and others. It also became a show where many people, like Brad Pitt, who got thrown into a pool as Randy, or Ian McShane, who played Don Lockwood for 13 episodes long before starring on HBO's Deadwood, stopped by on their way to becoming famous on their own.
Steve Kanaly: "Brad came and did [four] episodes, playing the love interest of Shalane McCall's character [Charlie Wade] who was the daughter of Priscilla Presley's character. And he was very, very good. And in fact, I even directed him in one of the shows. And a friend said, 'How was it working with Brad Pitt?' I said, 'I never worked with Brad Pitt.' He said, 'Well, sure you did. He was in Dallas. I'll send you the video and you can see it.' And I played it, and was like, 'Oh, oh, that Brad Pitt.' He was great. I had several scenes with him. He was a 25-year-old playing an 18-year-old or something like that. And it was very early in his career. And I'm sure he's not going to give me a job in his next movie."
Patrick Duffy: "Well, first of all, [working with Priscilla] was amazing. Talk about iconic, you know. That was an iconic moment to have her come on the show. She was an old girlfriend of Bobby's and so he meets her in a bar, you know… That's a true icon. Any association with Elvis is just like, 'There you go.' Everybody was anticipating it. Everybody was very quiet and very polite and so my first scene was dancing with her and in a country bar where I see my old girlfriend and we're dancing. And for the audience, they play music for a minute so everybody can dance in the same rhythm, because there was a couple hundred extras and then they turned everything off so they could hear you, so it's very weird. So, I'm dancing with Priscilla Presley, and I thought at the time, 'Break the ice.' I thought, 'I don't know.' So, I went [starts singing], 'Hold me close, hold me tight.' So, I sang the first couple legs and she giggled and laughed and I went, 'Oh, thank God…'I loved working with her. We had a great time."
Charlene Tilton: "She was great."
Patrick Duffy: "That rekindled a romance that was very, you know, central to the characters Bobby and Jenna. Jenna Wade. She was the third Jenna Wade [after being played by Morgan Fairchild in 1978 and Francine Tacker in 1980], but she was a good one."
Charlene Tilton: "Oh my goodness, three."
Dallas not only generated the spinoff Knot's Landing, the show also produced several prequel films and one-off specials before it was eventually revived in 2012, with the reboot running on TNT for three seasons and saw a number of key characters extending the legacy of Dallas for a whole new generation.
Linda Gray: "Yeah, we had gotten a call… and the first call was not good. We didn't like the script. And so, we called each other, like, 'Did you get that call? Yes. Script bad? Yes.' So, we got another call, and it was, 'Oh, the script, it's really good.' [Then we're] calling each other again, like, 'What do you think? OK, let's do it.' That's how it was. But there was 20 years to keep those characters and they came, we came right back."
Patrick Duffy: "Personally, I liked [the revival] only because very seldom do you get to play the same character and not have to pretend that no time has passed. So, you know, the show was 20-some years in the past. And the first scene that I was in was Bobby celebrating his 60th birthday. So, it's not like playing Romeo in 1825, and then sucking it in. I had to be 60-year-old Bobby Ewing. And I thought the first year captured that with the characters that came back, with Linda and with Larry. And then when Steve and Charlene and Kenny came back in, they had to be who they became after that amount of time. And that to me was really interesting."
Audrey Landers: "And I was there too."
Joan Van Ark: "It's a super compliment, that you've been asked back to the party and bring all the partygoers."
Patrick Duffy: "I remember the first day in Southfork, when we all got out of the car. And I was emotional."
Linda Gray: "It was very emotional."
Patrick Duffy: "We were the most fortunate three actors in the world to be given this gift once again. And Larry said, 'Look at me, I'm 80 years old, and they want me to work some.'"
Joan Van Ark: "He loved it. He loved it on every level."
Audrey Landers: "I had a little sneak peek of all this when I came back for the wedding. And I just loved being able to step into Afton's shoes, the new and improved Afton, who was now self-assured and successful and still a little bit b***hy. But it was a lot of fun to have been asked back for that."
Charlene Tilton: "Steve and I got to come back together. And so, that was fun. And it was just fun being there and seeing everyone and meeting the younger castmates, you know. It was great."
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