When Dallas debuted in 1978, the world wasn’t quite ready for the nighttime soap opera. The first season consisted of a five-hour mini-series, and the second season expanded into 24 episodes; both seasons had low ratings. But during the final episode of season three, in March of 1980, something miraculous occurred: J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) got shot, and turned Dallas into a worldwide phenomenon.
From then on the ratings soared, with more than 100 million people around the globe tuning in to see what sort of antics the oil-rich Ewing family would get themselves into (or out of) next. When the show moved to Friday nights, Hagman saw it as a boon. “You’ve got to realize that there was kind of a recession going on during that period of time and people couldn’t afford to go out,” he told Larry King in 2000. “They couldn’t go out to movies and get a babysitter and stuff like that. They had to stay in and watch something. So we were on.”
Dallas was a precursor to other popular 1980s night soaps, such as Knots Landing (a Dallas spinoff, also created by David Jacobs), Dynasty, and Falcon Crest, all of which went off air by the early 1990s. After 357 episodes and 14 seasons, Dallas signed off on May 3, 1991, but lived on in three TV movies. Then, in 2012, TNT rebooted Dallas for three seasons, with Hagman, Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), and Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing) reprising their roles. In honor of the series finale's 25th anniversary, here are 14 big-in-Texas facts about J.R. and his conflicted family members.
1. CREATOR DAVID JACOBS DIDN’T KNOW THE SHOW WOULD BE SET IN DALLAS.
How Dallas came to be set in the city was by chance: Creator David Jacobs had a development deal with Lorimar Television and wrote a story about Ewing Oil in 1977. Lorimar executive Michael Filerman read the story and said, “‘Yeah, it was fine. But I changed the name,’” Jacobs told the Texas Observer. “And I said, ‘Well, what did you call it?’ He said, ‘Dallas! It sounded better than Houston.’” At the time, Dallas was known more for its bankers; Houston was known for oil.
2. DALLAS WAS THE LESS CLASSY VERSION OF DYNASTY.
“Dallas was fairly modestly mounted: Southfork was big but no mansion, and now and then the characters wore jeans to breakfast,” Jacobs wrote in The New York Times. “Dynasty was perhaps the most extravagantly produced series in the history of episodic television: the sets were more opulent, the wardrobe more expensive, the lifestyles more ostentatious—the characters dressed for breakfast and wore jewelry with lingerie. During almost any other period, Dynasty would have been regarded as more vulgar than Dallas. In the mid-80s, however, Dynasty was widely viewed as the classier of the two shows. As it happened, both Dallas and Dynasty faded as the Reagan Presidency faded. Indeed, Dynasty could not survive the changing of the guard. It was gone by the end of George Bush's first hundred days.” Now let’s imagine Joan Collins in a ten-gallon hat.
3. LARRY HAGMAN AND PATRICK DUFFY DRANK A LOT ON SET.
In 1995, Larry Hagman—who died of cancer in 2012—had a liver transplant due to alcoholism. Patrick Duffy, who played J.R.’s younger brother Bobby, reminisced to Ultimate Dallas about their drinking days. “I would have a glass [of champagne] with him, but then he would continue for the rest of the day with many more bottles,” Duffy said. “At lunch, we would go off and find a restaurant, have a couple of drinks with our meal. Late afternoon before we wrapped, it was time for a little toddy. Then, after we wrapped, we would sit in the dressing room and have another little drink before we went home to have drinks before dinner and a bottle of wine with dinner and a little after-dinner drink before going to bed.” Duffy said it was fun “but I couldn’t keep up. I never thought, ‘Whoops! I'm developing a drinking problem.’ I just took my foot off the accelerator.”
“I was drinking five bottles of champagne a day [during the filming of the original series], but I was never drunk,” Hagman once said. “I just took little slugs throughout the day. Nine o'clock in the morning to nine o'clock at night is 12 long hours. You can ingest a lot of alcohol in that time, but it was never too much.”
4. SUE ELLEN WAS ORIGINALLY CONCEIVED AS A MINOR ROLE.
In the pilot, Linda Gray—who played J.R.’s wife Sue Ellen for several seasons—isn’t even given a name in her limited screen time. Casting wanted Newhart actress Mary Frann for the role, but Gray impressed the network enough to change her character into a main cast member.
“I remember in the first episode sitting on the couch and the camera went around and shot close-ups of everybody just to get reaction shots, but I was the only one without any dialogue,” Gray told Ultimate Dallas. “Larry was talking all the time, and Patrick was saying a few things, Jock was talking, Miss Ellie, and Pamela—everybody had something to say but me. As J.R. was going on and on, I stared at him and all this stuff started going on behind my eyes. It was like, ‘Who are you and why are you carrying on like this? You are the most idiotic pain in the ass kind of man on the planet. Why would I be married to you?’ So when it came to my close-up, I just projected that. Then CBS saw the chemistry between Larry and I and said, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here? Let’s investigate.’”
The writers turned Sue Ellen into an alcoholic, which Gray eventually grew tired of; she left the show in 1989. “In the end it was, you know, come on. This woman has been drunk for eight years! It was enough,” she told The Telegraph. “I didn't storm off in my high heels or anything, but it was enough.”
5. NEITHER HAGMAN NOR JACOBS VIEWED J.R. AS A “BAD” GUY.
Yes, J.R. was always scheming and making enemies—he did get shot twice—but Hagman told Ultimate Dallas that he felt the character was misunderstood. “J.R wasn’t that bad. He was a businessman, which is bad enough right away. But I don’t know. He took care of his family. I wouldn't call him bad; he was just an oil man.”
“Dramatically he was neither hero nor villain but a combination, the villain-as-protagonist,” David Jacobs wrote in The New York Times about J.R. “He wasn’t created that way. In the first draft of the pilot script, J.R. was a more conventional bad guy. It was the hero, Bobby, whom I thought was more freshly conceived: player and playboy, the apple of his father’s eye, likable but immature.” But CBS wanted Bobby to be more “conventionally heroic.”
“I had one thing I always had to be and that was I had to be good,” Duffy told Ultimate Dallas. He also said Pam “was a basic sub-heading of ‘Bobbys good.’”
6. HAGMAN MODELED J.R. AFTER A REAL-LIFE OIL BARON.
Hagman grew up in Texas and said he used to dig ditches and build swimming pools for an oil man with four sons in Weatherford, Texas. He told Ultimate Dallas “it was soul destroying” work and “I figured that life was not for me so I became an actor … I learned not so much about the oil business but about oil families, and when [the oil man] died, there was kind of a war to see who would take over the business and one of the sons won, and I modeled my character after that son.”
7. DALLAS MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE LED TO THE FALL OF COMMUNISM.
With such a huge global audience, the show reached as far east as Russia and Romania, where it was forbidden until Romanian president Nicolae Ceaușescu finally allowed the show to air. Ceaușescu was tricked into believing it was anti-capitalist, therefore safe to show Romanians, but the show didn’t have a peaceful outcome. “I think we were directly or indirectly responsible for the fall of the [Soviet] empire,” Hagman once told the Associated Press. “They would see the wealthy Ewings and say, ‘Hey, we don’t have all this stuff.’ I think it was good old-fashioned greed that got them to question their authority.”
In 1989, Ceaușescu and his wife were assassinated, and Romanians began to experience more freedom without a tyrannical rule. According to The Washington Post, after the dictator’s exit, the show’s previously censored scenes were edited back in and aired.
Hagman had a friendly relationship with communist Bucharest; in exchange for them using his image in ads for Russian oil firm Lukoil, Hagman accepted quite a bit of cash. Hagman didn’t want anybody to know about his compensation until his death, which is when the news finally leaked.
8. THERE WAS A ROMANIAN VERSION OF SOUTHFORK.
Romania loved Dallas so much that a tycoon named Ilie Alexandru built a hotel complex called Parcul Vacante Hermes, or “Southforkscu,” in Slobozia, Romania. The Texas Observer reported that Alexandru wanted to be like J.R. Ewing so he built a hotel and called it “Dallas.” He also erected horse stables, polo fields, and a replica of the Eiffel Tower. None of that stuff exists today, and Alexandru went to prison for financial crimes. At least the American Southfork still thrives. Southfork, where the Ewings lived on the show and where the show's exteriors were filmed, is located in Parker, Texas. In 1985 the ranch-mansion finally opened to the public and is now a conference and event center (yes, you can get married at Southfork). You can also take tours of the mansion and grounds, and see the gun that shot J.R.
9. WHETHER OR NOT J.R. LIVED DEPENDED ON HAGMAN'S CONTRACT.
Cliffhangers were becoming a thing on TV, and Dallas wanted to capitalize on that. The miniseries season ended with Sue Ellen getting into a car crash while pregnant, so the producers wanted to continue the tradition with “Who Shot J.R.?” “We just thought that since the show was really starting to climb and doing much better in the ratings we’d give the audience something to think about over the summer, and hopefully they’d be interested enough to really tune in in numbers for the first show next year. That’s what happened,” Dallas producer Leonard Katzman told Texas Monthly.
Whether or not Hagman returned following the shooting, though, had to do with him wanting to be paid more money, which is why he went along with the “Who Shot J.R?” premise. “The shooting of J.R. was a double-edged sword; it gave my producers and the CBS bosses a perfect way to get rid of me in case my demands got out of hand,” Hagman told TV Guide in 1980. “Meantime, the pressures began to build. Certain rumors were allowed to circulate, such as an insidious scheme, worthy of J.R. himself, to have the ambulance burn on the way to the hospital, necessitating plastic surgery on J.R., who would emerge from the operation looking just like another actor.” He had a feeling the producers wouldn’t let J.R. die and that they’d acquiesce to his monetary demands.
J.R. was shot in “A House Divided,” which aired in March of 1980, but fans would have to wait until November to find out who attempted to kill him. Those eight months caused such a frenzy that bookies took bets on who did the deed, and even Queen Elizabeth asked Hagman who shot him. “We were presented to the Queen Mother. And she says, ‘I don't suppose you could tell me who shot J.R?’ I said, ‘No ma'am, not even you.’” The show even filmed a gag reel of the cast and crew taking turns shooting Hagman, as a red herring.
When “Who Done It” aired as the fourth episode of the fourth season, on November 21, 1980, the world finally discovered that it was Sue Ellen’s sister, Kristin (Mary Crosby), who did the deed. Up to that point, Crosby was best known for being Bing Crosby’s daughter, but “Being the one who shot J.R. made me a trivia question, and I’m really big in really small countries,” Crosby told CBS. After all that, Hagman prevailed and got his raise (plus a stake in the series).
10. PATRICK DUFFY REALIZED LEAVING DALLAS WAS A “FIASCO.”
At the end of season eight, in 1985, Katherine Wentworth (Morgan Brittany) tries to run over her half-sister, Pam, but instead hits and kills Bobby Ewing. Duffy’s seven-year contract had expired and he wanted out. “It was obviously an ensemble show and I thought if it was ever a time at the height of the popularity of that show, that I might be able to launch into something that was more of a single, starring venue, that that would be the time to do it,” Duffy told The Huffington Post. “I left the show and that did not happen—typical Patrick Duffy business decision fiasco. I went back on the show because they asked me to and I realized that was the best place to work and I was back with my best friend.” When Duffy appears in Pam’s shower at the end of the ninth season, in 1986, it shocked and alienated viewers, and the entire year became known as “The Dream Season.”
Apparently it was Duffy’s wife who came up with the shower idea. “When I said to her, ‘I think they’re going to ask me to come back on the show,’ her first response was, ‘You can only do that if the whole last season was a dream.’ Then when I talked to Leonard [Katzman, Dallas showrunner], that was indeed what he wanted to do and so we went ahead and did it.”
11. VICTORIA PRINCIPAL REFUSED TO RETURN TO DALLAS, BECAUSE OF SHAKESPEARE.
Victoria Principal played Pamela Ewing, who supposedly died in a car crash in 1987 as a means for the actress to exit the show, but returned the following season after having gone under the knife, and was then played by Margaret Michaels. Unlike her onscreen hubby, Principal declined to ever return to the show.
In talking with Deadline.com, Principal said Bobby and Pam were the “Romeo and Juliet of Dallas,” a tragic love story of Shakespearean proportions, and she had to respect that. “I cannot be held responsible for any choices made by producers, once I left Dallas, but I do take responsibility for my decision, not to risk tarnishing Bobby and Pam’s love story, with a desperate reappearance,” she said. “I made this decision a long time ago with a loving and respectful heart for Dallas, Bobby and Pam, and all faithful fans.”
In order to keep Principal from leaving the show, producers offered a lot of money to stay. “It would have made me the highest paid actress on television had I accepted the offer,” she told Ultimate Dallas. “It was time to go and I found out a lot about myself. I can’t be bought.”
12. HANK WILLIAMS JR. WROTE A SONG ABOUT DALLAS CALLED “THIS AIN’T DALLAS.”
In 1985, Dallas inspired the country singer to write about what a fantasy Dallas was. “This ain’t Dallas and this ain’t Dynasty / This is a real-life two-job working family / And I ain’t J.R., you ain’t Sue Ellen,” go the lyrics. Williams also sings how he doesn’t have a Mercedes and “we’re just man and woman holding this thing together.”
13. A DALLAS VIDEO GAME EXISTS.
In 1984, Datasoft invented a game called The Dallas Quest for the Commodore 64 computer. The premise of the game is that Sue Ellen summons the player to Southfork and tells them she wants them to find a map of an oil field and return it to her. If the player is able to thwart J.R. and return the map, they’ll receive $2 million. The game didn’t have all that much to do with Dallas; you spent most of the game fighting off angry cattle, monkeys, and of course, the Ewings.
14. THE SHOWRUNNER OF THE DALLAS REBOOT DIDN’T WANT IT TO BE CAMPY.
Cynthia Cidre was asked to executive produce the 2012 Dallas reboot and approached it in a way that respected the original material. “This is not Dynasty,” Cidre told Ultimate Dallas. “No slur on Dynasty, but this is not a show where people pull each other’s hair out, falling in fountains. This is a show with real emotion and real passion about the land and about love. I’m just taking it seriously. However, the caveat on that is that this is Dallas and we want to have fun. We want to love to hate the bad guys, have some flair. The situations are slightly pumped up as it’s melodrama and it’s a soap, but we’re grounding it in real human behavior. You’re gonna have fun, double crossing and scheming. We’ll have that, but it’s not in any way camp.”