The original cast: Steve Kanaly, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jim Davis, Charlene Tilton, Larry Hagman and Linda Gray. CBS
The original cast: Steve Kanaly, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal, Barbara Bel Geddes, Jim Davis, Charlene Tilton, Larry Hagman and Linda Gray. CBS

TV

Remembering ‘Dallas’: Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy return to talk about iconic TV show

By David Martindale

Special to the Star-Telegram

March 20, 2017 12:13 PM

Linda Gray, aka Sue Ellen Ewing of “Dallas” fame, has hundreds of stories about the good old days.

A lot can happen during 14 seasons (1978-1991) of making an iconic television show.

There also were two reunion movies (1996 and 1998) and three seasons of a comeback series (2012-2014).

“We truly were a family on that show,” says Gray, who formed lifelong friendships with co-stars Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing) and the late Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing). “At first, we were just co-workers. But over the years, we went through the same ups and downs, highs and lows, that all families go through.

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“There were births, marriages, divorces and deaths. As always in life, you deal with these things the best you can. If you have good people to share them all with, even better.

“When I think about everything we experienced during those amazing years, it warms my heart.”

Gray and Duffy will reunite to reminisce onstage during “A Dallas Retrospective.” The event, sponsored by J.R. Ewing Bourbon, is at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas.

Gray has so many cherished memories, it’s hard to single out just one as the best of the best.

But here’s her favorite anecdote du jour:

“During the early years, second or third season, we in the cast went to a very fancy dinner at the Mansion on Turtle Creek,” Gray says. “I was in the ladies room putting on lipstick. Next to me was a lady who opened her tiny little evening bag, very encrusted in jewels, and inside it was a gun!

“I looked up at her and asked, ‘Excuse me, is that a gun?’ Which I’ll admit is a stupid question. And she looked at me as if I was from Kansas and said, ‘Well, of course! After all, this IS Texas!’”

Iconic TV show

“Dallas” — a crazy cocktail of characters craving power, money and sex — was one of the biggest shows on television in the 1980s. It was the No. 1-rated show on the airwaves three separate seasons (and No. 2 two other seasons).

“I still hear stories from people I run into, sort of chance meetings here and there, and they tell me about their Friday evenings and how we entertained them for all those years,” Gray says. “It was like the rock in the pond. The reverberations around the world were glorious.”

Hagman’s J.R. — one of TV’s most charismatic villains, a master of Machiavellian maneuvers, a man whom America loved to hate — was the straw that stirred the drink. That was especially true during the summer of 1980, when everyone wanted to know the answer to the burning question: “Who shot J.R.?”

That said, Gray’s boozy Sue Ellen and Duffy’s fiercely ethical Bobby had their fair share of explosive moments at the Southfork Ranch.

The dream season

Remember when “Dallas” took heat for bringing Bobby Ewing back from the dead? Patrick Duffy has never understood what all the fuss was about.

Bobby, J.R.’s younger brother, was killed off at the end of the 1984-85 season because the actor had decided to leave the show.

But after a year away, Bobby performed a Lazarus act, picking up right where he left off. The entire ninth season was annulled with a devious plot twist: Pam Ewing, Bobby’s wife, merely dreamed it all.

“It’s a heated topic to this day,” Duffy says. “A lot of people thought it was a cop-out. But I find it interesting that they would rather have had me come back as a sinister twin brother or as someone who wasn’t even a Ewing, someone who maybe underwent plastic surgery to look like Bobby.

“In other words, they’d prefer ideas that were far more weird than a simple idea that has been used in literature for hundreds of years: a dream. It’s in many of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s in ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ It’s in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’

“And how many episodes of other shows used that dream sequence technique? Like the last ‘Newhart’ show. Bob Newhart had a dream and woke up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette (from his previous sitcom, ‘The Bob Newhart Show’) and everybody thought it was wonderful.

“But when we did it, we took a lot of heat.”

Be that as it may, the show ran for an additional five years. So how mad could anyone have really been?

Supporter to leading lady

Gray originally was a hired to be a supporting player.

“For two years, my credit was at the back of the show,” she notes. “They originally just wanted someone who looked like she could have been an ex-Miss Texas.”

Sue Ellen was hardly the most well-defined character in the early going. Gray says she eventually figured out what made the character tick by observing real-life Sue Ellens in their native habitat.

“I was like, ‘Who is this woman? What’s she all about?’” Gray remembers. “I didn’t know anybody in Texas, so I went off studying. I went to Neiman Marcus and I hung out with the women there.

“I got my hair done and my nails done and I just watched and listened. I saw what they ate for lunch, heard how they spoke, took note of their purses and their shoes, all the good things. And it was very revealing. That’s how Sue Ellen really, honest to God, came to life for me.”

By the end of the show’s run, Sue Ellen often proved to be as shrewd a schemer as her husband. “Well, she learned from the best,” Gray says.

It was a remarkable story arc, from a minor role to one of the three most important characters.

Gray loves that “A Dallas Retrospective” is being held in the city where the show was set.

Events like this are common in Los Angeles and New York. But this one, Gray says, “belongs” to the people of Dallas. It’s a city that she grew to love, especially during the years of making the 2012-2014 version for TNT, which was filmed in North Texas and meant her living here full-time for several years.

The only downside is that the outpouring of love has already been a little overwhelming.

“I have so many dear friends now in Dallas,” Gray says. “I’ll be staying an extra few days beyond the day of the event just because there are so many people to see and catch up with. They put an ad in the paper and people know I’ll be in town. They’re all like, ‘Oh, come to my house. We’ve got to have dinner.’

“I can’t see everybody, but I’m going to do the best that I can.”

A Dallas Retrospective