View from Lodi, CA: Dallas Rules!
June 27, 2003, 05:00 AM
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I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks. As the years roll by, I find myself more and more often saying things like, "What? Little Johnnie is in medical school now?" or "It doesn't seem possible that Ronald Reagan was elected nearly a quarter of a century ago."

Time certainly flies—especially in the later years.

When I read that "Dallas" was celebrating its 25th anniversary, I couldn't believe it. Thinking about the old prime time soap opera took me back to the late 1970s when Friday nights revolved around life at Southfork.

Everyone in Manhattan—where I lived at the time—couldn't wait to find out the latest doings with the dysfunctional Ewings: what conniving scheme J.R.invented to undercut his arch-rival Cliff Barnes or which wandering cowpoke the lecherous Sue Ellen or the manipulative Lucy had their eyes trained on.

Even in cosmopolitan New York, no one - or so it seemed - missed a Dallas episode. This was in the era before the VCR liberated people. If you wanted to see Dallas—and everyone did—then you sat in front of your television set at 9:00 P.M. on Friday night.

No one made dinner reservations until after 10:00 P.M. And Broadway shows were for Saturday night or the Sunday matinee.

Because of Larry Hagman's performance in the lead role as the evil J.R., Dallas soon became the most popular show on TV. Dallas not only inspired several other evening soaps, it started the craze of ending each season with a cliffhanger - notably the "Who Shot J.R.?" storyline.

In an era when five years is considered a long run for a television show - see HBO's The Sopranos or Sex in the City as examples—Dallas ran for thirteen years in more than 130 countries. Recently, producer David Jacobs, in anticipation of an updated Dallas feature film, gathered the original cast together so they could share their memories of their days working together:

  • Larry Hagman: "I was out of work and got two scripts that same day. One was for a sitcom called The Waverly Wonders which Joe Namath eventually got. The other was Dallas. I called my agent and said, 'Let's go with Dallas.' And he said, 'You're crazy. That thing is never going to go.'"

  • Linda Gray: "The script said they were looking for someone who could have been a Miss Texas. I had done some modeling so I knew I could do that part. I had four lines in the first episode but Larry and I developed this magical connection."

  • Charlene Tilton: "We were so busy doing the work that we didn't realize what a phenomenon Dallas was until about five years ago. I did a personal appearance in South Africa and drew more people than Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton."

Hagman added an interesting take on the popularity of the show and its characters.

Recalling that he had been asked to travel to Romania in the late 1980s, ostensibly to raise money for children with AIDS, Hagman soon realized that Romania's prince was trying to regain the monarchy.

At the time, Romania showed only three television shows: two were dictator Nicolae Ceausescu giving political speeches and the other, Dallas.

Dallas was meant to show America's corrupt moral fiber. But when Romanians saw the cars, the furs and the barbeques they said, according to Hagman, "Why don't we have that over here?" Whereupon, again according to Hagman, "They took old Ceausescu and his wife out and shot them both 500 times."

Who knows if Dallas played a significant part in the overthrow of the dictatorial Romanian government? But the splendor of Texas must have looked very inviting to starving, suppressed Romanians.

Two years ago, I met Hagman and Gray at the annual Western Walk of Stars dinner in Newhall, CA.

Gray, a local Santa Clarita resident, was an inductee and Hagman was on hand to give her the award. They talked fondly about the great times they had on Dallas and were gracious with their comments about their co-stars.

Gray and Hagman agreed that there would never be another show to rival Dallas. And as big a fan as I am of The Sopranos, it doesn't hold a candle to Dallas.

[Joenote to VDARE.COM readers: I confess! After a day of reading, thinking and writing about immigration, I can't handle anything heavier than the "E" Channel. Accordingly, I find myself in a very strange spot. I can only participate in cocktail party chatter if the topic is whether the matricula consular card is acceptable identification for illegal aliens - or whether Justin Timberlake should break up with Christina Aguilera and return to Britney Spears.]

[PBrimelownote: WHO THEY]

Joe Guzzardi [email him], an instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.