‘Dallas’: Larry Hagman Reveals How ‘Who Shot J.R.?’ Made Him Rich

Larry Hagman in Dallas (TNT)

Viewers of a certain age remember exactly where they were when they learned who shot J.R. back in 1980. “It’s almost like when someone was assassinated,” says Larry Hagman, who starred as “Dallas’s”  villainous oil baron for thirteen years. Even those born decades later know exactly who J.R. is, and recognize the storyline as the grandaddy of all season-ending cliffhangers.

DVR the Premiere of “Dallas”

Now, J.R. is back to stir up more trouble in TNT’s 2012 continuation of the classic primetime soap, premiering Wednesday, June 13 at 9/8c. J.R. will once again clash with his morally upright brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy), as well as struggle to forge a relationship with his son John Ross (Josh Hutcheson), who is a true chip off the old block. Hagman explains, “I didn’t really know the kid very well. My wife took him over to Europe and educated him over there. I didn’t see him for ten years, so I really don’t know him.”

Hagman hopes that the combination of characters from the original show and a new generation of sexy young adults will prove irresistible to contemporary audiences. “I think [the new generation] is wonderful. I call them kids, but they’re not kids. They’ve been around a long time and they have a good track record. They’re good actors. They’ll drag me into another thirteen years of “Dallas.” I’ll be ninety four when it stops.”

Preview the All-New “Dallas”:

Hagman knows that the new “Dallas” needs to attract Generation Y, as well as those who were fans of the original, to succeed.”We’re going to have the old guard, and they’re all in their sixties or fifties anyhow. If they like the show, they’ll stay with it. If they don’t like it, they’ll go off somewhere else, and now they’ve got a hundred and fifty other shows to go off to.  Then we’re trying to woo the younger people.” To help get everyone up to speed on Ewing family history, he agreed to share his memories of some of the show’s classic episodes. In true J.R. fashion, he was far more interested in discussing behind-the-scenes machinations than what was happening on-screen.

Digger’s Daughter

The first season of “Dallas” was technically a miniseries. “They only did six because it would be a limited run, but it caught on and it kept building and building and building so they said, ‘Hey, we might as well go with this.’ And that was always fun,” Hagman says. “And then they gave us seven and then they went to thirteen and then it was the end of the season, and then they came back with twentytwo. That means we had succeeded. We got on the air. And then in 1980, when I got shot, they just boosted us up and it went beyond anyone’s dreams.”

A House Divided

Hagman reminisces that, for him, J.R’s shooting was a chance to take a page out of the money-obsessed J.R.’s playbook. And, like J.R., who always respected Miss Ellie, he was worried about his mother’s reaction. “I decided that was the time to make my move, to ask for a little more money. And so, I didn’t come back for ten days. They shot for ten days without me. So I guess they knew I was serious about it. But I had gone to London and was staying over there but then my mother couldn’t call me out and say, ‘You have a contract.’ She’s old school. Nowadays, you take the money when you can and I knew that there was a good chance, and they had a great excuse, for getting rid of me. I could have died. They could have replaced me or found somebody else to play the part. But they didn’t. And I didn’t think they would.  And everybody came off well.”

Who Done It?

Months later, Season 3 premiered, and America learned that it was J.R.’s lover who fired the gun. Hagman admitted that the producers kept him in the dark, shooting multiple versions of the script — for good reason. “I never knew who did it right until the end. Thank God, because I would have sold it [to the tabloids.]” He is pleased with how the story turned out, though he cared more about J.R’s fate than the shooter. “I’m alive and getting paid a lot more.”

John Ewing III

Hagman was less excited about the dramatic birth of J.R’s son, following his wife, Sue Ellen’s (Linda Gray) escape from a sanitarium. “That was kind of fun, but there wasn’t any evidence of surprise about it. You knew that he was either going to be dead, or rejuvenated and alive.  I think because there was no way of knowing if I was going to come back on the show [when I was shot], I might have been gone forever. That added a special kind of anxiousness to the whole thing.”

Swan Song

Hagman thought Duffy was making a mistake when he left “Dallas” in 1985. “I told him he was out of his mind. I told him, ‘My God, you’re leaving a hit show as a main character. What the hell is the matter with you?’ He says, ‘I want to try it.’ I said, ‘Well go on out and try it.’ At his funeral, I was crying, everyone was crying. About six months later, we’re shooting and he sends me a tape saying, ‘Let me out of here! I’m down in the ground and I want to come home. It’s cold down here! It’s cold!’ So I started working on getting him back on the show, and we finally did. He came to his senses. He asked for a little more money too, so there you go.”

 The all-new “Dallas” premieres on Wednesday, June 13 at 9/8c on TNT.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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