From: Donna Banta
Subject: Larry Hagman, 1931-2012
As an English major at BYU, I sat through countless classroom discussions in which devout believers claimed that whomever we were studying would make "a great Mormon." I heard this theory applied to Emerson, Thoreau, Dostoyevsky, Emily Dickinson, Orwell, Hemingway, Eugene O'Neill and Mark Twain.
In the broader BYU community the range of potential converts expanded to include various headliners of the day, such as President Jimmy Carter, President Ronald Reagan, Alexander Haig, Walter Cronkite, Johnny Carson, the cast of Three's Company and Barry Manilow.
But there was one celebrity of the late '70's and early '80's that, in my recollection, never earned this accolade: Larry Hagman.
I was a junior at BYU when the TV series Dallas premiered and propelled the wheeling and dealing J.R. Ewing into the American consciousness. The show was immediately denigrated by the campus devout as a filthy, disgusting, demoralizing program that no virtuous LDS coed would ever be seen watching.
My roommates and I never missed an episode.
It was--and perhaps still is--the best of bad TV. Classic soap opera schlock in an outrageous fashion era, with frame after frame of big hair, big diamonds, shoulder pads, ruffled tuxedo shirts, and silk breast pocket handkerchiefs. It helped that it was set in the locale of conspicuous consumption at the moment America was poised to embark on its own era of conspicuous consumption.
But it was also the cast and characters. Larry Hagman played the villainous J.R. with just the right hint of irony. He was evil, to be sure, but there was also a smile and wink implied at the end of every line. Linda Grey was superb as Sue Ellen Ewing, J.R.'s long suffering alcoholic wife who dressed in couture and somehow managed to make the DT's look elegant. Also worth noting were J.R.'s various paramours. A lengthy list that included a former Stepford Wife (and cast member of Gilligan's Island), a Bond girl, a Miss USA, and a Ford Model. It seemed at the time that all the talent wanted to get into bed with good ol' J.R.
Then there were the over the top plots. A shooting that had the entire country on edge during the rerun season. Annual Ewing Barbecues and Oil Barons' Balls that culminated in either a corporate takeover or a brawl, or at the very least a few drinks tossed in some faces. Big gaudy weddings where the attendees collectively held their breath when the preacher asked if "anyone has just cause to believe these two should not be married." Calamitous pregnancies that were rushed to emergency rooms where hunky doctors asked distraught husbands, "If it comes down to me having to make a choice." Kidnappings, nervous breakdowns, bouts of amnesia, and hotheads barging into offices with the secretaries running behind saying, "I'm sorry, sir I tried to stop him." Awesome.
Even when it was at its worst it was good. Who can forget that disastrous "it was all a dream" device employed in Season 10 to resurrect Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing? Universally panned, the bad plot only served to draw bigger publicity via continual spoofing. The best example being the finale of Newhart when Dick (played by Bob Newhart) is knocked unconscious outside of his Vermont inn then, in the next scene, wakes up next to Suzanne Pleshette on the set of The Bob Newhart Show.
|Linda Grey as Sue Ellen|
In real life, Larry Hagman was a family man, married to his wife Maj for 59 years. He was a member of the Peace and Freedom Party and an advocate for solar power, the legalization of marijuana and other left-leaning causes.
|With Henry Fonda in Fail Safe|
Larry Hagman said that the real success of Dallas was that more people now associate Dallas, Texas with the television series than with the Kennedy assassination. Likewise, there are pundits who claim that Dallas was so popular in Eastern Europe that it led to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I'm not sure that Dallas deserves much credit for ending the Cold War, any more than Dallas, Texas deserves much blame for the Kennedy assassination.
But Dallas sure contributed to the future liberation of this former BYU coed. And I agree with my devout friends. Larry Hagman would have made a lousy Mormon.
Although I'd have paid big money to see him play Satan in the temple movie.
|May he rest in peace.|