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Remembering Larry Hagman

November 26, 2012

When the iconic television show, “Dallas” was “ruling the ratings” in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, I was not a viewer and complained when the show and not the live NBA playoff games aired in prime time on CBS television on Friday nights. However, I became as big a fan of “Dallas” as there is (Ch 9 Sunday night reruns brought me up to date) falling in love with the show’s family dynamic and with one of the great television character portrayals ever by Larry Hagman as “J.R. Ewing.”

People said my dad looked like Larry and I feel a tremendous loss with this superb actor’s death. I knew and liked Larry Hagman before I loved him as “J.R.” Now older, and somewhat more knowledgeable, I marvel at Larry’s performance as the President’s (played by Henry Fonda, who praised Hagman’s performance) aide in “Failsafe.” He stood out in “Harry and Tonto” playing Art Carney’s son in the film which netted an Academy Award for Carney. A scant few days before Larry’s death, I happened to “catch” his telling scene with John Travolta in Primary Colors. His work in “Nixon” was also outstanding.

Of course his greatest fame came as J.R. and to me the character’s need to please his overwhelming father is the aspect of the show that resonated more than any. Hagman delivered¬†great lines whether it was “that is called playing the come Senator” when double dealing “J.R.” was being investigated by a Senate committee or essentially spitting out the coffee his lover “Kristin” (his wife’s sister, who eventually shot him as part of pop culture history, played by Mary Crosby) made and easing in “that girl just can’t make a decent cup of coffee.”

When Patrick Duffy’s “Bobby” “died” at the end of the 1984-1985 season, notice Hagman as J.R. pleading “Don’t leave me Bobby” and there are other emotional scenes that will live on. I hope the new “Dallas” can somehow convey the love characters Bobby and Sue Ellen (played by Larry’s dear friend, Linda Gray, who was at his side when he died) actually had for “J.R.” despite their “knock down, drag out” battles. It mirrored the real life love they felt for Larry.

I met Larry Hagman only once when he and “I Dream of Jeannie” co star Barbara Eden were promoting a “Jeannie” dvd. Days before news of Larry’s death, I recalled it as one of my most important “meetings.” I mentioned to Larry that I was a friend of another J.R. and recalled the answering machine (’twas machines, not voice mail then) message he personally recorded for our mutual friend, the “other J.R.” In full “J.R.” twang: “This is the real J.R. here that other rascal is out looking for Sue Ellen” and then the incredible laugh.

Hypothetical or real heaven (take your pick) has a “primer” in how to enjoy and live a full, good, productive and meaningful life. After a brief rest to get acclimated to his new surroundings, Larry Hagman is teaching that “primer” right now. Few humans would be more qualified to do so.


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