About This Interview
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from the Museum of Broadcast Communications Encyclopedia of Television
Larry Hagman is best known--throughout the world--for his role as J.R. Ewing, the unscrupulous heir to a Texas oil fortune, on the long-running Dallas, the blockbuster nighttime soap opera which still defines the genre. Less well-known is the actor's earlier work in a variety of media.
The son of musical star Mary Martin, Hagman moved to England as a member of the cast of his mother's stage hit South Pacific after a variety of early theatrical experiences. He remained in England for five years, producing and directing shows for U.S. servicemen, before returning to the United States and appearing in a series of Broadway and off-Broadway plays.
Hagman's first television experience began with various guest appearances on such shows as Playhouse 90. He was then cast in the daytime soap opera The Edge of Night, in which he appeared for several years. In 1965, he became a television star playing Major Tony Nelson, astronaut husband of a beautiful blonde genie, in the comedy series I Dream of Jeannie, which ran from 1965-70. He subsequently appeared in The Good Life and Here We Go Again and was a frequent guest star on a variety of television programs, until undertaking the career-making role of the crafty, silkily charming villain J.R. Ewing in 1978.
Hagman's role as the ruthless good old boy of Southfork would be indelibly associated with American cultural and economic life in the early 1980s. Over the course of 330 episodes, Dallas featured an American family beset by internal problems, many originating in the duplicitous schemes of its central figure, J.R. Ewing, who was a far cry from television's previous patriarchs. Viewers who tuned in could expect a weekly dose of greed, family feuds, deceptions, bribery, blackmail, alcoholism, adultery, and nervous breakdowns in the program that became, for a time, the second longest-running dramatic hour in prime time history (after Gunsmoke). The show's blended themes of sex, power and money also sold well worldwide. When J.R. was shot in March, 1980, the audience totaled 300 million in 57 countries.
Particularly noteworthy was the way in which Dallas made use of the cliffhanger ending. In its "Who shot J.R.?" season-end cliffhanger (the first ever in prime time), fans were left to speculate all summer over the fate of the man they loved to hate and ponder the question of which one of his many enemies might have pulled the trigger. The speculation grew to become an international cause celebre, with the first show of the 1981 season generating Nielsen ratings comparable to M*A*S*H's season finale, and pointing to the overlooked profitability of high-stakes serial narratives in prime time. Hagman's J.R. was influential in making greed and self-interest seem seductive, and the characterization inspired countless other portrayals (both male and female) on spin-off shows such as Knots Landing, and recent nighttime soap operas such as Melrose Place.
More recently, Hagman has been active in anti-smoking campaigns, producing a videotape entitled Larry Hagman's Stop Smoking for Life, whose proceeds went to the American Cancer Society. In 1995, the actor was diagnosed with a liver tumor and later underwent a successful liver transplant.
-Diane M. Negra
LARRY HAGMAN. Born in Weatherford, Texas, U.S.A., 21 September 1931. Attended Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Married: Maj Axelsson, 1954; children: Heidi and Preston. Began career acting in Margo Jones Theatre in the Round, Dallas, Texas; later acted off-Broadway, then Broadway; motion picture debut in Ensign Pulver, 1964; starred in TV series I Dream of Jeanie, 1965-70, and Dallas, 1978-91.
1956-84 The Edge of Night
1965-70 I Dream of Jeanie
1971-72 The Good Life
1973 Here We Go Again
1993 Staying Afloat
1977 The Rhinemann Exchange
1969 Three's a Crowd
1971 A Howling in the Woods
1971 Getting Away from It All
1972 No Place to Run
1973 What Are Best Friends For?
1973 Blood Sport
1973 The Alpha Caper
1974 The Big Rip-Off
1975 Sarah T--Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic
1976 Return of the World's Greatest Detective
1977 Intimate Strangers
1978 The President's Mistress
1978 Last of the Good Guys
1982 Deadly Encounter
1986 Dallas: The Early Years
1993 Staying Afloat
Ensign Pulver, 1964; Fail Safe, 1964; In Harm's Way, 1965; The Group, 1966; The Cavern, 1965; Up in the Cellar, 1970; Beware! the Blob, 1972; Antonio, 1973; Harry and Tonto, 1974; Stardust, 1975; Mother Jugs and Speed, 1976; The Big Bus, 1976; Checkered Flag or Crash, 1977; The Eagle Has Landed, 1977; Superman, 1978; S.O.B., 1981.
God and Kate Murphy, 1959; The Nervous Set, 1959; The Warm Peninsula, 1959-60; The Beauty Part, 1962-63.
"Hats Off to 10 Years of Dallas!" People Weekly (New York), 4 April 1988.
Adams, Leon. Larry Hagman: A Biography. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.
Kalter, Suzy. The Complete Book of Dallas: Behind the Scenes of the World's Favorite TV Program. New York: Abrams, 1986.
Masello, Robert. The Dallas Family Album: Unforgettable Moments from the #1 Television Series. New York: Bantam, 1980.
Perlberg, Diane J., and Joelle Delourgo. Quotations of J. R. Ewing. New York: Bantam, 1980.
- Larry Hagman on the infamous "Who shot J.R.?" storyline on Dallas
Clip begins at: 11:13, Duration: 07m 10s
- Larry Hagman on the start of his acting career
Clip begins at: 07:51, Duration: 04m 05s
- Larry Hagman on the premise of I Dream of Jeannie
Clip begins at: 15:14, Duration: 01m 06s
- Larry Hagman on negotiating for a raise on I Dream of Jeannie
Clip begins at: 20:52, Duration: 02m 51s
- Larry Hagman on standing up for his vision of Dallas
Clip begins at: 12:53, Duration: 03m 45s
- Part 1
- On his early years and his mother, actress Mary Martin
Clip begins at: 0:56
- On choosing acting as a profession and his early roles
Clip begins at: 07:51
- On his early television roles
Clip begins at: 15:37
- Part 2
- On appearing on The Defenders; and making the films Fail-Safe and In Harm's Way
Clip begins at: 0:30
- On appearing on The Rogues; and the importance of memorizing lines
Clip begins at: 02:40
- On getting the role of Maj. Anthony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie and working with the cast and crew
Clip begins at: 11:32
- On the production aspects of I Dream of Jeannie
Clip begins at: 23:43
- Part 3
- On working on I Dream of Jeannie; including standards and practices on the show, special effects, and directing a number of episodes
Clip begins at: 0:0
- On guest stars on I Dream of Jeannie, including Sammy Davis Jr., Milton Berle, and Don Rickles
Clip begins at: 08:55
- Part 4
- On some of his short-lived post-I Dream of Jeannie roles, including Streets of San Francisco, McCloud, and the feature films Superman and S.O.B., and the sitcom The Good Life
Clip begins at: 0:32
- On being cast as J.R. Ewing on Dallas
Clip begins at: 07:03
- On working with the cast and crew of Dallas
Clip begins at: 10:53
- Part 5
- On shooting the first 5 episodes of Dallas and the appeal of the Southfork Ranch locale
Clip begins at: 0:19
- On the camaraderie on the set of Dallas
Clip begins at: 06:14
- On the infamous "Who shot J.R.?" storyline of Dallas
Clip begins at: 11:13
- On Howard Keel joining the cast of Dallas
Clip begins at: 18:23
- On Patrick Duffy's leaving and returning to Dallas ("dream season")
Clip begins at: 20:47
- Part 6
- On filming Dallas on-location; on the departure of castmembers Barbara Bel Geddes, Victoria Principal, and Dack Rambo
Clip begins at: 0:30
- On becoming executive producer of Dallas, the Knots Landing spinoff, and the end of the Dallas series
Clip begins at: 05:20
- On the characters and legacy of Dallas
Clip begins at: 11:01
- On continuing to direct after the end of Dallas; battling major health issues
Clip begins at: 14:45
- On starring in the short-lived series Orleans
Clip begins at: 17:07
- On appearing in the feature film Primary Colors
Clip begins at: 18:33
- On summing up his career, his friendship with Carroll O'Connor, and how he would like to be remembered
Clip begins at: 20:54
- EXTRA: Larry Hagman displays a specially-printed bill he gives to fans
Clip begins at: 27:06