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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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,
Suzy. The Complete Book of Dallas: Behind the Scenes of the World's
Favorite TV Program. New York: Abrams, 1986.
Robert. The Dallas Family Album: Unforgettable Moments from the
#1 Television Series. New York: Bantam, 1980.
Diane J., and Joelle Delourgo. Quotations of J. R. Ewing.
New York: Bantam, 1980.
See also Dallas