HAGMAN, LARRY

U.S. Actor

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

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.

TELEVISION SERIES

1956-84 The Edge of Night
1965-70 I Dream of Jeanie
1971-72 The Good Life
1973      Here We Go Again
1978-91 Dallas
1993     Staying Afloat

TELEVISION MINISERIES

1977 The Rhinemann Exchange

MADE-FOR-TELEVISION MOVIES

1969 Three's a Crowd
1971 Vanished
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 Sidekicks
1974 Hurricane
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

FILMS

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.

STAGE

God and Kate Murphy, 1959; The Nervous Set, 1959; The Warm Peninsula, 1959-60; The Beauty Part, 1962-63.

PUBLICATION

"Hats Off to 10 Years of Dallas!" People Weekly (New York), 4 April 1988.

FURTHER READING

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.

 

See also Dallas