In the 80s it was like this: if you missed “Dallas” the night before, you couldn’t have a say the next day. With up to 18 million viewers, the series was the ultimate street sweeper. It was exactly 40 years ago that it began its triumphal march in Germany. Time for some curious facts.
40 years ago, on June 30, 1981, the first episode of the cult series “Dallas” flickered across the screens in Germany. The mother of all series had premiered in the USA two years earlier and quickly developed into a street sweeper.
In Germany, too, there was a real “Dallas” fever. Up to 18 million viewers followed the intrigues of villain JR Ewing every Tuesday on ARD. For 14 seasons (1978-1991), the Ewing clan dominated the television landscape on the famous Southfork Ranch. For the 40th anniversary, here are some curious facts about the cult series.
JR Ewing is actually not a bastard
JR wasn’t angry, he was just misunderstood. At least Larry Hagman (1931 to 2012), who embodied the oil tycoon in the cult series, was convinced of that. “He worried about his family. I wouldn’t call him bad, he was just a businessman,” Hagman once analyzed in the newspaper “Ultimate Dallas”. “Dallas” inventor David Jacobs even agreed that he was right. JR was originally designed as a real villain, he told the New York Times many years ago. But Hagman gave him a certain humanity.
JR Ewing has a real role model
JR is based on a true character. Hagman worked for an oil tycoon at a young age before starting his acting career. When the head of the family died, his four sons fought over the inheritance. Hagman took the son, who won the family dispute, as a role model for his JR: “I didn’t learn much about oil at the time, but about oil dynasties,” he explained to “Ultimate Dallas”.
Pamela as the linchpin of the series?
Victoria Principal was originally supposed to play the leading role in “Dallas”. Bobby Ewing’s wife and born Barnes was supposed to connect the worlds of the two families, Ewing and Barnes. But the plan quickly evaporated when Larry Hagman appeared on the scene. His portrayal of JR convinced the makers across the board. He eventually became the main character and the only one who appeared in every episode.
Victoria Principal could not be “bought”
Victoria Principal was passionate about the love of her role Pam for Bobby Ewing. In an interview with “Deadline” she even referred to the two as “Romeo and Juliet of Dallas”. Her serial death couldn’t change that either. Pam was killed in a car accident. When the producers tried to bring their role back to life, Principal refused to return. Even a princely salary could not attract them.
“If I had accepted the offer, I would have become the best-paid actress on TV,” she recalled in an interview with “Ultimate Dallas”. It was time for her to go. “I’m not for sale,” she clarified. Finally, Margaret Michaels, a new Pam was cast. The storyline: Pam had to undergo several operations after her car accident that completely changed her appearance.
“Houston” statt “Dallas”
“Dallas” was supposed to be playing in Houston. At least that is what series inventor David Jacobs thought of it. After all, Houston stood for the oil business, while Dallas was a banking metropolis. But TV producer Michael Filerman (1938 to 2014) changed the setting and the series name. He thought Dallas just sounded better.
Why JR was really shot at
In 1980 the whole world was only interested in one thing: who shot JR? The season three cliffhanger sparked months of hysterical guesswork. The background to the story was apparently contract negotiations with Larry Hagman. During the talks in the summer it was not foreseeable whether an agreement could be reached with the actor. In order to continue the show without JR if necessary, the idea came up to have him shot. “The shooting at JR was a double-edged sword,” Hagman told TV Guide in 1980. “It was the perfect way to get rid of me should negotiations fail.” Fortunately, an agreement was reached and JR survived the attack.
Sue Ellen wasn’t planned like this
Linda Gray, who wrote television history as the wife of JR, was supposed to only play a mini role on the series. In the pilot, she had neither a speaking role nor a name. But the chemistry with Larry Hagman was right from the start. Above all, the facial expressions and derogatory looks that Gray threw her co-star Hagman over and over again, convinced the producers and they gave her the role of Sue Ellen.
Five bottles of champagne and more
In the series there was a huge bang between the brothers Bobby and JR Ewing. In private, Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman got along very well. The two even had a very specific ritual while filming. There was a glass or two of champagne for lunch. Another glass followed in the afternoon. Apparently a nightcap was also a must.
“I drank five bottles of champagne a day while filming, but I was never drunk,” Hagman once said himself. Duffy also confirmed this in the British Times. “He drank four or five bottles of champagne a day and other drinks – for 45 to 50 years”. He and Hagman only managed three drinks over the ten-hour working day. Hagman later paid for his lifestyle with a liver transplant.
“Dallas” and the Soviet Union
David Hasselhoff brought down the Berlin Wall, “Dallas” the Soviet Union. At least that’s what Larry Hagman believed. In Romania, President Nicolae Ceausescu (1918 to 1989) allowed the broadcast to show the repulsive US social system, as the “Tagesspiegel” once summed up. But the Romanians looked “enthusiastically at the beautiful cars, clothes and people”. Which led Hagman to the following statement: “I think we are directly or indirectly responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union,” he told the Associated Press. “People saw all the luxury of the Ewings and asked, ‘Why don’t we have that?’ I think that ultimately led them to question the state. “
The resurrection of Bobby Ewing
After seven years, Patrick Duffy had had enough. The actor wanted to devote himself to other things in his career and left “Dallas” in 1985. The scriptwriters let Bobby die and buried. After falling audience ratings and a poorly running career, Duffy returned and described his interim end in the series in the “Huffington Post” retrospectively as a “fiasco”. “I realized that the series is the best place to work in the world.” Bobby’s death and everything that has occurred since then has been declared a bad dream for his wife Pamela. Bobby Ewing’s resurrection in the shower remains one of the most controversial scenes in TV history to date.
“Dallas” versus “Der Denver-Clan”
About two years after “Dallas”, ZDF sent the competition “The Denver Clan” (originally “Dynasty”) into the race. Another mega hit from the USA. Both series had a major impact on TV in the 80s. “Dallas” inventor Jacobs called his series the more modest version of the “Denver Clan”.
“Southfork wasn’t a big property and the characters sometimes wore jeans to breakfast,” he once wrote in the New York Times. In the “Denver Clan”, “the sets were much more opulent, the wardrobe much more expensive and the lifestyle much more extravagant”. The characters even wore jewels with their underwear. In comparison, “Dallas” was downright “vulgar”.