Interview: Linda Gray of ‘Dallas’ on Larry Hagman & Her New Book ‘The Road to Happiness’

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Larry Hagman, Linda Gray
Larry Hagman and Linda Gray During the First Run of ‘Dallas’
Photo credit: Warner Home Video What was the most powerful and personal scene that you’ve ever done on stage or screen, that was closest to your heart for its truth about you?

Gray: I strive to be very present in any scene that I do, like I want to do in my life. So a very powerful scene for me was in the revival of the ‘Dallas’ series in the second season. It was at the grave site during the J.R. Ewing funeral episode. It was personal and powerful because I’d just lost Larry, and everybody thought it wouldn’t be easy because he’d just passed. But I knew I had to be in character as Sue Ellen, and it had to be about Sue Ellen and J.R.’s life together. The key for me then was being in the moment and present as that character, and for me as an actor to bring it to life.

The producer and I worked hard to hone that scene, because the audience who had been with us since the original show deserved it, and I made sure that the words in that scene were consistent with the whole history of their relationship. The producer and writer agreed, and changed it to reflect my input. You’ve been through many eras of show business and show business power. The sexism in the industry, although different, seems to still be present. What was your worst instance of sexism when in your career in modeling and acting, and what advice would you give to women in the business today to combat that sexism?

Gray: In my book I have a chapter about this, because the business is very male. It still is, even though it has opened up a bit, but in 2015 it still hasn’t made the strides I had hoped. My own experience had to do with wanting to direct on ‘Dallas.’ It was at the point in the series that I was bored playing Sue Ellen, she was just drinking and having affairs.

I didn’t want to be one of those actors that just because I was on a hit series that I would demand to direct. My acting teacher recommended a woman director to study under, and I wanted to be intelligent, clear and aware of what I was doing. So I studied with her, and I told her to assess when I was ready to direct, and then I would go and ask them. Did you get to that point?

J.R. Private Reserve
J.R. Ewing Private Reserve Bourbon
Photo credit: Southfolk Bottling Company

Gray: Yes. After Season Eight of ‘Dallas,’ I approached the producers and asked to direct. They said ‘no.’ I wasn’t asking for any more money, I just wanted to directed one of the 54 shows we were going to do in the next couple of seasons. They still said no. When I said that’s really what I wanted, they fired me. I called Larry and told him what happened, and told him that I was fired. To his credit, he went in and told them, ‘if she goes, I go.’ Now I know that he wouldn’t follow up on it, but it sounded good. [laughs] It must have worked, because they brought me back, and I got to direct. Your relationship with the great Larry Hagman was one of the highlights of your life, and you wrote a beautiful tribute to him upon his passing. What example of greatness do you remember from Larry, and how did that greatness sometimes affect more negative aspects of his behavior?

Gray: He was my friend for 37 years, and the good of him certainly outranks the bad. He was a party, he was put on the planet to be entertaining, and he loved the attention associated with it – it was always about him. He never hid the fact that he was fabulous, he was bigger than life and also lived it to the fullest. Sometimes that rubbed people the wrong way, but nobody could have lived life better than Larry. You were also on the recent reboot of the ‘Dallas’ series on TNT. What were the most jarring differences that you noticed about the television business between the first show and the reboot?

Gray: I noticed a lot of things. [laughs] First of all, it was very interesting to come back and play the same character after 20 years. That was the first shock, but I was happy about it. The next thing I noticed was how different the editing was – there was a cut every four seconds, I guess because everyone’s attention span is so different. It was so fast, and drove me crazy. Third, we were in hi-definition, and I could see every pore in my skin. [laughs]

It was those kind of things, and also we had to move to Dallas. It all added up, along with all the new characters. But once we all got adjusted, it was great experience. It was like starting all over again, but Larry, Patrick [Duffy] and I were amazed that we got to do it one more time. It was pulled much too quickly, but it was lovely. And Larry Hagman got to end his life portraying the character he was born to play. The subtitle of your book implies that the road to being happy is always under construction. What do you think needs to be the ingredients in that concrete, to allow it to set, and create that road?

Gray: You have to find out who you are and what you are doing here. You have to live your life with happiness. I feel that in general we have lost the sense of joy in our life, we’re not really living. I see so many people walking down the street, looking down at their devices. I say start looking up. The ingredients for the concrete are in my book, and the response has been wonderful. In my age and my perspective, it has been the best.

“The Road to Happiness – Is Always Under Construction,” by Linda Gray, is available at Anderson’s Bookshop and wherever books are sold. J.R. Ewing Private Reserve Bourbon is distributed by Southfork Bottling Company, Dallas, Texas, and is available at retailers and liquor outlets. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Writer, Editorial Coordinator

© 2015 Patrick McDonald,

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