Thursday, October 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Exit laughing: Hagman wasn't retiring type

Anyone lucky enough to have spent any time at all in Larry Hagman's presence knew that the most he and J.R. Ewing probably had in common were their eyebrows -- a feature that grew only more magnificent with age -- and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Exit laughing: Hagman wasn't retiring type

Anyone lucky enough to have spent any time at all in Larry Hagman's presence knew that the most he and J.R. Ewing probably had in common were their eyebrows -- a feature that grew only more magnificent with age -- and their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Though it's hard to imagine J.R. would ever have gone vegan, as Hagman did under the tutelage of his "Dallas" co-star Linda Gray, after being diagnosed with the throat cancer that cost him his life on Friday.

Speaking with a few reporters after a TNT press conference this past  January to promote the cable network's reboot of the long-running prime-time soap, the then 80-year-old Hagman looked thin but considerably healtheir (and happier) than the returning J.R., whom he described as a "monomaniac."

You know, it’s me, me, me all the time. And he uses people.
He’s a user. He’s an Iago,” he said, placing the "Dallas" schemer in a Shakespearan context.

"I didn't realize it'd be this big," he said of the show's first incarnation (which has so far done pretty well for TNT in its second, though Hagman remained one of the best things in it. The actor had filmed six  of the 15 episodes of Season 2 at the time of his death according to the Hollywood Reporter).

When the original show was casting, “I was out of work at the time. And I got two scripts. One was ‘The Waverly Wonders,’ which was a half-hour comedy, which I thought that they probably wanted me for” because he'd done so well with comedy in "I Dream of Jeannie," and the other was “Dallas.”

“And then my wife took the ['Dallas'] script in the other room and
after five minutes, she said, ‘Larry, this is it. Hands down, there’s not one
redeeming character in the whole show.’ And at that time, there wasn’t.”

Hagman never seemed to worry about being mistaken for J.R., often turning up at events  with stacks of fake hundred dollar bills with his picture on them that he'd hand out to fans.

When a reporter asked in January how illness had affected him, he first replied that it had taught him "to appreciate life. You know, take it easy, forget it, don't get too involved with the future. And this was when I was 65."

Turned out the reporter was talking about Hagman's more recent bout with cancer.

“Now? Oh, now? Now’s a piece of cake. Goddamnit, when I had
a liver transplant, that was heavy duty," said Hagman, who reportedly quit drinking before undergoing that surgery in 1995.

These days, “I’m having a good time. And I like who I’m working with.
And I’m not going to get too involved in minutiae.”

He'd also at some point abandoned his habit of remaining silent for one day a week, as he'd once done.

“I don’t" do it anymore. "I should, because I talk too damn much,” he said.

It started when he was starring in "I Dream of Jeannie."

“On the weekends, I would have fun and party and all that. And then one time… we were  working on a trampoline in a rodeo show and there was a lot of dust and horse---- and I got it in my throat. And I woke up Saturday
and I couldn’t talk. Went to a doctor and he said, ‘Just do that. Don’t talk.’
And so for that weekend, I didn’t talk. And I liked it so much, I did it for 20 years!” he said, laughing. “Because you get a lot of attention that way.”

Really?

“Well, yeah, people are wondering what the hell you’re saying. So you have to kind of mime and they’re brought into your…bubble. Oh, it’s a great way of doing attention."

And he was still capable of silence when silence was called for.

Asked by a reporter if he'd been offering any advice to the younger actors he was working with in the new "Dallas," he replied, "That gets you in trouble, honey. Never recommend a doctor or a mistress."

Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
About this blog
As the TV critic for the Philadelphia Daily News, I've always believed my job is less about thumbs -- up or down -- and more about the conversation. Because the more choices we have, the fewer people in our lives know what we're talking about when we say, "Did you see that?" And that's when television really starts to get interesting.

Ellen Gray Daily News TV Critic
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