“You Gotta Be a Man to Play in My League”

Larry Hagman passed away yesterday at the age of 81. His death came as a surprise to those of us who watched him from a distance and were not his family or friends, because it genuinely seemed as if he had beaten cancer, just as he had survived alcoholism and a liver transplant. On the new version of Dallas, he looked frail but still delivered his evil lines with an unbeatable charisma. A quick look at some of his most memorable appearances:


In 1964, Hagman had done plenty of TV work, but his best remembered part that year was in a Cold War thriller that became a classic, Fail-Safe. In the scene above, the Soviet leader speaks through Hagman’s interpreter, with Henry Fonda’s American president responding.


Hagman’s major breakthrough came the next year on the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, where he played an astronaut who became a master to Barbara Eden’s genie. The show lasted five years and the comedy was fairly broad.


As J.R. Ewing on Dallas, Hagman became a huge star around the world and his nasty oil tycoon spent 13 years hitting his enemies with outrageous oneliners. The compilation above is a pleasure to watch for any fan, and the title of this blog entry is lifted from it. Joan Collins and Jane Wyman were other soap stars that followed his cue, but Hagman was simply the best.


The year is 1986 and Hagman records a Dallas promo for CBS, as J.R.. Just an example of the man enjoying his status as king of TV.


As expected, playing J.R. marked Hagman for life and audiences were not likely to see him in other roles. In the 1990s, after Dallas had been canceled, he returned to the part in a few TV sequels… and played a severely rightwing Texas millionaire in Oliver Stone’s Nixon (1995). Sound familiar?


In 2010, Hagman did a few commercials for the solar-panel company SolarWorld where he played someone who looked like J.R. Ewing, the very symbol of oil, but had gone from fossil fuels to clean energy. Not a bad idea for an ad, and Hagman also lent his name to underwear and beer commercials over the years.

Two years later, Hagman returned to Dallas. The new take was a hit and he seemed happy to be back where he belonged. At the time of his death, a few episodes of the second season had been shot and producers are now considering how to give J.R. a dignified send-off. Honestly, I would expect them to consider how to wrap the entire show in a dignified way. Because Dallas without Hagman simply is dead.

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