Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Larry Hagman Is Back as a Teetotalling J.R. Ewing

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Larry Hagman Is Back as a Teetotalling J.R. Ewing

Article excerpt

OLDER, wiser, clean and sober, Larry Hagman sat in the Southfork Ranch kitchen and prepared to swallow another handful of the pills he must take for the rest of his life.

"See those little white capsules?" he asked. "A hundred bucks apiece!"

He downed them with a Diet Pepsi, and was happy for the privilege. On March 23, Hagman, 64 and also a diabetic, observed the six-month anniversary of his $350,000 liver transplant. On a blustery Tuesday afternoon, he relaxed and shot the breeze before a makeup man transformed him into the role the world knows him for - John Ross "J.R." Ewing Jr.

J.R.'s big scene of the day had him surprising mourners who were gathered at the funeral he faked in order to gain his son's inheritance money. "Dallas," which left prime time five years ago, obviously hasn't changed all that much. It will be back, tentatively in May, as a two-hour CBS movie that might lead to more of the same if the Nielsen ratings hold up. On-location shooting ended Thursday.

"It's like a dream. It really is," Hagman said of his return to "Dallas" and Dallas 18 years to the month after the pilot for the series was filmed in 1978. "I mean, what's real, and what's not real?"

The strictly make-believe world of the new "Dallas" movie also will include original cast members Patrick Duffy (J.R.'s younger brother, Bobby); Linda Gray (J.R.'s ex-wife, Sue Ellen) and Ken Kercheval (J.R.'s longtime nemesis, Cliff Barnes). Executive producer Leonard Katzman is also back at the throttle.

"The characters are as they were, but some of the attitudes have changed a little," Katzman said. "The '80s were the `conspicuous consumption' decade. But I think the audience should be ready for the Ewings again."

Reflecting Hagman's real-life situation, J.R. will return to television as a teetotaler. His traditional bourbon and branch water has gone the way of unadorned black coffee. Katzman at first joked that the Ewings have become "wimps."

"The early drinking did J.R. a lot of harm," Katzman said. "So he doesn't drink anymore in the show, and we make a point of saying that. Otherwise, he's still ruthless. Kinder, gentler, nondrinking and as tricky as ever."

Duffy, who admittedly partied long and hard with Hagman during the early years of "Dallas," has gone on to star in a second successful series, ABC's "Step by Step." During this shooting, he stood with Gray in the windy cold and accepted condolences from J.R.'s enemies and acquaintances.

"Everyone who watches this show is going to be vividly aware of Larry's personal history and his liver transplant," Duffy said during a break from filming. "So it's the appropriate thing to do, for Larry to say as J.R., `Well, the doctor took me off the booze. He said it was killing me.'

"But Bobby still pours himself a bourbon," Duffy added. …

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