Larry Martin Hagman was an American film and television actor, producer and director known for playing J.R. Ewing in the 1980s primetime television soap opera Dallas and Major Anthony 'Tony' Nelson in the 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. He? played Frank Kaminsky on Desperate Housewives, the forth husband to Stella Wingfield (Polly Bergen).
Life and career
Hagman was born in Fort Worth, Texas. His mother, Mary Martin, later became a Broadway actress and his lawyer father, Benjamin Jack Hagman, was a district attorney. His parents divorced in 1936 when he was five years old. He lived with his grandmother in Texas and California. His famous mother became a contract player with Paramount in 1938 and occasionally brought him to her movies. In 1940 his mother met and married Richard Halliday and gave birth to a daughter, Heller, the following year. Hagman attended the strict Black-Foxe Military Institute (now closed). When his mother moved to New York City to continue her Broadway career, Hagman again lived with his grandmother in California. A couple of years later, his grandmother died and Hagman joined his mother in New York. At age 14 (in 1945) while attending boarding school, he began drinking heavily which led to serious health problems later in life. In 1946 Hagman moved back to his hometown of Weatherford, Texas, where he worked as a ranch hand for his father's friend's company. Upon attending Weatherford High School, he was drawn to drama classes and reputedly fell in love with the stage and, in particular, with the warm reception he got for his comedic roles.
Hagman developed a reputation as a talented performer and in between school terms, would take minor roles in local stage productions. Hagman graduated from high school in 1949, when his mother suggested that he try acting as a profession. Hagman began his career in Dallas, Texas working as a production assistant and acting in small roles in Margo Jones' Theater in 1950 during a break from his one year at Bard College. He appeared in The Taming of the Shrew in New York City, followed by numerous tent show musicals with St. John Terrell's Music Circus in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Lambertville, New Jersey. In 1951, Hagman appeared in the London production of South Pacific with his mother, and stayed in the show for nearly a year. In 1952, during the Korean War, Hagman was drafted into the United States Air Force. Stationed in London, he spent the majority of his military service entertaining U.S. troops in the UK and at bases in Europe.After leaving the Air Force in 1956, Hagman returned to New York City where he appeared in the Off-Broadway play Once Around the Block, by William Saroyan, and received excellent reviews. This was followed by nearly a year in another Off Broadway play, James Lee's Career. Despite his success, his career was overshadowed by his mother's fame, which was in ascendancy due to her starring role in a TV production of Peter Pan (in a role she had already played on Broadway). Larry Hagman's Broadway debut occurred in 1958 in Comes a Day. Hagman appeared in four other Broadway plays, God and Kate Murphy, The Nervous Set, The Warm Peninsula and The Beauty Part. During this period, Hagman appeared in numerous, mostly live, television programs. In 1958 he joined Barbara Bain as a guest star in the short-lived adventure and drama series Harbourmaster, starring Barry Sullivan. Hagman joined the cast of The Edge of Night in 1961 as Ed Gibson, and stayed in that role for two years. In 1964 he made his film debut in Ensign Pulver, which featured young unknown Jack Nicholson. That same year, Hagman also appeared in Fail-Safe, opposite Henry Fonda. At 25, Hagman made his TV debut on an episode of Decoy. The part led to other roles on other TV series such as: Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, Kraft Television Theatre, Harbourmaster, The DuPont Show of the Month, 3 episodes of Sea Hunt, The United States Steel Hour, 2 episodes of The Defenders, Diagnosis: Unknown, Mr. Broadway, Love American Style, Medical Center, McCloud, Love Story, Lucas Tanner, The Streets of San Francisco, Police Woman, two episodes of Marcus Welby, M.D., Three for the Road, Harry O, The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, McMillan & Wife, Police Story, five episodes of Dallas's spin-off series, Knots Landing with Michele Lee, in which he played J.R. Ewing, The Simpsons, and five episodes of Nip/Tuck.
I Dream of Jeannie
After years of guest-starring in many TV roles, and starring in a less successful series the previous year, Hagman hit the jackpot in 1965 playing Barbara Eden’s TV "master" and eventual love interest, Captain (later Major) Anthony Nelson in the sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie, for NBC. The show had climbed into the Top 10 in its first year and was NBC's answer to both successful 1960s magical comedies, Bewitched on ABC and My Favorite Martian on CBS.
In its first season I Dream of Jeannie was not filmed in color, which was prohibitively expensive at the time. From the 2nd season (1966) on, however, the show was filmed in color in recognition of the widespread purchase and use of color televisions by the viewing public. During the show's first season Hagman's character was promoted from Captain to Major.
By 1970 Jeannie was running out of steam, and during the last season Hagman’s character finally married Jeannie.
There were two reunion movies both televised on NBC: I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later (1985) and I Still Dream of Jeannie (1991). Hagman refused to appear in the first reunion movie, reportedly because of a payment dispute.
Hagman was cast as conniving elder son and businessman, J.R. Ewing, a man whom everybody loved to hate for the show Dallas. Already starring on the show was legendary stage and screen actress Barbara Bel Geddes and Hagman's childhood movie hero Jim Davis as her husband Jock Ewing. In addition, Dallas casted a number of unfamiliar, yet promising actors, including Patrick Duffy, Steve Kanaly, Ken Kercheval, teenaged Charlene Tilton and Victoria Principal. When Hagman read the script for the role of J.R. at his wife’s suggestion, they concluded it was perfect for him. Another attraction for Hagman was that as a native Texan, he did not have to travel that far from his hometown, which gained great exposure and notoriety from the series.
In mid-1978, the producers thought that the series was originally supposed to be about Bobby and Pam, and it wasn’t originally intended to be a ratings bonanza, with producers anticipating having to cancel the show after only five episodes.
However, thanks to the strong fan following for Hagman's portrayal of J.R., he was credited as being the star who saved the show, it being offered a second season, on the strength of excellent first season ratings. His co-star Linda Gray also received a starring role as J.R.’s long-suffering wife. Overall, the cast got along very well with Hagman, particularly Duffy, who would often spend weekends with the Hagmans. The chemistry between Hagman and Duffy was convincingly like sibling rivalry (despite their real-life 18 year age difference) which made for exciting on-screen exchanges and equal screen time for Duffy's character.
Seen in over 90 countries, the show was a worldwide success and Hagman became one of the most reliable and supportive network stars. As the star of the show, Hagman drew on many of his youthful experiences of growing up in Texas to bring depth to J.R.'s irascible character. While J.R. played out a complex love/hate relationship with his Dallas family, Hagman enjoyed a relaxed and warm relationship with his castmates, often playing practical jokes to lessen the tension caused by tight filming schedules and highly emotionally charged scripts.
By the end of its second season, Dallas was a bonafide hit. Producers were keen to capitalize on that love/hate family relationship of J.R.'s, building anticipation to a fever-pitch in a cliff hanger season finale in which J.R. is shot.
At the beginning of Dallas' third season, audience and actors were guessing "Who Shot J.R.?". During the media buildup, Hagman was involved in contract negotiations delaying his return in the third season. Holding out for a higher salary, Hagman did not appear in the first episode of the show until the final few minutes, despite all the media and fan frenzy over the fate of J.R.
Producers were faced with a dilemma whether to pay the greatly increased salary or to write J.R. out of the picture. CBS began taping different episodes of Dallas which did not include Hagman.
In the midst of negotiations, Hagman took his family to London for their July vacation. He continued to fight for his demands and network executives conceded that the show really could not go on without him. From the third season, Hagman was paid a huge amount per episode.
At the beginning of the third season, writers were told to keep the storylines away from the actors until they really found out who actually shot J.R., and it took at least three weeks until the culprit was revealed on November 21, 1980.
Toward the end of the third season in 1981, Hagman’s co-star and TV father (Jim Davis) had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Davis was a heavy smoker (as were Bel Geddes and Hagman themselves), and Hagman got his TV father to stop, but unfortunately it was too late. Despite his illness he was retained on the show, so that he was not only written out of the show but died in real-life. His character was first sent off to South America to work on the oil fields. The following year he died. The show did an episode surrounding Jock's death/disappearance in the 4th season. They said his helicopter crashed in the jungles of South America and sunk to the bottom of a lake.
During the fall of 1981, his character met Clayton Farlow (played by dancer and 1950s moviestar Howard Keel), who became his on-screen stepfather, for the next decade. Hagman's on- and off-screen chemistry with Keel, would endure for most of the 1980s, as he would play that role, almost until the very end, when he departed from the series. Coincidentally, his departure from the program was a few weeks before Dallas's series cancelation in 1991.
For his work as J.R. Ewing, Hagman was nominated for two Emmys between 1980 and 1981, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, but did not win. He was also nominated for four Golden Globes, between 1981 and 1983 and one in 1985, losing both. He was nominated for a Soap Opera Digest Award seven times for Outstanding Villain on a Prime Time Serial, Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial, Favorite Super Couple: Prime Time and Outstanding Actor in a Comic Relief Role on a Prime Time Serial, and won five times. In 1984, co-star (Barbara Bel Geddes) left the show after suffering a heart attack. At one point, Hagman suggested to his real-life mother (Mary Martin) that she play Miss Ellie, but she refused and Bel Geddes was replaced with veteran actress Donna Reed. Reed was fired from the show, just one year before her death in 1986.
Bel Geddes came back in 1985 and stayed on until 1990, while Tilton left the show in 1985, but came back in 1988 and stayed on until 1990. Also in 1985, his co-star (Patrick Duffy) left the show in order to pursue a career in TV movies, but thanks to Hagman’s wishes, Duffy decided to come back at the end of the 1985-86 season.
The decline in Dallas' fortunes in the late '80s was mirrored in Hagman’s private life. He was drinking continuously and this led to him developing cirrhosis of the liver. During the final season of Dallas, he appeared with former Jeannie star Barbara Eden, who played J.R.'s conniving former girlfriend.
By the end of its thirteenth season in 1991, ratings continued to slip and CBS decided to end Dallas after a remarkable run. Hagman was the only actor to appear in all 357 episodes. Due to his character's popularity, he made five guest appearances on Knots Landing, which itself was a spinoff from Dallas's in the early 1980s.