We mourn the loss of actor Larry Hagman, who died this week at age 81. He starred in two remarkably different television series. In “I Dream of Jeannie,” he was astronaut Tony Nelson, who landed on a deserted island and discovered an ancient bottle with a beautiful genie inside it. The series ran for five years (and had an animated spin-off starring the “Three Stooges” Joe Besser and “Star Wars” Mark Hamill). While Hagman’s job was primarily to look handsome while being exasperated at the genie’s antics, and most of the focus was on the beautiful Barbara Eden, it is clear if you watch it today how much of the show’s success depended on Hagman’s excellent timing and superb light comic skill.
Part of what made Hagman’s iconic appearance as J.R. Ewing in “Dallas” was how different it was from anything audiences had seen him do before. J.R. was one of the great villains in television history, partly because he seemed to enjoy it so much. ”Dallas” was a huge hit that paved the way for night time soap operas and end-of-season cliffhangers. ”Who Shot J.R?” was the catch-phrase of the summer of 1980, and the secrecy was so intense that the producers actually shot several versions — even the actors did not know which one was going to be used.
Do you remember the answer? It was J.R.’s mistress, Kristin, played by Mary Crosby, who like Hagman was the child of a musical show business superstar. She was the daughter of Bing Crosby and Hagman was the son of “Peter Pan,” “Sound of Music,” and “South Pacific” Broadway star Mary Martin. Here, they appear together on stage (and he charmingly forgets his lyrics).
“Dallas” returned to television last year on TNT and Hagman was once again its star, portraying J.R. with all the relish (and even more eyebrows) than he had 20 years earlier.
He will be missed.