Me and J.R.:
Someone once said: “There are no small parts, only small actors.” I not only agree but I have the videotape to prove it.
During the 1982-83 season of the long running and highly successful prime time soap opera “Dallas” I appeared six times. It wasn’t a big part. It was referred to in the business as an “Under Five”: That is, I never spoke more than five lines per show.
But, it was a recurring part, I got to speak on all six episodes and, there was always the chance (remote as it was) that maybe I’d get hired on as a regular. Plus it was the number one show in America.
With a cast of literally hundreds, I worked exclusively with Larry Hagman (“J.R.”) who was at that time the most famous and highly paid television actor in the world (TV Guide then reported that he was making $75,000 per episode. In comparison, and not reported by TV Guide, I was making $700 per day).
On the show I played Holly Harwood’s (Lois Chiles) young male secretary – Elliot. I suspect there was a chance that I was originally designed to become her potential lover. But when she departed the show in 1983, my time on Dallas was also up.
All of my episodes began with me standing in a very narrow hallway, off camera, literally nose to nose with J.R.
The reason for our proximity was technical: When the scene began, I was supposed to be in the middle of trying to stop J.R. from barging into my boss Holly Hardwood’s bedroom.
A flashing red light would cue us to begin “acting” and start our entry onto the set where a surprised Holly would be waiting, usually in a very glamorous pink satin housecoat.
According to script, I was never supposed to successfully stop J.R. Larry Hagman was a big man and I’m not sure I could have stopped him in real life.
He always managed to muscle his way in, I would always be embarrassed. I would then beg forgiveness from my boss for my ineptitude, she would then briefly console me, then tell me to leave.
Each and every time I exited JR slammed the door on backside – hard. I learned on the first show’s first rehearsal not to dilly dally on my exit, stage left. He wasn’t joking around.
All in all it was a major rush and a real acting lesson working with him.
When my first episode aired, we had a Friday night party in honor of me being on the show. My friends and I gathered round to watch. Afterwards, my best friend said of my performance:
“You looked kind of stiff.”
I can’t disagree. I felt I looked small, especially compared to such a charismatic actor as Larry Hagman.
Unlike other shows I’d worked on, I was never recognized on the street because of my performance (but I did receive numerous pieces of fan mail).
I spoke off camera to Mr. Hagman on all of three occasions:
The first was when I was hired. I found myself standing before him and Linda Gray (who played his long suffering wife on the show). I excitedly told them that the year before I had been working on this very set at MGM Studios as a prop maker (carpenter) – not as an actor.
Larry obviously did not find this fascinating and just glared at me. I felt stupid. Linda Gray looked at me, gave me her best Cheshire cat smile, then turned to Larry and said: “Can I touch?”
The next time we were both simultaneously receiving makeup. Two chairs down from me, he put white powder on his face, turned, and with a feigned wild man look, said:
“Conspicuous consumption!” .
On my sixth and last show, again standing off camera toe to toe with JR waiting for that red light to flash, he looked at me with a ferocious twinkle in his eyes and said:
“Haven’t we done this before?”
I didn’t have the nerve to talk back to him. I never did.
In retrospect it was pure luck that I got the job (which was one of my first in television). Before the audition I sat out in the lobby with dozens of other actors repeating my lines ad nauseum, awaiting my turn. The emotional essence of the scene was to display shock.
When I went into the actual audition there, to my total surprise, sat Patrick Duffy, who played JR’s kind hearted brother (and who was directing this particular episode). Next to him was the executive producer, Leonard Katz. Expecting the usual disinterested casting director, I was honestly startled to see them.
I simply used my real emotions in the scene and, by the time I got home, I learned I had gotten the part.
Quick on set memories: Victoria Principal had a bit of a prima donna reputation – when she was on set, it was closed. No one was allowed to watch; Steve Kanaly who played Ray Krebs, was always the gentleman; The assistant director read the Bible between all takes.
All in all I had a small part on a big show. And at the time I felt like a small actor. But it inspired me to grow as an artist and now, the memory is huge.