‘Dallas’: Larry Hagman Based His Character J.R. Off Real Person

by Jennifer Shea

Actor Larry Hagman would go down in television history for his portrayal of J.R. on “Dallas.” But here’s a little-known fact about the character: Hagman based his performance on the behavior of a real person.

Hagman, who died in 2012, was Texas-bred, but he didn’t come from serious money. In fact, once upon a time, he would dig ditches and build swimming pools to earn some cash, according to Ultimate Dallas. Hagman’s boss then was a Texas oil man with four sons.

“I learnt a lot about digging ditches, not the oil business,” Hagman recalled to Ultimate Dallas. “I was sitting at this machine and I would take a long piece of steel wire, stick it in then give it to another guy. I did this day in and day out and it was soul destroying.”

“I figured that life was not for me so I became an actor,” Hagman went on. “But I learnt, not so much about the oil business, but about oil families. And when he died, there was kind of a war to see who would take over the business. And one of the sons won, and I modeled my character after that son.”

Hagman said he was the only Texan in the cast of “Dallas.” And the producers liked the character he gave them so much that they made him the star of the show.

On ‘Dallas,’ Hagman Had to Fight for His Vision

On the set of “Dallas,” it was not all fun and games. Indeed, Hagman had to battle executives over his vision for the show, he revealed in a December 2004 interview conducted in Santa Monica, California by the Television Academy Foundation.

Hagman said he butted heads with executive producer Phil Capice over the direction of the show and the departure of two of his favorite colleagues.

“He was taking the show in a direction I didn’t want to go,” Hagman recounted to the Television Academy Foundation. “It was getting more glitz, like ‘Dynasty.’ And more brittle. Glitz in the sense that ‘Dallas’ always had kind of a raw quality to it. Thanks to Jim Davis, you know. They were still living on a ranch.”

“I didn’t like the way it was going,” Hagman explained. “So I had to put my foot down.” He wanted two of his departed colleagues to come back, and producers weren’t budging.

“Things got really nasty around Thanksgiving,” Hagman recalled. People were actually yelling at each other on the set. Capice told Hagman that was just the way he produced. Hagman said in that case, either he or Capice would have to go. And in the meantime, Hagman added, he was taking an unscheduled vacation to Hawaii.

Capice, of course, did not take that well. But finally, the producers caved, and they brought back executive producer Leonard Katzman and Bobby Ewing actor Patrick Duffy. And in 1986, Capice did indeed leave the show.

“But you know, I hate doing that stuff,” Hagman concluded. “It’s no fun.”