Larry Hagman knew he held the leverage for a higher salary on “Dallas”. After all, he was J.R. Ewing, the most beloved bad guy in the entire country.
Think about this fact. The TV world was abuzz after the season finale of “Dallas” in March 1980. Who shot J.R.? Larry Hagman thought it was a great time for a contract negotiation.
After all, one of J.R. Ewing’s best lines always held true. “Like my Daddy always said, if you can’t get in the front door, just go around to the back.”
In other words, try all doors.
TV executive Grant Tinker told TV critics in 1980 about Hagman’s attempts at more money:
“He was shot. Maybe he shouldn’t recover. Whatever CBS is paying Larry Hagman, you could kill a disease with it. When somebody goes bananas on an MTM-produced show, we tend to excuse them … I think it would have been a celebrated opportunity to show that the inmates don’t run the asylum.”
However, CBS relented and bumped Larry Hagman’s paycheck to a whopping $50,000 per episode. It eventually rose to $200,000 by the time “Dallas” ended its run as a series in 1991.
And CBS certainly benefitted from having “Dallas” in its lineup. Larry Hagman was worth every penny. The November 21, 1980 episode solved the mystery of who shot J.R. twice outside his office. It was Kristin Shepard, J.R.’s sister-in-law and his ex-mistress who fired the shots.
The episode generated a Nielsen rating of 53.3 percent with a share of 76 percent. An estimated 83 million people watched the episode. More Americans watched the episode than voted earlier in the month for the presidential election.
Larry Hagman addressed his contract demands in his autobiography, Hello Darlin’: Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life. He wrote:
“Nowadays I look at the salaries that are being paid to top TV actors … and I think, ‘Good for them. I also think they should give me a little nod for blazing the trail for episodic television.”
Larry Hagman spent his early career starring in the comedy “I Dream of Jeannie.” He contemplated whether he should take the role or hold out for more serious parts. He told reporters when he was doing publicity for his book:
“I took whatever came along (and) I was glad to work. I had a family to support (and) wasn’t managing my career and nobody else was either. But I’ve done pretty well. I’m probably the most famous actor in the world. I mean, really. And I’ve made a ton of money.”
Larry Hagman revived J.R. Ewing when TNT rebooted “Dallas” in 2012. He filmed all of the first season then was in six episodes of the second. But Hagman, who beat liver disease, died of cancer.
At the time of his death, Hagman was worth an estimated $15 million.