Hello Darlin’: The Career of Larry Hagman

This month we are taking a close-up of five famous television male stars. If you were a television fan in the sixties, you will remember Larry Hagman as Tony on I Dream of Jeannie. If you watched Dallas in the eighties, you will remember him as the cad J.R. Ewing. However, Hagman had more than 100 acting credits and several other television starring roles, as well as credits as a producer and director. We’ll learn more about his career and these forgotten shows in this blog.

Photo: Idreamoflarry.com

Hagman was born in 1931 in Texas. His father was an accountant and lawyer who became a DA. His mother was the famous actress, Mary Martin. His parents divorced when he was five. When his mother received a Paramount contract, he lived with his maternal grandmother in Texas and California.

When Larry was nine, his mother married Richard Halliday. The couple had a baby in 1941, but Larry was sent to an academy, Black Foxe Military Institute and later to Woodstock Country School in Vermont.

His mother resumed her Broadway career in New York City, so Larry lived with his grandmother in California until she passed away when he was sent to live with his mother.

Photo: hollywoodreporter.com

Larry moved to back to Weatherford, his home town, to attend high school, and he graduated from there. Larry’s father wanted him to become a lawyer and join his practice. Larry worked for an oilfield equipment manufacturer for a summer, but was drawn to the acting profession. In the fall of 1949, he enrolled in Bard College in New York to major in drama and dance but he dropped out after his freshman year.

In 1950, Larry took on acting roles at Margaret Webster’s school, The Woodstock Playhouse in New York. The summer after his freshman year, he worked in Dallas as a production assistant and did some acting in Margo Jones’s theater company. He then traveled a bit with the St. John Terrell’s Music Circus. From 1951-1952, he appeared in “South Pacific” with his mother in London.

The following year, Hagman received his draft notice and enlisted in the Air Force. He was stationed in London and spent most of his military service entertaining troops in Europe.

Photo: tvseriesfinale.com

In 1954, Larry married Maj Axelsson. She grew up in Sweden and they met in London. They had two children and were longtime residents of Malibu, California. They were married until his death.

When he left the Air Force in 1956, he returned to New York City, appearing in a couple of off-Broadway plays. His wife made costumes for a variety of productions. In 1957, Hagman received his first television roles, appearing in West Point, Goodyear Playhouse, Studio One, and Omnibus. His Broadway debut was in “Comes a Day” in 1958.

Larry continued his dual Broadway and television careers through the remainder of the fifties. One of his roles was on Decoy, which was the first crime drama to star a female police officer (Beverly Garland) and he portrayed three different characters on Sea Hunt.

Searching for Tomorrow Photo: pinterest.com

In 1960 he had his first recurring role as Cliff Williams on Search for Tomorrow.

In 1964, he made began receiving offers to act on the big screen. He appeared in The Cavern, Ensign Pulver, and Fail Safe that year.

Hagman had been a heavy smoker but quit in 1965. He later became the chairman of both the American Cancer Society and the Great American Smokeout.

The next year, he received the role that made him a household name: Captain Anthony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie. He rejoined the Air Force, but this time in a fictional service. The show was on the air for five seasons.

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Two reunion movies were made later (I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later in 1985 and I Still Dream of Jeannie in 1991), but Hagman was not in the cast. I read that he was busy with Dallas and family vacations during the times the movies were filmed. They did not replace his character; they focused more on Roger, Jeannie, and Tony’s son with Tony being unavailable on assignment. However, Hagman did appear with Bill Daily and Barbara Eden in several reunion-type shows, and he and Eden remained good friends.

When the show ended, Hagman took on various guest spots on shows including Love American Style. A year later, he again tried a sitcom role. He was cast as Albert Miller in The Good Life. He starred with Donna Mills as a couple who pose as servants. The show lasted a season before being canceled.

A year later there was a repeat of the cycle when he starred in Here We Go Again with Diana Baker as a newlywed couple moves into a home located near both their former spouses’ homes. Again, it lasted one season.

I read that his mother was forced to kick him out of the house when he lived with her and his stepfather because of his heavy drinking. After the cancellation of this show, his father passed away and he reconciled with his mother.

For most of the seventies, he continued guest starring in television shows including Marcus Welby, Barnaby Jones, MacMillan and Wife, and The Rockford Files and big-screen movies including Harry and Tonto and Superman.

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An entire new group of fans began watching Larry from 1978-1991 when he appeared as one of the major characters on Dallas. Two of the most-watched television episodes were the cliffhanger episode, “A House Divided” from 1980 when JR was shot (but viewers did not know who did it) and “Who Done It” when it was revealed that the shooter was his sister-in-law and mistress, Kristin.

Hagman was nominated for two Emmy Awards for his portrayal of JR in 1980 and 1981. He was beat out by Ed Asner for Lou Grant in 1980 and Daniel J. Travanti for Hill Street Blues in 1981.

Unlike I Dream of Jeannie, when reunion Dallas movies were made in 1996 and 1998, Hagman was part of the cast and listed as producer.

Larry always said Dallas was his favorite show, and he loved being a part of it. Both his children appeared on the show. His old costar Barbara Eden joined the cast for the final season as Lee Ann, fittingly as a character from JR’s past. The show was filmed at Southfork Ranch in Texas and after his death, Larry’s ashes were scattered there.

In an unusual reboot, Hagman reprised his role of Ewing on a new Dallas from 2012-2013.

Between the original and reboot of Dallas, Hagman once again received offers to star in two new series. One was Orleans in 1997 when he played Judge Luther Charbonnet. Unfortunately, the series only lasted for eight episodes, but he received some of the best reviews of his career for the role. In 2006, he took on the role of Burt Landau on Nip and Tuck which lasted one season.

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Hagman also wore a directing hat. He began directing three episodes of I Dream of Jeannie in 1967. He would also direct two episodes of The Good Life, 32 episodes of Dallas (he also was listed as producer for 74 episodes), seven episodes of In The Heat of the Night in the early nineties starring one of his best friends Carroll O’Connor, and one feature film: Beware! The Blob which was a sequel to the cult classic 1958 horror film, The Blob. He produced a made-for-tv movie in 1993 called Staying Afloat which he also starred in. The plot was that Alex, a millionaire’s son, has trouble managing money so his father cuts him off. The IRS is pursuing him, and he has a lot of debt when an FBI agent offers to help with his financial issues if Alex becomes a government informant to take down a man who once burned Alex and he happily agrees.

In 1995, Hagman had a liver transplant after being diagnosed with liver cancer. He also had cirrhosis of the liver which was a result of heavy drinking. He had stopped drinking earlier in his life, but the damage was done.

In 2001, Larry added author to his resume after writing Hello Darlin’: Tall (And Absolutely True) Tales About My Life. In 2007, he gave an interview, sharing his passion for alternative energy creation. He and his wife had a solar-powered, energy-efficient home named “Heaven” in Ojai, California, where they promoted a green lifestyle. The couple also owned a home in Sundsvall, Sweden, her hometown and they visited there often.

In 2008, Maj was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Hagman cared for her as long as possible, but she required 24-hour nursing care by 2010.

The following year, Hagman learned he had Stage 2 throat cancer. He had the tumor removed and went into remission. In 2012, he was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a preleukemia condition. The actor died in November from acute myeloid leukemia.

Hagman with Eden Photo: startsat60.com

His friend Barbara Eden said, “Larry was one of the most intelligent actors I ever worked with.” Later she said that their on-screen chemistry on the set of Jeannie was not just work and their timing was right. She could not explain it; it was wonderful.

Two of his Dallas castmates were at his bedside when he passed away. Linda Gray who played his wife on the show said Larry was “her best friend for 35 years” and that “he brought joy to everyone he knew. He was creative, generous, funny, loving, and talented and I will miss him enormously. He was an original and lived life to the fullest.” His brother on the show was played by Patrick Duffy who said “Friday I lost one of the greatest friends to ever grace my life. The loneliness is only what is difficult, as Larry’s peace and comfort is always what is important to me.”

Hagman with Gray and Duffy Photo: huffpost.com

Fans reported that Hagman often had people who requested his autograph tell him a joke or sing him a song first.

Hagman said his idols were Jack Benny, John Wayne, Dick Powell, and his future Dallas castmates, Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis. He credited his good friend Carrol O’Connor as his acting mentor, saying that, “Carroll is really my mentor. He knows more about show business than any other actor I know.” During his Dallas years, he paid that back by mentoring several coworkers including Charlene Tilton.

Hagman also enjoyed hunting, backpacking, fishing, skiing, sailing, golfing, and collecting canes, hats, flags, and art. I’m so glad that he was not typecast as Tony and was able to continue his career with several other sitcoms and that he truly enjoyed his many years associated with Dallas. When you love what you are doing, people love you for doing it.

Cannon: The Cultured Detective

This month we have a new series, “One-Name Detectives.” Today we are looking at a show that was on for five years in the early seventies: Cannon.

Cannon (TV series) - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia
Photo: alchetron.com

Cannon was produced by Quinn Martin and aired from 1971-1976 on CBS. Edward Hume developed the show and was also known for his creation of Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, and Toma. Unlike most detective shows, Frank Cannon (William Conrad) was the only member of the cast. There were a few recurring characters including policeman Jerry Warton (Martin Sheen), Lt Paul Tarcher (Charles Bateman), and Officer Bill Murray (Arthur Adams).

Cannon is a detective in Los Angeles.  His backstory is that he was a veteran of the Korean War and a former policeman for the Los Angeles Police Department. He quit the force after his wife and young son were killed in a bomb attack meant for him. He was a man of many talents.  Not only was he street-smart, but he had at least one other college degree, knew several languages and studied science, art, and history. 

random thoughts for thursday november 10th, 2011 – COUNTRY LEGENDS JUKEBOX
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Cannon was overweight and often made jokes about his size, but when he couldn’t get out of a bad situation with his quick wit, he could hold his own fighting the bad guys. Cannon was also a gourmet cook and wine expert and often entertained friends.

Most of the plots involved Cannon solving crimes for private clients, insurance companies or former police colleagues. Cannon was known for his mobile phone in his Lincoln Continental. Car phones were not very common then, but I do remember an episode of That Girl from the early seventies that also featured a Motorola car phone. Cannon usually asked an operator to dial his call while he was driving.

The show debuted in a two-hour movie. The series was picked up and placed on the Tuesday night schedule, following Hawaii Five-0. Season two found the show on Wednesday nights at 10 ET and then at 9 ET for season three where it remained. The first three seasons the show was in the top 20 but in season five, it came in at 39 and was canceled.

Season one featured a short scene before the opening credits giving a preview of the show. For the remaining seasons, the preview was not included.

A lot of famous people stopped by Cannon’s office during this five-year people.  Guest stars included Willie Aames, Whitney Blake, Johnny Cash, Micky Dolenz, Shelley Duvall, Mike Farrell, Joan Fontaine, Dabbs Greer, Mark Hamill, Kim Hunter, David Janssen, Tina Louise, Robert Mandan, Vera Miles, Donna Mills, Leslie Nielsen, Nick Nolte, Stefanie Powers, Denver Pyle, Wayne Rogers, Roy Scheider, Peter Strauss, Vic Tayback, Jessica Walter, Cindy Williams, and William Windom.

The show received three Emmy nominations. The show was nominated in 1973 and Conrad was nominated in 1973 and 1974 (losing to Richard Thomas for The Waltons in 1973 and Telly Savala for Kojak in 1974).

William Conrad Cannon 24x36 Poster on Sailboat Smoking Pipe - Walmart.com -  Walmart.com
Photo: walmart.com

Nine novels were published based on the show in the 1970s, the first being Murder by Gemini by Richard Gallagher and the last one being Shoot-Out! by Douglas Enefe.

The show is out on DVD and very reasonable.  The entire five-season set can be bought for $32 on amazon. Definitely worth the time to watch a season or two on a week-end.

The Butler Did It

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When we mention the word butler, we usually think of the prim and proper English gentleman, stern-faced, polishing the silver, decanting the wine, and keeping an eye on the staff.

According to the International Butler Academy, there are a few million butlers serving today. They typically take care of travel arrangements, packing, household finances, and other general duties. Salaries vary from $50,000-$150,000 per year, but most include room and board, the use of a car, a cell phone, and 4 weeks of vacation.

When we think about butlers on television, some might come to mind quickly:  Lurch on The Addams Family, Alfred from Batman, Hudson from Upstairs, Downstairs, Benson from Soap, and Mr. Caron from Downton Abby.

Today, let’s look at shows that feature a butler as one of the main characters. This was an interesting blog for me.  I had only seen 1 of these 5 shows, so I learned a lot this week.

Our Man Higgins (1962-63)

Alice and Duncan MacRoberts are looking forward to receiving an unexpected inheritance from Scotland.  You can only imagine what they were hoping for.  Instead, they received a butler, Higgins. Higgins is the proper butler who lends a hand with their adventurous children while they teach him how to relax and have fun. Sterling Holloway played Higgins.  After 34 episodes, the network gave Higgins way more than 4 weeks of vacation.

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The Good Life (1971)

In between I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas, Larry Hagman starred in this show with Donna Mills, David Wayne, Danny Goldman, and Hermione Baddeley. Albert and Jane Miller were middle class citizens, tired of their boring routines.  They got the crazy idea to find work as servants for a wealthy family. Their employer, Charles Dutton, hires them as a butler and cook, not realizing they haven’t been professionally trained.  His wife is constantly trying to find ways to get them fired.  Dutton’s son Nick discovers their true identity and thinks the whole thing is hilarious, so he never gives their secret away.  The network apparently didn’t see the humor Nick did because they cancelled the show after 13 weeks.  In the show’s defense, it was up against All in The Family which scored incredible ratings when it aired.

The Two of Us (1981-82)

Nan Gallagher (Mimi Kennedy) is a television talk show host and a single mother.  She decides to place an ad to hire a nanny and ends up with Robert Brentwood (Peter Cook), an English butler. He is able to use his many talents, including being multilingual and a gourmet cook.  The show also features Nan’s agent Cubby Royce (Oliver Clarke) and her daughter Gabrielle (Dana Hill). The show came in as a replacement in 1981 and the critics gave it high praise.  Most of them wrote about the intelligent writing and the chemistry between the cast.  Unfortunately, when it entered the schedule the next fall, the ratings fell.  After 20 episodes, the network decided to send Brentwood back to England.

 

Mr. Belvedere (1985-1990)

Based on a novel and a movie, Mr. Belvedere debuted in 1985. Christopher Hewitt plays Lynn Aloysius Belvedere, a proper English butler, who previously worked for Winston Churchill and has connections to the royal family. The Owens place an ad for someone to help watch the kids and guess who answers the ad?  Mr. Belvedere has an ulterior purpose. He is recording their experiences in his diary so he can write a novel later. George Owens, played perfectly by Bob Uecker, is a sportswriter and his wife Marsha (Ilene Graff) is a law student.  Mr. Belvedere bonds with the kids no matter how hard he tries not to: teen Kevin (Rob Stone), tweener Heather (Tracy Wells), and grade school age Wesley (Brice Beckham).

Marblehead Manor

Randolf Stonehill (Bob Fraser) is the third generation to own Marblehead Manor which is somewhere in New England. Albert Dudley (Paxton Whitehead) is the third generation to work as a butler at Marblehead Manor. Randolf is the heir to a corn oil fortune. He is married to Hillary (Linda Thorson). The staff at the manor is quite a bunch of eccentrics.  There’s Jerry (Phil Morris) the chauffeur, Dwayne (Rodney Scott Hudson) the handyman, Lupe (Dyana Ortelli) the cook and her son Elvis (Humberto Ortiz), and Rick (Michael Richards) the gardner. To add an even weirder spin, the characters often dress as other people for comic effect.

After watching a few of these episodes, you just might decide to attend the International Butler Academy. It looks like an interesting life.