Larry Hagman (born September 21, 1931) is an American film and
television actor, producer and director known for playing J.R. Ewing in the
1980s primetime television soap opera Dallas and Major Anthony 'Tony' Nelson in
the 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie.
Larry was born in Fort Worth, Texas. His mother, Mary Martin, later became a Broadway actress and his lawyer father, Benjamin Jack Hagman, was a district attorney. His parents divorced in 1936 when he was five years old. He lived with his grandmother in Texas and California. His famous mother became a contract player with Paramount in 1938 and occasionally brought him to her movies. In 1940 his mother met and married Richard Halliday and gave birth to a daughter, Heller, the following year. Larry attended the strict Black-Foxe Military Institute (now closed).
When his mother moved to New York City to continue her Broadway career, Larry Hagman again lived with his grandmother in California. A couple of years later, his grandmother died and Larry joined his mother in New York. At age 14 (in 1945) while attending boarding school, he began drinking heavily which led to serious health problems later in life. In 1946 Larry moved back to his hometown of Weatherford, Texas, where he worked as a ranch hand for his father's friend's company. Upon attending Weatherford High School, he was drawn to drama classes and reputedly fell in love with the stage and, in particular, with the warm reception he got for his comedic roles.
Larry developed a reputation as a talented performer and in between school
terms, would take minor roles in local stage productions. Larry graduated from
high school in 1949, when his mother suggested that he try acting as a
Larry began his career in Dallas, Texas working as a production assistant and acting in small roles in Margo Jones' Theater in 1950 during a break from his one year at Bard College. He appeared in The Taming of the Shrew in New York City, followed by numerous tent show musicals with St. John Terrell's Music Circus in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Lambertville, New Jersey. In 1951, Larry appeared in the London production of South Pacific with his mother, and stayed in the show for nearly a year.
In 1952 during the Korean War Larry was drafted into the United States Air Force. Stationed in London, he spent the majority of his military service entertaining U.S. troops in the UK and at bases in Europe.
After leaving the Air Force in 1956, Larry returned to New York where he appeared in the Off Broadway play Once Around the Block, by William Saroyan, and received excellent reviews. This was followed by nearly a year in another Off Broadway play, James Lee's Career. Despite his success, his career was overshadowed by his mother's fame, which was in ascendancy due to her starring role in a TV production of Peter Pan (in a role she had already played on Broadway). Larry Hagman's Broadway debut occurred in 1958 in Comes a Day. Larry appeared in four other Broadway plays, God and Kate Murphy, The Nervous Set, The Warm Peninsula and The Beauty Part.
During this period, Larry appeared in numerous, mostly live, television programs. In 1958 he joined Barbara Bain as a guest star in the short-lived adventure and drama series Harbourmaster, starring Barry Sullivan. Larry joined the cast of The Edge of Night in 1961 as Ed Gibson, and stayed in that role for two years. In 1964 he made his film debut in Ensign Pulver, which featured young unknown Jack Nicholson. That same year, Larry also appeared in Fail-Safe, opposite Henry Fonda.
At 25, Larry made his TV debut on an episode of Decoy. The part led to other roles on other TV series such as: Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, Kraft Television Theatre, Harbourmaster, The DuPont Show of the Month, 3 episodes of Sea Hunt, The United States Steel Hour, 2 episodes of The Defenders, Diagnosis: Unknown, Mr. Broadway, Love American Style, Medical Center, McCloud, Love Story, Lucas Tanner, The Streets of San Francisco, Police Woman, two episodes of Marcus Welby, M.D., Harry O, The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones, McMillan & Wife, Police Story, five episodes of Dallas's spin-off series, Knots Landing with Michele Lee, which he played J.R. Ewing, The Simpsons, and five episodes of Nip/Tuck.
I Dream of Jeannie After years of guest-starring in many TV roles, and
starring in a less successful series the previous year, he hit the jackpot in
1965 playing Barbara Eden’s TV "master" and eventual love interest, Captain
(later Major) Anthony Nelson in the sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie, for NBC. The
show had climbed into the Top 10 in its first year and was NBC's answer to both
successful 1960s magical comedies, Bewitched on ABC and My Favorite Martian on
In its first season I Dream of Jeannie was not filmed in color, which was prohibitively expensive at the time. From the 2nd season (1966) on, however, the show was filmed in color in recognition of the widespread purchase and use of color televisions by the viewing public. During the show's first season Hagman's character was promoted from Captain to Major.
By 1970 Jeannie was running out of steam, and during the last season Hagman’s character finally married Jeannie.
There were two reunion movies both televised on NBC: I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later (1985) and I Still Dream of Jeannie (1991). Larry refused to appear in the first reunion movie, reportedly because of a payment dispute.
After Jeannie was canceled, Larry had two other short-lived series in the 1970s: Here We Go Again and The Good Life. He also appeared in such television films as Getting Away From It All, Sidekicks, The Return Of The World's Greatest Detective, Intimate Strangers, and Checkered Flag Or Crash.
Larry appeared in the theatrical films The Group, Harry and Tonto, Mother, Jugs & Speed, The Eagle Has Landed, Superman, Nixon and Primary Colors. He directed (and appeared briefly in) a low-budget comedy and horror film in 1972 called Beware The Blob (a sequel to the classic 1958 horror film, The Blob). Some have jokingly called this "the film that J.R. shot".
Larry was cast as conniving older son and businessman, J.R. Ewing, a man whom everybody loved to hate for the show Dallas. Already starring on the show was legendary stage and screen actress Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis as her husband Jock Ewing. In addition, Dallas casted a number of unfamiliar, yet promising actors, including Patrick Duffy, Steve Kanaly, Ken Kercheval, teenaged Charlene Tilton and Victoria Principal. When Larry read the script for the role of J.R. at his wife’s suggestion, they concluded it was perfect for him. Another attraction for Larry was that as a native Texan, he did not have to travel that far from his hometown, which gained great exposure and notoriety from the series.
In mid-1978, the producers thought that the series was originally supposed to
be about Bobby and Pam, and it wasn’t originally intended to be a ratings
bonanza, with producers anticipating having to cancel the show after only five
However, thanks to the strong fan following for Hagman's portrayal of J.R., he was credited as being the star who saved the show, it being offered a second season, on the strength of excellent first season ratings. His co-star Linda Gray also received a starring role as J.R.’s long-suffering wife. Overall, the cast got along very well with Hagman, particularly Duffy, who would often spend weekends with the Hagmans. The chemistry between Larry and Duffy was convincingly like sibling rivalry (despite their real-life 18 year age difference) which made for exciting on-screen exchanges and equal screen time for Duffy's character.
Seen in over 90 countries, the show was a worldwide success and Larry became one of the most reliable and supportive network stars. As the star of the show, Larry drew on many of his youthful experiences of growing up in Texas to bring depth to J.R.'s irascible character. While J.R. played out a complex love/hate relationship with his Dallas family, Larry enjoyed a relaxed and warm relationship with his castmates, often playing practical jokes to lessen the tension caused by tight filming schedules and highly emotionally charged scripts.
By the end of its second season, Dallas was a bonafide hit. Producers were
keen to capitalize on that love/hate family relationship of J.R.'s, building
anticipation to a fever-pitch in a cliff hanger season finale in which J.R. is
At the beginning of Dallas' third season, audience and actors were guessing "Who Shot J.R.?". During the media buildup, Larry was involved in contract negotiations delaying his return in the third season. Holding out for a higher salary, Larry did not appear in the first episode of the show until the final few minutes, despite all the media and fan frenzy over the fate of J.R.
Producers were faced with a dilemma whether to pay the greatly increased salary or to write J.R. out of the picture. CBS began taping different episodes of Dallas which did not include Hagman.
In the midst of negotiations, Larry took his family to London for their July vacation. He continued to fight for his demands and network executives conceded that the show really could not go on without him. From the third season, Larry was paid a huge amount per episode.
At the beginning of the third season, writers were told to keep the
storylines away from the actors until they really found out who actually shot
J.R., and it took at least three weeks until the culprit was revealed on
November 21, 1980.
Toward the end of the third season in 1981, Hagman’s co-star and TV father (Jim Davis) had been diagnosed with brain cancer. Despite his illness he was retained on the show, so that he was not only written out of the show but died in real-life. His character was first sent off to South America to work on the oil fields. The following year he died. The producers could not do a death episode for Jock Ewing at the beginning of the fourth season. Instead, they had to wait until the following season, when they aired an episode dedicated to Jock's will and testament and its effect on the Dallas family.
During the fall of 1981, his character met Clayton Farlow (played by dancer and 1950s moviestar Howard Keel), who became his on-screen stepfather, for the next decade. Hagman's on- and off-screen chemistry with Keel, would endure for most of the 1980s, as he would play that role, almost until the very end, when he departed from the series. Coincidentially, his departure from the program was a few weeks before Dallas's series cancelation in 1991.
For his work as J.R. Ewing, Larry was nominated for two Emmys between 1980 and 1981, for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, but did not win. He was also nominated for four Golden Globes, between 1981 and 1983 and one in 1985, losing both. He was nominated for a Soap Opera Digest Award seven times for Outstanding Villain on a Prime Time Serial, Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial, Favorite Super Couple: Prime Time and Outstanding Actor in a Comic Relief Role on a Prime Time Serial, and won five times. In 1984, co-star (Barbara Bel Geddes) left the show after suffering a heart attack. At one point, Larry suggested to his real-life mother (Mary Martin) that she play Miss Ellie, but she refused and Bel Geddes was replaced with veteran actress Donna Reed. Reed was fired from the show, just one year before her death in 1986.
Bel Geddes came back in 1985 and stayed on until 1990, while Tilton left the show in 1985, but came back in 1988 and stayed on until 1990. Also in 1985, his co-star (Patrick Duffy) left the show in order to pursue a career in TV movies, but thanks to Hagman’s wishes, Duffy decided to come back at the end of the 1985-86 season.
The decline in Dallas' fortunes in the late '80s was mirrored in Hagman’s private life. He was drinking continuously and this led to him developing cirrhosis of the liver. During the final season of Dallas, he appeared with former Jeannie star Barbara Eden, who played J.R.'s conniving former girlfriend.
By the end of its thirteenth season in 1991, ratings continued to slip and CBS decided to end Dallas after a remarkable run. Larry was the only actor to appear in all 357 episodes. Due to his character's popularity, he made five guest appearances on Knots Landing, which itself was a spinoff from Dallas's in the early 1980s.
Hagman's relationship with Patrick Duffy's family began in the mid 1940s, when the teenaged actor went to spend a lot of time with Duffy's parents. In the reunion, Duffy said of Hagman's friendship with his real-life parents, "Larry knew my parents, before you ever knew me," Later, he said about working with the veteran actor on a weekly series made Patrick really nervous, "I would get a phone call from them, when I was driving my truck, and they said, 'Call this nice Mr. Hagman, maybe he can help you in the business.' And I didn't know who the hell Mr. Larry was!" Patrick also said of Hagman's tenure on Dallas: "Larry took the part that could've been a joke, just plain 'The Evil Master of the Universe'. And he decided to play J.R. as the hero. Larry believes that J.R. was this knight in shining armor. He thought he'd never done something wrong!" Duffy would also say something about Hagman's character who did everybody more harm than good, "He never actually killed anybody. He fomented revolutions in South America, he had no problems with environmental disasters, he sank ships, he had babies stolen — he made babies, God knows he was like a rabbit. In fact, my son was his on the show, figure that one out." When the "Who Shot JR?", media was surrounded, Duffy would say of Hagman's contract renegotiation, "Not only it was 'Who Shot J.R.?', it was 'Who's going to be JR?', and the press took a hold of that, and I think the studio is throwing out people's names in their negotiations with Larry, and this will scare him, it won't scare him!" Upon Hagman's return to the show, Duffy said, "And he came back and it was grand, you know, it was Larry!" Years before Hagman's hospitalization, Duffy was one of the stars to be emotionally concerned about his drinking behavior, "He came to my house and had cornflakes and Bourbon. And I realized, he was just way out of his league," he said, "We'd arrived for make-up around 7:30 A.M. in the morning and the first bottle will be popped open," the last thing he said was, "He'd continue to imbibe, not just throw it back, but to keep that buzz going, all day long." After the show was canceled and Hagman's short battle against cancer, Duffy still remained close to Hagman.
Long before Charlene Tilton co-starred with Larry on a long-running soap opera, Larry was her childhood television hero as she watched her future TV uncle's series, I Dream of Jeannie, where the actor gave comic relief in each of the scenes, while filming. Long after the series was demised, Tilton was more than happy to work with Larry on Dallas, both on-screen and -off, for seven 1/2 seasons, making her a household name. The remarkable TV uncle/TV niece relationship of both Larry & Tilton were a huge success of 1980s television, dancing to death as friends, while the two were playing gossipy relatives on the show. In describing of her TV uncle's previous role that has not been typecasted, Charlene said: "Larry Hagman is one of the nicest people on the planet. He is so wonderful, so loving, so giving. JR was a 1-dimensional, evil character. JR was multi-dimensional, and Larry Hagman is probably one of the greatest actors that we have. Then, you go back and look at "I Dream of Jeannie" - I mean, he's a comic genius, as well. So, I think they should give him an honorary Emmy Award." When Tilton left the show in 1985, but came back in 1988 through 1990, she continued to be friends with Larry. More recently, she was one of the guests at Larry Hagman's 70th birthday party at her TV uncle's family's house. The rest of the surviving Dallas cast was there, except for Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray. She in turn was also concerned about her series' lead's health, when in 1995, Larry undergo a lifesaving liver transplant, at the same time, he battled liver cancer, where he was forced to quit drinking.
In January 1997, Larry starred in a short lived TV series named Orleans as Judge Luther Charbonnet, lasting only eight episodes. By this time, Larry ceased wearing his toupée, which was first seen by the public when he appeared as a guest star during the fourth season of Nip/Tuck.
In November 1999, after 29 years, Larry agreed to reunite with Jeannie co-stars Barbara Eden and Bill Daily and creator/producer Sidney Sheldon on the The Donny and Marie Show. In 2002, when I Dream Of Jeannie was set to join the cable channel TV Land, Larry once again took part in a I Dream Of Jeannie reunion with Eden and Daily, this time on Larry King Live.
On the TV Land Awards in March 2004, Larry and Eden were the first presenters to reunite on stage. The following October, Larry and Daily appeared at The Ray Courts Hollywood Autograph Show. And the following year, 2005 brought all three stars from I Dream Of Jeannie to the first ever cast reunion at The Chiller Expo Show.
Larry reunited with Eden in March 2006 for a publicity tour in New York City to promote the first season DVD of I Dream Of Jeannie. He reunited once again with Eden on stage in the play Love Letters at the College of Staten Island in New York and the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. The appearance marked the first time the two had acted together since Eden appeared with Larry on Dallas in 1990.
In 2002, Larry made an appearance in the fourth series of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer's British comedy panel game, Shooting Stars.
In January 2011, Larry made a guest appearance in the 7th Season of Desperate Housewives as a new husband for Lynette Scavo's mother, Stella.
During the 80's, Larry was featured in a national televised Schlitz beer campaign, playing on - but not explicitly featuring - Hagman's J.R. character from Dallas. Larry wore the same kind of western business outfit - complete with cowboy hat - that he wore playing J.R. Ewing. The end of each 30-second spot featured a male voice-over saying, "Refreshing Schlitz beer...the gusto's back..." and Larry grinning into the camera and saying, "...and I'm gonna get it!" He also made commericials for B.V.D. brand underwear.
In 2010, Larry Hagman has been hired as a spokesman for SolarWorld, a solar energy commercial enterprise. In the SolarWorld commercials, Larry revists his J.R. Ewing character complete with a picture of Larry as J.R. Ewing from the original series on the mantle, stating that his oil company days are long over "though still in the energy business" now being solar energy instead.
In 1973, stepfather Richard Halliday died, and Larry reconciled with his mother soon after. The two became close until his mother’s own death, seventeen years later. Late in 1990, his mother (Mary Martin) was diagnosed with colon cancer and died just one month before her 77th birthday. Larry enjoyed a warm relationship with his mother, and she was very proud of her son’s accomplishments.
While in England, he dated future British actress Joan Collins (of Dynasty fame).
In 1954, Larry married Swedish-born Maj Axelsson and they had two children, Heidi Kristina (b. 1958) and Preston (b. 1962). Longtime residents of Malibu, California, they now live in Ojai, California. He has been a member of the Peace and Freedom Party since the 1960s. Larry derided President George W. Bush, a fellow Texan, before the Iraq War. At a signing for his book he said "A sad figure (Bush)—not too well educated, who doesn't get out of America much. He's leading the country towards fascism". Larry appeared at the Dublin races in 2008 with his wife.
In 1967, a good friend, musician David Crosby supplied him with LSD after a Crosby, Stills, and Nash concert: "LSD was such a profound experience in my life that it changed my pattern of life and my way of thinking and I could not exclude it." Larry was introduced to marijuana by Jack Nicholson, as a safer alternative to Hagman's heavy drinking. Although Larry says he no longer smokes marijuana and is on a "Twelve-step program," he explains, "Marijuana is like being compared to alcohol and when you come right down to it, alcohol destroys your body and makes you do violent things, but with grass, you just sit back and enjoy life."
In 1980, he released a 45 record for CBS Records. It features the single "My Favorite Sins" with the b/w "Ballad Of the Good Luck Charm".
In 1982, he crowned the winner of the Miss Sweden competition in Stockholm. During the coronation he wore a traditional Lapphatt and sang a Swedish folksong.
In August 1995, Larry underwent a life-saving liver transplant after admitting he had been a heavy drinker. Numerous reports state he was drinking four bottles of champagne a day on the set of Dallas. He was also a heavy smoker as a young man, but the cancer scare was the catalyst for him to quit. Larry was so shaken by this incident that he immediately became strongly anti-smoking. He has recorded several public service announcements pleading with smokers to quit and urging non-smokers never to start. Larry was the chairman of the American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout for many years, and also worked on behalf of the National Kidney Foundation.
In a 2007 interview, he talked about how he is now a major proponent of alternative energy. On an episode of Living With Ed, Larry and Maj show the Begleys their solar powered, super energy efficient home and Larry talks about his green lifestyle.
In early 2010, Larry & Maj sold their 43-acre estate called Heaven, which was
valued at $9.5 million dollars. The estate was located high in the hills of
Ojai, California. Maj began her career in cultural fashion in the late 1950s for
modern-day celebrities. She designed the house and infused it with her trademark
elegance and style. Both Larry & Maj first purchased this entire property in
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