Larry Martin Hagman, the son of Broadway legend Mary Martin and attorney Ben Hagman, was born in Fort Worth, Texas on September 21, 1931, spending his early days in nearby Weatherford. His parents married young, on November 3, 1930, and his mother was just 17 when he was born. As a result, Larry spent most of his early years in the care of his maternal grandmother, Juanita Martin. Juanita, a violin teacher, adored Larry. She had once had a son who only lived one day, and risked her life to have Mary in hopes of another boy. She became so attached to Larry that no one could take him away from her.
This freed Mary Martin of family responsibilities, allowing her to pursue her career, first as a dance instructor with her own school, then as a singer in California and eventually in her break-out role singing My Heart Belongs to Daddy while doing a mild striptease on Broadway in Leave it to Me, which opened on November 9, 1938. A movie contract with Paramount followed. By this time, Mary's father, prominent Weatherford, Texas attorney Preston Martin, had died and Mary had divorced Ben Hagman. Juanita and Larry moved to California with Mary as she started her movie career, with Larry attending military school there.
Souvenir Program for the London Production of South Pacific, 1951
Born September 21st, 1931 at Fort Worth, Texas. Moved to California and went to Military School for five years, then moved to New York and attended various schools including Bard College, where he studied drama, until at the age of eighteen, he obtained his first professional engagement at the Margo Jones Theatre in Dallas, Texas, during the winter of 1949. The following summer he obtained an engagement with Margaret Webster in Woodstock, New York. At the age of nineteen he worked for two seasons with St. John Terrell Music Circus as production assistant, then as assistant Stage Manager. During spring of 1950, played a small part in Margaret Webster's "Taming of the Shrew" at the City Centre, New York.
Program for Career, 1957
LARRY HAGMAN (A Soldier): Mr. Hagman is the talented 25-year-old son of that superb entertainer, Miss Mary Martin. He played a small role in the London production of "South Pacific," starring his famous mother. In New York, he has been seen in Margaret Webster's production of "The Taming of the Shrew," at the City Center; and as the cop in William Saroyan's "Once Around the Block" at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Like many young actors he has tried a variety of jobs. He has worked as a farmer, a rancher, a truck driver, a tent man, and a swimming instructor.
Playbill for Comes a Day, 1958
Larry Hagman began his career with Margo Jones in Dallas and he continued with Margaret Webster at Woodstock, New York, playing Shaw, Shakespeare, Chekhov, etc., under her direction. He worked for two years for St. John Terrell as stage manager and actor in musical stock. He played in South Pacific in London for a year, and while in the Air Force stationed in London, he produced, directed and toured his own shows. He also got leave to appear in The Skin of Our Teeth in the Salute to France version in Paris. At the conclusion of his service stint, he went to Brazil, with his mother Mary Martin, returning to New York to play in Saroyan's Once Around the Block at the Cherry Lane Theatre off-Broadway. He has done many television shows, and last season played in the highly regarded Career off-Broadway.
Playbill for God and Kate Murphy, 1959
Mr. Hagman appeared in this season's Comes a Day on Broadway, and in the particularly successful off-Broadway production Career last year. His theatrical career began in Dallas, Texas, with Margo Jones and continued under Margaret Webster's direction at Woodstock, New York. He played in the London production of South Pacific for a year, and while serving there in the Air Force he was granted leave to appear in the Salute to France version of The Skin of Our Teeth in Paris. When he completed his military service, Mr. Hagman went to Brazil with his mother, Mary Martin, returning to New York when the off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre offered him a role in Saroyan's Once Around the Block. He is in constant demand for television, and has been seen on all the major networks.
Playbill for The Warm Peninsula, 1959
Five lines in Sean O'Casey's Cock-a-Doodle Dandy at Margo Jones' Dallas Theatre marked Mr. Hagman's professional debut. His New York bow was made at the City Center Theatre in Margaret Webster's production of The Taming of the Shrew. Since then he has been seen hereabouts in Saroyan's Once Around the Block, in Career, Comes a Day, God and Kate Murphy and The Nervous Set. In London he appeared with his mother, Mary Martin, in South Pacific. He has also worked as a stage manager for several productions and has acted in a number of major television shows emanating from New York. He attended Bard College and did his military service with the Air Force.
Program for the 1960 Ann Arbor, Michigan Drama Season
is among the most important new actors to arrive on Broadway. He made his debut with his mother, Mary Martin, in "South Pacific" in London. New York Theatre-goers have since applauded his versatile talent in "Career," "God and Kate Murphy," "The Nervous Set," and "The Warm Peninsula" with Julie Harris.
Program Happy Birthday from the 1960 Ann Arbor, Michigan Drama Season
Larry Hagman (Paul) won a Theatre World citation last season as one of the most promising actors on the Broadway scene. After gaining his initial experience in the repertory companies of Margo Jones and Margaret Webster, he appeared in "South Pacific" in London, with his mother, Mary Martin. Back in New York he had a role in William Saroyan's "Once Around the Block" off-Broadway, and it was another off-Broadway production that was to prove him an actor of real promise. That play was "career" by former U-M student James Lee, and in it Mr. Hagman had a very funny sequence as a hillbilly soldier. He made his Broadway debut in "Comes a Day" with Judith Anderson and his star continued to ascend, even though his next shows didn't - "God and Kate Murphy," "The Nervous Set," and this season's "The Warm Peninsula" with Julie Harris - all in a twelve-months period. Mr. Hagman has appeared on all of the major dramatic television programs, including the DuPont Show of the Month, Kraft Theatre, Omnibus, Studio One, and Sea Hunt.
Playbill for The Beauty Part, 1962
Mary Martin soon met and married Paramount story editor Richard Halliday, leaving Larry with his grandmother. They had a daughter, Heller, in 1941. Mary grew tired of Hollywood, and, yearning for a live audience, took her young family, minus Larry, to New York to conquer Broadway.
Larry Hagman lived happily in California until his grandmother died in 1944, when he was 12. Ben Hagman was serving in World War II at the time, so Larry was sent to New York to live with his mother, who was well on her way to becoming one of Broadway's biggest musical stars of all time. Richard Halliday had become Mary Martin's manager, and went out of his way to make sure the only thing she had to worry about was her performance, sheltering her from all distractions, including her son. Hagman, suffering the loss of a mother figure, not knowing either of his parents very well, and being treated as an outsider by the very controlling Halliday, was miserable. Larry's relationship with his mother would be difficult as long as his stepfather was alive.
After several different private schools in New York failed to make Hagman any happier, he was sent to the Woodstock Country School, a boarding school in Vermont. The 14-year-old was relieved to finally get away from his stepfather, quickly discovering girls, cigarettes and alcohol, the beginnings of a habit that would almost kill him nearly 50 years later. The independent-minded Hagman managed to break most of the rules at the school, at one point accidently starting a fire that nearly burned down a dormitory. Mary Martin, wanting some relationship her son, planned to cast Larry in the touring company of Annie Get Your Gun in 1947, along with her daughter Heller, who played her little sister. Larry had other ideas. He hadn't considered an acting career, and couldn't stand the idea of being on the road with his stepfather. He told his mother he wanted to be a cowboy, and he wanted to live with his father in Texas.
In the summer of 1947, Larry Hagman moved back to Weatherford, Texas. Ben Hagman, a tough Word War II veteran and successful attorney with his own law firm, had married his secretary, Juanita, and had another son, Gary. He was a strong male role model for Larry, bringing him along on many hunting trips, which became a lifelong pastime of Larry's. Ben encouraged him to take a variety of summer jobs including baling hay and digging ditches. They also unfortunately shared a drinking habit. Being able to hold your liquor was considered manly, and Larry was quite good at it. Larry attended the same school his mother did, Weatherford High School, getting involved in many school activities. He won the lead in the senior play, This Girl Business, and discovered a love for acting that would change the course of his life. He told his father, who expected Larry to follow in his footsteps as a lawyer, that he wanted to become an actor.
Using his summer job earnings, Larry Hagman took a bus ride to New York, telling his mother of his acting plans. Mary Martin, then starring in one of the biggest hits of her career, South Pacific, was thrilled. Larry attended Bard College, majoring in Drama and Dance. During the winter break, Hagman took a job as a production assistant and actor with Margo Jones' Theatre '50 in Dallas. After returning to Bard, he soon tired of building sets and doing other behind the scenes work. Larry wanted to be on stage, and saw no reason to wait. He quit college after one year to gain some more real world experience.
Larry joined Margaret Webster's Woodstock, NY, Shakespeare Company in the summer of 1950. In December of 1950 Mary Martin and Larry Hagman recorded a record together. They sang Get Out Those Old Records and Irving Berlin's You're Just in Love, both with lyrics slightly altered to suit them. On April 21, 1951, still with Margaret Webster, Larry made his New York debut in The Taming of the Shrew. Afterwards, he moved back in with his mother and stepfather in Connecticut for a short time. Larry was drinking so heavily that Mary kicked him out of her house after he got alcohol poisoning. She gave him some money to live on, and, after seeing that Larry was at least trying to find a job, introduced him to the man who had discovered her, Laurence Schwab, who passed Larry along to his partner, St. John Terrell.
Terrell ran the Music Circus, a theater-in-the-round under a big top, in Lambertville, NJ during the summer and St. Petersburg, FL in the winter. A different musical was presented each week, usually with a well known performer in the lead, the local company filling in the smaller roles. Larry Hagman started at the bottom: Putting up the tent and other menial work. Eventually, he rose to assistant stage manager and actor in small roles. He continued in this capacity until his mother made him a tempting job offer.
South Pacific was a huge hit on Broadway, opening in 1949, sending Mary Martin's fame soaring to new heights. Tickets were nearly impossible to come by, and Martin's short haircut became fashionable and was often imitated. After two years, Mary decided to take the show to London, while it continued to run in New York. She asked Larry to join her, and he agreed. Hagman had a small speaking role and was also a member of the chorus. Just like it was in New York, the show was an incredible hit. Larry Hagman stayed with South Pacific for about a year, until he got his draft notice in 1952.
Larry joined the U.S. Air Force, which allowed him to be stationed in London, avoiding fighting in the Korean War. He was in Special Services, which at the time meant entertainment. Larry produced and directed shows for servicemen, often traveling to Air Force bases all over Europe. He even acted in a government training film at one point. It was good experience for a man who was to make his living in show business, and remaining in London proved to be one of the best things to ever happen to him. It was during his Air Force service that Larry Hagman met and fell in love with Maj Axelsson, a Swedish clothing designer living in London. The pair became inseparable, and were married on December 18, 1954. At the time, Mary Martin was on Broadway in her favorite show, Peter Pan, preventing her from attending the wedding, but she soon found a way to meet Larry's new bride.
Mary Martin's next project was The Skin of Our Teeth. She arranged small walk-on roles for Larry and Maj in the show, which was to run for two weeks in Paris in 1955. Heller was also in the show, making it a real family affair. Maj hated being on stage, but enjoyed helping out with the costumes for the show. When Hagman's Air Force tour was finally over in 1956, he headed to New York with Maj to continue his acting career.
Larry Hagman's friend Ted Flicker, his roommate in London who would work with him many times, gave him a role in an off-Broadway play he was directing, Once Around the Block. In 1957, Hagman was cast in another off-Broadway show, Career. Larry had a comic relief role in the serious play about the difficulties of making it in show business. Hagman's comedic abilities were apparent early on, and he stopped the show with his antics as soldier celebrating New Year's Day. His success in this role, which lasted nearly a year, led to appearances on numerous live television shows, including DuPont Show of the Month, Omnibus, Kraft Television Theatre and Studio One. In this era, television production was active on both coasts, with many New York shows being essentially broadcast stage plays. Actors in New York could work on Broadway, soap operas, or prime time television. Larry Hagman did all three.
Larry and Maj's first child, Heidi Kristina Mary Hagman, was born on February 17, 1958. The new father was by then appearing on television regularly, and for a short while, in the summer of 1958, had a side job as a model for Leonard Starr's comic strip On Stage. The character, Jed Potter, was a good likeness of Larry, and even drove the same car, an Austin-Healy, that Larry did in real life! Maj worked as a costume designer. Among her clients were singer Jane Morgan and actress Tallulah Bankhead.
Larry Hagman's Broadway debut was in Comes a Day, on November 6, 1958, almost 20 years to the day after his mother's star-making debut in Leave it to Me. This show also marked the Broadway debut of George C. Scott. Larry's next Broadway play was God and Kate Murphy, in which he played a young Irish man tricked into the priesthood by his mother. This show was directed by Burgess Meredith, who would eventually become Larry's next door neighbor. Carroll O'Connor, who would become one of Hagman's closest friends, was assistant stage manager. The play got reasonably good reviews, and Larry received a Theatre World Award for his performance in it, but the show was forced to close after only 12 performances due to a severe theater shortage.
The beatnik musical The Nervous Set, directed by Ted Flicker, was next, with Larry Hagman's character reminiscent of a young Jack Kerouac. The show was short lived. Another Broadway project was The Warm Peninsula with Julie Harris, June Havoc and Farley Granger. With this show, for a short while, Larry Hagman was working in a theater across the street from his mother. Mary Martin had yet another massive hit, The Sound of Music. The Warm Peninsula, unfortunately, only lasted 2 1/2 months.
After more guest appearances on TV, Larry Hagman took the role of Ed Gibson on The Edge of Night in 1961. This live daytime serial proved to be great, if difficult, training for the young actor. Hagman had to learn a new script every day, developing instincts and techniques that would serve him well for decades to come. During his run on The Edge of Night, Hagman started to become recognized by the public. Once, while walking in New York with his mother, they were approached by two women looking for autographs. They showed little interest in Mary, but recognized Larry from The Edge of Night and wanted his autograph! A small sign of things to come.
During the run of the soap opera, on May 2, 1962, Larry and Maj's son, Preston Benjamin Axel Hagman, was born. Towards the end of 1962, Hagman joined the cast of the comedy The Beauty Part, starring Bert Lahr, first in Pennsylvania, then on Broadway. He left The Edge of Night when the show reached Broadway, since it had all the makings of a major hit. Unfortunately, there was a newspaper strike, preventing the good reviews from being published. The show closed after only three months. All was not lost, however. Director Sidney Lumet saw the show, was impressed with Hagman's performance, and asked him to be in his next film, Fail-Safe.
Fail-Safe was Larry Hagman's first movie-making experience. He played a Russian interpreter, who, along with Henry Fonda's president, had the most dramatic scenes in this cold war classic. Unfortunately, due to a lawsuit, Columbia Pictures took over the distribution of this independent film, delaying its release so that Stanley Kubrick's similarly themed Dr. Strangelove: or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb could come out first. As a result, Hagman's next project, Ensign Pulver, was released before Fail-Safe. Ensign Pulver's main appeal is in spotting young actors like Larry Hagman and Jack Nicholson before they became famous. While working on this film, Nicholson, thinking Hagman drank too much, introduced him to marijuana. Naturally, Larry indulged in both.
Larry Hagman's next movie was the low budget World War II Drama, The Cavern, filmed in Italy. It was while making this film that Hagman got the health scare that would cause him to quit smoking. After getting a chest X-ray due to a serious cough, Larry, who did not understand Italian, thought the doctor had told him he was dying. Thankfully, that turned out to be wrong. Hagman quit his nearly 20 year old, two pack a day habit, and became vehemently against smoking.
Prime time television productions in New York were becoming scarce by the sixties, and Larry Hagman was not alone in having a hard time finding work. He had a few guest roles on some New York based shows, including the critically acclaimed The Defenders, but Larry knew he would soon have to head west.
Larry Hagman traveled to Hollywood for a part in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The network canceled the episode before it was filmed, and Larry decided to stick around to look for work. After being sent scripts for five television pilots, he chose I Dream of Jeannie. Barbara Eden was already cast as Jeannie, and half a dozen actors had already been tested for role of astronaut Tony Nelson, her master. Hagman was asked to do a screen test. Producer Sidney Sheldon thought he was brilliant, and immediately signed him. The pilot was filmed, and, while waiting to see if it would be picked up by the network, Larry was asked to do a voice-over in Russian for the series The Rogues. The casting director, having seen Fail-Safe, assumed Hagman could speak Russian, even though the actor never spoke a word of it in the film. Hagman bluffed his way through that job, memorizing the sounds of the dialog tape-recorded by a Russian speaking friend. He was convincing enough to be offered a role in the series when one of its stars, Gig Young, was unavailable. Larry appeared in the last two episodes of The Rogues, which was canceled after only one season. This turned out to be for the best, since it left Larry free when I Dream of Jeannie was ordered by NBC for it's fall, 1965 schedule.
The Actors on I Dream of Jeannie were a great fit, despite wildly varying backgrounds. Larry Hagman as handsome astronaut Tony Nelson and Barbara Eden as the beautiful genie he finds on a deserted island had just the right mix of innocence and sexiness to appeal to a general audience, yet keep the show out of trouble with the network censors. Barely. I Dream of Jeannie was the first show to feature attractive singles of the opposite sex living together, and it was only because one was a supernatural entity that they could get away with it.
Larry Hagman's experience with comedy was almost exclusively on stage, with the skills he developed as a live performer translating effectively to film. Combined with his talent as a dramatic actor, this enabled him to portray a character that was both serious and humorous. Barbara Eden, in contrast, had quite a bit of on camera experience before I Dream of Jeannie, both in movies and television. She had a previous TV series, How to Marry a Millionaire in the 1950s. She was married to actor Michael Ansara, who would be a memorable guest star on several I Dream of Jeannie episodes.
Stand up comic Bill Daily was cast in the role of Tony's fellow astronaut buddy Roger Healey. Daily did so well in the show, having some of the funniest scenes, that it is hard to believe he had no acting experience beforehand. He went on to portray Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s. The fourth major character on I Dream of Jeannie was suspicious Dr. Bellows, played to perfection by veteran character actor Hayden Rorke.
When I Dream of Jeannie started production, a crisis cropped up right away: Barbara Eden was pregnant. This forced the quick filming of 10 episodes. Problems developed immediately between Larry Hagman, who was determined to make I Dream of Jeannie the best it could be, and director Gene Nelson, who insisted that they follow the script to the letter. Each man wanted the other fired. Due to NBC's preference, Larry prevailed.
Hagman's troubles did not end there. His father, Ben Hagman, had a massive stroke and was in a coma, putting enormous emotional strain on the actor. The elder Hagman passed away on July 15, 1965, at age 57. Sadly, he didn't live to see his son's success on prime time television.
While promoting I Dream of Jeannie in New York, Larry Hagman ran into director Sidney Lumet, whom he had worked with in Fail-Safe. Lumet offered Hagman the choice of any role in his new movie, The Group, an adaption of the novel by Mary McCarthy. Hagman chose the largest of the male roles in this film about eight women, that of alcoholic, womanizing, wife-beating playwright Harald Peterson. He was able to work on this film while I Dream of Jeannie was on hold awaiting the birth of Barbara Eden's baby.
Eden had a boy, Matthew Ansara, and production of I Dream of Jeannie resumed. The scripts were repetitive, and Hagman wanted better quality. The other actors agreed with him, but remained silent, allowing Larry to be the troublmaker on the set. To make up for what they saw as unfunny portions of the scripts, Larry Hagman and Bill Daily developed many physical comedy routines. These unscripted bits turned out to be one of the high points of the show.
Larry Hagman continued to fight to improve the series, and at the same time was suffering withdrawal from quitting addictive prescription diet pills cold turkey. He eventually had an emotional and physical breakdown, leading to sessions with a psychiatrist. Hagman had succeeded in his career, but it wasn't what he expected. He would eventually get the fame and popularity he craved, but not for more than a decade, and not until after he accepted that it may never happen. He was told "Don't worry, be happy." It sounds simplistic, but Hagman took it to heart, adding to the phrase to use it as his personal motto: "Don't Worry. Be Happy. Feel Good."
Larry had by this time bought a beach home in Malibu, and would become the center of the Malibu Colony's social scene. Like many in the sixties, Larry experimented with drugs, including a life-altering experience with LSD that took away his fear of death.
Hagman became known as a lovable eccentric. He spent his spare time with his family, determined that his children would know both of their parents, something he sorely missed in his own childhood. He adored leading parades up and down the beach, often in costume. It could be a purple gorilla suit, a train engineer's costume, or a long hooded black robe, resulting in the nick name "The Mad Monk of Malibu." In addition to costumes, the Hagman collection included hats, flags and canes. Because Larry lost his voice once during I Dream of Jeannie, he developed the habit of resting it by not speaking at all on Sundays. He would continue this tradition into the 1990s.
Maj continued designing, branching out from clothing and costumes to Jacuzzis. She had always been handy, doing much of the renovation work wherever the Hagman's had lived. She created a grotto Jacuzzi in their Malibu home, and developed her new found knowledge into a thriving business.
Between the forth and fifth seasons of I Dream of Jeannie, Larry Hagman filmed the TV movie, Three's a Crowd about a pilot with two wives. Hagman's charm was a highlight of this comedy, his first TV movie, which was also interesting for it's use of some I Dream of Jeannie sets, including the interior of the Nelson home.
I Dream of Jeannie would last five seasons, with the two leads marrying, against the wishes of the actors, in the fifth season. Never a blockbuster, the show had respectable if not great ratings in prime time. With 139 episodes, it was perfect for syndication, and it was there what it would truly become a classic.
Larry Hagman kicked off his post-Jeannie years by changing his appearance. Cleverly using his hair loss to his advantage, he could cover it up, or not, giving him the ability to play a wide range of ages. He varied his facial hair as well, sometimes appearing with a full beard, at other times with just a mustache, but he always returned to his more familiar clean-shaven look.
Larry was looking a bit like Major Nelson again when he got his next television series, The Good Life. It starred Hagman and Donna Mills as a middle class couple who ditch the pressures of the business world to become butler and cook to a wealthy man, played by David Wayne. The hitch: They had no experience in their new jobs; They were faking it. The Good Life only lasted half a season, but Larry Hagman got the chance to direct one of the 15 episodes. He had directed three episodes of I Dream of Jeannie, and enjoyed the experience.
Hagman's next chance at directing came in 1972, with Beware! The Blob, a sequel to the well known B Movie about a red pile of goo that consumes every living thing in its path. Larry did this one purely for fun, hiring anyone who was willing to work cheap and get eaten by the blob, including Robert Walker Jr., Godfrey Cambridge, Carol Lynley, Dick Van Patten, Cindy Williams and Burgess Meredith. He even included his 10 year old son, Preston, in the film. Larry had a small but memorable role as a mute, simple-minded bum, who, along with his two buddies, one played by Burgess Meredith, is devoured by the blob.
Antonio was another movie that Hagman was in for fun. This time his friend and former I Dream of Jeannie director Claudio Guzman was the instigator. It was filmed in Guzman's native Chile, offering a vacation for the Hagmans. Antonio starred Trini Lopez as a poor potter, with Larry Hagman playing a rich Texan running from his family. They, appearing briefly, were played by Hagman's real life family, offering cameos for Maj, Heidi and Preston.
During this period, I Dream of Jeannie became a massive hit in syndication, at times beating its network competition. High profits from syndicated series became the norm in the 1970s, but actors were generally only paid for a limited number of reruns. Larry Hagman, like many actors of that era, watched his work bring in a lot of money, with not a dime going to him.
Larry was cast in many TV movies in the 1970s. Naturally, quite a few were the light comedies that one would expect of the former I Dream of Jeannie star, and one suspense tale, A Howling in the Woods even re-united him with Barbara Eden. Others would show Hagman's range as an actor. He got to work with Henry Fonda again in The Alpha Caper, a gold heist tale, with Hagman as an ex-con explosives expert. Larry played an ambitious, gum chewing, southern football coach in Blood Sport, which also starred Ben Gazzara and Gary Busey as a father obsessed with his son's football career. The Return of the World's Greatest Detective had Hagman going from a dim-witted, bumbling cop to Sherlock Holmes.
Hagman got another chance at a TV series with Here We Go Again, a 1973 mid-season replacement, a comedy about divorce. This one didn't have a chance, as it was up against the blockbuster All in the Family, starring Larry's good friend Carroll O'Connor. It was canceled after 13 episodes.
On March 3, 1973, Larry's stepfather, Richard Halliday, died, which would be the beginning of a closer relationship between Larry and his mother.
1974 brought the British film Stardust where Larry got to play a Texan again, this time a manager of a rock star. Larry had a small but powerful role in Harry and Tonto the same year, which starred Art Carney as an old man traveling cross-country with his cat. Larry played his son, putting on a front to appear successful, while he was in reality flat broke and desperate.
Throughout the seventies, Larry Hagman appeared as a guest star on many television series, mostly the police detective and medical shows popular in that era. Never one to shy away from making fun of himself, he once portrayed a TV actor named Larry Harris on an episode of McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver. Scenes of the working actor offered Hagman the chance to essentially play two roles, one off screen meddling in police business, the other deliberately over-acting in the movie, to great comic effect.
Hagman had a small role in 1976's The Big Bus, a parody of disaster movies made four years before the more famous Airplane, and a larger part as a sex obsessed ambulance driver in the black comedy Mother, Jugs and Speed. Larry played "dumb" to perfection here, his blank, low IQ expression obvious even in the stills from the movie. In 1977, Hagman was hilarious as the incompetent Colonel Clarence E. Pitts in The Eagle Has Landed, playing the comic relief role he did so well. This would lead to a similar character in a small but funny bit in Superman in 1978.
By the late 1970s, Hagman's career was on the downswing. He was offered smaller and smaller roles as the decade went on, and no longer got the lead in TV movies. Even TV guest star opportunities were drying up. Finally, he got offers for two television series, a comedy, The Waverly Wonders, and a drama, Dallas. Of the two, Larry and Maj thought Dallas would be a hit, and Hagman was even more interested after learning that stage star Barbara Bel Geddes would play his mother. But Hagman was not the star of the show, and he was being offered insultingly little money to do it. He turned them down twice before swallowing his pride and accepting the role of J.R. Ewing.
Dallas started out as a five part mini-series on April 2, 1978. The show featured a large cast in a tale of feuding Texas families, the Barnes and the Ewings. It was a "Romeo and Juliet" type story, beginning with the marriage of Bobby Ewing and Pamela Barnes. The stars of the show were relative unknowns Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal as the two young lovers. Duffy was best known for the title role in The Man from Atlantis a short-lived series. Principal had appeared in the movie Earthquake in 1974, and also worked as an agent before she was cast in Dallas.
Larry Hagman played Bobby's older brother J.R., and model-turned-actress Linda Gray was his alcoholic wife, Sue Ellen. A legend of the theater, Barbara Bel Geddes, played Miss Ellie, the Ewing matriarch, and Jim Davis, a character actor who had appeared primarily in westerns, was her husband Jock Ewing, the head of the family business, Ewing Oil. Another long time Broadway actor, Ken Kercheval, played the Ewing's arch enemy Cliff Barnes, with David Wayne as his drunken father, Digger Barnes (later to played by Keenan Wynn).
It would have been easy for Larry Hagman to become lost in this large ensemble cast, but instead he stood out. He worked with Linda Gray to enliven their background scenes. Rather than just sitting passively while the camera focused on their co-stars, Hagman and Gray created their own mini-dramas. This got them noticed by the producers, which was just the beginning.
Although none of the characters were angels when Dallas began, J.R. was the worst of them. Hagman's stroke of genius was to add his own brand of humor to the role, creating a fascinating and charming villain who enjoyed destroying his enemies. Soon, Larry Hagman's gleaming smile would become a trademark of the show.
Dallas originally featured self contained episodes, but changed to the more familiar serialized format that still impacts television to this day, in the first season. Dallas' popularity built slowly, with ratings increasing throughout its first full season. Larry Hagman's J.R. Ewing became the focus of the show, with Patrick Duffy's Bobby becoming more and more of a good guy as counterpoint to J.R. The trend continued in the second season, which saw the show reach the top ten in ratings. At the end of the season, on March 21, 1980, J.R. Ewing was shot, with nearly everyone on the show having a motive.
"Who Shot J.R.?" became a world-wide phenomenon during the summer of 1980. Adding to the suspense, Larry Hagman took the opportunity to renegotiate his contract, creating the very real possibility that he would not return. Hagman, stung by not having a syndication deal for I Dream of Jeannie, and his relatively low pay when he signed on for Dallas, was determined to make the most of the current situation. After all, many people were making money off the show's success, a large part of it due to his own efforts. Hagman used a team of negotiators, all in white cowboy hats, while he made himself unavailable by leaving the country. He turned up in one of his favorite places, and former home, London. There he stirred up as much publicity as he could manage, causing a commotion wherever he went. He appeared on British talk shows, and generally had a great time revelling in the fame he had always wanted. An actor's strike delayed the start of the fall season in 1980, allowing the publicity to continue to build. The producers threatened Hagman by bringing in Robert Culp as a possible replacement, but with the amount of publicity Hagman had managed to generate, it became impossible to replace him, and a deal was made. Hagman arrived on the set at the last minute by helicopter, as one of the highest paid actors on television. The show that resolved the suspense, "Who Done it?," on November 21, 1980, broke rating records. It remains the second highest rated U.S. show of all time.
Dallas, becoming the number one rated television show, spawned many imitators, as prime time soaps took over the networks. A long running spin-off, Knots Landing, would have some cross-over storylines with Dallas in its early years, but Dallas' main rival was the more glitzy Dynasty, starring Joan Collins as its villain. Like most of the other shows, it was far more like a traditional daytime soap than Dallas was. Dallas, with its business deals and schemes mixed into more relationship-driven plotlines, attracted both sexes, while the other prime time soaps would draw a primarily female audience. Interestingly, the one daytime soap that was different than the rest, attracting a higher than average male viewership due to its crime drama elements, was The Edge of Night, which at one time starred Larry Hagman.
Never one to disappoint admirers, Larry Hagman had fake money, $100 bills, with his photo and "In Hagman We Trust" printed on them. He would give these out to fans when there was no time for autographs.
On September 21, 1981, on his 50th birthday, Larry Hagman received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He had long since become very close to his mother, Mary Martin, and they shared a love and respect on both a personal and professional level. Hagman's star was placed right next to Martin's, and she was at his side during the ceremony.
Hagman was in Blake Edward's 1981 film S.O.B., as a studio executive, who , surprisingly, smoked. Hagman was strongly against smoking since quitting in the 1960s, to the point of carrying a miniature battery operated fan he used to blow smoke back in offender's faces! Larry was chairman of The American Cancer Society's Great American Smokeout from 1981 to 1992, and made a video, Larry's Hagman's Stop Smoking for Life, to help people quit.
The heavy drinking by most of the characters on Dallas was reflected in Larry Hagman's real life. Often, the drinks on the show, in his case, where real. Consistent with Larry's sense of fun, his drink of choice was champagne, which he consumed throughout the day while still managing to meet or exceed his commitment to the show.
Hagman became very much involved behind the scenes, directing a total of 32 episodes of Dallas and helping out other cast members when they had problems. Linda Gray, for example, faced resistence when she expressed a desire to direct an episode of the show. Hagman stood up for her, and she ended up directing four episodes of Dallas. Patrick Duffy's departure, and insistance on being killed off, resulted in the infamous "Dream Season." Duffy's abscence wasn't the only problem. The show was becoming more like it's rival Dynasty with an emphasis on over-the-top characters and fashions. Larry Hagman did not like the direction Dallas was heading, and fought to bring the show back to its roots. He convinced Patrick Duffy, whose career outside of Dallas wasn't what he had hoped, to come back. Producer Leonard Katzman, who had left a year before, also came back. Bobby Ewing's return from the dead came in the form of Pam's year-long dream, as she woke to find him in her shower. Although the show was temporarily on track again, many stopped taking Dallas seriously from this point on.
In 1989, Mary Martin was diagnosed with cancer. She was a Kennedy Center Honoree that year. At the awards show, Larry Hagman gave a funny and poignant tribute to his mother, who was in the audience. Mary Martin passed away on November 3, 1990, on the 60th anniversary of her marriage to Ben Hagman.
Dallas continued until 1991, for a total of 13 years, with Larry Hagman becoming co-executive Producer in the final seasons. Along the way, both of Larry's children appeared on the show. Preston was only on it once, but Heidi appeared in many small roles, before deciding, as Kristina Hagman, to persue a career as an artist. Hagman was the only actor to appear in every episode of Dallas, in the process developing many life-long friendships among the cast, particularly Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy. Larry Hagman received two Emmy nominations for his role as J.R. Ewing, an enduring television icon.
After Dallas, Larry Hagman and Linda Gray embarked on a tour of the U.S. and Europe in the play, Love Letters. Later, Larry directed several episodes of his friend Carroll O'Connor's show In The Heat of the Night. Hagman was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver in 1992, causing him to immediately stop drinking, but it would prove to be too late. He continued to work, appearing in the 1995 film, Nixon. Larry and Maj moved from Malibu to Ojai, into a beautiful home that they named "Heaven." Maj acted as general contractor and designer during the construction of the mountaintop home.
Larry Hagman's health continued to deteriorate, becoming critical when a cancerous tumor was found in his liver. He was placed on the waiting list for a transplant. On August 23, 1995, Larry Hagman got his second chance at life when he received a new liver. It was in such bad condition he likely would have only lived only a few more weeks without the transplant.
Fortunately, Larry recovered enough to appear in the 1996 TV movie Dallas: J.R. Returns. This was the second TV movie based on the hit show. Hagman had also briefly appeared in 1986's Dallas: The Early Years.
In 1997, Larry Hagman got his fifth prime-time television show, Orleans. As Luthor Charbonnet, a New Orleans judge, Hagman created a unique character in a show that was well received by critics. Unfortunately, it wasn't given time to build an audience, and was cancelled after only eight episodes.
Larry had a role in the TV mini-series, The Third Twin in 1997. Another TV movie Dallas: War of the Ewings, followed in 1998. In the same year, Hagman received critical acclaim in the film Primary Colors as a presidential candidate with a few skeletons in his closet.
After receiving his liver transplant, Larry Hagman supported the National Kidney Foundation and promoted organ donation in many ways. He appeared at the Transplant Games, where athletes who have received organ transplants compete in Olympic style events, for many years. He updated his "Hagman money," now $10,000 bills, to include information on organ donation.
In 2000, Hagman appeared in the play Murder in the First, as a judge. The show was directed by Linda Gray. Larry's autobiography, Hello Darlin', was published in 2001, at which time he developed a highly entertaining multi-media presentation about his life. Hagman and Gray were re-united once again, along with Patrick Duffy, Charlene Tilton, Steve Kanaly, Ken Kercheval, and Victoria Principal in the TV special Dallas Reunion: Return to Southfork in 2004. An episode of Biography on Larry Hagman also aired that year.
Hagman would face death again in 2004, when he got an infection that spread to his liver. He had part of the organ removed. Luckily, the surgery was a success, his liver regenerated, and the tabloid reports of his impending demise proved to be false.
2006 started out as the year of I Dream of Jeannie, and ended with a return to television. Hagman was re-united with his Jeannie co-star Barbara Eden for five performances of Love Letters in Florida and New York. They also promoted the first season DVD release together. Later that year, Larry Hagman was featured in a five episode story arc on the fourth season of Nip/Tuck. In this role, Hagman showed his mastery of comedy and drama and his great skill in blending the two.
Larry Hagman devoted much time to fund-raising efforts and personal appearances for a wide variety of charities he supported. He was a big proponent of alternative energy, particularly solar and biodiesel. He had a hybrid car, a Toyota Prius, and an electric car he drove around town near his second home in Santa Monica, CA. His entire Ojai ranch is run on solar power, generated by the largest residential solar electric system in the United States. This system, and a tour of Hagman's home, was featured on Ed Begley Jr.'s environmental reality show Living with Ed in 2007. Hagman appeared in the 2008 documentary Fuel promoting biodiesel as an alternative to oil-based fuels.
In 2008, Larry's wife Maj was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Sadly, this eventually robbed her of the ability to travel with Larry. He remained devoted to Maj and her care, and supported charities funding resarch into this heartbreaking disease.
Early in 2011, Larry Hagman was on two episodes of Desperate Housewives, working with Felicity Huffman and Polly Bergen.
21 years after Dallas ended, it made a comeback, but unlike so many other classic television shows, it was not a remake. TNT is producing Dallas as a continuation, with a new generation of Ewings in conflict, but featuring some of the original cast members. Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray are in the show, and, at age 80, Larry Hagman returned to his most famous role.
Shortly before the start of filming for season one of Dallas, Larry Hagman was diagnosed with throat cancer. Determined to continue working, he received radiation and chemotherapy while the show was in production. He also tried complementary alternative treatments, including a vegan, sugar free cancer starvation diet, and admitted to using marijuana. Larry was given ample time off when needed, and, despite a lightened work load, appeared in all 10 episodes of the first season.
TNT gave Dallas much publicity, including TV spots, print ads and billboards in New York's Times Square. Larry and other cast members made many personal appearances, and were guests on numerous talk shows. An invitation only red carpet premiere was held at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas on May 31, 2012. The entire cast was on hand for a screening of the first two episodes. Dallas premiered on TNT on June 13, 2012. Ratings were high, and the show was well received. After only a few episodes, TNT renewed Dallas for a second season. Larry, who enjoyed working with his friends Linda Gray and Patrick Duffy, and adored his increasing fame, was ecstatic. Although the ratings slid as the season went on, the finale on August 8, 2012 was a solid hit, sparking interest in the second season.
Larry was given the news that his cancer was in remission in June, 2012, but his reprieve was short-lived. In July, he was diagnosed with MDS, a blood disorder caused by the chemotherapy he received the year before. Larry didn't let this get in the way of living a full life. Dallas went back in production in September, with Larry Hagman and the rest of the cast moving to Texas. Hagman continued to work while receiving treatmen for MDS. In October, he launched the Larry Hagman Foundation, supporting education in the arts for Dallas area children. Larry also participated in fundraising events for other charities, including auctioning lunch with himself at at the Cattle Baron's Ball, raising $90,000. On November 10, Larry performed in his one-man show, Confessions, in Tyler, Texas. The next week, on November 15, Larry made an appearance with Sheree Wilson at a fundraiser for White Bridle Society, for which he was the honorary chairman. It was to be his last public appearance.
On Monday, November 19, Larry Hagman was hospitalized with a low-grade fever. His MDS had progressed to leukemia. Hagman's family was with him in the end, having flown in to celebrate Thanksgiving. Larry Hagman passed away on November 23, 2012, at 4:20pm, in Dallas, Texas. Black Friday. Never did that term have more meaning than it did that day.
Hagman had completed five episodes of Dallas and was working on a sixth when he passed away. His final work, as the unforgettable J.R. Ewing, will be seen starting on January 28, 2013, on TNT.
There were three memorials for Larry Hagman. Two private events were held, at Southfork on December 1st, the 99th anniversary of Mary Martin's birth, and in Santa Monica on December 2nd. Also on the 2nd, Southfork was open for fans to pay their respects. 1500-2000 fans visted Southfork that day, signing a guestbook to be given to the Hagman family. Larry is survived by his wife of almost 58 years, Maj, two children, Kristina and Preston, five grandchildren, a multitude of friends, and a world full of fans.
- Linda McIntyre