Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Late Great Larry Hagman

There are those eulogies that are extremely difficult for me to write. This is one of them. I grew up watching I Dream of Jeannie when it was rerun daily here in mid-Missouri. I also watched Dallas loyally. Larry Hagman was one of my favourite actors both when I was a lad and now that I am an adult. I not only appreciated his performances as Major Tony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie and J. R. Ewing on Dallas, but also in the many films he made, including Fail-Safe (1964) and In Harm's Way (1965). He was an incredible actor who play almost anything, from comedy to drama, from heroes to villains. Sadly, Mr. Hagman died last night, 23 November 2012, at the age of 81, of complications from cancer. Although I never had the opportunity to meet Larry Hagman or interact with him in any way, I almost feel as if I have lost a close friend.

Larry Hagman was born on 21 September 1931 in Weatherford, Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His mother was Mary Martin, who would become a screen and stage legend in her own right. His father, Jack Hagman, was an accountant and district attorney. His parents divorced when he was five years old. When Mary Martin signed a contract with Paramount in 1938, young Larry Hagman stayed with his maternal grandmother in Texas. He attended the Black-Foxe Military Institute in Los Angeles, California and later moved with his mother to New York City where she was pursuing her acting career. In 1946 he returned to Weatherford and attended Weatherford High School. There he participated in school plays and took drama classes. When he graduated high school in 1949 it was his mother, Mary Martin, who suggested he take up acting as a profession.

Larry Hagman started his acting career in Dallas, serving as a  production assistant and acting in small parts at Margo Jones' Theatre there. He made his Broadway acting debut in a part in a production of Taming of the Shrew in 1951. In 1952 he was drafted in the United States Air Force. He served in London and spent most of his time entertaining American troops in both the United Kingdom and Europe.

After his service in the Air Force ended in 1956 Larry Hagman appeared in an off-Broadway production of Willam Saroyan's Once Around the Block. In 1957 he made his television debut as a guest star on the show Decoy. In the late Fifties he would guest star on such shows as Goodyear Television Playhouse, Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Harbourmaster, Sea Hunt, The United States Steel Hour, and Diagnosis: Unknown. He had recurring roles on the weekday serials The Edge of Night and Search for Tomorrow. On Broadway he appeared in Comes a Day, God and Kate Murphy, The Nervous Set, and The Warm Peninsula.

In the Sixties Larry Hagman made his film debut in Sette contro la morte in 1964.  In the Sixties he would go onto appear in such films as Ensign Pulver (1964), Fail-Safe (1964), In Harm's Way (1965), The Group (1966), and Up in the Cellar (1970). It was also during the Sixties that he would be cast in one of his best known roles, that of Major Anthony Nelson on the television series I Dream of Jeannie. Although it only did moderately well in the ratings in its first run on NBC, the series would become one of the most successful shows in syndication of all time, not only in the United States and Canada, but around the world as well. He also guest starred on such shows as The Defenders, The DuPont Show of the Week, Mr. Broadway, The Rogues, Love American Style, and Night Gallery.  In 1962 and 1963 he also appeared on Broadway in The Beauty Part.

In the Seventies Larry Hagman appeared in such films as The Hired Hand (1971), Beware! The Blob (1972), Antonio (1973), Harry and Tonto (1974), Stardust (1974), Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976), The Big Bus (1976), The Eagle Has Landed (1976), Cry for Justice (1977), Chequered Flag or Crash (1977), and Superman (1978). On television he had the lead role in the short lived shows The Good Life and Here We Go Again. It was in 1978 that he began another of his best known roles, that of J. R. Ewing on Dallas. The show proved to be a veritable phenomenon, not only becoming the number one show for a time, but running a total of thirteen years as well. He guest starred on such shows as Dan August, The Name of the Game, Medicinal Centre, Police Woman, Lucas Tanner, McCloud, Harry O, Ellery Queen, Barnaby Jones, The Streets of San Francisco, McMillan and Wife, and Sword of Justice. He reprised his role as J. R. on guest appearances on the Dallas spin off Knot's Landing.

In the Eighties Larry Hagman appeared in such films as S.O.B. (1981), Jag rodnar (1981). In the Nineties he appeared in the films Nixon (1995) and Primary Colours (1998),. He was one of the lead characters on the short lived show Orleans. In the Naughts he guest starred on The Simpsons, Nip/Tuck, and Somos cómplices. In the teens he resumed his role as J. R. Ewing on the successful revival of Dallas on the cable channel TNT. He also guest starred on Desperate Housewives and appeared in the film Flight of the Swan.

For many Larry Hagman will forever be Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie. I must confess that I am one of them. As I said earlier, as a lad I watched the show every day. Other might identify him more as J. R. Ewing on Dallas, his other well known role. While Larry Hagman will always be identified with both those roles, the fact is that he had an incredible career in which he played a large number of parts over the years. Indeed, although his two best know roles are from television, he was a bona fide movie star, appearing in Fail-Safe, In Harm's Way, S.O.B., Nixon, and may other films. With regards to movies Larry Hagman did just about everything, from B movies to major feature films.

And while Larry Hagman may be best identified with honest, hard working astronaut Tony Nelson and evil, conniving oil executive J. R. Ewing, he actually played a wide variety of roles. In Primary Colours he was Governor Picker, a politician who appeared to be honest, straight talking, and wholesome, but had more than his fair share of secrets. In Fail-Safe he played Buck, the president's translator, so convincingly that one could believe Mr. Hagman actually knew Russian.  Over the years he played everything from good guys to bad guys and everything in between. He was a great actor, although sadly not recognised as such often enough.

What is more, Larry Hagman was not only a great actor, but from all reports a true gentleman. Such co-stars as Barbara Eden, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Gray have all described him as one of the nicest, most compassionate men one could ever meet, and one with a slight mischievous streak at that. Those fans who were lucky enough to meet him or otherwise interact with him have also testified that he was a incredibly nice man. With Larry Hagman's death,then we have not only lost a truly great actor, but also a truly great gentleman as well.


Toby O'B said...

Excellent tip o' the Stetson. Tomorrow I'd like to link back to this at Inner Toob.....

Bobby Rivers said...

Did you ever experience Larry Hagman singing? Lauren Bacall revived her career with a Broadway musical. APPLAUSE was based on the film classic ALL ABOUT EVE. Bacall was Margo Channing. In the CBS TV special presentation, Hagman played Bill Sampson. He and Bacall did one number together.