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Interview: Linda Gray of ‘Dallas’ on Larry Hagman & Her New Book ‘The Road to Happiness’

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CHICAGO – In the summer of 1980, the whole nation was obsessed with one question – “Who shot J.R.?” J.R. was J.R. Ewing, portrayed by Larry Hagman, and the TV show that provided that question was “Dallas.” The role of J.R.’s long suffering wife on the show was portrayed by Linda Gray, who has written a new memoir.

Linda Ann Gray took a circuitous route to her most famous role, as chronicled in her new book “The Road to Happiness – Is Always Under Construction.” She was born in Santa Monica, California, and like many women of her generation, married at a very young age (that marriage lasted for 21 years). She sought fulfillment beyond that life, and began a modeling career in the 1960s – one of her most famous jobs was standing in for Anne Bancroft’s leg on the poster for the film, “The Graduate.”

Ms. Gray used the modeling as a springboard for her passion, which was acting. She did 400 commercials, and made appearances in 1970s TV shows like “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “McCloud.” Her role on “Dallas” as Sue Ellen Ewing started out as recurring, and was expanded to series regular in 1978. Sue Ellen was a booze-swilling codependent to the evil J.R., and was definitely a suspect when he was shot at the end of the 1980 season. Gray stayed with the show until the end of its first run in 1989.

Linda Gray
Linda Gray at Her Book Promotion at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Illinois
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

After “Dallas,” Gray worked steadily in film (“Oscar”), TV Movies, a new series (“Models, Inc.”) and the stage. Ironically, she portrayed Mrs. Robinson in the London stage version of “The Graduate,” coming full circle from posing on the film poster. In 2012, the TNT network revived “Dallas” for three seasons, with Gray and Hagman reprising their roles as Sue Ellen and J.R. During the second season, Hagman passed away, so on that revival Linda Gray as Sue Ellen Ewing got to eulogize both her best friend, and one of the most famous characters in television history.

Linda Gray appeared in Chicago in early October to promote the J.R. Ewing Private Reserve Bourbon, and her new memoir “The Road to Happiness – Is Always Under Construction.” Photographer Joe Arce took the Exclusive Portrait as she greeted fans and signed books at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Ill. She spoke to HollywoodChicago.com via phone from Los Angeles.

HollywoodChicago.com: You are promoting a couple of things with this upcoming tour. Tell us about the J.R. Ewing Private Reserve Bourbon, that you will be making an appearance on in Chicago to promote?

Linda Gray: I’m excited about it. Larry Hagman would be so proud, because he had a very small ego [laughs], and he would be glad that it’s keeping the character going.

HollywoodChicago.com: Also you have a new book out ‘The Road to Happiness* *Is Always Under Construction.’ What will potential readers be most surprised about, do you feel, regarding some of the revealing elements of your memoir?

Gray: I think they will be surprised that I was fairly revealing about the events of my life, but I’m 75 years old, and I look at my life differently at this point. So much is behind me, and I’m happy be alive and talk about that life in my book. I feel like I’m showing people a different way of looking at things.

When writing a book, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It started as just a memoir, but as the memories came through, the upswing at the end seemed just perfect. This is what happened to me, and this is what I can say to people who are in similar situations. The reviews so far have been wonderful, and I’m very happy about that.

HollywoodChicago.com: As a young bride in the pre-feminist era of 1962, what anticipation or expectations did you and your groom at the time have for the marriage as someone so young, and why do you think your evolution as a person got fundamentally in the way of those expectations?

Gray: We all have expectations, but they’re like a moveable feast. In my mind, of course there are expectations, but at the same time we can’t be expected to stick with the same ones over time. I feel as people evolve, in thoughts and desires, hopefully as a couple you change and move on, and individually become the people you’ve always wanted to be. That’s what can be exciting about a relationship.

We didn’t start out the marriage by saying we’d be married for 20 years, have two kids, and then get divorced. When you form a partnership in marriage, you want it to last. But when things get different, you do reevaluate. The greatest and most interesting people I know are reevaluating their lives all the time. There are two words in my book that I love – ‘Choose wisely.’ I had chose wisely with my first marriage. But at some point I didn’t feel supported, and I reevaluated, and moved on.

HollywoodChicago.com: The 1960s blossomed and flowered with a new attitude right around the time you were in a young marriage and raising children. Were you aware of the new consciousness, and did that contribute to your evolution?

Linda Gray
Linda Gray’s New Memoir
Photo credit: Regan Arts. Publishing

Gray: Well, I was having babies during that time, but I also loved the hippie movement, wore long dresses and put flowers in my hair. I never did drugs, though, I think I was one of the only people during the 1960s who didn’t. [laughs] It was long hair, flowers…and babies.

HollywoodChicago.com: Your striking beauty was a natural for the modeling world. What is the most difficult thing about marketing that beauty, that essential part of you, when you were first starting out in that world?

Gray: Again, I went into it with great expectations, but subconsciously I wanted to be an actor first. I was raised Catholic, and the acting profession wasn’t in the cards. For example, my parents probably thought it was one step below hooker. [laughs] The way I got around it was to start modeling. I wanted to also do commercials, but at the time the attitude was ‘models don’t talk.’ We’re suppose just to look pretty.

But I kept pursuing the acting, and the one thing I did learn was how to accept rejection. I began to realize that I was a product, and I learned not to take anything personally. The shell got a little harder, but at least the rejection stopped devastating me.

HollywoodChicago.com: What kind of power did the pursuit of the craft of acting give you personally? What lessons from those classes did you use throughout the rest of your career?

Gray: It gave me a sense of fulfillment. Whatever profession you think that you are, when it plants itself in your psyche, then it fulfills your passion. It’s the answer to the question, ‘why am I here’? What you do allows you to answer that question, and then it’s all about the path to get there. When I finally got to experience that passion, it was the feeling that was associated with getting into acting.

I didn’t know why I pursued it, nobody else in my family was an actor. I was an oddity, and I didn’t mind it, because I loved it. I felt like I was home when I was doing the training and work. It became my craft, and I felt a responsibility to do it well. That’s how it was.

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