TV

Forty years ago, 'Dallas' became a TV sensation. Here, 'Pam Ewing' takes a fond look back

The cast of "Dallas" when it premiered in 1978. From left, Steve Kanaly, Linda Gray, Charlene Tilton, Larry Hagman, Jim Davis, Barbara Bel Geddes, Victoria Principal and Patrick Duffy.
The cast of "Dallas" when it premiered in 1978. From left, Steve Kanaly, Linda Gray, Charlene Tilton, Larry Hagman, Jim Davis, Barbara Bel Geddes, Victoria Principal and Patrick Duffy.

Victoria Principal, aka Pamela Barnes Ewing, of the iconic prime-time soap Dallas, hasn’t stepped foot in North Texas in more than a decade.

But her last visit was one she will never forget.

“I haven’t been back since 2004,” the actress-turned-business mogul says. “That time, it was for a CBS reunion special. The cast members all got together at Southfork to reminisce about the show.

“As we drove in from the airport and I saw the buildings that had remained in my memory, I actually started crying. There were new buildings, too, but there was no mistaking that skyline.

“I didn’t expect to be filled with so much emotion. It overwhelmed me in the best way possible.”

There’s just something about Dallas, the city, and Dallas, the TV series, that stays in our hearts forever, Principal says.

Forty years ago on April 2, 1978, the long-running series made its debut.

Viewers who tuned in were introduced to the Ewing family — and its friends and foes. It was a crazy cocktail of Texas-based characters that craved power, money and sex, with J.R. Ewing, a Machiavellian business tycoon played by Larry Hagman, pulling most of the strings.

The group also included the Romeo and Juliet of North Texas, Bobby and Pam Ewing (Patrick Duffy and Principal); J.R.’s booze-soaked bride, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray); saucy little Lucy (Charlene Tilton); rough-around-the-edges patriarch Jock (Jim Davis); his regal wife, Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes); in-over-his-head ranch foreman Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly); and J.R.’s archrival Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval).

With this bunch, some kind of trouble was always brewing on the Southfork Ranch.

And viewers couldn’t get enough of it. During a 14-season run on CBS (1978-1991), Dallas was the top-rated show of the year three times (and No. 2 two additional seasons). There also were two reunion movies (1996 and 1998) and TNT’s continuation series, which ran three seasons (2012-2014).

Principal has hundreds of memorable stories about her years playing Pam, but the best of them all might be the one about how she landed the defining role of her career.

“I fought very hard for the role of Pam,” she says. “I read the script before it had been sent out to other actresses, because I had been an agent for a number of years. I had taken a leave of absence and was getting ready to start law school when a friend dropped off the script.

“Attached was a note that said, ‘Read this. Pamela Barnes Ewing is you.’ So I read it and I, too, felt that Pamela was me. So I called the casting director, who did not know I was no longer an agent, and said I wanted to bring an actress in. She asked who and I said, ‘It’s going to be a surprise. Just put down my name.’

“So I was the first actress that (producer) Leonard Katzman and the writers met for Pam. That was in late 1977. Finally I got the part and started filming in 1978.”

All these years later, Principal, who now runs a lucrative skin-care line, Principal Secret, can’t get over the impact that Dallas had on viewers.

To this day, when fans meet the actress, they feel compelled to tell her what the show meant — and still means – to them.

“What a gift to have been part of it,” Principal says. “And it’s a gift that keeps on giving. The show became part of the tapestry of their lives.

“They remember 'Dallas,' they cherish 'Dallas' and they still want to celebrate 'Dallas.' It’s so extraordinary.”

'Dallas' 40th Year Reunion

Where: Southfork, the legendary Parker, Texas, ranch home that was the site of many Ewing family showdowns.

When: The festivities begin Friday, March 30, during a fan party and cast meet-and-greet event at Southfork Ranch with Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray, Charlene Tilton and Steve Kanaly. Principal will not be in attendance. 4-8 p.m.,3700 Hogge Dr, Parker. Come dressed as your favorite Ewing for a chance to win fabulous prizes.

On Saturday, March 31, there will be a party at Longhorn Ballroom in downtown Dallas, the filming location for many of the show’s original bar scenes. The evening includes entertainment by country artist Neal McCoy and interviews with the cast. 6-10 p.m.,216 Corinth Street Road, Dallas

Details and tickets: Dallas Fan Parties are $125 per person; for more information, go to www.dallas40.com.

The ranch has been featured in films like "The Sons of Katie Elder" and the "Lonesome Dove" TV miniseries.

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