Saturday, November 24, 2012

Larry Hagman: Farewell to my Friday night babysitter

Now that's sophistication: A musical J.R. Ewing whiskey decanter

J.R. makes MAD's cover
If you're an American born during a certain stretch of the 20th Century, there's a good chance that Larry Hagman was part of your life. He certainly was part of mine. Oh, sure, I Dream of Jeannie was one of those syndication staples I'd watch whenever I was home sick (or "sick") from school, but I preferred The Beverly Hillbillies, The Munsters, Gilligan's Island, and Mr. Ed. Even in the "normal guy with magic wife" category, Jeannie was second to Bewitched. As true TV junkies know, the real Hagman action occurred on Friday nights. My parents used to go out to eat pretty much every Friday night and leave me and my sister at home with a babysitter until we were old enough to look after ourselves for a few hours. Either way, in the early-to-mid 1980s, our television set -- like those of many Americans -- was tuned to CBS at that time every week. That was when the Tiffany Network aired its one-two punch of The Dukes of Hazard and Dallas, those totally-accurate-I'm-sure depictions of Southern life. Dukes was definitely pitched at a child's level. I may not have understood what "marijuana" or "moonshine" were when I was a kid, but I knew it was bad if Roscoe or Boss Hogg would plant either one of those items in the General Lee. And, besides, good old Waylon Jennings was always there to explain everything that was happening, had happened, and was about to happen in each episode. Dallas, on the other hand, was all but entirely beyond my ken. What did I know about power struggles in the cutthroat oil industry, let alone infidelity or alcoholism? Not too damned much, that's what. But I tuned in every week anyway. Maybe it was Jerrold Immel's majestic theme song or all those shots of shiny, mirror-like skyscrapers in the opening credits which drew me in. But what kept me watching, more than any other factor, was Larry Hagman's performance as that grinning, glad-handing rascal, J.R. Ewing. Hagman's character was obviously having a ball being as greedy and selfish as he possibly could be, and that's something even a kid could understand. Come to think of it, I probably liked Boss Hogg every bit as well as, if not more than, those pesky Duke boys.

The precioussssss.....

One further J.R. Ewing memory: every Christmas Eve, my father would take me around to various delis and bakeries in the Flint area to pick up supplies for our traditional holiday meal. He'd always stop by the comic book store and let me pick out a few oldies from the racks. Being a budding "comedy nerd," I immediately headed for the back issues of MAD from the 1970s and 1980s so I could fawn over the artwork of Mort Drucker, Sergio Aragones, Angelo Torres, Sam Viviano and more. On one of those trips, I picked up MAD #223 (June '81) with a Viviano caricature of Hagman on the cover and a five-page, Drucker-illustrated Dallas parody called "Dull-Us" inside. I still have that issue today. On another one of those Christmas Eves, my dad and I stopped at a deli which was selling a particular trinket whose very existence boggled my still-developing mind: a J.R. Ewing whiskey decanter which played the Dallas theme song from its base. A quick Google search reveals that this particular decanter, the only officially-sanctioned Dallas product of its type, remains a popular Ebay item. If you haven't decided what to get me for Christmas 2012 and you have an extra $120 laying around, you could do worse.

No comments:

Post a Comment