BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Linda Gray may be at home in “Dallas,” but at heart she’s a vagabond. After the original hit series ended in 1991, Gray was invited to be a goodwill ambassador for the U.N.
It changed her life. “What it exposed me to was developing countries, but not the nice parts,” she says, leaning her elbow on the back of a white canvas couch in a hotel room.
“Not the parts a travel agent would send you to. I was going to villages of 800 people and hanging out — Nicaragua, Rajasthan — but once you’ve experienced that and you get to sit with humanity one-to-one, I sat in their little homes that were as big as that chest over there,” she points to a bureau across the room.
“I sat and talked with them. I was finding out about women’s and children’s health issues. It was amazing, amazing, amazing. So I spent 10 years doing that,” says Gray, who’s dressed in black pants and top with a chiffon overlay.
“I think I was born a curious person,” she says. “So I do things that I’m curious about. And it’s like, ‘I wonder what that would be like to do that?’ I’m not jumping out of an airplane because I think that’s CRAZY ... I love life and I can chew it up and assimilate it and digest it. I want to know about this, and how does that work, and how does that feel and what does it taste like? I have a very visceral attachment to life. So I want to know the smells and the chatter in the street in Morocco. I’ve never been to Morocco. I have this hunger for different cultures.”
Even so, she is thrilled to be back as the savvy Sue Ellen, J.R.’s ex-wife on TNT’s extension of the original primetime soap. “It was like, ‘OK, at 71 years old to be offered a series is rare in our industry anyway.’ And so I felt honored. I thought, ‘Isn’t that lovely to be invited back.’ Most women now at 35-40, they’re considered ‘ehhhh,’” she flips her thumb in the air.
“‘Let’s focus on the young people.’ So I thought, ‘I think the matriarchal system is coming in to be, and I feel that the people maybe unconsciously, consciously — I don’t know — but I feel there is an honoring of the matriarch that is seeping into our culture that didn’t seep in before. So I felt, ‘OK, why not be one of those matriarchs instead of just seeing yet again the masculine guys out there?’ ... I thought, ‘I have a choice and I’m blessed. I have a choice to make on this series coming back. And I felt it was perfect female timing.”
After all these years Gray reveals the price she paid for playing the younger Sue Ellen to throngs of fans.
“Every weekend for six months in a row, when the show hit its peak, someone was out at my house photographing me for some German, French or Italian magazine. I was like, ‘This has taken over my life. I don’t have a life.’ The kids resented it and everybody would go out to dinner and people would come over for autographs. And I thought, ‘This isn’t what I signed on to do.’ I’m acting, yes, but I didn’t know the enormity of what I’d signed on for ... I thought, ‘I’m ruining my family and this is not healthy.’”
She still bore the responsibility of homemaking, she says. She was up at 4 a.m., frantically putting dinner into a crock pot before she left for a long day’s shoot.
“I was just kind of going along, this is part of the job and trying to fit it all in. And I couldn’t do it,” she sighs.
“I tried really hard, but it didn’t always work. As a woman it was challenging because Larry (Hagman) and Patrick (Duffy) had wives. They went home, they had dinner and could spend some time with their wives and their children and then they’d go to bed and their wives had their breakfast for them. I had to do everything myself. As a woman, that’s what we do ... Then you realize as you mature how important time is and who you spend it with, what you do with that time. . . So you have to go deep and say, ‘What’s it all about, Alfie?’ You have to reposition your priorities.”
She didn’t quit her job, she quit her marriage. “And that was a huge, huge, huge thing,” she shakes her head.
“But it wasn’t supportive, so I had to make a big decision. It was challenging because my husband has since passed, and I bless him for all the years he was there for me, but at a certain point, it wasn’t loving and supportive anymore. And so I had to make a decision, a hard one because the kids were teenagers. That’s when they need you. It wasn’t that I wasn’t there for them, I was. But they needed a family unit. Then of course, the guilt comes in,” she says. “It’s worked out fine but still going through it was not an easy time for me.”
Would she marry again? Grinning, she says, “Maybe I would. I don’t know because the interesting thing is, I love my freedom. Now that we’re picked up I have to be in Dallas again to live. If you’re in a relationship, what do you do? What I found when I was there, I was tired on weekends. I said, ‘I have to maybe go to bed early, take a bath, or have an apple for dinner.’ If you’re in a relationship and have to lovingly compromise — which you do in any relationship — I thought this is hard to bring someone into this kind of world if they don’t understand it.”
Starting July 31, PBS will revisit Ken Burns’ marvelous seven-part documentary on World War II, “The War.” This is a unique look at the conflict through the families who fought it both on the front and back home.
“We believe it is possible at moments to get a sense of what actually happened in that war,” says Burns. “Not the good war of our imagination and subsequent public relations and sentimentality, but the worst war ever, responsible for the deaths of nearly 60 million human beings, what it was like to be in battle and, for some, to work and worry and wait and grieve back home.
“Undistracted by a focus on generals and politicians, strategy and tactics, armaments and weaponry, and instead focus on how these so-called ordinary people remind us nearly every moment of the great promise often deferred, denied and delayed of our country; that is, that there are no ordinary people.”
Starz is conjuring a new take on the old vampire theme with its upcoming series “Vlad Dracula.” Masters of this brew are Rob Tapert (“Zena: Warrior Princes”), J. Michael Straczynski (“Bablylon 5” ) and Roy Lee (“The Strangers”). The show will trace Dracula’s devolution from respected leader to the walking dead. No cast has been announced yet ... Jeff Estin, creator and executive producer of “White Collar,” is going underground for his new show for USA. “Graceland” will star Daniel Sunjata as an FBI agent who’s bivouacking with undercover agents from the DEA and U.S. Customs in a Southern California beach house.
On July 24, Mill Creek Entertainment will release seven collections of the “100 greatest” genre movies under separate categories. The 100 Greatest Family Classics, for instance, includes films like “A Star is Born,” “The Little Princess,” “The Big Trees,” “Royal Wedding.” The horror classics will offer “Phantom of the Opera,” “Night of the Living Dead,” “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and my favorite, “The Brain that Wouldn’t Die.”
The 100 greatest Western choices include “McLintock,” “The Outlaw,” “Angel and the Badman,” “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and many more. Just the thing to haul you out of the summer doldrums. Price for each set is $45.