Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website.
TV fans the world over mourned the passing of Larry Hagman, who succumbed after a long, hard-fought battle against cancer on Friday, November 23rd. Rarely does an actor get to create an iconic role in his or her career, whether in television or film, but Larry created two. From 1965 to 1970, he played the nice guy, easygoing Major Tony Nelson on the beloved sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. Then from 1978 to 1991, he did a complete about-face and gained TV immortality as the nasty oil baron John Ross (J.R.) Ewing on the soap opera Dallas. Both of these diverse roles made Larry popular with millions of TV fans around the globe.
Although he garnered his greatest fame from television, Larry also had a distinguished career in movies. His film resume includes Fail Safe (1964), Harry and Tonto (1974), Superman (1978), JFK (1991), Nixon (1995), and Primary Colors (1998). Here are a few facts you may not have known about one of TV's all-time greats, Larry Hagman.
* He was the original anti-smoking crusader. Long before it became fashionable to campaign against cigarettes, Larry was a staunch crusader against the evils of smoking. As a teenager, a girl offered Larry a feel of her breast if he's smoke a cigarette. Being a guy, Larry couldn't resist her offer, but he hated the experience of smoking and never smoked another cigarette for the rest of his life. He was to become a virulent anti-smoking advocate and was the chairman of the American Cancer Society's "Great American Smoke-Out."
* He had eclectic tastes. Larry lived life to the fullest. His many hobbies included collecting canes, hats, and flags. He was a devout art collector and also loved motorcycles, especially his beloved Harley. He also enjoyed skiing, fishing, sailing, backpacking, and touring around in his custom-designed motor home. In one of Hollywood's longest-ever marriages, Larry and his wife of 58 years, Maj, lived in a home in Ojai, California, which they called "Heaven."
* He was in the Air Force before he became Major Nelson. Yes, everyone knew him as Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie, but Larry had actually served four years in the U.S. Air Force (1952-1956). He spent most of his time in the service stationed in England, staging, performing in, and directing shows for his fellow servicemen.
* He refused to speak one day a week. Larry had to yell too much while filming an episode of I Dream of Jeannie in the '60s and thereafter would always take one day a week off from speaking and go completely silent for a 24-hour period -for the remainder of his life.
* The ladies always liked Larry. While serving in England in the '50s, Larry dated a sexy young actress named Joan Collins. Thirty years later, in the 1980s, while Larry was the biggest star on TV as J.R. on Dallas, Joan Collins was to reign as TV's top female star as Alexis Carrington on another weekly nighttime soap opera, Dynasty.
* He loved parades. Larry loved to stage parades near his home on Malibu Beach. He loved to parade wearing different hats from his collection. Larry also sometimes enjoyed walking around the beach in a gorilla suit.
* He made requests of autograph seekers. Like any celebrity, Larry was often asked for autographs by his fans. But unlike other stars, Larry would always ask the person to either sing him a song or tell him a joke in exchange of this signature. He explained that he was "getting something back" from the autograph seekers. He eventually stopped the joke-telling custom because his fans kept telling dirty jokes.
* He once offered to pay for Robert Downey Jr.'s drug rehab bill. In 1996, Robert Downey, Jr. asked to borrow $100,000 from Larry. Instead, Larry offered to pick up the tab for Downey's drug rehab program.
* He was also a director. Universally known as an actor, Larry was also a TV and film director. He directed two episodes of I Dream of Jeannie as well as 32 episodes of Dallas. In 1972, he made his film directorial debut with the low-budget horror flick Beware! the Blob. He jokingly would refer to the films as "the film that J.R. shot."
* J.R. was close friends with Archie Bunker. One of Larry's closest friend in real life was Carroll O'Conner, TV's Archie Bunker of All in the Family. Larry Spoke at O'Connell's funeral on June 26, 2001.
* Good Choice. In 1978, Larry was offered two TV series, one being Dallas, a nighttime soap opera. The other was a new sitcom called The Waverly Wonders. Luckily for Larry, he opted for the former. Dallas was to run for 13 seasons and became of one TV's most popular series ever, while The Waverly Wonders faded into TV oblivion after a few short weeks.
* He holds the record for "greatest number of consecutive appearances by a leading actor in an hour-long prime time dramatic series." Larry was the only cast member to appear in all 357 episodes of Dallas during its 13-year run.
* When asked about I Dream of Jeannie, Larry would always respond with his three pat answers. He said, "I always get asked the same three questions about I Dream of Jeannie, and the answers are:
1. Yes, Barbara Eden was as beautiful in real life as she was on the show.
2. No, she never showed her belly button on the show.
3. No, we didn't."
(Larry called his I Dream of Jeannie co-star Barbara Eden "the most beautiful girl in the world."
Recently I discovered that Miss Eden had written her autobiography. The pages she wrote on Larry Hagman were the most interesting. It somehow reinforced that fact that Hagman had his moments, but Barbara never seemed to take it in stride.
Now, after reading Eddie's interesting article, I am introduced to the side of Larry Hagman that I never know. A warm, compassionate man that somehow I never connected with him. Thanks Eddie for painting a truer and more well-rounded image of Larry Hagman. I want to go back and watch those Jeannie episodes again - with a different perspective (thanks to Eddie and his article!)