Saturday, November 24, 2012

He Goes Out On Top

Successful actors often get locked into roles that mimic the iconic characters that make them famous.  We see so much of that part that we forget they can play other roles too.  Humphrey Bogart is a good example.  He is the tough guy with a heart, the fighter that claims to ignore the fight but in the end he leads the fight, like his Rick Blain character in Casablanca or Harry Morgan in To Have and Have Not.  Then we see him later in his career as the delusional, broken down Lt. Cmdr. Queeg in The Caine Mutiny, who does not become a hero at the end; or the cynical drunk Charlie Allnut in African Queen, who does.
Larry Hagman died this week. I do not believe he is in the same league as Bogart, but in some ways he follows a similar pattern. His most iconic role is oil man J. R. Ewing in the 1980 television series Dallas. He a ruthless stealer, cheater, liar business tycoon who cares about himself first, his family name second, and not much else, yet he is charming and we sort of love him as viewers. Ironically, he is also known for another somewhat iconic role as Captain Tony Nelson in the 1960s television series I Dream of Jeanie. In that part, he is a somewhat bumbling astronaut who finds a genie in a bottle. The roles are both well-known and define his career, yet the characters are polar opposites. He also played in television, movie and stage comedies and dramas but those two are his best-known roles.

Who is the real Larry Hagman? Apparently he was a nice man, a fun guy on screen and off, who says J. R. was his favorite character. He was born near Dallas (in Ft. Worth) and was the son of actress Mary Martin (of Peter Pan movie fame). He has been married to the same woman for 59 years. He spent much of his life in California but had moved back to Dallas for the TNT network remake of the TV series last summer. I have to admit that I watched the original show quite a bit, partly because I lived in Dallas for a few years. I watched the first hour of the new series, mostly to see J.R.

He died at age 81 from complications related to cancer. He was a heavy drinker at one point and eventually had a liver transplant. The cancer was related to heavy smoking and he later became an advocate for quitting.

He stayed busy in the years after the Dallas series ended and played supporting characters in movies like Oliver Stone’s Nixon, but his final act was in the role he loved the most.

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