Dallas premiered April 2, 1978, and from the beginning it had a lot of ingredients of a soap, but amidst the mistresses, the backstabbing and the shady deals there was a fascinating story about two brothers, Bobby and J.R., one the favourite son and the other always striving to become just that.
“Bobby James Ewing, I don’t believe you!” This is the first piece of dialog in Dallas, premiering exactly 40 years ago today, April 2 1978. Digger’s Daughter was the name of the first episode of the total five of the mini-serie, and it is Digger’s daughter herself, Pamela Barnes Ewing, that speaks the words. She is convinced that her new husband is as nervous as she is to come to Southfork, daughter as she is to her father-in-laws arch enemy, the drunken looser Digger Barnes.
For J.R. everything was about making his daddy proud of him, making him love J.R. as much as he loves Bobby. To have his daddy’s approval and praise is his driving force
I remember reading articles, maybe from an earlier jubilee, where the story is described in terms of sex, intrigues, deceptions and blackmail. It’s not the first time I see a drama series of the soap kind to be described like this, but I’m still astounded. That is of course not the story, it’s ingredient of the storytelling and yes, Dallas is filled with these ingredients, but it is not what the Ewing story is about.
What story was it the creator of Dallas, David Jacobs wanted to tell us? Well he tells us about the struggles and successes of a rich Texas family with one leg in the oil business and the other in old traditional Texas ranching. Jock Ewing (Jim Davis) had created a successful independent oil company, Ewing Oil, while his wife Ellie brought the ranch Southfork with her into the marriage.
Dallas also tells the tale of the difficulties for Bobby and new wife Pam to make the marriage accepted by their families. She also has her brother, Cliff, who is against the marital union. This Romeo and Juliette-story was supposed to be the original idea. The love between them is strong but their loyalties are tested over an over again when their families are making efforts to break them up. But it is not long before another tale is taking form in the midst of mistresses, miscarriages, the drinking and the shady deals, and that is the one about the two brothers, Bobby and J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman).
J.R. is the oldest brother who got to manage of the family business. Bobby is the younger who earlier lived kind of a carefree life, but after he got married decided to get involved in the company leadership. Again I have read strange things about J.R. being the strong brother, the industrious, the pushy while Bobby is the decent, but weak and wussy. I wonder if we have watched the same 357 episodes because to me it is crystal clear that it is J.R. who is the weak of the brothers and Bobby who is the strong.
Bobby has always lived with the advantage of being his dad’s favourite son and J.R. has known about this since his little brother was born. For J.R. everything was about making his daddy proud of him, making him love J.R. as much as he loves Bobby. To have his daddy’s approval and praise is his driving force, his incentive to do anything. That is why he is managing Ewing Oil, that is why he is doing anything to make it successful and that is why he does not want his little brothers competition. J.R. may have the world’s best self confidence, but his self esteem is just not in as good a shape and the constant drive to win his father’s love is his Achilles’ heel. This makes him weak.
Bobby was good at business and also has good self-esteem. He did not strive for approval or acknowledgement, he did things for himself. This made him strong.
No one took Jock’s disappearance and later death harder than J.R. Because without his father, who was he? What was the meaning with everything he did if Jock was not there to show it for? It was the son, John Ross Ewing III who got J.R. out of his grief and depression. He realised the son was who he should do things for instead. Suddenly everything he did was for his son instead, to be able to leave a great, successful Ewing Oil to him the one day he himself would check out.
It turned out that little brother was great at managing Ewing Oil and whenever there was a competition of sort Bobby always won, also the most important one when the brothers fight over the company according to Jock’s will. Earlier, when J.R. was shot and Bobby takes over the leadership, he manages to save the company after J.R.’s extensive deals with asian oil leases. J.R. also hoped that Bobby would fail after having signed a deal with the Cartel that he did not have the capital for, but Bobby manages to fix the deal with a clean conscience. How J.R. suffers when Jock praises Bobby for the refinery he as acquired and making sure they are still on good terms with the Cartel. ”I’m proud of him. Ewing Oil stands for something. He’s a hell of a son, a hell of a man.” Oh, if only Jock just once could be disappointed in Bobby!
Bobby brought himself out of the hole he was on without losing his honor, but decides it’s time to give back the chair to J.R.. ”I can understand how J.R. justify some of the things he does, It’s for the good of Ewing oil. I was borrowing from Pete to pay Paul. Pretending it was for the right reason. You can only lie to yourself for so long. Pretend that it’s all right for Ewing Oil. But it wasn’t right for me.” So he is righteous, but more so, a man that stands steadily on his feet, a man that has principles that he lives by and this makes him strong. Bobby was good at business and also has good self-esteem. He did not strive for approval or acknowledgement, he did things for himself. Of course he wanted to show Jock and J.R. that he could do it, but more so he wanted to prove it to himself.
J.R. and Bobby had a continued complicated relationship. Everything was a competition with J.R. but if another enemy turned on the Ewings the brothers would always stand together, also against Cliff Barnes even if the tore Bobby apart. There was a love and a loyalty between the brothers even if J.R. tested it so many times and continued to make trouble in Pam’s life trying to make them give up on their marriage.
Bobby and Pam and their love story was a perfect example for how it is possible to make excellent entertainment out of marital drama.
In episode 300 there is long, great scene with Bobby and J.R. where they kind of summarise their whole history. Bobby is in charge of Ewing Oil again, together wth Cliff Barnes, and J.R. is there at Bobby’s mercy and is no way allowed to deal with oil. Of course J.R. can’t stop himself when he stumbles on something interesting and when Bobby finds out, he is mad and decides to throw J.R. out of the company. He has had enough of the lying. When they leave the office at night they get stuck in the elevator, the power has been turned off, and they get to spend the night together in that little space. Luckily Bobby got a box of wine from Ray, now living Paris.
J.R. does everything to convince Bobby to let him stay in the company, he really begs, but Bobby is tough as nails. For J.R. it is not only to be in the oil business, he doesn’t want to start his own business, it has to be Ewing Oil. Family is important to J.R. and he tries to make Bobby see it is also his fault. But Bobby laughs: ”Your logic is as twisted as your morals. It’s my company, I run it and you’re out!”
Then J.R. is reminiscing about when Bobby got married to Pam and wanted to work full time in the family business.: ”I taught you everything you know.” But Bobby won’t fall for it: ”You did teach me not to trust you and that it’s the head of the company who makes the decisions.”
“I had goals”, J.R. counters back, “goals that were drummed into me [by Jock]. It had to be the biggest and the best. Nothing came before Ewing Oil.”
Bobby even refuses to let J.R. taste the wine and they start bargaining, 500 dollars for the wine, 1000 for the corkscrew. J.R. is laughing, ”you’re a lot more like me than I realised”, before he gets serious again: ”You were his favourite from the day you were born and it was my company until he let you come en run it with me. Everything I did was for my daddy.”
And sure, maybe Bobby is a bit weak, maybe he gets where J.R. is coming from and the brotherhood wins. J.R. can become so incredibly pitiful and Bobby does give him another chance in the end when he realising there is a great deal to be had and another enemy to fight together (Carter McKay). And for once J.R. did not seem manipulative, just truly honest: ”You made me the happiest man in the world!” Ewing Oil was always more important then any woman.
For Bobby it was different. He was torn between work and marriage, Ewing Oil and Pam, and in relation to this I really would like to mention how Bobby and Pam and their love story was a perfect example for how it is possible to make excellent entertainment out of marital drama. So many shows stay away from letting couples be together, because what story should you tell them men romance and love stories can not be built around flirtations and sexual innuendo? In Dallas it was the opposite, they had no idea of what to do when the couples were not together. Everybody remarried each other. Bobby and Pam stayed married for six year before they felt the need to separate them (by letting Bobby for once be fooled by J.R.). There divorce lasted for two years only, before they rewed. J.R. and Sue Ellens divorce lasted only one year, before they remarried and later re-divorced. Also Lucy remarried and re-divorce her doctor-husband Mitch.
Ok, so perhaps a bit too much belief in a second time around, but still through Bobby and Pam, Dallas made it clear it is possible to let the main ship stay married and make it dramatic and entertaining. For Bobby and Pam it did not all revolve around the family feuds, but also about miscarriages, depression and about having time for each other, about wanting, have time for and make the effort to have sex, which maybe was a subject not explored much at that point. Pam also had scars from her childhood, being left by her mother and growing up with an alcoholic father full of bitterness. These were scars not shared by Bobby, loved and cherished as he always had been and it had impact on their marriage and relationship.
J.R. and Sue Ellen’s relationship was different, very complicated and definitely as interesting. He loved her but at the same time hated her for being weak. She drank to forget her boring life with a manipulative husband. She felt unwanted and her very bad self-esteem stopped her for a long time to do something to straighten out her life. Both Pam and Sue Ellen disappeared and so did another pair of wives. But the love between the brothers remained. And J.R. did love his little brother. ”You are still my brother and I’m proud of you. And I love you”, as he told Bobby straight from his heart there in the elevator at the end.
Note! All pictures are screenshots from DVD. Material owned by Warner Brothers.