Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Dance Party: Peter Pan's My Mother

The 1960s sitcom landscape was littered with the supernatural. On the top of the heap sat Samantha, the gorgeous witch, but we also had occultish families such as the Addams and the Munsters, as well as a Martian Uncle Martin and a Ghost romancing Mrs Muir. For a short while, we had a beautiful robot, a Living Doll if you will, learning to be human, and even a Mother reincarnated as a Car. The most provocative of them all was the studly astronaut who discovered a nubile genie on a deserted island, and took her home to call him "Master." We lost Major Nelson this week.
Once again, this week's Dance Party is inspired by the Grim Reaper, who must have felt cheated years ago when our hero's life was saved by a liver transplant.  Death exacted his payment this week.
Larry Hagman
One of the most recognizable television celebrities of his generation, Hagman will forever be remembered for his portrayal of silkily smooth good ol' boy villain J.R. Ewing. 
Those battling Ewings, JR and Sue Ellen,
were the poster couple for corrupt

Beginning in 1977, heading a large cast of good-looking ne'er-do-wells, Hagman's central performance propelled Dallas to the top of the ratings, and ushered in the first renaissance of soap opera in prime time since Peyton Place left the airways in the late 1960s.
Dallas's success ignited more than a decade of its type of prime time soap, in which an extended family of wealthy schemers grasped for love, sex, and more wealth.
Falcon Crest, Dynasty, Dynasty's spinoff The Colbys, and Dallas's own spinoff Knots Landing (which rivalled Dallas in longevity) all followed a formula which included a character with similar characteristics as J.R., but Hagman's portrayal was preeminent. 

This year's Dallas reboot had some success and there are plans to continue. The "dreaming"tagline satirizes Season 7 of the original series, which was labeled a dream when Patrick Duffy, who had left the show, wished to return.
When, after three seasons, our hero entered tough contract negotiations, the "Who Shot J.R?" episodes were concocted, as a way to write out the show's most colorful character.  Larry won all his contractual demands, and remained with the show; he was the only actor to appear in all 357 episodes.
Dallas sometimes had more drama off-screen than on-.  The illness of Barbara Bel Geddes forced a recast. Hagman attempted to enlist his mother to play the Ewing matriarch, but the role went to Donna Reed.  When Bel Geddes unexpectedly returned the following season, Reed sued, and was awarded a million dollars to walk away from the show.
Censors watched I Dream of Jeannie
closely. A sexy, unmarried couple living
together (with one in a bikini top) belied
the show's cleancut image.

I was not a fan of the lavish prime time soaps, so I best remember Hagman as the baffled astronaut from his earlier TV hit, I Dream of Jeannie.  His comic reactions were responsible for most of the laughs in the series (Dick York held the same position on Bewitched), and Larry proved himself to be a nimble physical comedian. 

Considering his parentage, Larry spent only a bit of his career on the stage, notably appearing in the chorus of South Pacific when his mother, Mary Martin, took the hit to London.  This week's clip does not, I hope, illustrate his true musical talent, because he's lousy in it. 
Hagman had no business playing the male lead in a major
musical, but he was a big TV star, so he took the role
created by Len Cariou on the stage.

I own a bootleg copy of another of Hagman's appearances in a musical, the TV adaptation of Applause, and he's pretty lousy in that one, too. (Go here for the Dance Party which features Lauren Bacall's visit to a gay bar in that production.)  It's lucky, then, that Larry found episodic television, which was the source of his biggest success.
The 1973 TV version of Applause preserves the Broadway performances of Lauren Bacall and Penny Fuller. Larry Hagman was added to the cast to provide some TV star power.
Larry appears in only the first few moments of this week's Dance Party;  the rest of the clip is taken by his mother. 
Hagman's famous 1980 Malibu party for the Dallas cast
included his mother, as well as actress Linda Gray,
who was at Larry's side this week when he died.

Mary Martin is probably my least favorite of the old Broadway Grande Dames, and this clip does not change my mind.  She's clearly in her "legendary" mode, as the voice (which I always found wobbly) is weak, and she relied heavily on the perkiness factor.  But it's kind of fun to see Martin and her son together, so in honor of Larry Hagman's death this week, enjoy: