By Nancy Ford –
When I was a kid, I was a Beatlemaniac. I had their music, pointy black ankle boots, records, hair — all of it. I loved them, yeah, yeah, yeah. As I grew to adulthood, my love and fanatical fandom matured into affinity to their politics and respect for their artistic genius. I left behind my Beatles flash cards and 45s (oh, I wish I had them now) and moved on with my life, never expecting to experience that level of star struck-edness again.
All that changed 14 years later in 1978. Oh, I still loved The Beatles. But that year, Dallas debuted on CBS. And I was a goner.
You remember Dallas. It’s the TV saga of the Ewing family, a big, rich, dysfunctional cult soaked in oil and bravado. They all lived together on Southfork like a cult family, unable and (mostly) unwilling to leave the family grounds and/or the daily Ewing breakfast buffet.
Lord, I was crazy about Sue Ellen, played by the timeless Linda Gray. Poor, emotionally abused, former Miss Texas, alcoholic, misunderstood, social butterfly, insecure, weak, beautiful, cheating- and cheated-upon Sue Ellen. Watching Sue Ellen sink to the depths of despair yet unfailingly rise like a foxy phoenix became my Friday night obsession. J.R. might fail her and abandon her but I never would.
The earliest seasons of Dallas were set in the real-life period of the oil boom that hit Texas in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. The prosperity and opulence we saw on our TV screens prompted droves of Rust Belt Yankees to relocate to the Lone Star State — me, among them.
So last month when Visit Dallas, the city’s convention and tourism bureau, announced a star-studded weekend-long celebration of Dallas, the show’s 40th anniversary, I was in. Oh, I was so in.
We loaded beers and boots into the white pick-up truck (just like Ray Krebbs’s!) and headed north up I-45 ‘til we got to Parker, Texas, home to Southfork Ranch. As we pulled in and headed down that long lane to the white-pillared mansion of my adopted family, she pressed play on the pre-selected download of the so-familiar Dallas theme song. Goosebumps!
We walked the grounds of the ranch and gawked in the museum. We saw artifacts like original scripts, Lucy’s whipped cream-like wedding dress and the gun (well, one of them) that shot J.R. People liked to shoot J.R. We toured the Ewing mansion itself, sitting on the patio under the yellow and white awnings, sipping our bourbon and branch as the full moon rose. We fought the urge to push each other in the pool.
Then we got in line to meet that other Fab Four: Steve Kanaly (Ray), Charlene Tilton (Lucy), Patrick Ewing (Bobby) and — yes! — my Sue Ellen. It feels stupid to admit it, but I got a little dizzy as the line snaked closer and closer to the stage where they had been seated for four hours, shaking hands, posing for pictures, indulging slobbering fans like me.
As we stepped on the riser to join their line-up for our picture, everything went blurry. I felt Sue Ellen pull me close to her. She draped her arm around me and flashed her intoxicating Miss Texas smile as the camera flashed.
Oh, Sue Ellen, I said, returning her embrace. I moved to Texas to be closer to you, you know. If only you had been a lesbian, you could have avoided all that heartbreak that J.R. subjected you to. If only you could have loved me the way I loved you. I would have swept you away in my blue 1979 Ford Futura with the vinyl top and we could have lived happily ever after, listening to Beatles mix tapes on the cassette player. Sure, we might have been poor, but we could have lived on our love.
OK, no, I didn’t really say any of that. I didn’t pat Lucy on the top of her head and tell her she’d grown up to be a lovely woman. I didn’t tell Ray that J.R. was lucky to have him as even a half-brother. And I didn’t tell Bobby that I wanted to take a shower with him. I politely shook their hands and blathered something lame like, “thank you for giving us so much joy for all those years.”
But, oh, I wanted to tell Sue Ellen that escaping into Dallas every Friday night all those years ago helped me escape my closet in Ohio and embrace a grand Ewing-esque, Texas-sized adventure. I wanted to tell her that, somehow, the strength that Sue Ellen displayed as she faced her trials and tribulations helped me face my own.
But I did manage to also put enough words together to tell Sue Ellen — and Linda Gray — that I love her. Yeah, yeah, yeah.