No money cliffhangers for ‘Sue Ellen’ [classic article]

Linda Gray is best known for her portrayal of Sue Ellen Ewing in the legendary TV show “Dallas.” The role brought her international fame and critical acclaim, earning her an Emmy nomination for best actress, Germany’s Bambi Award (which is equivalent to the United States Academy Award), Italy’s Il Gato for Best Actress on television, and she was voted “Woman of The Year” from the Hollywood and Radio Television Society.

Linda Gray showed American women, and now women around the globe, that they didn’t have to be 23 and blonde to be considered desirable and worth having weekly fights over. When Sue Ellen Ewing’s conniving tycoon husband, played by Larry Hagman, was shot in the summer cliffhanger, “Who Shot J.R.?,” it set a record for the number of viewers worldwide. The phrase itself became a water-cooler favorite. Queen Elizabeth even requested an overnighted copy of the episode flown to Buckingham Palace and made a family party out of watching.

“Dallas,” which aired from 1978 to 1989, remains in syndication around the world.

Gray began her professional acting career on “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and soon after that Norman Lear cast her in the comedy series “All That Glitters.” Linda’s television credits include “Lovejoy” with Ian McShane, “Haywire” with Jason Robards, “The Two Worlds of Jennie Logan,” “Not in Front of the Children” with John Lithgow, “The Wild and the Free,” “Murder in Peyton Place” and “High Rise.” In the mid-’90s, Linda starred in a series of fact-based television movies for NBC, including “Why My Daughter,” “The Gayle Moffitt Story” and “Broken Pledges: The Eileen Stevens Story.”

Gray has been involved in film: she recently completed filming a starring role in an independent movie, “The Star of Jaipur.” In April 2000, the actress made her theater directing debut with “Murder in the First.” Most recently, she joined the touring version of the London West End production of “The Graduate.”

Linda has formed her own production company, LG Productions, and has several projects in development. She resides in Los Angeles.

Bankrate: Tell me about your latest film project?

Linda Gray: I am directing a movie in Tuscany, called “Tuscano.” It’s a fabulous, small budget film with Vanessa Redgrave, Anne Archer, Jim Brolin, Melissa Joan Hart. Yes, Mr. Hagman will be in a small cameo, I gave him no choice!

Bankrate: Do you still receive royalties from “Dallas”?

Linda Gray: No, not for years. It’s still running internationally. It rotates, though. Sometimes, it will be showing in Italy, or Romania. I think the royalties were part of a buy out, I don’t know. It was sneaky.

Bankrate: You started directing during “Dallas,” at a time when actors were just beginning to take control, not be puppets. How did that come about?

Linda Gray: Before, the producers weren’t willing to use the actors. I studied directing, with a French teacher, Lillian Chauvin. I didn’t have time to take regular classes, so I worked weekends with her. I took it upon myself. I figured, it would be easier for a man. I wanted to be able to say, if I were asked about my credentials, that I had studied, that I had done this, that I had done that.

Bankrate: “Dallas” was the first network show to use the word “damn” and it was highly sexual. My 4-year-old sister even talked about J.R. and Sue Ellen having sex. Yet, it didn’t seem as gratuitous as shows today.

Linda Gray: It’s all about the times. There are peaks and valleys in history. There used to be all these doctor shows, then Westerns. Sometimes, you just have a phenomenon. People aren’t watching TV like they used to, because of what they are force-fed to watch. I just don’t think it’s very interesting. There are many other options, such as cable, DVDs, a good movie. People would rather do that. But when “Dallas” was on, you still had people saying, “What happened to the movies like Bette Davis used to make?”

Bankrate: How did you decide to do charity work through Santa Monica’s cable channel?

Linda Gray: They asked me! I call it a win-win situation. We took 17 new female directors; they needed film and a job. We “married” directors with particular charities that they were interested in. All the directors were given $1,000 and a cameraman. They could spend it any which way they wanted to. They could spend it on lunch, or they could bring their own sandwiches and spend it on the film.

Bankrate: You are a UN goodwill ambassador. What are your responsibilities? How do you prepare?

Linda Gray: Literally, I go around the world to developing countries. We speak to the woman. We go to places where the UN is invited in, that’s very important for people to understand. I speak face to face with them, like with any girlfriend. I’m very protected while I’m there, I feel very safe. We have individual people helping us, we’re not just dumped off!

Bankrate: Do you have political aspirations?

Linda Gray: None! I leave it to the people who want to do that. Not in this lifetime.

Bankrate: Do you manage your own money?

Linda Gray: Yes, and I have a business manager that I’ve had for 23 years. She’s more advisory, she educates me. A very smart person likes to have smart people fill in the gaps. I wanted to be smart. It’s just like when people listen to Suze Ormond on Oprah.

Bankrate: Do you have investments?

Linda Gray: I do. I don’t have as much in the stock market anymore; that was scary. I have real estate; I can see it, touch it. That’s important to me. But I’m not a landlord. I don’t want that lifestyle for myself. I don’t want a phone call in the middle of the night, with someone calling about not having any hot water.

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