Barbara Curran's "Dallas: The Complete Story of the World's Favorite Prime Time Soap" is quite simply one of the best books ever written as a TV series companion. If you like Hollywood, or classic or 1980s TV, or if you were a fan of "Dallas," you will love this book.
Curran skillfully skirts the inability (absent studio approval, which she evidently was not able to obtain for this book) to synopsize episodes or include series photographs by relying on interviews with dozens of "Dallas" stars (almost 50 in all, including all the surviving original castmembers and later additions such as Priscilla Presley and Howard Keel) and about 10 pages of great photos taken by Steve "Ray Krebbs" Kanaly over the course of the series and its various reunions.
"Dallas" creator David Jacobs' Foreword provides an insightful look at his show's place in the history of television, and Victoria Principal's delightful Introduction provides closure for fans still rattled by her departure from the show.
Curran's meticulous research (there seem to be at least 1,000 endnotes relying on several hundred periodical sources above and beyond the 50 cast interviews) is professionally merged with the stories and recollections culled from Hagman, Gray, Duffy, Principal and Tilton and others who appeared on the show such as Christopher Atkins, Barbara Eden, George Kennedy and Susan Lucci.
The result? A lengthy (over 450 pages) journey through pop-culture, American style, from 1977 to last year's CBS reunion show. We get the story of "Dallas'" creation, the company's miserable winter on-location pilot shoot, the two-year journey across CBS' ailing schedule and upwards along the weekly ratings chart, Larry Hagman's tour de force before and after J.R. became an international phenomenon, Jim Davis' tragic death from cancer, Barbara Bel Geddes' and Patrick Duffy's infamous comings and goings (one involving Donna Reed and the other involving a shower), Linda Gray's breakout performance, and so on.
Along the way, we learn the behind-the-scenes goings on regarding J.R.'s shooting, Sue Ellen's drinking, Lucy's wedding, Miss Ellie's mastectomy, Jock's helicopter crash, Bobby's and Pam's marriage, divorce and remarriage, and of course the never ending Barnes-Ewing feud.
The back-up players are all here as well. Curran interviews Kristin and Katherine and Cliff and Clayton, and all those new faces from the show's tenth through thirteenth seasons, when the original cast waned. Curran also provides a neat chapter on the TV movies ("The Early Years," "J.R. Returns" and "War of the Ewings") and on the 2004 "Return to Southfork" reunion.
As a result, we follow the cast and crew from their casting phone calls in 1977 through their ride to international superstardom to their reunion last year, on the eve of Fox's upcoming "Dallas" motion picture. In the process, we get a window into these almost 30-year old relationships, some of which are true friendships, some of which are not, and some of which are as complex as the relationships in our own life.
The clever format of the book will please you whether you know the real parents of J.R.'s son(s) or not. If you're a die-hard "Dallas" fan, you will savor the Episode Guides, which rely on cast anecdotes, contemporaneous news accounts, and a healthy dose of trivia to deflect the absence of plot summaries. This part of the book is particularly useful now that "Dallas" has just been released on DVD.
If you're a reformed viewer with only a passing interest in revisiting the Ewings, the narrative sections of the book (each chapter is devoted to a particular TV season) will be enough to satisfy your curiosity over Hagman's walk-out after J.R. was shot, how Bel Geddes came to replace Donna Reed after Reed replaced Bel Geddes a year earlier, and who first suggested that Bobby's death was only a dream.
Curran beautifully integrates so many source materials and so many subject areas that the reader comes away knowing everything from how and where the episodes were filmed to what Patrick Duffy and Victoria Principal really thought of each other off-screen to how Hagman exercised his considerable power on behalf of the cast and the show itself.
Whether unknowingly or not, Curran's "Dallas" also provides a stark picture of the entertainment business. While Hagman and friends became world-famous, not all of them stayed world-famous. Moreover, the lead cast was supported by Hollywood legends and unknowns alike, and there is a certain poignancy in seeing how "Dallas" lifted some fading careers and was the prelude to the fading of others.
Curran's title promises the complete story of a beloved cultural icon, and that's what she delivers. She has achieved a Texas-sized success with this book, one that would make old J.R. proud.