The November death of actor Larry Hagman, who played the delightfully caddish J.R. Ewing on both the original “Dallas” series (1978-1991) and its TNT sequel (2012-present), undoubtedly has many fans wondering what’s going to happen to the legendary Southfork Ranch. As always, you never know with the scheming, fractious Ewing clan.
Just in time for the new season to start Jan. 28, here’s a brief history lesson for those who quit watching the original show in the ’80s and a glimpse at what has sometimes been called “the most famous white house west of D.C.”
The fictional Southfork Ranch
Southfork’s storied roots begin early in the 20th century as the homestead of the Southworths, a wealthy cattle ranching family led by patriarch Aaron Southworth. When he dies in 1959, the ranch goes to daughter Eleanor “Miss Ellie” Southworth and becomes the place where the Ewings hang their hats after Miss Ellie marries wildcatter and future oil baron John Ross “Jock” Ewing.
We don’t actually see any of the above events in the original series, which doesn’t begin until everybody and his wife are already living there in the late 1970s. After Jock’s death, Miss Ellie finally has had it with the never-ending fighting between her sons J.R. and Bobby. She deeds the ranch to Bobby, believing that he will respect her vow to never allow oil drilling on the grounds of Southfork. Then she and her second husband get the hell out of Southfork (and the series).
Fast-forward 20 years — to the new “Dallas” — and, what do you know? Whether to drill on Southfork becomes a major plotline in a complicated wrangling that now also includes J.R.’s son, John Ross, and Bobby’s son, Christopher. J.R. wrenches ownership of Southfork from Bobby but, toward the end of last season, deeds it back to an ailing Bobby, whom J.R. thinks will soon die of cancer anyway.
That’s where things stand today, but there were ominous rumblings in the season finale about the ranch’s possible fate. And keep in mind that Hagman — who died of cancer Nov. 23 — surprisingly managed to film some of the episodes we’ve yet to see.
The real-life ranch
The house we’ve seen in “Dallas” exterior shots for years is actually a lot younger than we’ve been led to believe. Located in the town of Parker, TX, 25 miles north of Dallas, it was built in 1970 by a man named Joe Duncan. He called the ranch “Duncan Acres,” and he and his family were still living there in the early years of “Dallas.” Most of the filming of the original series was actually in L.A., but the home became a major Texas tourist attraction anyway. Eventually, the lack of privacy convinced the Duncans to sell. The ranch has been an event and conference center since the mid-1980s. (You can have your wedding there!)
Owned by Forever Resorts, Southfork covers more than 300 acres and now includes rodeo grounds, a visitor center and a 63,000-square-foot event center. But the centerpiece is still that house, known as the Ewing Mansion, which measures 4,769 square feet plus a 975-square-foot garage conversion.
You can take a guided tour of the mansion (around $14 for an adult), have a look at J.R.’s bedroom and see all kinds of memorabilia, such as patriarch Jock Ewing’s Lincoln Continental and the gun that was used to “shoot” J.R. There are two themed retail stores full of Ewing-inspired items, such as a sparkly Texas-shaped “Putting on the Glitz” key ring and a “Greed, Power, Backstab” T-shirt.
You may even get lucky: Unlike the original series, the new one is filmed in and around Dallas, including location shooting at Southfork.