Larry Hagman’s Acting Career

Disabled Dealer Magazine  May 2006

The Winner’s Circle

By David Block


Larry Hagman’s acting career spans over four decades. He’s portrayed memorable characters such as Captain/Major Anthony Nelson in I Dream of Jeanie (1965-1970) and John Ross ‘J.R.’ Ewing in Dallas, (1978-1991). In addition, Hagman played major roles in well-known movies like Fail-Safe (1964), Nixon (1995) and Primary Colors (1998). “I’ve always been passionate about acting,” said Hagman. He is equally passionate about being a Spokesperson for the Transplant Games since 1996.


He was born Larry Martin Hageman, September 21, 1931 in Fort Worth, TX. His father Ben was a district attorney, while his mother, Mary Martin was a well- known Broadway star.


“Initially, I wanted to be a cowboy,” said Hagman. “So, when I was 15, I went to live with my father for a while in Texas. I was expecting to see horses, and I was expecting the work to be exciting, but I was wrong on both counts. Instead, I dug a lot of ditches and mended a lot of fences, bailed hay, I found out that physical labor was damn hard, plus the pay was lousy. I said that there must be a better way of making a living, so I called mother, told her that I’d like to try acting – it seemed easier, she said ‘fine’, then the rest was history.”


Contrary to a lot of his fans’ belief, performing in South Pacific in his mother’s cast was not his first acting part. “I was in 60 musicals before I joined my mother’s production,” said Hagman.


While performing in South Pacific in 1952, Hagman, who spent five years in military school, was drafted into the Air Force. This did not impede his acting career, on the contrary, when he later starred in I Dream of Jeanie as the astronaut Captain/Major Anthony Nelson, he had no trouble making his character believable because of his military experience.


“By the time that I was in I Dream of Jeanie, I already understood what it took to be successful in the military. I knew that that required a lot of dedication, so I was able to make Major Nelson fully committed to his profession.”


In 1964, one year before I Dream of Jeanie aired, Hagman landed a part as Buck the interpreter in Fail-Safe. Of all the movies that he appeared in, he said that Fail-Safe was his favorite. “It was my first big movie,” said Hagman, then 33. “Fail-Safe was a great comment on its time because many people were concerned with the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.”


After Fail-Safe, Hagman starred in I Dream of Jeanie, and when asked to share his happiest memory, Hagman answered: “Getting the job. I was broke, so I badly needed the part. I was confident that I was going to get it because I spent hours rehearsing for the audition.”


The series’ premise, Astronaut Anthony Nelson finds Jeanie (Barbara Eden) in a bottle. Because he opened it, he becomes her master. A lot of the show’s hilarity stems from her jealousy of other women.


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“I loved being J.R,” said Hagman. “He was one of those characters that everyone loved to hate.”


Among the show’s high points was the 1980 saga, ‘Who Shot J.R.?’ 


After Dallas, Hagman continued with his acting career. In 1995, he was in Oliver Stone’s movie, Nixon, where his character Jack Jones – a conservative Texas millionaire – gets people to finance Nixon’s campaign.  When Hagman’s scenes were shot, he had a tough time remembering his lines. “It was two weeks before I had my liver transplant,” said Hagman. “I wasn’t in pain, but when you have a liver ailment, you’re brain cells aren’t connecting well, so I had to work extremely hard on the set to remember my lines.”


Three years later when Hagman was in Primary Colors with John Travolta, memorizing his lines was no longer a problem.


“John’s a great actor, and I enjoyed working with him,” said Hagman. “I’m particularly looking forward to seeing him portray J.R. (in the up coming movie Dallas).”


Although pleased with the casting directors choice of giving the J.R. role to Travolta, the same cannot be said over the possibility that the movie might be shot in another city. “That’s a mistake,” said Hagman. “You can’t duplicate Dallas. Maybe the producers might save money if they shoot the movie somewhere else, but making it in Dallas will help give the film authenticity…This decision is out of my hands.”


To this day, Hagman still acts. Later this summer, he will perform on stage in Love Letters with Barbara Eden.


In addition, Hagman is preparing to attend the 2006 National Transplant Games, which takes place this June 16-21 in Louisville, Kentucky. “I’ll definitely be there, the first two or three days,” said Hagman. “I’ll give out awards and I’ll ask people to show their scars, it’s our badge of courage.” He’s attended the Transplant Games, which take place every other year, as a spokesperson.


Hagman concluded that ever since his liver transplant he urges people to donate their organs. When people refuse, he asks them if they’d accept an organ if it would save their lives? “No one ever said no,” said Hagman.


To learn more about Larry Hagman, you can order his book, Hello Darlin’ online. For more information about the Transplant Games, log onto