The man best known to the world as J.R. Ewing was remembered by those in his native Weatherford as a dear friend, a man willing to still help his hometown and a boy who almost didn’t graduate from high school.
Larry Hagman, who first gained fame as Maj. Tony Nelson in “I Dream of Jeannie” and solidified his acting career at J.R. Ewing on the nighttime soap “Dallas,” died Friday night due to complications from his battle with cancer, his family said. He was 81.
Fellow Weatherford native Charles Frost recalled that Hagman lived with his family for about six months before graduating high school. Hagman, who was friends with Frost’s cousin Bob Hamilton, wasn’t getting along with his stepmother, Frost recalled. His half-brother, Gary, has gotten a ukulele, and Hagman wanted one, too, but was denied.
“Larry got mad that he couldn’t have one. He was fixing to join the service,” Frost recalled.
But, Frost’s mother had other plans — she didn’t want Hagman or Hamilton to go into the military without first finishing their degrees, so she worked out a plan with Hagman’s father, Ben, to allow Hagman to move in. It was only supposed to be for a couple of weeks, Frost said, but it turned into about six months.
During those times, Frost said, Hagman wore thick glasses, something he ditched once he became an actor.
After graduation, his mother, actress Mary Martin, had Hagman move up to New York to be with her, Frost said. He and his family never kept in touch with Hagman after that, though somewhere in his memorabilia, Frost said, he still has photos of Hagman and Hamilton driving around in Hagman’s old Jeep, some of which he shared with David Aiken and Barbara Newberry, who co-authored Images of America: Weatherford, Texas. That book is still on sale at Walgreens on South Main and has photos of Hagman in his younger years.
Before his acting career took off, Hagman, a graduate of Weatherford High School, performed in the 1949 senior class’ production of This Girl Business.
Hagman never forgot his roots in Parker County, Heather Castagna, executive director of Doss Heritage and Culture Center, said, describing him as a strong supporter of the center.
“He wanted his mother’s legacy here and housed at the Doss Heritage and Cultural Center,” Castagna said.
Shortly after his mother’s death in 1990 and years before the Doss opened, Hagman had what is now the Mary Martin exhibit placed on display at the Weatherford Public Library.
Hagman then had the items transferred when the center opened in 2006. He and his wife, Maj, attended the ribbon cutting, according to Castagna.
A video about his mother narrated by Hagman, along with a painting of Hagman, a gun etched with Dallas cast members names and his boots and hat are among items on permanent display in Weatherford.
Hagman had spoken with Roy Grogan, a friend since high school and member of the board of civic development for the heritage center, this week and arranged to come to Weatherford in March to show support and help with fundraising.
“It was very unexpected,” Castagna said of his death.
For Sherry O. Watters, owner of Something Special Boutique on York Avenue in Weatherford, Hagman was a friend who also helped her business. She had painted shirts and jackets for him — Watters is an artist who paints clothing, boots and decor.
“He told me years ago ‘I want 5% of your business and I will make you famous,’ and then he laugh(ed) in his Dallas laugh,” Watters wrote on her Facebook page. “That wonderful man ... I will miss. Thank you Larry for all the calls, yellow roses and cards. You are truly J.R.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.