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Exclusive: Dallas star Linda Gray reveals what gives her confidence at 82

The actress details her experiences working on a 'chauvinistic show'

lindagray© Photo: Getty Images
Rebecca Lewis
Rebecca Lewis - Los Angeles
Los Angeles correspondentLos Angeles
March 8, 2023
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Linda Gray found fame in the 1980s on Dallas but she admits that working on the series as a woman meant she was often belittled, overlooked and forced to be her own cheeleader. "It was a very chauvinist show, frankly," Linda told HELLO! as part of our International Women's Day issue. "The producers, the writers - they had a few women writers but they were just a token. But the world was changing... And I could see the world changing."

Linda, now 82, has lived a life many of us can only dream of. Born in Santa Monica, Calif. in 1940, she began modelling as a young mother and then was cast on the iconic TV show Dallas - despite being discouraged from acting by her parents and husband.

She went on to be nominated for two Golden Globe Awards, and an Emmy Award for her work as Sue Ewing, and also appeared in acclaimed productions on Broadway and London's West End, as well as British soap Hollyoaks. But in a career spanning six decades, Linda has seen a lot of changes and helped spearhead culture shifts.

In an exclusive chat, the actor discusses what gives her confidence at 82 and why she doesn't want to be forgotten...

WATCH: Linda Gray starred in Dallas which has an iconic opening theme song to this day

What was it like for women in the sixties when you first entered the industry?

I came into the industry as a model but my parents didn't want me to be an actor, and my husband didn't want me to be an actor. It was such a different world and yet I still knew that I had to live out my dream.

It was challenging for me and I was so naive at that time - it sounds silly now, but I didn't know what the world was like. I was very, very blessed in that I had two wonderful men that guided me and my career - Norman Lear and Dennis Weaver, powerhouses in our industry - but still, I was very naive as to the way women were treated.

What was your experience like on Dallas?

It was a very chauvinist show, frankly. The producers, the writers - they had a few women writers but they were just a token.

dallas cast© Photo: Getty Images

But the world was changing in the 1980s and I could see the world changing. Women were stepping up and they were getting very vocal about the way they were being treated, the salaries they were getting, and it became this tidal wave of women standing up for themselves.

There was major character development for Sue Ewing over the decade the show was on air, do you credit that to the changes going on in the industry?

It was kind of a combination of things, and I was surprised by her development. The women on the show were bookends, we would be there to go to the parties and cook in the kitchen, there was no substance - and Sue was an alcoholic.

Well, no wonder she was an alcoholic! But it was a great plot because when First Lady Betty Ford came out and shared that she had a problem, I thought, 'Wow, this is interesting, someone of [Betty's] stature sharing this?' and so I asked [the producers], 'Please stop Sue drinking.' I could feel this change in society, in myself; a surge of women taking their power, saying, 'No, I'm not going to do this.'

sueewing 2© Photo: Getty Images

Dallas was also one of the first shows to show a mastectomy with Miss Ellie [played by Barbara Bel Geddes]. We came from the world of putting it under the rug: don't talk about women drinking too much, don't talk about breast cancer, don't talk about things like that, good girls are seen and not heard.

So I feel blessed that I saw the change and I felt the change, and it was essential to the growth and the expansion of women, who we are and what we stand for and taking our place in the world instead of being told what to do, what to think, or where to go home.

Did that expansion of the characters create a sense of camaraderie among you and your fellow actresses?

Yes. However, I've heard that we all got together on Friday nights and had dinner but the reality is we worked so hard; we did 28 episodes a season but everybody had family and we were all exhausted.

If you ask any of us, we just wanted to act.

sueewing© Photo: Getty Images

We didn't have the power that women have now - but we knew it. We were just forging ahead one step at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Is there a moment that stands out for you during that time on the show?

I was studying to be a director and [show bosses] wouldn't let me direct - actors Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman had directed the show and they didn't have any training. But I was training under a French women director, and she taught me everything, and told me, 'You're ready to go and ask them.' They said no, and then they fired me. I said, 'I don't want any more money. All I want is one episode.' Well, finally, finally, finally I got to direct one and I thought, 'Okay, you guys I'm going to make it the best one ever. Look out. I'm coming in.'

How did you return, and did you feel supported by the cast?

Well, [when they fired me] I called Larry and he said, 'I'll see you next season.' I said, 'No, I'm not coming back. I've been fired.'

And this is Larry's story, he claims he went in [to speak to the bosses], and he told me that he said, 'If you fire Linda I'm not coming back'. And well, I don't know if that really happened but they couldn't have done the show without Larry so if this man wants to take credit for saving the damsel in distress I will accept that he did that; that will always be unknown.

linda dallas

But I came back, and the cast was very supportive, patient, they were great, they were wonderful. I made sure I was really prepared because I did not want them to say, 'We gave you a chance and you blew it,' and I did a very good job - and because I am the feisty one, I went on every television show I could get my hands on and promoted it, and I got great ratings and then I got to do four more episodes! But it was this constant struggle to get anything.

'If you get to direct, all the women on the show will want to do this,' I was told. So I went to all of them. I went to Barbara Bel Geddes, Victoria Principal and Charlene Tilton, and I said, 'Do you guys want to direct?' and they went, 'Hell no,' so I went back to the bosses and I said, 'Okay. I went around and asked all the women if they would like to direct and every one of them said no.'

They just stared at me like, 'Oh God, here she is again.' But I just kept persevering and persevering, I felt very proud of myself. It really filled me with joy because I got to do something that I had wanted to do.

Is there one woman in particular who has inspired you to keep going over these years?

There are so many women; people like Eleanor Roosevelt and Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn. I call them very feisty, wonderful women who pursued what they wanted to do, and I look at women in Europe; women like Maggie Smith who are more revered the older they get.

lindagray© Photo: Getty Images

In America, we get a pat on the head, 'We're not going to hire anybody over 40.' It is insulting because you are not being honored for the work that you have done in the past. I find people in Europe honor and respect the quality of your work.

You're 82 now, what is giving you confidence as a woman today?

I don't think of age, that's number one. It may sound trite and I don't care. You get to a point where you don't care that they talk about how old you are so my whole thing is to live life to the fullest. I have so many friends who have died and family members have died, and my son died of cancer and my sister, and they had a beautiful life.

You're alive today, this day. Make it the best you can.

lindagray family© Photo: Getty Images

'What am I doing today to make my life better?' For many people, it's probably nothing. Many people just sit home being critical of everything. But get out, go for a walk, have a lot of water, have some friends, have fun with life because you never know what is going to happen.

I recently joined a hiking club, and I'm meeting interesting people. I still get excited about life. I'm going to Spain in May and I'm going to walk the Camino de Santiago. Do something that you're afraid to do; this is scary for me. I'm going to walk 12 miles a day, and people are going, 'Oh my God, you're too old to do that. What if you fall?' I don't want to talk to those people. I want to talk to positive people who are cheerleaders.

You share pictures of your family on social media and especially your two grandsons, are they cheerleaders for you?

Oh, yes. I went to L.A. the other day and had dinner with my two grandsons. We went to La Scala in Beverly Hills, and they said, 'We're going to take you to dinner.' They picked me up like a date and we had the best dinner and the best talk.

How important have your female friends been to you throughout your life?

Female friends are central. My buddies, they're the ones that you can be yourself around. Nobody's criticizing you. We laugh a lot. We do silly things together. It's authentic.  I don't care if you're an actor or not, be authentic because there's only one of you. I do my best to be a beacon of light out there.

Is there a particular piece of advice you've been given that's really stuck with you?

So many, they're like treasures. My grandmother - I adored her - and one day we were walking on the beach in Santa Monica and I remember so clearly she scooped up a handful of sand and said, 'I'm going to teach you about relationships.'

linbdagray 3© Photo: Getty Images

She said, 'This is for any boyfriends or husbands or girlfriends. If you squeeze your hand tight all the sand will come out,' and the sand fell out. 'But if you hold your hand open very gently, you will keep the sand in the palm of your hands.' And I never forgot that. It was such a beautiful memory, I have not forgotten it.

She also said, 'Don't bother with the news because it's all dreadful, and you know what, sweetheart? Tomorrow there's going to be something worse.'

What is next for you? There's a real desire to hear from older women now; would you like to go back into acting?

I would like to produce something. There's so much that women have to say, we have zest for life, we don't want to be thrown away as if we don't matter. I also think that although women are happier, they're not totally happy and there's a missing link here somewhere, and maybe I can find it. I don't know that I can find the answer, but for as long as I've been on the planet and I've seen the changes, I also feel and know that there's another layer that needs to be explored, with love and integrity and authenticity.

We don't want to be forgotten at all.


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