Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Exceptional People: Linda Gray

“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It's the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows & the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.” 
― Audrey Hepburn 

About sixteen years ago, when I was a young pup still working in television production, the program for which I worked wrapped production for the season and everyone went off to do other things. Everyone except me. I remained at the stages, a fixture of the studio not unlike the scissor lifts or lighting grids. My task, during the hiatus was to take care of the stages and see to it that the prop house and set storage were organized. I spent many, many days completely alone on those dark stages, entertaining myself occasionally by driving around in circles on one of the lifts. 

For a hermit-type like me, this was all quite heavenly. And, then, I was informed that the stages had been rented, and, as a fixture, I went along with the deal. “Dallas,” the long-running primetime serial had hired the empty space so that they could, in a time-saving effort, shoot interior scenes for the last of their reunion movies, while other cast and crew were engaged shooting at nearby Southfork Ranch. And, thus, “The War of the Ewings” was underway. Before I could figure out where I was going to hide while all this was going on, I was informed I was to continue as stage manager and take care of our visiting primetime guests. My duties were to: a. unlock doors, b. make sure no one monkeyed with the Soutfhork interiors which had sprung up, as if overnight, on my private playground, and c. see that no one set fire to the place. In general, I was also meant to make sure that our guests were comfortable. 

And, so, I’d make a show of walking about with my toolbelt (from which I never withdrew anything), my ring of keys and a smile, greet people and then retreat to my little hutch from where I watched the proceedings—wholly aware that of the over-fifty people there, I was certainly the least important unless someone got locked out of the bathroom.

All the while, though timid, and nervous being the only representative of the studio present, I was quite pleased. I had watched Dallas with my parents growing up. As a North Texan, I’d been to Southfork many a time. This was part of my personal history, and to see the cast of the defunct show, reunited for what, at the moment, seemed like the last time was quite special indeed. I introduced myself to many people with whom I’d grown up, but of all of them—throughout their entire visit to those now-gone stages—only two made a point to remember my name and to greet me every day. One was Patrick Duffy. The other was Linda Gray.

I was particularly impressed with Miss Gray. She displayed a keen sense of humor and a lack of pretension. Even after a particularly grueling series of shots wherein she and Patrick Duffy, wearing nude-colored ungarments, stood in a shower together—take after take of being sprayed with what appeared to be a showerhead, but what was really a garden hose of foul Texas water—Miss Gray emerged, cheerful and spirited, if not soggy. And, when those Southfork bedrooms were struck, and the trucks departed, it was Miss Gray, and she alone, who paused at the entrance, set down her bags, and walked back to the stage door to say a sincere, “Thank you, Joseph. You were wonderful.”

Now, so much has changed. I’m nearly forty. Gone is the wiry, dark-haired youth with TV dreams. He has been recast with a sturdy, henna-haired writer, though still prone to being a hermit. The stages are long gone. They’re a warehouse and I sincerely doubt that anyone who works there knows that those walls once housed many wonderful fantasies. 

Of course, Southfork remains. It always does. And, it is once again home to the Ewings who have found a primetime home once again.

Mr. Duffy is still handsome, though grayer. Mr. Hagman has left us. But, Linda Gray—she seems, somehow unchanged. And, I must confess, I’m quite glad of it.

Linda Ann Gray a California native, began her career in front of the camera as a model who would appear in almost four hundred television commercials. She made small appearances in several feature films, but, for the most indelible of her roles in the 1960s, we didn’t even see her face. “Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?” Those legs…they did not belong to Anne Bancroft. They belonged to young Linda Gray who jokes that she was paid “$25 per leg” for the use of those appendages in the film and in all of the picture’s advertising. 

Meatier roles would follow in the 1970s as Miss Gray appeared on many television series such as “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” “McCloud”and “Switch.” 1977 brought a starring role in a series when Miss Gray was cast as Linda Murkland, a fashion model and also the first transgender series regular on American television in the television series “All That Glitters.” A role in “Murder in Peyton Place” would soon follow. 

And, then, came “Dallas.” Miss Gray’s role of J.R. Ewing’s (Larry Hagman) long-suffering on-again, off-again, alcoholic, former beauty queen wife, Sue Ellen, would bring the actress international recognition and acclaim. With “Sue Ellen” came an Emmy nomination for Best Actress and numerous international awards including Germany’s Bambi Award, Italy’s Il Gato for Best Actress on Television and she was voted ‘Woman of the Year’ by the Hollywood Radio & Television Society as well as an opportunity for Miss Gray to act as a director. 

While we tend to associate Linda Gray with “Sue Ellen,” and will continue to do so now that she’s once again roaming the halls of Southfork in TNT’s reboot of the series, we mustn’t forget that there’s much more to Linda Gray who has made quite a splash in independent films such as “The Flight of the Swan,” “A Very Mary Christmas” and ”Hidden Moon.” 

However, perhaps most impressive is Miss Gray’s work on stage. She has appeared in a theatre reading of “Bette Davis Speaks”, “Terms of Endearment”, and most recently, in the London West End production of “The Graduate” where audiences were treated to more than just her legs this time as she portrayed Mrs. Robinson. 

Despite the busy schedule of “Dallas,” her work as a theatre actress and director, and having some semblance of a personal life, Miss Gray always makes time to support those causes which she holds most dear. 

Miss Gray served as the United States Goodwill Ambassador from 1997 to 2007 and remains active in raising awareness of women’s and children's health issues, traveling globally to speak to women about maintaining their own health as well as the health of their families. Miss Gray has also leant her keen spirit, talents and humor to an organization which allows differently-abled persons to participate in horseback riding, and has worked tirelessly to support AIDS charities, and Meals on Wheels. She even traveled to Malawi, Africa where she distributed food to children in need.

For all of these reasons, and many more, Miss Gray is an exceptional person. Like Audrey Hepburn before her, Miss Gray’s true beauty is the beauty that she makes in the world. And, truly, for me, she’ll always be the star who stopped to remember me—a fixture, not unlike the scissor lifts, not even worthy of screen credit. That says a lot about a person. And, that…that is truly exceptional.

To learn more about Linda Gray, visit her official website.


Dashwood said...

What a nice story to introduce aspects of a great lady which we might not otherwise know. She sounds like someone I'd be so honored to meet.

Carolyn said...

I adore Linda. What a class act!

Sam P said...

Love her!

Beth Ann said...

I have always been a fan of hers.

Darcy said...

She's a great actor. I'm a fan too.
I've been watching the new " Dallas " and Miss Gray has slipped seamlessly back into her role as Sue Ellen.

Matt said...

Sweet, classy lady and a heckuva good actor.

Doug said...

My first tv crush and she's still hot.