J.R. Ewing hatched his last wicked scheme at the Ewing Mansion years ago. Yet every day fans continue to visit Southfork Ranch, where exteriors for the show were filmed, to get a look at where the famous family from Dallas lived.
The nighttime soap opera and ratings powerhouse originally aired on CBS from 1978 to 1991. It was so successful that even its spin-off series, Knot’s Landing, aired for 14 seasons, and TNT rebooted Dallas itself for three seasons in 2012. Another of the original series’ feats: The third season finale, known as the “Who shot J.R.?” episode, had everyone talking over the summer of 1980 — to the point where critics have credited it with creating the TV cliffhanger. When that question was finally answered in the Season 4 premiere on Nov. 7, 1980, the impressive ratings set a record for the most-watched TV show in American history.
Even as the iconic show marks the 40th anniversary of its debut, Southfork Ranch, located outside the City of Dallas in Parker, Texas, is continuing its run. An estimated 150,000 visitors per year — both Dallas fans and others who come for the weddings, corporate events, and conferences that are regularly held on the premises — continue to appreciate the saga of the Ewing family. They see the gun that shot J.R. (spoiler: his sister-in-law/mistress did it), as well as a J.R. doll and the Lincoln Continental that Jock Ewing drove on the show, as part of the museum. They eat at Miss Ellie’s Deli and ride horses just like the characters used to do. Thanks to $14 million in renovations done in 1992, they also see rooms inspired by characters from the original show, some of which were used for filming in the reboot.
“The first show totally changed the ranch, because it was someone’s quarterhorse home, and it turned into an icon,” says Janna Timm, Southfork’s director of sales and marketing and acting general manager. “There’s people who are huge fans and they’re here trying to peep in windows and see if J.R. is ever here and they want to buy souvenirs.”
They also want something else that’s even more unexpected — and not allowed.
“At least once or twice a year, we have somebody who wants to bring somebody’s ashes and spread them around Southfork,” Timm says.
Dallas producers came upon the would-be Ewing homestead when scouting the Dallas area. The then owner, who refused to allow them to use the ranch at all at first, would allow filming to take place only over the summer — he had children, after all — and only outdoors. Eventually, new owners made the place a tourist attraction, and the current owner, Forever Resorts, purchased it in 1993 and bought up land around it too. Southfork was ready when the new show came calling.
“When they did the reboot, they filmed all over inside the mansion,” Timm says. “In fact, J.R. met his death on the new show, obviously, and we have that set where he was found in a motel room. They made that out of a bedroom that’s in the mansion. So it still stands today.”
Fans at the ranch this weekend will get a special treat in honor of the show’s big anniversary: Actors Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), and Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs) will be on hand to meet with them. They can also compete in a Dallas costume contest and trivia game, or dance at an off-site location where the Dallas cast filmed bar scenes.
Of course, the one-and-only J.R. won’t be there in the flesh. Hagman, 81, died in 2012. However, fans can stop by J.R.’s tombstone in Southfork’s cemetery.
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