‘Dallas’ star Linda Gray pens her memoir, and Sue Ellen is better than ever
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES
Linda Gray is so closely associated with Dallas — not just the TV show, but the city — that she found herself in denial even after the revived version of the soap was on the chopping block.
“I held onto [my condo in Dallas] thinking, wrongly, we were gonna be picked up for a fifth season,” she says from her home in SoCal. She finally gave it up, but even without property in the Metroplex (she’s only an “honorary” resident of Southfork) she’s not quite done with Texas. Not by a longshot.
“I love Texas, I love Dallas, I love the people,” she gushes. And the feeling is entirely mutual.
With her 13 seasons playing Sue Ellen Ewing on Dallas — originally from 1978–91, then four more until last year — Gray has played the same character on a series for more seasons than just about any actor other than Gunsmoke’s James Arness and Frasier/Cheers star Kelsey Grammer. That’s 17 seasons of bourbon, car crashes, marital infidelities, political campaigns and intrigue. Oh, and they named a lesbian bar after her (she’s proud of that; she’s even been to it). With that kind of longevity and gay cred, Gray is beloved by multiple generations of TV watchers.
What was the secret to the enduring nature of her characterization? You might not believe it.
“I knew that Sue Ellen was a force to be reckoned with — fashion forward … and she had to wear high heels.” Gray say. “I couldn’t play Sue Ellen without having my high heels on, even if we were sitting at one of those dreaded dinner parties. I could feel it. I have to wear them — it completes it. You walk differently in high heels than in jeans and flats.”
You can learn lots more anecdotes like that now. Gray recently published her memoir, The Road to Happiness* (*Is Always Under Construction), and promoting it brings her back to Texas, with events at Austin’s book fair, then to Dallas for an appearance on Good Morning Texas and a book signing at Neiman Marcus — a total Sue Ellen kind of move.
“I decided to write it because I was asked,” she says. “People had asked me [often over the years], ‘Would you like to write a book?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t have time.’ Then I called [famed Dallas-based book agent] Jan Miller to have dinner [and writing a book came up]. She totally Sue-Ellen’d on me and said, ‘No one is gonna be your book agent but me. She introduced me to publishers and it was so nice to be asked, so I started writing.”
Though she’d never written before, the task was consistent with Gray’s history of risk-taking.
“I’ve done different things, but certainly not in the book world,” she says. “But my life has always been the adventurer. When I started writing, I realized I forgot about little things and I took myself on a road of discovery and delving into those interesting tidbits. [My life hasn’t been defined] by one thing, it has been the synchronicity of many things.”
For instance, Gray was once appearing in the London production of The Graduate. They were fitting her for a wig when someone came into the room. “’Miss Gray, I’m so sorry,’ he said. It was 9/11. And I thought, here I was in London, wanting to be home in the U.S. with my family, and I couldn’t get [a flight] out. So for me, to watch 9/11 on TV in London while preparing to do a show — which I was doing for about five months — was surreal. My life kind of continued like that. None of our lives are planned. I realized how we are the observer in life, but we have choices. Choose wisely.”
She started with the philosophy early. When she was 20, she sent headshots to a modeling agent and was promptly rejected. She kept the letter — framed it, in fact — and used it to motivate her desire to succeed.
“Why didn’t I just wad up [the rejection letter] and throw it in the trash? I think that letter was kind of a challenge,” she says. “In my years in modeling, I was either too old, too young, too brunette, too this, too that. Someone told me early on, ‘You’re a product and don’t take it too personally.’ So my advice is, don’t listen. It was one person’s opinion — we all get rejected. I’m not going to let it ruin me. I didn’t start Dallas until I was 38 years old!”
Such sticktoitiveness is what makes Gray — who just turned 75 but looks like she could be in her 50s — a timeless beauty.
“I had a fabulous birthday! I feel great,” she says. “Young is sexy but you can’t keep doing those things. I meet women from all over the world who whine, ‘I’m 40 and I’m starting to get wrinkles’ and I just glaze over. It’s silly. Go volunteer — get out of yourself and start thinking of other people.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 9, 2015.