The following article is taken from the book Soap Opera Babylon

    Earthquakes devastate the Tuscany Valley; fires nearly destroy Southfork; and Moldavia may not be the safest place to hold a royal wedding (just ask the machine-gun-crazed cast of Dynasty). But on-screen bloodbaths are sometimes mild compared with the vicious sniping that goes on regularly behind the scenes.

    The soap world is a pressure cooker. The stakes are high - and when push comes to shove, most actors, writers, and producers are all too willing to roll up their sleeves, bare their claws, and go for the jugular.

    Larry Hagman's long-running feud with his Dallas boss, Phil Capice, is legendary. When Capice quit his executive producer post in the spring of 1986, Hagman publicly ridiculed him as "no-talented" and "obnoxious." A cheap shot? In Hollywood, Capice is generally considered one of television's most competent and civilized producers. Hagman, too, is regarded as a genuinely peace-loving man. All-out war seems distinctly out of character for them both. Yet war it's been ever since Larry went on strike - and nearly sabotaged production - six years ago. That was their first skirmish, and it escalated very quickly into a full-blown conflict.

    Let's go back to the summer of 1980 when J.R. had been shot and America was starting to go Dallas crazy. Out of nowhere, Larry Hagman suddenly mushroomed into a matinee (and merchandising) idol. Like any smart businessman he realized it was the perfect time to renegotiate his contract. He had the world by its proverbial tail. But CBS, Lorimar, and Phil Capice somehow weren't aware of that, or at least they coolly feigned innocence and turned up their collective noses at Hagman's demands. So Larry went on strike. He literally left the show - and left California - refusing to return to work unless he got a hefty salary raise.

    It was for the first time that Lorimar and Phil Capice had to deal head-on with the new, improved Larry Hagman - Larry the megastar. His ego had been swelling ever since the airing of the season's cliff-hanger on March 21, 1980.

    When J.R. was gunned down by an unknown assailant, Larry knocked Alan Alda out of the top slot as America's favorite male TV star. "All of a sudden at forty-nine I'm a sex symbol," Larry later confided to TV Guide. "All well and good. CBS was making a bundle. Lorimar, the production company, was feeling no pain either. Me? The guys peddling the T-shirts with my face on them were probably doing better than I was."

    On June 12, 1980, the first day of shooting for the new season, Larry was conspicuously absent from the set. He was, in fact, lollygaging in London - six thousand miles from Lorimar's L.A. studios - flaunting his bad-boy, let's-play-hooky behavior by grinning for the Fleet Street paparazzi while he toured Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. While Hagman fiddled, Lorimar burned - and then retaliated. Capice's first move was to start negotiating with Robert Culp to replace Hagman as J.R. With his strong TV credits - I Spy and The Greatest American Hero - Culp was (hopefully) a big enough name to fill the gap, yet he wouldn't cost the show an arm and a leg per episode.

    Capice's second move was to pave the way in storyline terms for a possible Culp takeover. As production began on the new season with Hagman's future still up in the air, J.R.'s post-gunshot fate also remained purposely vague. At first J.R. was played by an unknown actor, a double, with his face completely wrapped in bandages. The scripts began hinting that J.R. might require extensive plastic surgery. That gimmick, of course, was to smooth over Culp's possible arrival: it would have easily explained the fact that Culp bore no resemblance at all to his much rounder-faced, less handsome predecessor.

    During those sultry June days - while Hagman nonchalantly sipped champagne and checked out the thoroughbreds at Ascot, then moved on to the Bahamas for some gambling at Paradise Island - the wheels of contract wizardry ground exceedingly slowly. For a time it did look as if he might have overplayed his hand. True, Hagman was holding some rather high cards - his enormous viewer popularity was worth a couple of aces - but other high-rollers like Farrah Fawcett (Charlie's Angels) and Suzanne Somers (Three's Company) had tried the same holdout tactics before, only to find themselves left out in the cold. Hagman acknowledged the fact that he was locked into a "dangerous game," but he was fully prepared to go to the limit. And Lorimar knew that. They also knew that he was too valuable to lose. And, perhaps, the only alternative - replacing him - was just too damned risky. Dallas had never recast a major role before; they had no way of gauging viewer reaction. Would the public accept a new J.R., or turn away in droves? Ultimately, Dallas couldn't risk finding out. After ten sweltering days, Lorimar have in to Hagman's sky-high financial demands. And agreed to pay him a whopping $75,000 per episode (an unprecedented amount for a prime-time soaper).

    Hagman's costars - Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, and Victoria Principal - were all secretly cheering him on, and for good reason. His victory would undoubtedly mean future salary raises for them, too. But the back-stage brass came off the battlefield still licking their wounds. It boiled down to this: an actor had gained more ground; therefore, the producers had lost some. For the next six years the situation would continue to deteriorate.

    Hagman frequently made unasked-for storyline suggestions, not all of which were appreciated by the writers and producers. Even when certain plot twists eventually did find their way onto the screen, the question of credit was sometimes disputed. A case in point: the revelation that Ray Krebbs was really Jock Ewing's illegitimate son. According to Steve Kanaly, who plays Ray, that story idea came out of an innocent offset conversation. "Larry Hagman and I were standing around one day," Kanaly recalls, "and Larry looked at Patrick Duffy and Jim Davis (who played Jock). Then he turned to me and suddenly said, 'You know, Steve, you look more like you could be Jim's don than any of us.' Well, a light went on - Larry and I got the idea at the same exact moment - and we ran right to the producers with it."

    Shortly afterward the writers began planting the seeds for Ray's eventual Ewingization. Nevertheless, Phil Capice later denied that either Kanaly or Hagman had ever volunteered any input regarding that storyline. According to Capice, the show's writers had long been toying with the idea of developing a fuller life for Ray, of transforming him from the outcast ranch foreman into a more sympathetic figure. Making him an instant Ewing, which bound him closer to the other main characters - was the way they chose to do it. Capice maintains that they would have gone the same route with Ray, even if Steve Kanaly had red hair and freckles and Jim Davis had been dark-haired and olive-skinned.

    He pooh-poohs the notion that anyone on the set ever noticed a strong physical resemblance between Kanaly and Davis. As further proof that the producers, not Hagman, always had Kanaly's best interests at heart, he mentions that Susan Howard (Donna) was originally brought on as a new love interest for Ken Kercheval (Cliff) - there was even a brief, early reference to the fact that Cliff and Donna were old college classmates - but viewers never saw the relationship develop. Capice and company decided to save her for a major involvement with Kanaly instead - another example of their dedication to expanding Kanaly's role on the show.

    Perhaps Larry Hagman actually made the storyline contributions to the show; perhaps not. But over the years his power backstage definitely increased. He was responsible for cigarette smoking being banned on the set. He fought to get Linda Gray a shot at directing one episode. Each season he directed several episodes himself. And he became a kind of one-man actors' union, often championing other people's grievances. According to Linda Gray, if someone was having trouble with the wardrobe or makeup department, if they wanted a line change in the script, he or she frequently bypassed the producers' office and went directly to Larry. He had a reputation for getting things done.

    In the actors' eyes, Larry became more and more of a hero. "We all adore him," says Pat Colbert, who plays Dora Mae, the hostess at the Oil Baron's Club. "He and Patrick Duffy keep us in stitches during rehearsal. They're our life preservers when things get tense." On one not-so-funny occasion, though, during the filming of a restaurant scene, Larry noticed that an extra had started to choke on a piece of food. "The rest of us had our backs turned, so Larry was the only one who really saw what was happening," recalls Pat. "He didn't waste a second. He rushed over and performed the Heimlich maneuver. In a matter of seconds he saved that man's life."

    As Hagman's stock rose on the set, Capice's seemed to decline. His unsuccessful attempt to foist Donna Reed on the cast - as the new Miss Ellie - only exacerbated the situation.

    In the spring of 1983, sixty-year-old Barbara Bel Geddes - the show's original Miss Ellie - began to be plagued by heart problems. She finished out the season - barely - and five days after shooting her last scenes underwent triple bypass surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She returned to Dallas the following fall, but her workload had to be considerably lightened and she missed several episodes in September and October while she was still convalescing. (The writers explained her sudden absence by sending Miss Ellie on a long trip to Galveston.) Barbara finished out that season, but then chose to leave permanently. She announced that she was retiring from the grind of weekly television for the sake of her health.

    Dallas was now confronted with a prickly dilemma: how to handle her departure. The producers created a dark scenario to explain her absence (they could quietly pull the plug on Miss Ellie) and a lighter one (they could send her off on an endless world cruise with her bridegroom, Clayton Farlow). Death or disappearance - the devil or the deep blue sea - neither option made much sense.

    In 1981 Dallas had faced the death of actor Jim Davis by killing off his character, too. But with Jock Ewing, the patriarch of the clan, gone, terminating Miss Ellie seemed out of the question. The show couldn't survive both parental figures gone.

    "We didn't want to leave J.R. an orphan," explains Capice. "When Jim Davis died, there was so much publicity surrounding his death, and he was so identified with the character of Jock Ewing, that there was never any question of replacing him. Out of respect to Jim's memory, we felt it would be wrong to bring in another actor. Besides, we still had Miss Ellie fulfilling that very important parental role of keeping J.R. in line.

    "However, Barbara's leaving was a far different situation. We couldn't simply eliminate Miss Ellie - she was the only authority figure left at Southfork - it would have changed the whole chemistry of the show. Without mama around, J.R. would have started running wild. Family devotion - to his mother, to his son - that's what redeems him. So even though we were concerned that the audience might not suspend its disbelief and accept a new actress in the role, it was the only option open to us. We had no good solution to the problem of Barbara Bel Geddes leaving; so we felt recasting was the lesser of two evils."

    And so Donna Reed, who had starred in her own TV sitcom, The Donna Reed Show, for eight seasons, was persuaded to step in. She joined the show several weeks into the 1984-85 season - with an avalanche of preparatory hype in all the supermarket tabloids - but viewers just didn't warm up to her. There were also reports that Larry Hagman, who'd supposedly campaigned for his own mother, Mary Martin (a genuine Texan), to take over the role, gave Donna only a lukewarm reception on the set. All in all it was a difficult season for her. In her attempt not to copy Barbara Bel Geddes' performance, she created a Miss Ellie who seemed to come from a much more rarefied atmosphere than the rest of the Ewings. Donna's version of Miss Ellie was a gracious Southfork matron, well-bred and distinctly upper crust. It was hard to believe that she'd ever roped cattle and branded steers at her daddy's side.

    Her success on Dallas seemed dubious at best, but other changes virtually signed her pink slip. In the spring of 1985 two other cast members - Charlene Tilton and Patrick Duffy - decided to jump ship. In the light of those defections, Lorimar felt it was imperative to get Barbara Bel Geddes back. Even though Donna Reed had signed a four year contract, the show hastily bought her out, but reportedly handled her dismissal in a less than tactful way. (She got word that she'd been dumped from the show while on vacation in Europe, with no prior warning from the producers.)

    Meanwhile Larry Hagman and Linda Gray, two of Barbara's closest pals in the cast, phoned her at her sixty-acre farm in upstate New York and helped convince her to return. After a year off, she was in much better physical condition and, obviously, the charm of permanent retirement wore off pretty quickly. As far as returning went, more money wasn't an issue, but her health was. So Barbara's new contract exempted her from doing any location shooting in Dallas during June and July, the two hottest months of the year.

    After spending most of her year-long retirement just relaxing at her farm, Barbara was more than anxious to get back to work. But the crossfire over Donna Reed's dismissal disturbed her. "I think the way she was told was very unfortunate," Barbara confided to a national tabloid. "You would have thought that the producers could have discussed it with her before she went on vacation."

    Donna herself was angry enough to institute a lawsuit against her former bosses, but her war with Dallas proved futile. Just a few months after leaving the show, she was stricken with cancer and died before the year was out.

    Donna Reed's death - and the backstage maneuvering surrounding Barbara Bel Geddes' return - weren't the only shadows hanging over the Southfork set. The dawn of the 1986-86 season - without Patrick Duffy - left the show minus a strong romantic leading man. Suddenly, life at Southfork seemed lackluster and vapid, and the ratings soon began to reflect it. Dallas tried to introduce new characters and storylines, but the public balked. Dack Rambo, who played a tall, dark, and handsome Ewing cousin, Jack, was supposed to rake viewer's minds off Patrick Duffy. It didn't work. Neither did some of the show's other hastily concocted ploys - like the resurrection of Pam's old lover Mark Graison (John Beck) or Sue Ellen's umpteenth bout with alcoholism.

    Barbara Carrera came on - dressed to the nines and dripping with venom - as a new match for J.R. Her character, Angelica Nero, was part Joan Collins, part Dragon Lady - but somehow her exotic Mediterranean style seemed bizarrely out of place on the dusty Southfork landscape. "It was like running into Eva Peron at a Sunday barbecue," one setsider sniped. "You kept wondering if she'd poisoned the A-1 sauce!"

    All through the show's declining eighth season, Hagman and Capice fought over the show's new touches. Hagman, with much support from other cast members, argued that the writers were veering too far away from family squabbles and star-crossed love - Dallas' real strengths - in favor of James Bond-type adventure. And it wasn't keeping viewers hooked. Certainly, this season, the Ewings and the Barneses were doing more globe-trotting than ever before. There was a dazzling emerald-mine expedition to Venezuela and a Greek assassination plot against J.R, aboard an Onassis-style yacht, but despite those storylines pyrotechnics ratings continued to slide.

    The tabloids asserted that one daring storyline never even made it to the air. Originally, Barbara Carerra was supposed to be involved in a lesbian relationship with her female assistant (played by Merete Van Kamp), but Larry Hagman, Susan Howard (who's a born-again Christian), and Barbara Bel Geddes all threatened to walk if that storyline was actually played out. They were adamant about keeping Dallas a family-oriented show - and they ultimately got their way.

    By the end of the season, Carrera and Van Kamp were both gone - and the show was making a strong effort to return to its roots. In an even more surprising development, Patrick Duffy was back (after he lost the lead in another TV series, Heart of the City), and Hagman couldn't have been more delighted about his TV brother's return. He'd predicted that Duffy wouldn't stay away forever, and he'd been proven right on another count, too - exotic storylines didn't work on Dallas.

    Hagman also got his way as far as Phil Capice is concerned. Tired of haggling with the show's temperamental stars and constantly worrying about ebbing ratings, Capice finally bowed out and Leonard Katzman (who enjoyed a much smoother relationship with Hagman) became the new executive producer.

Jason Bonderoff