By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
This wasn't supposed to be a story about a catastrophe. This wasn't supposed to be about a gunfight at Southfork Ranch that ends with some poor schmuck on the run from media hordes and hundreds of ticket-holders demanding a refund or else. Didn't even see it coming.
When we headed out to the Collin County town of Parker on November 9 for the Dallas 30th Anniversary Reunion, all anyone hoped for was a barbecue-flavored Star Trek convention. On the guest list: Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and their cast mates, along with some 2,000 rabid fans whose affection for the CBS series has only grown in the 17 years since its absence. Seemed like the surest bet in the world: J.R. Ewing back at the ranch, and surrounding him, a horde of Jock-sniffers who'd flown in from 'round the globe to shake the hand of the man they've loved to hate ever since 1978.
The last thing anyone ever expected was an international incident, but ever since the event wrapped shortly after midnight on November 10, that's precisely what it's become.
Just ask the man in the kilt.
His name is James Gillies, a mortgage broker from Edinburgh, Scotland, who doesn't exactly have piles of spare Euros lying around. Yet he decided "instantly" to purchase a thousand-dollar ticket to the reunion the moment he found out about it on UltimateDallas.com, the reigning fan site for the TV show that, in 1980, landed Hagman's grinning visage on the cover of Time.
Gillies arrived in Texas on Friday for the Saturday event. In tow is his friend Sharon MacDonald, also a rabid fan; it was MacDonald, in fact, who told Gillies about the event. Both were flying out on Sunday. Theirs will be a quick trip—just enough time to cash in on their tickets, which promised a private cocktail party and a photo with the entire cast.
And why have they traveled so far and spent so much for the privilege? Quite simple, really: "I'm J.R. Gillies, even at work. Customers still know me as J.R. They don't even know my name, and it's because of the show, and here we are, 30 years on." Gillies says this as he stands near the pool behind Southfork, which up close resembles a concrete puddle.
Gillies and MacDonald are waiting to take their photo with the cast, including Hagman, Duffy (baby bro Bobby), Gray (victimized, then victorious Sue Ellen) Ken Kerchival (J.R.'s longtime rival Cliff Barnes), Charlene Tilton (wild child Lucy Ewing), Mary Crosby (whose Kristin Shepard shot J.R.) and Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard, who played the show's downright decent couple, Ray and Donna Krebbs. The Scots are five folks away from having their picture made.
"For us, it was always about the glamour," Gillies says. "Being in Scotland, we had nothing like that at all. Fights over land and oil, greed—you know, we had it between families at home, but not like over here. And not with all the glamour, either. We're a little bit poorer, but to see people dressed like that, living that lifestyle, it's great. And, of course, it's J.R. He was the man." He laughs. "He was so bad he was good, and Larry Hagman was perfect."
"I love Larry Hagman," MacDonald says. "Love him." She's beaming. Shaking too.
Just then, Duffy puts a stop to the photo shoot, insisting several of the female cast members need a bathroom break. "We'll be back in five minutes," he says. Kanaly—who, in his white cowboy hat and tan sports coat and pressed blue jeans, still looks much as he did when lecturing a young Brad Pitt in the 1988 episode "Farlow's Follies"—grabs a beer and walks through the crowd. He asks folks to be patient. "We'll get to everybody soon as we can," Kanaly says.
He comes across MacDonald and Gillies, whose kilt and cap have grabbed his attention.
"Love Scotland," Kanaly says, extending his hand. "All duded up and everything. Very good."
"Thank you," Gillies says, his rich brogue seemingly an octave higher than before. "Lookin' forward to tonight." They shake hands. MacDonald extends hers; it's trembling.
"Well, I don't know what the program is," Kanaly says. "A little question-and-answer thing, you know. I'm not sure what we're gonna do. But we're all here. It's what they call a happening, hunh? Have your cards filled out? They're gonna come back in five minutes."
With that, Kanaly ducks back into the house. Gillies fills out a card that he's to present to the photographer, who will then use the information to send the pair their photograph. Five minutes. Four. Three. Almost there...
"I'm actually shaking," Gillies says. "Can't believe I'm here."
"It's unbelievable," MacDonald says. "I've always loved the thought of meeting them—especially Larry. And now I get to go stand beside him. I can't believe it. I can't believe it."
Only, Sharon MacDonald never meet Hagman or Duffy or any other Ewing, for that matter. Because a five-minute break turns into forever, as cast members disappear to parts hither and yon. Sheree Wilson—perhaps more famous around these parts for her eight-year run as Assistant District Attorney Alex Cahill on Walker, Texas Ranger—somehow winds up on a black-top driveway far away from the house. As the sun begins to set, she's on a cell phone telling someone that she isn't quite sure where she was supposed to be. Nearby, Ken Kerchival leans against a limousine, smoking a cigarette. And out in a field, Hagman is being whisked away by helicopter— again and again and again, each ride lasting some 15 minutes.