Longform

Dallas Cast Reunion Leaves Fans Southforked

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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.

At the same time, folks who paid $1,000 per ticket for VIP privileges are discovering that their reserved seats next to the stage, from which the cast would conduct a Q&A much later, have been snatched by folks who'd arrived earlier to claim the prized tables. Says Darla Cook of Forever Resorts, the Arizona-based company that manages Southfork, the reunion show's producer, Jason Hardison, had yanked the reserved seating in order to accommodate late arrivals to whom he doled out dozens of free tickets. According to Hardison, Southfork officials let in 2,000 extra people who did not pay for tickets.

According to a postmortem by the Collin County Constable's Office, "the systems that were in place or put into place during the event would have made it unrealistic that 2,000 people circumvented the security system."

What's the truth? Probably somewhere in between—though it didn't feel as though there were 4,000 people crammed into a space intended for 2,000. It was madness, absolutely, but unecessarily uncomfortable—just a pile of people scrambling for access, many in foreign tongues. It was the Ranch House of Babel.

Nevertheless, days after the event, the whole thing became a he said-she said-they said mess, with WFAA-Channel 8 showing footage of Hardison refusing to come out of hotel room at the Crescent Court and The Dallas Morning News running several articles about how things had gone south at Southfork. Hardison, who staged events with Willie Nelson and Jimmy Buffett for Kinky Friedman during his gubernatorial run two years ago (which Friedman confirms), says he's "personally broken-hearted for those people who had their dreams shattered." And he promises to make good—though how, well, he doesn't know and can't say.

"All I know is, a quiet pilgrimage back to Dallas turned into Woodstock," he says days later. "I felt like we were at the Alamo." Southfork claims Hardison owes more than $8,000 for liquor; Hardison says Southfork owes him for "the 2,000 extra they let in." It's gotten so ugly that Charlene Tilton has posted to her Web site an apology that reads, in part, "When I hear stories like the couple that flew all the way from Australia and bought $500 tickets and never got to meet the cast it breaks my heart."

Not all comers had a bum time. There were, after all, those fans who did get their photos taken with the cast and who did get their tattered copies of Laura Van Wormer's 1985 Dallas: The Official Biography of the Ewings signed by the entire cast. Among the contented lot is Michael Turner, who moved to Dallas from Shreveport partially, he says, "because the show changed my life." Later in this story you will find a 47-year-old man from Belgium for whom Southfork on that Saturday night was his field of dreams—his slice of heaven in the middle of a pasture. Simply being there was enough for him; the stars were an added attraction. Especially Sue Ellen. (Ah, Sue Ellen.)

Darla Cook, upset as she is over Southfork's good name being tarnished over what Tilton calls a "fiasco" on her Web site, likes to tell the tale of a couple from India sent to the reunion on the occasion of their 37th wedding anniversary. The husband and wife knew little of the show or what it stood for way back when. But their son sent them to Dallas—pardon, to Dallas—because it represented to him the American Dream.

"When people come to Southfork from out of the country, the first thing they ask is, 'Where's J.R.?'" she says. "They think he lives here. They literally think this is how Americans live. And when they think of America they think of Dallas, they think of Texas, they think of oil barons and living with longhorns in the pastures and everything being bigger than life."

Alas, there are others who came to the ranch and left with only a bitter taste. And shattered dreams.

"It was pretty bad," Gillies wrote in an e-mail to the Dallas Observer two days after his return to Scotland. "So much so that the girl I was with, Sharon, a lifelong Dallas enthusiast, said it had really killed her dreams too. We can, I suppose, look back and say, 'We were there,' but it could have really been a fairy tale rather than a disjointed dream."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky