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Sue Ellen redux

‘Dallas’ actress on her former co-stars, life after Larry and the hit show’s gay following

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Linda Gray, Sue Ellen, Dallas, gay news, Washington Blade
Linda Gray, Sue Ellen, Dallas, gay news, Washington Blade

Linda Gray as Sue Ellen on ‘Dallas.’ Gray says it’s been a joy to return to the show 20 years later. (Photo courtesy TNT)

“Dallas,” the reboot of the classic 1978-1991 nighttime soap, returns for its third season Monday night on TNT and promises plenty of fresh backstabbing and intrigue.

John Ross (Josh Henderson) is working to live up to his father’s reputation, Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) is reeling from a failed engagement and Elena (Jordana Brewster) is consumed with finding the justice that eluded her brother Drew (Kuno Becker) and mother Carmen (Marlene Forte).

It’s a pivotal turning point for the show — this will be its first full season without J.R. as actor Larry Hagman died in November 2012. He was in seven of season two’s 15 episodes and his character’s death was a major storyline last year.

Linda Gray, whose iconic character Sue Ellen has been willing to help her son any way she can on the new show, caught up with the Blade during a break in filming in Dallas two weeks ago, where it was snowing.

WASHINGTON BLADE: Snow is somewhat unusual but not unheard of for Dallas, right?

LINDA GRAY: I know. I’m just in heaven. It’s beautiful.

 

BLADE: You live in Los Angeles?

GRAY: Yes. I’m in Dallas six months, then L.A. six months. That’s a nice combination.

 

BLADE: I understand more of the show is filmed on location than was true for the old “Dallas,” right?

GRAY: Yes. We used to come here in the ‘80s for two months and work six days a week, then we went home and did eight-and-a-half months in L.A. So here we do 15 shows and we live here which is really kind of nice. At first we were like, “Oh, we have to move to Dallas?” but it’s quite amazing because then we get to show the audience all the greatness of Dallas. It’s changed so much since the ‘80s.

 

BLADE: How aware have you been of the show’s gay following? Do you sense it’s any different now than it was on the old show?

GRAY: I’m very aware it has a gay following and I’m beyond thrilled. I have so many, many, many friends who are gay and I adore them. There’s a JR’s and a Sue Ellen’s here, gay bars.

 

BLADE: We have a JR.’s in D.C., too.

GRAY: Oh, do you really? It’s so fantastic to have the support and we’ve always had it and … it’s been great. We love you right back. Dallas itself has a huge gay community here and they’re very supportive as well.

 

BLADE: What similarities or differences do you see now in how the show is rebounding dramatically from Larry’s passing versus how the original series dealt with the death of Jim Davis (Ewing family patriarch Jock)? I know it’s not exactly the same thing, but both were huge losses to the shows just a few seasons in.

GRAY: The entire team has changed, the writers, everything has changed and it’s an evolution that is — well, I step back and I look at this 20-year hiatus and it’s very bizarre to come back and do it again, but in such a good way. So now I think the approach is kind of like we’re outsiders looking in and seeing how the Ewings have evolved. And now without Larry, that threw everybody a curve and those wonderful writers — I always applaud the writers because without them and their great brains and their minds that kind of go off in wonderful directions, there would be no show. They had last season already approved by the networks and when Larry passed, they had to scramble and again, I applaud them because they did a magical shuffling around to kind of piece this together and still be an interesting, entertaining show without the key, which was huge — J.R. Ewing and Larry Hagman, I mean you know that was a huge void for me personally and I’m sure for everybody in the audience, it’s huge. So I look at it as an observer and say, “Wow, what a great job they’ve done.” They have to handle everything as it comes, as we all do in life. You don’t expect this to happen, but it did and now what are you going to do with it? When Jim Davis died, the producers were great. They moved his dressing room right on the soundstage because just like Larry, he wanted to die doing what he loved. They didn’t say, “No, you’re going into hospice or something,” they moved his dressing room right on the soundstage so we would do a scene and come in and hang out with Jim. When you’re doing a series, you’re so bonded as a family. You step in there and you’re supportive and you send them love. I would say “Dallas” has been blessed with a little bit of fairy dust that has been scattered on us from day one. The cast was wonderful, the writers were great, et cetera, and now it’s happening again and since I was one of the originals, it’s amazing to see how similar it is.

 

BLADE: You worked with Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie) for many years. After she left before the last season, she never appeared in any final episode, TV movies, cast reunions or anything. What would she think of this new series? (Bel Geddes died in 2005.)

GRAY: She was a savvy, bawdy broad, is what I called her, and I would call it to her face. We were so close. I’d call her Mama, on and off camera. She was this crusty New England broad. She was feisty and fabulous and such a huge classy addition to the Ewing family. I really was so shocked when I knew she was doing a series because I thought Barbara Bel Geddes, you know she worked with Tennessee Williams and Alfred Hitchcock. She was so classy and so when I first walked into the room, I’ll never forget it. I saw Major Nelson — Larry Hagman. I saw Patrick Duffy — “Man From Atlantis.” And then I saw Barbara Bel Geddes and I thought, “What’s wrong with this picture? Is this a sitcom? What is this show?” Internally I started laughing because I thought what is this? … But I just watched this magical thing happen and, you know, the Ewings became bigger than life. So for me it was great to work with her. She was astounding, she was quiet, she would make great funny little remarks during the rehearsals and then when you had a scene with her, man, you better be on your toes. You better bring your A game because she could bury you with a look. She was to me the same caliber as my two favorites — Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. There was no nonsense with her. It was just, “I’m here to work, I know what I’m doing, I’m a professional, I’m Broadway trained, I’m theater trained, I’ve worked with the best so don’t mess around with me.”

 

Linda Gray, Sue Ellen, Dallas, gay news, Washington Blade

The cast of ‘Dallas.’ The reboot of the classic series returns Monday night. (Photo courtesy TNT)

BLADE: But what would her reaction be to this new series?

GRAY: I think she’d probably sit down with a glass of Scotch in her condominium and probably just laugh her ass off. She’d probably roll her eyes, going “How are we back again” and “Look at that younger generation.” But she would be a hoot. I think she would love the new show, love the kids, complain about everything — she loved to complain. She’d complain it was too hot, or, “What the hell are we doing, it’s snowing today,” or “What am I doing in Dallas,” blah blah blah blah blah. Yet the bottom line, she would love it.

 

BLADE: Victoria Principal has been a little different — she’s said she’s against reviving Pam in any kind of dramatic way, yet has joined up a few times in a non-dramatic capacity like the Vanity Fair photo (1995) and the 2004 reunion special. Over the years do you feel the rest of the cast has respected her wishes not to revive Pam or do you think there’s been some arm twisting to have her join in more often?

GRAY: I think we all respect her. I don’t think she wanted to come back and I don’t even know if the producers went after her or tried really pursuing her, I really don’t know. When you’re asked to come back, your gears are in different motion. You’re in forward motion. You’re thinking, “OK, gotta get to Dallas,” and you don’t really say, “Why isn’t so-and-so here?” For each person, it’s their choice and her choice was not to be in it so you respect everybody’s choice. We don’t see her very often. She was never kind of with us, you know, she was never — Larry, Patrick (Duffy) and I were very close and I was very close with Barbara and she just chose not to be as inclusive. I don’t mean that to — she just didn’t hang out with us.

 

BLADE: Any chance we might be seeing more of Lucy (Charlene Tilton)?

GRAY: Those are great questions but I don’t know the answers. The producers and writers, they write the scripts and if Lucy comes back, great, Ray Krebbs comes back, Steve (Kanaly) it’s always great to see him and it’s always fun to see them all. I do see Charlene in Los Angeles. She lives near my children. You know, it’s this great family, but since they’ve added all the young new people, it’s crowded. How many people can you bring back? It is fun for the audience when you see Charlene (Lucy), Steve (Ray Krebbs) and Kenny (Cliff Barnes), but it’s more a question for the producers.

 

BLADE: Larry was so anti-smoking yet Barbara smoked a lot. Did they ever clash over that on set?

GRAY: No, she would just tell him to get lost or, you know, just dismiss him. I think she smoked more in private. I never saw her smoke on the set.

 

BLADE: Now that it’s so many years later, do you feel the dream season was a good idea? People seem divided on whether it was clever or a jump-the-shark moment.

GRAY: Well, I don’t think people know all the dealings of how it really came about. Larry called Patrick and said, “I want you back.” He felt J.R. needed that brother, the good guy-bad guy kind of thing. I remember he called Patrick and Patrick knew when he got that phone call, what Larry was going to propose. He knew that intuitively. So he went over to his house in Malibu and they had a glass of Champagne and they may have gotten in the Jacuzzi, I don’t really know what happened there, but he talked Patrick into coming back so it was up to the producers to bring Patrick back and that was not an easy task to come up with. You know up front, no matter what they did, they would be criticized. … That was one of the things about “Dallas” that was exciting was that people would talk about it the next day. Did you like this? Look at Sue Ellen’s hair. Did you hate this? What about Bobby? What about J.R. drinking? Whatever. He’d call it water cooler chat. Whether you liked it or not, we knew it was going to cause chaos. So they had the idea for him to do the fake Irish Spring soap commercial where they edited out everything but him saying, “Good morning.” … A lot of people hated it and just stopped watching the show, they said it was ridiculous. A lot of people thought it was funny. A lot of people went, “Wow, that was a great dream sequence.” So no matter how you felt, good, bad or indifferent, they needed him back and they accomplished that.

 

BLADE: You look great but still look like yourself. What’s your skin care regimen?

GRAY: You’re sweet, thanks. When my peers no longer look like themselves, it scares me. There’s not a secret, I swear. I have a great skin care regimen. I never sleep with makeup on, I drink a lot of water. Hydration is huge. I eat great. I cook most of my own meals. A lot of green stuff — we’re from California, remember. And that’s it. You know, a good attitude goes a long way. And I exercise. I do all the things we’re supposed to do. Sometimes I don’t want to. I don’t want to get up early and go to the gym, but I do. I think complexion is more important than pulling and cutting your face. I’d rather have a good glowy complexion, so I use good skin care products and I use them twice a day. It’s like brushing your teeth. There’s no big secret.

 

BLADE: Could you ever imagine a gay wedding at Southfork?

GRAY: Sure! Why not?

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Lawna Jocqui

    February 20, 2014 at 10:10 pm

    I just adore Linda. She made an appearance in the Dallas gayborhood not too long ago. Lovely lady!

  2. Peter-Nicholas Fragasso

    February 20, 2014 at 11:54 pm

    I do not believe that my partner and I have ever missed a Dallas episode. Back in 78 we had a VCR and I always taped Dallas. It was always too good to miss. We're really enjoying the new version too. Keep on goin'.♥

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Out & About

Forget Santa Claus – Ginger Minj is comin’ to town

‘Drag Race’ alum’s Winter Wonderland Tour stops in D.C. Nov. 29 and 30

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Ginger Minj will perform her holiday spectacular Winter Wonderland Tour at Miracle Theatre.

Ginger Minj is a busy little elf.

From her new country album “Double Wide Diva” to sporadic stints in TV and movies to her upcoming book, “Southern Fried Sass” (which reportedly scored her a six-figure deal), the “Drag Race” diva is everywhere these days, including a venue near you. On Nov. 29 and 30, the new queen of Christmas will perform her holiday spectacular Winter Wonderland Tour at Miracle Theatre.

We recently caught up with the multitalented actress/comedian/singer to discuss her continued success, including making friends with Jennifer Aniston while filming Netflix’s “Dumplin,’” her take on the latest Dave Chappelle backlash, the best Christmas gift she’s ever received, and what exactly makes her the “nicest bitch” this side of the North Pole – but first, let’s take a sleigh ride back to the beginning.

BLADE: Tell me a bit about how you got started in drag and the genesis of Ginger Minj. 

GINGER MINJ: Like most good show-tune-loving queers, I stumbled into drag through musical theater. I auditioned for a show that required either full-frontal nudity or drag, and I figured I would fare better in a wig and heels than nothing at all. I got the role and really took to it quickly. I felt more free and honest as a performer than I ever had before, and I realized I could make a livable income doing something that I was wholly responsible for creating. 

BLADE: How has your appearance on “Drag Race” helped your career, and what are your top takeaways from your time on the show?

GM: It’s an international platform that allows us to introduce ourselves to the entire world. It got me a seat at the table with people and places that refused to even open the door for me in the past. I think there was – and maybe still is sometimes – this initial assumption that drag artists are limited in their talents, but we have been able to show the world that we are just as talented and capable as any other entertainer. I don’t wear a wig as a gimmick. I wear it as an accessory, and it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be taken as seriously as any other actor, singer, etc. “Drag Race” is doing a great job of showing the world that – and I’ll forever be grateful.

BLADE: If folks didn’t catch you on “Drag Race,” they might recognize you from the 2018 Netflix movie “Dumplin’” starring Jennifer Aniston and Dove Cameron. What was your experience like on set, and do you have any other TV/film projects in the works?

GM: “Dumplin’” was the single best experience of my life! Jennifer Aniston brought me coffee every morning, and Kathy Najimy had my trailer moved next to hers so we could listen to Beyoncé and play with makeup. That entire cast and crew treated all of us queens with unbelievable respect. It really gave me a passion for filmmaking and, yes, I’m happy to say there are a few more projects – big screen and small – coming your way soon.

BLADE: What makes you the “nicest bitch you’ll ever meet?”

GM: It’s like those good ole’ southern church ladies who will give you the shirts off their backs but read you to filth for not bringing one of your own. The only thing bigger than my mouth is my heart and the “shady” things I say should never be taken seriously. 

BLADE: As a comedian yourself, what are your thoughts on the latest Dave Chappelle/Netflix controversy?

GM: I’ve always felt like comedy and drag go hand in hand: It’s an outrageous way to start a conversation and make people confront their own feelings about anything and everything. That being said, I think there’s a way to do that without disparaging and discrediting an entire group of human beings. I think it’s shameful that someone with that great of a platform would choose to punch down. 

BLADE: Your new single “Walk Tall” is about growing up gay in the South – and it’s a very good song. Radio worthy even, but a hard sell, given its content, to a country-music audience. How do you think that changes? Will LGBTQ+ country artists ever enjoy the kind of success their straight counterparts do?

GM: I think so. To be completely honest with you, I’ve gotten much more support for that album from the country community than I have from the drag world. The message is so universal, and we were very careful to do it in an authentic, simple way. When we stop focusing on our differences and start embracing our similarities, the world can change. I just do the things that make me happy and hope it finds the people who need to hear it. 

BLADE: Christmas is just around the corner – do you prefer giving or receiving? What’s your most prized Christmas present from the past?

GM: I’m definitely a giver! I drive myself crazy for months researching and planning and looking for the perfect gifts for everyone. It’s my way of showing the people I care most about that while I may be busy, I’m listening. I hear them, I see them, and I appreciate them. The best Christmas present I ever got was a cheap plastic pair of ruby slippers from my mama when I was a kid. I still have them. That moment changed my life forever. It’s what actually inspired “Walk Tall.”

BLADE: Like Santa Claus himself, the Ginger Minj Winter Wonderland Tour 2021 is coming to town. What do you have in store for audiences this holiday season?

GM: What don’t we have in store?! There are 20 costume changes, instructional videos gone terribly wrong, singing, dancing, magic tricks, fog machines, comedy, and it even snows over the audience! This is the biggest, prettiest, most ambitious show we have ever put together.

BLADE: Looking forward to 2022, what’s in the works? What are a few of your New Year’s resolutions?

GM: So many great things — more music, some movies, some TV, a stage production of “La Cage aux Folles” in Chicago, and my book “Southern Fried Sass” will hit the shelves. It’s a great time to be the “Glamour Toad,” and I am grateful every single day. 

Mikey Rox is an award-winning journalist and LGBT lifestyle expert whose work has been published in more than 100 outlets across the world. Connect with Mikey on Instagram @mikeyroxtravels.

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Music & Concerts

Forget streaming, the holiday classics return to area stages

Bring your proof of vaccination and check out a local production this season

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A scene from a previous Gay Men's Chorus of Washington Holiday Show. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A year ago, the holiday season was streamed. But now, thanks to various protocols including masks and proof of vaccination, DMV theatergoers can come together and experience – live and in-person — both beloved classics and some promising new works. Here’s a smattering of what’s out there.

At Olney Theatre, Paul Morello is thrilled to bring back “A Christmas Carol 2021” (through Dec. 26), his solo adaptation of Dickens’ ghost story. Concerning returning to a live audience, Morello says, “While this is technically a one-person show, it’s really about the connection and collaboration with an audience, being in the same room, breathing in unison. I can’t do this without an audience and for a story that thrives on redemption, mortality, isolation, the need for community and connection, and the things that matter most, the timing couldn’t be better.”

Olney also presents “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” through Jan. 2. This musical “tale as old as time” stars out actor Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero plays the Beast. olneytheatre.org

For the holidays, Synetic Theater at Crystal City is reworking “Cinderella” (Nov. 27-Dec. 26). Led by an all-female team of creators, this festive take on the classic fairytale is inspired by Afro-Latino music and dance. Directed and adapted by Maria Simpkins who also plays the title role. synetictheater.org

Last year, because of COVID-19, Ford’s Theatre presented “A Christmas Carol” as a radio broadcast, but now the fully produced play returns to the venue’s historic stage through Dec. 27. A popular Washington tradition for more than 30 years, the thoroughly enjoyable and topnotch take on the Dickens’ classic features Craig Wallace reprising the part of Scrooge, the miser who after a night of ghostly visits, rediscovers Christmas joy. fords.org

Another D.C. tradition guaranteed to put audiences in a holiday mood is the Washington Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” playing at the Warner Theatre through Dec. 26. Set to Tchaikovsky’s enchanted score, this charming and superbly executed offering takes place in Georgetown circa 1882 and features a retinue of historic figures along with children, rats, fairies and a mysterious godfather. Choreography is by Septime Webre. washingtonballet.org

The Folger Consort, the superb early music ensemble in residence at the Folger, will be performing seven concerts of “A Medieval Christmas” (Dec. 10-18) at St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill. A streaming version of the concert will also be available to view on-demand. folger.edu

At Lincoln Theatre, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. presents “The Holiday Show” (Dec. 4, 11, and 12) replete with tap-dancing elves, a dancing Christmas tree, snow, and a lot more. The fun and festive program’s song list includes “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, “The 12 Rockin’ Days of Christmas,” and “Boogie Woogie Frosty.” Featured performances range from the full Chorus, soloists, all GMCW ensembles, and the GenOUT Youth Chorus. gmcw.org

Arena Stage is marking the season with August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” (through Dec. 26), a drama about a small group of friends who gather following the untimely death of their friend, a blues guitarist on the edge of stardom. Directed by Tazewell Thompson, the production features an exciting cast that includes local actors Dane Figueroa Edidi and Roz White. arenastage.org

Creative Cauldron is serving up some holiday magic with “The Christmas Angel” (Dec. 9-19). Based on a little-known 1910 novel by Abbey Farwell Brown, it’s the story of a lonely and bitter spinster who returns to happiness through a box of old toys. The commissioned new holiday musical is a collaboration of longtime musical collaborators and married couple Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith (lyrics and book). creativecauldron.org

In keeping with the Yuletide spirit, the National Theatre presents two feel-good national tour musicals. First, it’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (through Dec. 5), a musical take on Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday tale featuring the hit songs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas.”

Next up is “Tootsie” (Dec. 7-12), the hit musical based on the 1982 gender-bending film starring Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who disguises himself as a woman to land a role on a popular soap opera. The show boasts a Tony-winning book by Robert Horn and a score by Tony winner David Yazbek (The Band’s Visit). thenationaldc.com

Keegan Theatre presents its annual holiday offering, “An Irish Carol” (Dec. 10-31). Set in a modern Dublin pub, the funny yet poignant original work (a nod to Dickens) tracks the changes in the life of a rich but miserable publican over the course of one Christmas Eve. keegantheatre.org

At Theater J, it’s the Kinsey Sicks’ “Oy Vey in a Manger” (Dec. 17-25). Blending drag, four-part harmony, and political humor, the “dragapella beautyshop quartet” brings its own hilariously irreverent view on the holidays. theaterj.org

And through Jan. 2, Signature Theatre continues to brighten the season with its production of Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” directed by the company’s out artistic director Matthew Gardiner and featuring out actor David Merino as Angel, a preternaturally energetic drag queen and percussionist. sigtheare.org

The Music Center at Strathmore, also in Bethesda, is presenting a wide range of musical holiday offerings including “Manheim Steamroller Christmas” (Dec. 3 and 4), a multimedia holiday tradition; Sarah Brightman in “A Christmas Symphony” (Dec. 6 and 7); “A Celtic Christmas with Séan Heely Celtic Band” (Dec. 11); Washington Bach Consort’s “Bach’s Epic Christmas Oratorio” (Dec. 11); the beloved “The Washington Chorus: A Candlelight Christmas” (Dec. 16 and 17); and last but not least “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” (Dec. 20), Tchaikovsky’s classic reimagined with MC Kurtis Blow (“White Lines”). strathmore.org

And finally, something strictly for the kids: Imagination Stage presents “Corduroy” (Dec. 11-Jan. 24). Based on the beloved children’s books by Don Freeman, it’s the heartwarming story of a girl and her perfectly imperfect Teddy Bear. Best for ages 3-9. imaginationstage.org

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Bars & Parties

Disco Funk Brunch at Crazy Aunt Helen’s

Tara Hoot and DJ Phil Reese perform

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Tara Hoot and DJ Phil Reese (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Drag queen Tara Hoot and DJ Phil Reese perform at the biweekly Disco Funk Brunch at the LGBT-owned Crazy Aunt Helen’s on Sunday. For future showtimes, go to crazyaunthelens.com. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

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