Victoria Principal looks back on her time Dallas — and life outside the show — with fond memories.
Premiered as a miniseries in April 1978 and then as a TV show in September, Dallas it will remain on the air until 1991. A nightly soap opera depicting the lives, loves and oil of the Ewing family, the series will have pivotal moments — “Who Shot JR?” became a national issue and the cover of PEOPLE magazine — and really set the template for a cliffhanger. (And, perhaps, the power of a dream sequence.)
One character, Pamela Ewing, became a fan favorite. The director, 73, created the role, joining the show at the beginning and staying for nine years.
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Her character was in a car accident, she left the show, and then another actress played Pamela, while Principal moved on to TV movies and then started focusing on her health and wellness projects. She wrote a book, Director of the body, in 1983, followed by three more, and in 1991 she launched her own skincare company, Principal Secret. She left the company in 2019.
Here, she talks to PEOPLE about her life inside and outside Dallas.
Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal, Barbara Bel Geddes, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Jim Davis and Charlene Tilton on the set of ‘Dallas’.
CBS/Courtesy of the Everett Collection
PEOPLE: When you knew Dallas would be a hit?
VP: I always believed that Dallas would be a hit, but was a “slow build” at first. The a-ha moment for me happened in early 1980 (This was before “Who Shot JR.”). It was my day off on Saturday morning and I decided to drive to Fox Hills Mall for a furniture sale, specifically a new couch for my room. I drove to Fox Hills and pulled up to a furniture store. I had only been in the store for a short time when people who saw me walking around the mall started to crowd the store. The situation soon became unmanageable. The quick-thinking store manager locked us both in his office and called the police. They arrived, dispersed the crowd and escorted me to the car. Everyone in the crowd was clamoring for an autograph and calling me “Pam”. The officer also asked for autographs and shared their enthusiasm for the show. I drove home with a new, deep awareness of the popularity of Dallas and the recognition of its characters — and without that new sofa!
What is your favorite episode?
I loved every one of the first five episodes in the mini-series. It’s called a mini-series because CBS made a smart business decision to present it as a mini-series, so they could gauge audience response and decide if they should spend the money needed to go to series and order more episodes. The first five episodes, for me, were like falling in love. Everything was new and fresh. Every day of filming was filled with emotion, bonding with the cast and excitement. Each new scenario was full of discoveries and surprises. Every moment vividly vivid in my memory to this day. It was delicious!
I continued to like to work further Dallas for many years, but one particular episode stands out in my heart: “The Mastectomy,” a two-part episode. I adored Barbara Bel Geddes, who played matriarch Ellie Ewing. She would come into the make-up room in the morning, squeeze my cheeks, like a child, and call me her “little monkey face”. It was a lot of love and I loved her back.
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Barbara shared some deeply personal elements of her life with me. Including her husband’s death and her breast cancer diagnosis and resulting mastectomy in such unimaginable proximity. I first read the script for “Mastectomy” and my response was furious. I mistakenly thought that the producers and writers had robbed Barbara of her personal story. I went to Barbara about it and she assured me that she was part of the decision and even participated in certain aspects of the story and writing.
Her bravery and willingness to publicly shed light on a subject that lived in the shadows at the time was an act of bravery that gave me a greater insight into Barbara’s strength of character. She was my hero. And these two episodes are “diamonds of Dallas”. And that’s why she won that Emmy!
What is the question you get asked more than any other?
“What was it like kissing Patrick Duffy?” And here is my answer: Excellent!
Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing in ‘Dallas’. Everett
Larry Hagman played JR, a rather sinister character. But how did he make you laugh?
Whenever Larry and I had a particularly intense scene, just the two of us as JR and Pam, he would sometimes surprise me by saying his most sinister line in a Grouch Marx impression. Larry Hagman, plays JR, plays Groucho Marx. Which is why I always found the whole scene funny, and it was impossible for me not to break character and laugh. And my response, my unbridled laughter, made him glow with such mischievous achievement and delight. I don’t think the public realizes how perceptive and thoughtful Larry was about other people’s feelings and situations. Larry loved playing “clown”. But beneath that persona was a deeply sensitive man who cloaked himself in the role of a madman.
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Shower, the episode “It was all a dream” at the beginning of season 10 is a must for fans. (And controversial for some of the other cast members.) What do you remember when you first read that script?
Actually reading the script and actually airing the show was a two-part experience for me. In the original script, Mark Graison (played by actor John Beck) is in the shower at the end. The scene with Patrick was filmed at another location in top secret and then secretly edited into the show that aired. So I was also able to experience a complete surprise watching Patrick in the last shower scene. My immediate response was to call Patrick home, happily screaming, “You’re back!”
And then I read the next script. A dream season. I struggled with this for years. But I can’t think of any other way to tie up, or clean up, all the flaws of the entire previous season without essentially making them “disappear”. The season of dreams achieved that.
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How did you prepare for the role of Pam Ewing?
I’m actually a method actor and I was already 28 years old, so I had life experience to draw on. Conflict is a part of everyone’s life and certainly conflict within and between families has been a mature topic for centuries. And then the fantastic Larry Hagman made it so accessible!
Victoria Principal as Pam Ewing in ‘Dallas’.
Your departure from the show after nine years in 1987 left fans wanting more. Would you ever play Pam Ewing again?
It was an exciting and life-changing experience to be chosen to play Pamela Barnes Ewing. I tried to bring her to life and portray her for nine years. Sometimes the producers, writers and actor have a different vision for the direction of the show and the character’s journey and development…or lack thereof. When the visions are so different that the character becomes unrealistic and unrecognizable to the actor, then it is up to the individual actor to decide where the boundaries are and what actions are necessary to continue to flourish as a person and as an actor. I made that decision for myself. It was not a rushed, but a two-year layoff process. I feel that I did the role of Pamela Barnes Ewing honorably.
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When you launched the hugely successful skin care line Principal Secret, you helped create a template that is widely used today by many celebrities and skin care product launches every year. What advice would you give to an actor entering the skincare game today?
It was a privilege and a great adventure to get out of the “box” in which actresses were traditionally confined and to pursue my real passion once again. Care of our amazing skin. I have always had a love and fascination for skin care, so starting my own skin care company was a dream come true and a lot of dedicated work. I am happy and grateful to have been able to help create a path for the next generation of actresses to follow their passions and express their entrepreneurial abilities. But I think it’s very important to share the following advice: I chose skin care because I liked it. Because I was convinced that I would be very good at it. I chose partners who respected my vision and did not limit my efforts, but actually encouraged and supported them. I didn’t have a manager telling me what to do or anyone holding a check to pay me to follow what they thought was the best choice. I chose what called me.
So my advice is this: don’t choose skin care just because others have succeeded. There are so many passions to choose from. Choose what fulfills you, what will make you work all day and night, a creation that wakes you up in the middle of the night with ideas. What you want love they work. Because if you do, you will succeed.
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