Some say it's because J.R. offers a vicarious encounter with the things we want most: money, power, sex, unbridled freedom, the courage to be bad. But there is a more compelling reason: Larry Hagman. "They write J.R. mean," Hagman says. "I make him human." With a magician's deftness, he draws subtly colored scarves of feeling out of his alter ego: harshness edged with timidity, shrewdness laced with bafflement, iciness that can break up into delight. Delight is the motor that drives J.R., as Hagman imagines him. Like a kid with his hand in the cookie jar, he loves what he is doing—and loves knowing something most of us don't. His dark secret: "Once you give up integrity, the rest is a piece of cake."
Hagman acquired zest and Texas with his chromosomes—his mother is Mary Martin, the Texas beauty who was Broadway's sweetheart (South Pacific, Peter Pan) in the '40s and '50s. He won stardom on his own as Barbara Eden's affable master on Dream of Jeannie and now lives with his Swedish-born wife of 34 years in Malibu. Folks there find him amiably odd. At 57, he leads local parades in a magenta gorilla suit, owns 2,000 hats and packs a small battery fan to blow fumes back in smokers' faces. He can afford his eccentricities. A tough negotiator, Hagman has haggled his Dallas fees up to well over $4 million a year. J.R. would approve.