Military Brat Victoria Principal Revisits Her Birthplace to Sell Tokyo on Dallas
12/14/1981 at 01:00 AM EST
The new show this fall is billed as "Kareinaru Akuno Ichizoku"—the Gorgeous Wicked Clan—which should be a tip-off that the Ewings of Dallas have been exported to Japan. Unhappily, however, when Victoria (Pam Ewing) Principal recently landed there for a typhoon-force publicity tour, she learned that the show has met with disastrously sinking audience shares in the Land of the Rising Sun. Undaunted and effortlessly diplomatic, Principal whirlwinded through five days of interviews, tea ceremonies and countless Buddhist shrines. If she felt at home, it's at least in part because she's a native: Air Force brat Victoria spent her first three months on Japanese soil as the first baby born in Fukuoka in 1950, the daughter of Sergeant Major Vincent and Ree Principal.
A few knowing teenagers whispered "Darras, Darras" at the sight of Victoria's luxuriant auburn hair and green eyes. "I think I look rather Asian, don't you?" she joked. The actress won praise for her demure manner—not to mention her judicious use of such Japanese phrases as "Ohayo gozaimasu" (Good morning) and "Domo arigato" (Thank you).
Dallas has little to be thankful for. At this point the real question is not "Who shot J.R.?" but rather "Who Is J.R.?" If the current five percent share doesn't rise, the Japanese audiences may never find out who fired the pistol—the network has picked up only one year's shows. However, Victoria sees Dallas eventually hooking Japanese women: "The show was slow to take off in the States. It was the housewives who discovered it there too."
Regardless of ratings, the Japanese took Victoria to their hearts. "People kept saying 'Welcome back.' " (Her father still calls his wife Mama-san in the Japanese style, and both wear kimonos around their Georgia house instead of robes.) Pursued in Japan by television crews and photographers, Victoria charmed them all with her delight in things Japanese. She smiled and said "sushi," not "cheese," when posing for endless snapshots, and energetically photographed the countryside from her limousine. A connoisseur of Asian food who prepares her own sashimi (raw fish) at home, she dined on native dishes and participated in the tea-drinking ceremony, but grimaced on a "chewy" hunk of dried fish. She patiently supplied her measurements (36-23-36) at a press conference, but drew the line when an enterprising photographer scrambled onto a table for a bird's-eye view of her décolletage. The actress gave Japan a rave. "There's a tranquillity and hospitality that overwhelms me," she said. "I want to stay for a year." That's hardly likely, though, since even the week Victoria was separated from her boyfriend, rock star Andy Gibb, 23, seemed too long. "I wanted Andy to come so badly," she said, but consoled herself with the thought that "being away is sexy." Asked if she had marriage plans since finalizing her divorce from actor Christopher Skinner, Victoria, "almost 32," hedged. "I want to wait and be very sure." Searching for exactly the right present for Andy, with whom she will celebrate a first "anniversary" on Jan. 6, she finally settled on a $200 ceremonial sword ("He'll have a heart attack"). That choice came after she tried unsuccessfully to make him a ceramic on a potter's wheel.
While visiting a hallowed 700-year-old giant Buddha in Kamakura, she was happy to follow an age-old tradition. Throwing a coin in the offertory box, she wished she could return—with Andy. "Japan," she says, "is the kind of place you like to share." And then she squeezed in another wish: "Y'all watch Dallas."