Blazing Heat and a Glowing Guest List Make the Cattle Baron's Ball the Hottest Ticket in Dallas

updated 07/02/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/02/1984 01:00AM

The villainous J.R. made his entry in a red-and-white hired helicopter that swirled in over oilman Bunker Hunt's ranch, fanning the heat of a Texas afternoon over the partygoers below. The Dallas star's aerial taxi then loosed a shower of bogus greenbacks, hundred-dollar bills bearing a picture of Larry (J.R.) Hagman. Two thousand rib-eye steaks sizzled over four barbecue pits, while society folks in designer Western clothes played partying cowhands at the Cattle Baron's Ball, one of the biggest dates on the Dallas social calendar. Some 1,800 people paid up to $600 apiece to be part of a scene so glitzy and overscale that Lone Star Gov. Mark White remarked: "This is the real Texas."

The spectacular, billed as the "Reel West," a salute to cowboy greats of movies and television, raised $500,000 for the American Cancer Society. And since this was Texas, no expense was spared. The bill for the bash, which included the cost of erecting an Old West town on billionaire Hunt's 2,500-acre Circle T spread near Dallas, came to more than $300,000. Guests were greeted at the "Wells Fargo" station before heading downhill to the heart of the party, "Fort Charity," a football field-size area where Crystal Gayle entertained on one of two stages. There was enough food to feed the population of a smaller state, a casino, saloon and an auction that priced an evening with two Dallas Cowboy players (Bill Bates and Doug Donley) at $1,200. "This is as big as a party gets in Texas," said Steve Kanaly, who plays Ray Krebbs on Dallas. "It's a little Texas showbiz and I like that."

Joining Hagman and Kanaly of Dallas were The Dukes of Hazzard regular Denver Pyle, and horse opera stars of an earlier era—Ken (Festus) Curtis of Gunsmoke and Peter (Nick) Breck from The Big Valley. The paying guests turned heads, too, with the women sporting American Indian numbers bedecked with diamond and gold jewelry. "People and their clothes are as much a part of the setting as the construction and the props," declared socialite Jacque Wynne, who dropped more than $3,000 for her own green suede dress.

Nearly everyone wore an unwelcome accessory—beads of perspiration. The 94° heat caused two people to faint during the auction, prompting host Bunker Hunt to murmur, "I'm leaving before I'm the next one down." But even Hunt admitted that the party was in the true Texas spirit. "I don't know who else would pay $600 a pop to come to a party and sweat," he cracked.

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