Patrick Duffy: 'I only converted to Buddhism because I wanted to sleep with the woman who became my wife'
Published 04/09/2012 | 06:00
TV legends: Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and Larry Hagman are back tonight with a new series of DallasStrong couple: Duffy and his wife Carlyn RosserBuddhist beliefs: Patrick Duffy's faith has seen him get through some tough times, including when his parents were murdered in a bar in 1986
Then the titles roll, their traditional split screens offering vistas of Dallas town and country accompanied by those familiar blasts of French horn.
Dallas, the next generation, gets its big names up first -- Desperate Housewives' Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe are the quarrelsome scions -- but then come Duffy, Hagman and Gray.
The three of them, Duffy says, account for half the screen time. "The promise we were given by Cynthia [Cidre, the executive producer] is that we are integral to every episode." Ratings for Dallas 2012 are, by TNT standards, high and the network has already ordered a second season.
All in all, it is the biggest fillip for the franchise since May 16, 1986, when Bobby, who, you may distantly recall, had been killed in a car crash at the end of season eight, rematerialised in his wife's shower, thereby pronouncing, to much viewer resentment, that the entire season nine had been "a dream".
When Dallas was shown on this side of the water in the late 1970s, American imports had a rather different status than they do now. They were considered artistically inferior to homegrown fare but were shown in peak time.
Dallas was the biggest of the lot, for which Duffy politely thanks Terry Wogan, who made Dallas jokes his speciality. Its "Who shot JR?" cliffhanger at the end of season three made it on to the BBC Nine O'Clock News.
Kim LeMasters, who commissioned the original Dallas for CBS, recently told Entertainment Weekly that the show's demise began with Bobby's watery apparition.
Duffy was 36 when he rashly decided to leave the series after seven years. Although he had been known before it only as the Man from Atlantis, he was convinced it was time to develop a career outside Bobby Ewing. Having quit, he worked in television movies for a year, not very happily. His friend Hagman was equally miserable, struggling without him and minus the show's producer Leonard Katzman. Then Katzman decided to return, and had a plan.
"I came home one night and the little red light was blinking on my answering machine. I hit the play button and it was Larry's voice. 'Patrick, this is Hagman. I want you to come out to Malibu. We're gonna get drunk. I wanna talk to you.' I turned to Carlyn and I said: 'They're going to ask me to come back on the show.' And her instant response -- she's a very cultured, well-read, brilliant woman -- she said: 'There's no way you can go back on that show unless the entire last year was a dream'."
He must have known it would be ridiculed? "I knew that it would disappoint some people, absolutely. The interesting thing is people got very upset, but our ratings never dropped. They actually went back up." Dallas finally did end in 1991.
He adores his wife, crediting her with his intellectual development and, more importantly, his conversion to Nichiren Buddhism, a Japanese branch of the tradition which focuses on individual empowerment. "I only converted because I wanted to sleep with her. And now I do it because it's such a part of my life."
They met on a tour bus. He was a "young stud" hired to play the narrator in a dance troupe's school performances. She was a ballet dancer 10 years his senior. He had never come across such beautiful women in his life and was delighted to see they had a habit of wandering around with very few clothes on.
"In short order, I fell in love with the artform and with her." There was a problem, however. Carlyn Rosser was married, and had been for 13 years. "She had the hardest job. She had to tell her husband. And they were happily married. It wasn't, you know, a bad relationship. He was a good man, and he is a good man.
"He was betrayed by her and it was amicable in the sense that he let her go, but he was hurt. It breaks my heart to think about it. It doesn't break my heart enough to think that I would do anything differently."
Only once, he says, did he think he hurt her through his work. Victoria Principal played the first of Bobby's wives. There were, of course, sex scenes.
"We would have Dallas nights, the four of us. We'd sit around and we'd make the boys little ice-cream sundaes and sit and watch Dallas. My children in that year were probably four and nine, and there's a scene of Victoria and me in bed. You never could do it on screen, so it was either post- or pre-, I'm not sure which, but kissing and everything like that.
"And I look over and my wife's welling up in tears. I said: 'Sweetheart, what's the matter? You've seen me do these scenes with Victoria before.' And she said: 'I just saw a look on your face I thought you only had with me.' It broke my heart. I was probably thinking: 'What's for lunch?'"
Duffy has a sincere but smooth way with heartbreaking intimacies that makes you wonder if his heart ever has been broken. Yet can it really not have been?
In 1986, while he was back filming Dallas, his parents, Terence and Marie Duffy, were murdered by two young hoodlums in the bar they ran in Montana.
"My father kicked these two young men out of the bar at some point in the evening. So they went and drank elsewhere. Got really drunk to the point of obviously being incapable of making rational decisions. Kept their anger up at how they were treated. And came back to the bar to kick his ass. And when they stepped in the bar with their guns, they shot him. There was nobody else in the bar, so they shot both my mother and my father."
Even talking about this, however, the feeling Duffy communicates is of acceptance.
"When my parents were murdered, I went through all the emotions of the horrific event of shock and anger and everything, but I never felt disconnected from them. I never felt that immediate loss. I did not know why then, but in retrospect it was a result of being Buddhist for 15 years."
His sister, a retired Seattle police officer, does not share his faith, or his attitude to the murder or, indeed its perpetrators, Sean Wentz and Kenneth Miller. "She had been around death and murder, a cold, professional policewoman, and she was devastated by the death of my parents, absolutely inconsolable.
"My sister immediately was on a campaign, wanting punishment. My attitude is they're already punished. They created the cause for the misery of their lives to come."
Does this mean he is invulnerable to pain? "I'm invulnerable to suffering. I'm not invulnerable to hurt or pain. There's a difference. Suffering is self-inflicted."
But enough about Duffy. How is Bobby Ewing doing? "Well, first of all, what I really like is that we start the pilot with Bobby celebrating his 60th birthday, which is very interesting for me because I left the show when I was 43, at the height of a young man's powers. Now he's 60, celebrating with his grown-up son and his new wife.
"We're not trying to still make Bobby the hero of the thing. That's the young cast's responsibility. I'm the patriarch, Jock and Miss Ellie all rolled into one."
What he doesn't tell me -- and this is hardly a plot-spoiler since we learn it in the first five minutes of episode one -- is that Bobby has terminal, but presumably very slow-burning, cancer. The unpleasant irony of this is that not far into the shooting it was Larry Hagman who received a cancer diagnosis. "They found a cancer in his throat, on the back of his tongue and had to do chemo and radiation," says Duffy.
This is not the first time Duffy has seen his great friend suffer a health crisis. Eighteen years ago Hagman had a liver transplant.
That Hagman's liver was a goner was no surprise to either of them given his alcohol consumption, not that Duffy abstained on set himself.
"But I bailed out sooner. I knew I couldn't keep up with him. I didn't drink the same way he did. I would have a glass of champagne every morning with him. Then I'd bow out. He'd continue that until lunch, and then we'd go have lunch together and I'd have a drink at lunch with him, a martini or whatever. Then I'd stop again, and he would keep going all afternoon and then we'd have a drink together after work.
"So I would have three drinks a day, you know, spaced out over 10 hours. He would be drinking all day. He was drinking four, maybe five bottles of champagne a day, and other drinks for 45, 50 years."
As I leave I wonder if he is being over-charitable to Dallas, a potboiler that perhaps did not deserve a reheating.
"Actually the show's a crock," he tells the PR in my earshot -- as a joke, of course. Actually, it isn't. The pilot I later see is horribly compulsive television, the higher trash, as Dallas always was, save for its first few episodes when it was something rather better than that. Maybe Duffy is right. Maybe things do come round again and again and again.
The new series of 'Dallas' starts tonight at 10pm on TV3