American Icons: Television's Dallas


Friday, February 18, 2011

dallas_feature, Tout

This is the American dream in a ten-gallon hat.

Remember the prime-time soap opera from the 1980s about a wealthy Texas family in the oil business? Dallas has been off the air for 20 years but it's still considered one of the most successful television shows in history. Studio 360 listener Laura Detre nominated Dallas on our American Icons website, and we liked her idea so much, we sent Julia Barton to Southfork Ranch (and beyond) to understand how Dallas changed the way the world sees America.





Bonus Track: Dallas Behind the Iron Curtain

Documentary film director Jaak Kilmi remembers watching Dallas in Soviet Estonia as an escape, but also as a source of frustration.


Slideshow: Southfork, At Home and Abroad

Julia Barton

The television series Dallas told a glamorized story of America in the 1980s. But compared to the McMansions in the neighborhood these days, the modest size of the real Southfork Ranch (which is north of Dallas) doesn’t quite match the romance of the story.

Julia Barton

Southfork is now a tourist destination and museum, giving 11 tours a day. Although the television show Dallas did not film inside the house, its bedrooms are decorated in the style of various characters. This is Sue Ellen's room (with producer Julia Barton visible in Sue Ellen’s mirror).

Julia Barton

Careful camera work was necessary to transform the tiny pool at the Southfork Ranch into the huge one seen on television.

Julia Barton

The American Dream depicted in Dallas still draws tourists to Southfork.  These visitors from the Democratic Republic of Congo are checking out the decor.

Julia Barton

The allure of the American Dream depicted in Dallas crossed the Iron Curtain, where it gained traction in the old Eastern Bloc of nations. The owner of "Hotel Dallas" at Parcul Vacante Hermes in Slobozia, Romania, tried to copy the Southfork Ranch he saw on television.

Scott Morfitt

The Romanian "Hotel Dallas" doesn’t quite match the high-wattage glamor of the televised version.

Julia Barton

The gate to Romanian Southfork. The hotel and ranch complex was built on empty farmland by the local business tycoon Ilie Alexandru, who wanted to be the “JR of Romania.”  The name “Hermes” is a nod to the Greek god of commerce and business.

Scott Morfitt

Rodica Florea (right), the manager of Parcul Vacante Hermes in Romania, with producer Julia Barton (center), and interpreter Natalia Petrea (left).

Scott Morfitt

The offices at Parcul Vacante Hermes take the cowboy motif even further.

    Music Playlist
  1. Dallas Theme Song
    Composer: Jerrold Immel
    Artist: City of Prague Philharmonic
    Album: 100 Greatest TV Themes
    Label: Silva America
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Dallas
    Composer: Michel Salva, Jean Renard
    Artist: Michel Salva
    Album: Dallas (Générique du Feuilleton TV)
    Label: CBS
  3. Dallas
    Artist: Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Flatlanders
    Album: More a Legend than a Band
    Label: Rounder / Umgd
    Purchase: Amazon
  4. Dallas
    Artist: Silver Jews
    Album: Natural Bridge
    Label: Drag City
    Purchase: Amazon


Julia Barton

Comments [6]

sara from Dallas, of course

the guy from Dem Rep of Congo, I really liked what he had to say

Dec. 02 2011 05:10 PM
Gabriella from Philadelphia, USA

So would it be then a world wide icon? I think it was perhaps the first show that aired nearly simultaneously around the world. I watched it in Hungary and hated it because I could not leave the TV while I was supposed to have been studying for my exams. IT is something that I can enter as a common groudn with anybody I know. We just have to get over the name variants in the dubbed versions. This, and Twin Peaks held us tight on our chairs.

Mar. 02 2011 09:20 PM
Harvie Porter from Randolph, VT

I traveled through Turkey towards the end of an around-the-world bicycle trip in 1980-82. When sharing my route with the men in the village cafes, I would explain how I had ridden across the USA. When mentioning that I passed through Dallas, a lecherous chorus would ensue from those gathered around, "Dallas, Aahh - LUCY!"

Feb. 22 2011 08:30 AM
Georgiana Bloom

I just re-counted an episode that was not about Dallas but about Dynasty (weren't they similar?), which I realized after being curious about the characters in Dallas and visiting the website.

My apologies; as I said, it was my first foray into television after a decade or so. But doesn't this also say a lot about TV's popular epics of the day?

Feb. 21 2011 09:55 PM
Georgiana Bloom from Washington, DC

This show made me laugh as I marvelled at the popularity of US "culture" abroad -- as usual.

After not having owned a television set for some ten years or more, sometime in the 80s, my mother suggested I watch TV to help me sleep, given I couldn't tame my night owl life (meaning insomnia as well as a good nightlife from time to time). But not being able to sleep was really getting to me, so I actually followed her advice.

To further me along, a friend gave me a small TV, which I turned on one night, comfortably sitting on my futon with a glass of wine. And what happened to be on?


And what episode?

The one where a blonde woman in evening clothes pushed a brunette woman in evening clothes into a pool. (Or maybe it was the other way around.) I was stunned. Fascinated in a weird way and totally amazed by what was going on, which developed continuing interest, of course.

While it didn't put me to sleep, Dallas ended up being an indulgence, followed the news or Charlie Rose or something that made me think and yes, get sleepy.

Feb. 21 2011 09:45 PM
David Barton from Greenville TX

Great piece. How true---"We all live in Dallas"

Feb. 18 2011 06:46 PM

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