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Mary Crosby Dallas interview

On November 21, 1980 the world discovered the answer to an eight-month whodunit, the secret of Who Shot J.R.? An unfathomable 76% of Americans watching television that night learned at 10:54 p.m. that J.R.’s sister-in-law Kristin (Mary Crosby) pulled the trigger. Crosby, who already had built-in celebrity as the daughter of Bing Crosby, one of the 20th Century’s greatest recording artists, became the “flavor of the minute,” and rode that acclaim to over 20 years in film and television. Crosby spoke to Ultimate Dallas from her home in Malibu.

Ultimate Dallas: How did you get to be on Dallas?

Mary Crosby: I actually love the story of how I got there. The producers were replacing Colleen Camp, who I actually know, and I tried out with the rest of L.A. Now I don’t watch TV, I read books, so I didn’t know the show. They were interested in me but were worried that since I was Bing’s (Crosby) daughter, White Christmas, Minute Maid Orange Juice, that the general public wouldn’t but it. But they took a chance on me anyway.

UD: Why did they replace Colleen Camp?

Mary Crosby: I don’t really know. It’s maybe not that she wasn’t good but that she wasn’t right for the part as they saw it develop. Dallas was not a hot show, so for everyone it was just another audition. For me to get on Dallas at that particular time, though, it was extraordinary.

UD: When you started on the show in 1979 the ratings were average and within a season’s time it was the number one show in the country. What was it like to witness the transformation?

Mary Crosby: At the time I remember the big thing was “Hey, we broke a 29 share, this is great.” In retrospect I wasn’t seeing the changes that the audience was probably seeing.

UD: Did you have any sense that the show was becoming a smash?

Mary Crosby: Now that I think of it, yes. When I was shooting Dallas the show didn’t have any money. Because they had no money we shot the exteriors in Dallas for 13 shows in a row. Then we went back to MGM in L.A. and shot the rest, so there was really no episode 12 or episode 13 because it was all done out of order. But when we got back to L.A. we knew something extraordinary was happening. That was when we broke the 29 share and things started to change.

UD: Let me back up before Dallas. Is it true that you attended the University of Texas early?

Mary Crosby: Yes, I went when I was 15. My Mom taught me to read when I was 3. And I had enough credits to graduate high school when I was 15. It really wasn’t hard, actually; you just had to double up. I went to UT and became a drama major. I found pretty soon that I didn’t want to build sets, which is what you do as a drama major, but that I just wanted to act. So I left there after a year and became the youngest person accepted at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Bill Ball ran it; it was amazing. Certain places have their time, and I was there when ACT was having its moment. I studied Transcendental Meditation and some other great subjects.

UD: How long were you there?

Mary Crosby: 1 ½ years. Then my father died and I moved to Los Angeles.

UD: Why did you choose the University of Texas?

Mary Crosby: It was my mother’s alma mater. It was that simple. I can say now that I absolutely did not plumb its riches when I was there, but I was very young. Also back in those days I don’t think UT was what it is now. Austin hadn’t gotten as hot as it did. But there was no way my parents were going to let me go away anywhere else. At least they knew what they were getting with Texas.

UD: So you didn’t like the high school experience? I would think you would enjoy that time.

Mary Crosby: Yeah, I guess you’d think I was a cheerleader or something but I was kind of one of those outsiders. I was a hopeless tomboy who likes to read. Still am. I’m not anything like I am on TV.

The experience that had the most impact on my education was when I was 13 and lived with a family in Mexico for six months. This was a family with seven kids and I learned so much. I went because I was driving my mother crazy. (Laughs)

UD: Where did you live growing up?

Mary Crosby: Outside San Francisco, a town called Hillsborough.

UD: Let’s take some questions from the many Dallas fans across the globe…

Chad from New York asks
I recently found a photo of Mary Martin and Bing Crosby posing together, in about the 1940's.... Did you know Larry Hagman prior to your role on Dallas? Thanks!

Mary Crosby: You can tell Chad this story. I was hired on Dallas and hadn’t met anybody. My first day of shooting we shot at Southfork, which is not nearly as big as it appears to be on TV. Anyway, I’m on my way there in the van with Larry and Linda (Gray) and I’m talking to Larry. And he’s saying, “My Mom is an actress and my father was a cowboy.” He said that he thought he was going to be a cowboy but after a week on the ranch he said to himself, “That’s a heck of a lot of work. Maybe I should try acting.”

So I’m there thinking, (sarcastically) “Oh how great! You did community theatre with your Mom.” I asked him what show did he do and he said, “Annie Get Your Gun,” all the while thinking its in Podunkville somewhere. I asked him where he did it and he said, “Broadway,” and I said, “Oh my God, you’re one too!” I was so shocked when Larry said that. I had no idea that his mother was famous.

UD: I wonder if Linda felt left out while you reminisced about your famous parents.

Mary Crosby: (Laughing) I think she was very amused. Linda has no problem with feeling left out or showing self-confidence in any situation.

Ashley Phipps from Julian, North Carolina asks
Mary, I've watched and adored you on Dallas ever since I was a little girl. What drew you to the character of Kristin Shepard -- what was your favorite part about her?

Mary Crosby: That sounds like a typical Southern name. I was happy to have any job at that point. But that was the first bad lady, the first vixen I played, so that was appealing. I learned so much from Larry and Maj (Hagman); they taught me how to have fun and play the part with relish. It was a joy, and as an actress, sometimes playing the further away from what you are can be the most satisfying. Larry became a teacher for me and helped me see through things I didn’t want to do as Kristin.

UD: What didn’t you like?

Mary Crosby: Some of the sexuality. I remember there was one time when I talked to the director, whose name was Irving, and I said, “Irving, I can’t do this!” It was written that Larry grabbed me on the ass. But Larry took me aside and said, “If you have a problem, come to me instead and I will fix it.” He talked to Irving and it was changed to me wearing a backless dress and Larry running his hand down my back and I arched it. That was much more sexy than the way it was written.

Jamie from Germany asks
I liked Kristen’s connection to Alan at the end of season 2. I think the two would have been a great couple! What do you think?

Mary Crosby: I just know he was a really nice guy and a good actor. Later in that season there were so many red herrings to keep you guessing as to who had done the deed. But a relationship would have been possible.

Hafsteinn from Iceland asks
Was it always clear from the beginning that the character you played, Kristin, would be taken out of the series at a particular time, or did you want to continue acting in Dallas?

Mary Crosby: I’m of two minds on that question. I was originally hired for five shows only, but the producers and public liked me and I stayed on. However, I was sad to leave Dallas. I knew that J.R. needed many, many mistresses so my future on the show was probably limited at best. But it was wonderful to be there; for actors if they like it, it becomes a family and I loved the security of the family. Kristin is the only character I played that I was really able to develop.

UD: That brings us up to the worldwide phenomenon that was “Who Shot J.R.?” Let me get right into the events of that remarkable year. When the two additional shows were ordered for the end of the season, did you know something big was about to happen?

Mary Crosby: Yes. I knew that the two new shows were ordered and that was because the ratings had gotten so high. One thing that I also know is that there were multiple reasons for shooting J.R. Contract negotiations were a big thing and they weren’t sure they were going to take off the bandages. They were actually thinking of replacing Larry but I think they realized that he was the heart and soul of the show and that would have been a big mistake. It was just their show of power. Unfortunately I wasn’t let in on much of the decision-making. Larry knew a lot, Linda knew a lot, Patrick (Duffy) knew what was going on, Victoria (Principal) and even Charlene (Tilton) probably were privy to things, but not me.

UD: Was there any secrecy regarding the decision to shoot J.R. in the final episode?

Mary Crosby: I didn’t know any secrecy. I think we all knew, once those new episodes were ordered, that J.R. was going to get shot. No secrecy there. What was interesting, and even comical, was how they lined everybody up to shoot J.R., one by one. It was like holding a ticket; your turn was called and you shot him. The camera didn’t move and we all went through the revolving door

UD: Were all of these shots done after the hiatus that season?

Mary Crosby: No it was done before the hiatus. And that year the hiatus was really long because there was an actors’ strike.

UD: Did anyone know who shot J.R. that summer?

Mary Crosby: Theoretically, no one knew. But I started getting these little hints from people like, “Make sure you have a good publicist” and things of that nature. After hearing some of these things I was pretty sure it was I.

UD: Who told you this?

Mary Crosby: Unnamed people.

UD: Did you see any evidence of the mania that was occurring that summer?

Mary Crosby: I was filming a miniseries in England and the English are so funny with betting. Everyone bets there, it seems. I was offered $1 million to reveal whether I was the shooter or not. This was from a guy who sold munitions to a third world country. It really freaked me out, actually. I’d be a block of cement at the bottom of the ocean if it weren’t me. (Laughs)

UD: So even though you thought it was you, you were able to keep a secret?

Mary Crosby: I’m Irish. There are two ways you can go: you’re either secretive or you tell all. (Laughs loudly).

UD: And what about the non-Irish cast members? How did they keep the secret so well?

Mary Crosby: I don’t think they were getting the hints that I was getting. But then again, I don’t really know. People just were smiling and not saying a word. And the thing is, if it had come out it was I, then it wouldn’t have been me. That was the beauty of it. They could have changed who the shooter was at any time. It could have been Victoria or Linda at the last minute.

UD: I guess you already answered this question but Pauline from Glasgow, Scotland had asked
Who did you think shot JR?

Mary Crosby: Me!

UD: When you started to get these hints were they close to the beginning of the new season then?

Mary Crosby: No it was before the hiatus.

UD: That is amazing. Did you tell anyone at all?

Mary Crosby: I was married at the time so I may have hinted to my husband that the potential was there … But I never said I thought it was me or the hints I was getting. Remember, we all really wanted the show to work. There was an innocence there, like we were at the beginning of something special so nobody wanted to mess that up. It’s all about how the contracts went; if Linda hadn’t been willing to accept a certain salary, then she would have done it. It didn’t serve anybody to open up about it. The way it would work is if we all kept quiet. (Pausing) It was a bit of a miracle that it didn’t come out, though. The way Hollywood works, it was a miracle.

UD: Funny you should say that word because I saw the movie “Miracle” (about the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team) last night.

Mary Crosby: I was thinking of seeing that. How was it?

UD: Surprisingly good. Kurt Russell has never had a better role and the story stays suspenseful throughout.

Mary Crosby: Really? I’m glad to hear it. At first I thought, “This looks interesting, but it’s about hockey, so I don’t know.” Then I realized it was probably more than a hockey movie.

UD: It is more. They were very smart in placing the film into the backdrop of what was happening politically at the time. And last night when I was preparing to speak with you, I thought about how this all took place in 1980 and the “Who Shot J.R.?” phenomenon happened later that same year.

Mary Crosby: I didn’t realize that, but you’re right. That was an eventful year all right.

UD: The “miracle on ice” happened in February of ’80 and J.R. was shot the next month. Throughout the whole year the hostage crisis and Afghanistan and all the upheaval continued and you were right in the middle of a worldwide cultural sensation.

Mary Crosby: I definitely want to see that movie now. It was quite a year for all of us.

Sarah B from Belfast, Northern Ireland asks
Hi Mary...When you found out that it was Kristin who shot JR, did you have to keep it a secret from your friends and family for very long? Many thanks, Sarah.

Mary Crosby: I really didn’t know for sure until literally the last hour, so I guess no, I didn’t have to keep it a secret. (Laughs) They filmed a bunch of people doing it that it could have been anyone. A scene revealing it was Alan was filmed.

UD: Do you mean “the revolving door” of shooters or scenes where other people confessed?

Mary Crosby: I mean when people confessed. Those scenes were all shot, too. I knew I had filmed my scene but Linda and Victoria had as well.

UD: Victoria? I didn’t think Pam was considered a suspect.

Mary Crosby: Yes, she was one of the main ones from what I remember.

Sean Dougherty from Los Angeles asks
Were you disappointed to be written off of Dallas just as it was entering its glory days and became the number 1 show on TV?

Mary Crosby: I was disappointed to be leaving because it was a family. Face it; I’m a trivia question. I wasn’t one of the main stars so it didn’t bother me as much that it was going to number one. The loss was more of a personal one and not a professional one. I was the flavor of the minute and I wasn’t having a problem finding work at that point. My choices were atrocious, but I did have a lot of them.

UD: What did you do immediately after?

Mary Crosby: I did a Knots Landing, a miniseries in England.

UD: The Knots Landing episode was an interesting one, holding on to the character of Kristin.

Mary Crosby: The Knots Landing made sense for them. I was a little helpful to them and it got good ratings.

Steven Hall from Barrackville, West Virginia USA asks
Hi Ms. Crosby! My question concerns the first Dallas cliffhanger that I ever experienced and what really hooked me on the show. (I'm only 21, so it was in reruns of course) I was wondering if you were told that your character was going to be the dead body in the Southfork pool at the end of the 1980-81 season or if were you led to believe that Kristin might come back to Dallas on a regular basis in the 1981-82 season? I think it’s a great cliffhanger, but I was disappointed to see such a great character get written out so early in the series. Thanks for taking time to answer my question.

Mary Crosby: Only 21? Boy, do I feel old. I was disappointed that they weren’t bringing me back for longer but I did know that I was going to be the body in the pool. I was hired for three episodes so it was pretty clear. Then again, if it didn’t work out with Linda and Victoria, one of them could have been in the pool as well.

UD: I don’t understand how it works with contracts. You said before that Linda or Victoria could have been the one to shoot J.R. Presumably their contracts worked out because they stayed on the show. Why were they in jeopardy only a year later? Didn’t they have contracts?

Mary Crosby: They did have contracts but every season you renegotiate for the next season to try to get more money. Everyone did that and it was up to him or her and the show to come up with something acceptable. So if it doesn’t work out, they have the option of writing you out.

E. Vakulskas from Sioux City, Iowa asks
Why were the details of how you died on the show never shown and supposedly what WERE the details of your death?

Mary Crosby: It was left murky. It was either falling off the balcony due to drugs or a murder. They never really explained it.

UD: Was that because they flubbed or they wanted to keep the story open?

Mary Crosby: They just moved on, I think. I don’t think anyone in production gave attention to detail like the fans did. It didn’t matter as much to them in story continuity I don’t think.

Sal from New York, NY asks
I enjoyed watching you play Kristen on Dallas and I think you played the role extremely well. My question is do you think your father would have enjoyed the role you played?

Mary Crosby: I think honestly if my Dad were alive I wouldn’t have gotten the role. I couldn’t have gotten cast. My father was so representative of old-fashioned values. I’m avoiding the question, I know. I think as an actor himself my Dad would have been tickled at how good I was and as a father would have been pretty furious. It’s a good question.

Jessi from California asks
Hello Mary. I think you did a wonderful job playing Kristen. My question is: Had not Kristen been the one to shoot JR, do you think she would've stayed with Dallas the entire run? And if so, do you think she and JR would've gotten married or do you think your character would've been paired with someone else?

Mary Crosby: I think J.R. needed a new mistress every year so I don’t think I would have lasted for a long time. Remember, everything was frosting after the fifth episode. I was just thrilled to be there. But I think there really wasn’t a place for her on the show. She had gotten together with J.R., but if she married him it would have been a nightmare. That’s the joy of a series, getting to do different things. I remember getting Sue Ellen to drink again – what fun! I certainly could have done more with that but I’m not surprised it didn’t happen.

I don’t know if this fits anywhere but can I tell a little story?

UD: Please do.

Mary Crosby: My very first day on the set I was terrified, but it was a stoic kind of terrified, no emotion. They shot me coming out of the Southfork pool and I dried myself seductively. Well, I have green eyes and it was so bright that the light was reflecting from my eyes and ruining the shot. And I was so blinded that I had my towel clutching my breasts. And the director was saying, “No, no, this is all wrong. We have to do it again.” So Larry sensed that I was nervous in my surroundings and he stuck a banana down his pants and started drooling. (AS laughs, startled) Yeah, I had the same reaction you did and after that it was fine. I wasn’t nervous at all the whole time I was on the show and that was literally my first day.

Oil Baron from Yorkshire, UK asks
Hi there Mary, my question to you is - Were you surprised to be asked back for the finale of Dallas after so many years and did you fit back into the swing of things easily?

Mary Crosby: What a lofty name! I was thrilled. It would have been inappropriate not to have me back, I thought. Larry had asked me if I would do it and of course I said yes.

UD: Did everyone realize that was the last show? I had read Leonard Katzman saying he was upset that the show was cancelled when they were filming the last episode.

Mary Crosby: (Laughs) Everyone knew it was the last show.

Hans Svendsen from Denmark asks
Hi. I know you were in Beverly Hills 90210 and I wonder: How was it to be in this series? Was it different from being in Dallas?

Mary Crosby: I was a guest in the show for 2 ½ episodes. Doing an episodic show was very different than being on a series. You don’t know anybody; you’re not emotionally connected. And I was the puppy on Dallas but on 90210 I was the older woman. I really have to thank Aaron Spelling for putting me on that show. He put me on a lot of shows actually.

UD: Michelle Phillips from Knots Landing said the same thing. Aaron Spelling must be the nicest guy in Hollywood. Or maybe he’s partial to the Lorimar shows. Either way, you wouldn’t expect that from a mogul.

Mary Crosby: I think there can be nice guy moguls. It wasn’t just the Lorimar shows, though. He had a very extensive stable of actors and if he liked you, he’d use you over and over. He’s very loyal to his actors. I don’t know what he’s doing now, but I’m sure he’s doing something.

UD: (Laughs) I don’t think Aaron Spelling will ever stop. You can bet on that.

Leigh from Kingsport, Tennessee asks
Did you inherit your father's singing ability? If so, have you recorded any music? Also, do you have any children? Thank you!

Mary Crosby: I always wanted his voice and his blue eyes, but instead I got his nose. I don’t believe I should do anything unless I’ll be good at it, and I don’t think I’d be good at singing. My parents sent me to a singing teacher when I was nine and he trained me for three months for this recital. When I sang, what came out was a high ‘C’ through my left nostril. My parents looked at me and said, “What happened to your voice?” That was the end of my singing career. (Laughs)

UD: And your children?

Mary Crosby: Two boys. I have a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old. I waited a long time but I’m glad I found the right person to have children with.

UD: Could I ask your husband’s name?

Mary Crosby: Mark Brodka. It was worth the wait for all three.

Karin from Örebro, Sweden asks
What was it like to play a mermaid on your guest stint on "Love Boat"?
I just saw it the other day and the tail didn't look that comfortable...

Mary Crosby: You know, that was Michelle Phillips’s tail believe it or not. She had done another role for Aaron. That was very early on.

UD: Was the tail comfortable?

Mary Crosby: All I can say is, once you got the darned thing on it it’s not going to come off so quickly. Deep Space Nine, that was another one. A four-hour makeup job.

Lucy from Missouri asks
Do you keep in contact with anyone from "Dallas"?

Mary Crosby: Larry and Maj. Larry walked me down the aisle and we spent our honeymoon at his house. They’re Uncle Larry and Aunt Maj to my children. They really are our family, but a less dysfunctional one. I see Linda sometimes since she’s very close to Larry and I’ll see her at his parties. My mother has a golf tournament and Patrick comes to it sometimes.

Bertrand from Montréal asks
Hi! I'd like to know how proud are you to have made television history? I mean you're now part of American pop culture. Even Homer Simpson wears a t-shirt saying, "I shot JR". Do you still think about it or are you completely over it?

Mary Crosby: I was over it before it began. It amuses me to become a trivia question. But it helped me make a living for many, many years. I don’t really have the grandiosity to see these things in large terms, though. Dallas was a wonderful part of my life.

UD: With that, I thank you Mary Crosby. I know your husband’s been watching the kids during our interview so I hope I didn’t interrupt you too much today.

Mary Crosby: Not at all. It wasn’t an interruption; I got to spend an hour with a very intelligent guy who asks lucid questions and knows what he’s talking about. You sound very interesting. Thanks again.

 


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