When a crew was assembled to film a ‘TV commercial’ for Irish Spring soap back in 1986, it seemed straightforward.
The advert starred Patrick Duffy — who as Bobby Ewing in the hit series Dallas had been killed off in a car crash the previous year — and featured him stepping out of the shower with a smiling ‘Good morning’ and describing the benefits of the soap.
It was only months later when the final episode of that season’s Dallas aired that the purpose of the fake commercial — filmed without the knowledge of the rest of the Dallas cast and crew — became clear.Back on the ranch: Patrick Duffy (right) with Larry Hagman and Linda Gray
Bobby’s wife Pamela (Victoria Principal), who had spent most of the series mourning her dead husband, wakes up and goes to the shower?.?.?. and footage from the decoy advert was then used to show her being greeted by Bobby, dripping wet and very much alive.
And so one of the most talked-about — and pilloried — TV resurrections of all time began. Bobby Ewing’s death was his wife’s bad dream.
Duffy says: ‘It was the only way to bring Bobby back. I couldn’t come back as his twin or as a person who’d had surgery to look like him, because Bobby had to stay true to his character.’
And now, Bobby’s back again — but it’s not a dream this time. Dallas returns to our screens next year, following the fortunes of the oil-rich, moral-poor Ewing family 20 years on.
Larry Hagman also returns as Bobby’s dastardly brother JR, as does Linda Gray playing Sue Ellen, for years JR’s long-suffering, often-inebriated wife.
In the new series, JR is depressed, Sue Ellen is all-powerful, and Bobby, as ever, the peacemaker between the new warring factions of the clan — JR’s son John Ross Ewing III and Bobby’s adopted son Christopher (Desperate Housewives’ stars Josh Henderson and Jesse Metcalfe respectively).
Duffy declares: ‘This isn’t the Dallas of old, it’s Dallas almost a generation later, though Bobby’s still the good guy and JR still thinks he’s the good guy!’
He and Linda Gray hardly seem to have aged in the intervening 20 years. Gray looks incredible at 70 and Duffy, 62, may have grey hair, but he still has the all-American good looks which gained him a legion of fans. As Bobby, he gets a gorgeous new wife in the shape of yet another Desperate Housewife star, Brenda Strong.
‘I spent two days of the shoot in bed with Brenda,’ says Duffy. ‘But that’s the job. My wife Carlyn understands now, but there was one time during the first year of Dallas when there was a love scene between Victoria Principal and me. Carlyn and I were at home watching the show and she was almost crying. She said that she saw a look on my face that she claimed as hers.’Welcome back: Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing in the famous shower scene where he came back from the dead, and right, with his wife Pamela, played by Victoria Principal
Duffy may have bedded a series of beauties in Dallas (including Jenna Wade, played by Priscilla Presley), but his marriage to Carlyn has been a study of longevity in Hollywood.
‘We’ve been together 39 years and it’s impossible to do anything special for our 40th anniversary next year, because it’s special to us all day long,’ he says.
At the beginning, however, things were far from simple. Duffy met Carlyn, a ballerina, on a bus and it was ‘lust at first sight’.
‘I was an immature college graduate,’ he says. ‘She was ten years older than me and just this gorgeous, classical artist with a great body and I looked at her and thought: “I’ve got to have me some of that!” and so we started this mad affair.
‘She was married to another dancer, but had no children, and it got to the point where we thought: “We can’t stop this.”?’
The moment lust turned to love is still etched in Duffy’s mind. ‘We were in Seattle and she had to go back to her husband in New York,’ he recalls. ‘She wasn’t considering divorce and we weren’t sure we’d ever see each other again.
‘We were in the street when a rubbish truck came past and I thought the best way to end the pain would be to just step in front of it.
‘Much later, when her divorce came through, we were talking about that day and she said: “You know, at that moment I thought maybe I should just step in front of the truck.” We had both thought the exact same thing.’Early years: The original cast at Southfork ranch. Dallas returns to our screen with a new series next year - nearly a generation later
The ten-year age gap has never been an issue for Duffy, ‘but it might rest more heavily on my wife’, he admits. ‘Ninety per cent of my roles are married men, and the women I’m married to are usually younger, which you could understand would make it difficult for her.
‘But she’s the most intelligent person I know and she doesn’t have to worry about me at all. The best part of any day for me is when I see her.’
The couple have a ranch in Oregon, two sons, Padraic, 37, and Conor, 31, and three grandchildren.
Before meeting his wife, however, Duffy was, he concedes, something of a ladies’ man. ‘It was the Sixties and love and sex and friendship were all one and the same,’ he recalls. ‘But I was never a rake.
'It was a shock to me when I fell in love with Carlyn and the relationship became monogamous. The age difference and my emerging from college and then starting to practise Buddhism all got me to that point.’ Duffy has been a Buddhist for 40 years and his faith helped him through the darkest period of his life — the murder of his parents in 1986.
Marie and Terrence Duffy were shot dead by two teenagers who had been barred from the tavern the Duffys ran in Montana. The calmness with which their son dealt with it troubled some who felt he wasn’t displaying enough grief.
But when asked if the criticism hurt, he replies: ‘No, it actually encouraged me because it gave me an opportunity to show people an alternative point of view.’
He says of the two boys involved: ‘I never had the desire for them to have capital punishment. They were captured, they confessed, they went on trial and went to jail.’
In 2001, one of the assailants claimed to be the sole gunman. The other was released on parole four years ago.
‘I don’t think of him any more now that he’s out than I did when he was in jail,’ says Duffy. ‘It never occurred to me to forgive them or to blame them and I had closure the minute it happened. But I do my Buddhist practice twice a day and chant for my parents.’
Patrick grew up in Montana planning to be an architect, but after a discussion with a school drama teacher, decided to take up acting instead. He was 28 before he landed his first major role as the webbed-footed Mark Harris in the TV series Man From Atlantis.
Duffy, Gray and Hagman became firm friends from the start, with Hagman and Duffy getting up to particular mischief. Hagman admitted he could get through five bottles of champagne a day on set, but Duffy says it didn’t affect his acting.
‘There was only one time Larry might have been a little drunk while working,’ he says. ‘We’d already done a full day, but then they scheduled another scene, but he was still in control of his faculties.
‘We’d have a little drink in the morning, then at lunch, and again after work. But the work was sacred. I saw Larry put away a lot of stuff, but he had this capacity to function, though eventually, it made his liver give up, and he had a transplant.
‘I did worry I’d follow that path. Both my parents drank and although it wasn’t out of control, it was borderline. I couldn’t do it all day, and eventually I just stopped doing it.’
Now, Duffy, Hagman and Gray are curtailing any high-jinks in order to set an example for the new young cast. The door is open for other Dallas alumni to return, including Ken Kercheval as JR’s perennial punchbag Cliff Barnes and Victoria Principal as his sister, Pamela.
‘Linda, Larry and I got on so well,’ says Duffy. ‘But Victoria Principal will tell you that when she joined Dallas the character she played was the outsider of the Ewing household — “that Barnes woman” — so she made an actor’s choice to be, in essence, the outsider among us too.
‘Neither Cliff nor Pamela are back yet, but who knows? In TV, anything’s possible.’
As the man who came back from the dead in a soap commercial, Patrick Duffy certainly knows all about that.
The new series of Dallas will premiere on Channel 5 next year.