Who Shot J.R.? A Trip to Southfork Ranch.

In Sina's Posts, Trips on May 22, 2012 by SN

Writing the headline, I just notice how much violence is connected to Dallas: JFK shot, LHO shot, JR shot, …

The TV series Dallas did not only shape 1980s America, but also my teenage years in the early 1990s. During the summertime I would watch re-runs on German public television ZDF and ARD on weekday mornings. Believe it or not, the Dallas family saga around the unscrupulous oil baron J.R. Ewing, his alcoholic wife Sue Ellen, and his handsome brother Bobby shaped much of my pre-high school imagination of America.

It was therefore important to me to visit the Southfork Ranch. The first and major problem the European backpacker faces is the lack of public transportation to the ranch which is located 25 miles/40 kilometers north of Dallas in Parker, TX. That left me with only a few options: Either take the public train DART to the last possible station in Plano and then jump into a cab or get on a bike for that matter. Well, bike was not an option. I decided to ask my Airbnb host Duriye instead if she knew someone in her group of friends who would be willing to take me. Her friend Glenetta, a wonderful waitress in the famous Balcony Club in the Lakewood neighborhood, agreed to take me. She had been there a couple of years ago and thought it was fun to revisit the ranch. So the two of us had a girls’ afternoon at the famous Southfork Ranch.

The Southfork Ranch, Parker, TX.

Just like the Statue of Liberty, the Alamo, or Graceland, the Southfork Ranch is much smaller than expected. The tour of the compound took place in a tractor which had seats in its trailer. The compound also features longhorns, the typical Texan cattle, horses, and gift shops. On our way we passed a strange site which looked like scaffolding from a theme park, but the tour guide explained that one of the former owners decided to drill for oil for his wife on the occasion of their wedding anniversary. Of course, there was no oil in that part of Texas. The wife must have been furious because the few million dollars that the rich husband spent on oil drilling would have made a real big and glitzy diamond ring.

Tractor, Trailer, Oilfield: At the Ranch.

Besides Glenetta and me there was a group of French-speaking visitors among the rather small tourist crowd who visited Southfork. Some of them were really enthusiastic about their visit. For instance, one French man wore T-shirt and a base cap which both displayed his pride in cowboy culture. He seemed especially proud to be there and assured to our friendly tour guide that it not his first time at the compound. Rather, he had been there for the 25-year Dallas reunion party and, “oh, c’est terrible”, complained about the masses of people who had been there. Guessing from his “insider knowledge”, he MUST be the president of the French chapter of the Dallas fan club. I do not accept any other option about his identity.

The Alamo Effect: Southfork Ranch, Exterior.

I really enjoyed the short lecture inside the mansion, because I learned more about the production context of Dallas (Always great for Cultural Studies folks!). Our tour guide elaborate on how the film crew picked the ranch, how the former owner rejected the request initially, and how the film crew used different techniques in order to make the mansion look bigger on-screen. For instance, they used many wide-angle shots of the building, low camera angles to emphasize its height, or inserted screen time when Bobby swims in the very small pool. Since the owner prohibited filming inside, the interiors shots were filmed in Hollywood, on sets modeled after the ranch house. Today, each room is dedicated to a character. The exterior shots were shot during June, July, and August, the only time the former owner would allow the film crew on the site. All of the exterior shots where then filmed for the entire season. Imagine Sue Ellen wearing a luxurious fur coat at 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit for a winter shot underneath the hot Texas sun!

“Hmm, Monsieur Bobby, Oui”: Bedroom Decorated Bobby-Style.

All in all, Glenetta and I really enjoyed our afternoon at the Ranch. We had a lot of fun especially watching the other euphoric European tourists meandering in the house of their 1980s TV dreams. We will definitely tune in when the new season of Dallas premiers June 13 on TNT remembering this great and hilarious day.

Miss Sina at the Southfork Ranch: Proud French Tourists in the Background.


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