As a young girl, Linda Gray used to sit outside the gates at MGM Studios to watch the movie stars go by. “There was Carmen Miranda and Van Johnson in their convertibles driving into the studio lot,” Linda tells Closer. “They were so glamorous, and their cars were so beautiful. We would just sit there and ask for their autographs. Some of them were very nice, and they would stop and sign our little autograph books.”
Years later, Linda, 83, would become a star herself playing Sue Ellen Ewing on Dallas, which ran for 14 seasons during its original incarnation. Linda’s career would also extend into other TV, film and theater roles, but Sue Ellen, whom she returned to play in several reunions and a 2012 revival series, would always remain her most beloved creation.
What was your childhood like?
“I had a really loving family, and things were obviously much different than they are now. Back then, you could drink water out of the hose and you could run around outside all day playing. It was a different world. We were loved, and we knew we were loved. I had a strong connection to my grandma.”
What did you learn from your grandma?
“Grandma told me — and I laugh now because it’s so relevant — she said, ‘If you want to do something, do what your heart tells you to do. Don’t listen to anybody else. If you want to go to Rome and everybody says, ‘Oh, that’s silly,’ go anyway.’ She always taught us to follow our heart, follow our intuition, and not to worry about what other people say. She’s been gone many, many years, but I hear her to this day.”
Which stars made you want to become an actress yourself?
“Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. I just thought they were smart, feisty, fun and so talented. They could do anything — humor or high drama. I really aspired to be like them because I admired them so much.”
Did you ever meet any of your childhood idols after you became famous on ‘Dallas’?
“Yes. Howard Keel was on Dallas in the later years of our show. I loved his musicals as a teenager and thought he was the most handsome man in the world. Anyway, years later, there was this storyline where Howard Keel came on Dallas. He told me, ‘Ms. Gray, I started right here on Stage 5.’ He did all his Hollywood musicals on the very stage we were standing on! I was in shock and in awe. I just couldn’t stop smiling because I thought, here I am looking at my teenage idol. It was so sweet, and he was the nicest man.”
You recently reunited with the Dallas cast for the show’s 45th anniversary. What is it like when you get together?
“It’s so much fun because we’ve known each other forever and ever. We get caught up with each other — How are the kids? How are the grandkids? I met Charlene [Tilton] when she was 17. Now she’s a grandmother of two boys. We’ve gone through birthdays, babies being born, divorces, illnesses, deaths, so it is like a second family.”
Can you share a favorite memory from the early years of the show?
“Patrick [Duffy] and Larry [Hagman] were bad boys. They were hysterical. I remember a scene when the Ewing family sat down for dinner. Of course, Miss Ellie and Jock were at either end. [Larry] put a dinner roll on his fork and hit the end and the dinner roll would go flying across the table. Patrick would send it back to Larry from the other end. [Barbara Bel Geddes] would sit there with her beautiful outfit and pearls and she’d just say, ‘Stop it, stop it, stop it!’ like a mother would say to her children. We’d all just start laughing.”
It sounds like you all had fun together.
“It never was a dramatic show until the cameras started rolling. Then we became J.R., Sue Ellen and Bobby. That’s when the magic happened. Back then, we were excited to go to work. And the friendships have lasted, which I think is rare.”
What is your life like today?
“I’m kind of the gutsy one. After 50 years, I sold my home. The biggest life change for me — and that’s why I moved out of Los Angeles — was when my son passed from leukemia [in 2020]. That shook my whole life. I was just numb. I moved out of Los Angeles because I needed to cut the cord and think about things. I went to Spain and walked the Camino de Santiago.”
Wow. What was the pilgrimage like?
“It felt great to challenge myself on something I thought I never would do. I knew it could be strenuous so I went into training. I hiked a lot and I felt like I was prepared. But when we started the camino, they said, ‘OK, we’re walking 13 miles the first day.’ It felt absolutely amazing because I had pushed myself to do this unknown thing.”
Can you offer any advice for other people dealing with grief.
“That’s a tough one because it’s so individual. Our society is not educated on how to treat people who have lost a person close to them. [Nobody is] going to say anything that makes you feel better, so you have to deal with it yourself. It’s never going to go away. For me, I just realized that I cannot live in the past. I remember with love and thank God that we have those memories. But I can’t tell anyone how to deal with grief. You just do the best you can.”
You turned 83 recently. How did you celebrate?
“My grandson, the older one, Ryder, was born on my birthday, so we always celebrate together. We always have lunch, just the two of us, nobody else is invited. We stay together that afternoon and then the family joins us for dinner.”
What is the greatest truth you’ve learned?
“It goes back to grandma’s lesson, especially for women, to follow your heart. We know we have intuition, but do we follow it? It’s about finding out who you are and what are you doing here on the planet. You’ve got one shot at this life, as far as I know. As the years go by, they go by too fast, so it’s about how are you going to make this life be what you want it to be.”