Dallas Actors Out Donna Reed In Barbara Bel Geddes

Rove

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Just look at what happens when she really does leave the scene a few years later.
By this stage many viewers had checked out from Dallas. JR becomes a rambling mess instead of the ruthless businessman he should have become without Mama reining him in.

In those early seasons it was interesting to watch how far JR would go before Jock and Miss Ellie would step in and slap him over the wrist. After Jock's death I wondered how the writers were going to keep JR in check but it was done beautifully. A recent re-watch of Dallas showed how strong Miss Ellie could be when she returned to Dallas without Jock after their holiday. It was obvious Jim Davis had passed away, but the writers ratcheted up the character of Miss Ellie and it worked. This era of Miss Ellie (which I liked) showed the strength of acting Barbara Bel could display.

But, as the series progressed and the softening up of characters occurred (in particular the women) and eventually those characters so pivotal to Dallas began to drift away; Miss Ellie, Pam, Donna and worse, Sue Ellen, I thought as JR became the main focus and those reins were off he would become the evil bastard we all expected him to be. Instead he became a dribbling mess. I mean seriously, marrying some hick (Cally) that was young enough to be his daughter. Was this to make JR look like a stud because to me it came off as creepy.

Then there were the secondary characters which had JR's measure....and on and on it goes.
 

Rove

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I do like the above photo of Donna Reed where she appears to be sitting in the dining room, with her hand under her chin. This image gives the impression Miss Ellie was dressed for business, attending to matters regarding Southfork or Ewing Oil.
 

Miss Texas 1967

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Donna Reed Miss Ellie wore lovely clothes and BBG Miss Ellie wore awful, ugly clothes that even the studio didn't want to retain in their warehouses afterwards. Donna Reed's appearance was just about the only good thing about her portrayal of Miss Ellie though, and when it comes down to the character and how she interacted with the rest of the characters, there's no competition. I do think Donna Reed got the short end of the stick though, she was so wrong for the part as it had been established, and it seemed that nobody on the cast seemed to really want her there either.
 
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southfork88

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Exactly. Barbara Bel had cemented her portrayal of Miss Ellie. Hiring Donna Reed gave the character a completely different persona. It was like the producers deliberately chose her, as if to say to Barbara Bel, "See what we can do?" The other jarring issue with the recast was there was no effort from Donna Reed to "dress down" Miss Ellie. Again, I'm not blaming her since this may have been out of her control as well. But all that coiffed hair, jewellery and clothes was something Barbara Bel was not wearing in her portrayal of Miss Ellie.

The whole exercise was jarring.
Rove, a convincing explanation. Donna Reed was perfect as matriarch of the Ewing in a television program such as Dynasty, if this was set in the rich and shameless Texas Hollywood-style.
 

ramled99

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I agree with several points, disagree with a few. I think Donna Reed was doomed from the jump. I think she was eager and excited about the role, and making the role her own, as would any decent actor. Reed didn't want to be a BBG clone, probably couldn't be if she tried, nor was she ever asked to be by the producers. If I am a casting agent, and I wanted a BBG 2.0, I see no reason in the world to hire Donna Reed. She is the bipolor opposite from the jump, visually, and in how she acts. They obviously hired Donna Reed with the expectation that the Miss Ellie character would be re-defined and re-imaged. And Donna Reed confirmed that in interviews. Not Donna Reed's fault that the producers didn't check with the viewers in reaching that decision to re-create and reimage the Miss Ellie character. Viewers didn't want a new Miss Ellie.

Turning Miss Ellie from sack dresser to the bipolor opposite as a feminine mid-80s oppulant and elegance (Joan Collins on Dynasty, Jane Wyman on Falcon Crest, etc.), proved to be Donna Reed's mistake or the unfortunate death knell to her time with Dallas. I read in interviews that Reed openly said that she hated Bel Geddes' wardrobe and wanted to give the character "some elegance." But, as much as I hated Miss Ellie's wardrobe, I, as a viewer, accepted her character as that.

Now, with that being said, I vehemently disliked Barbara Bel Geddes wardrobe, and I dislike it more as I get older. I do not believe BBG wardrobe choices anything had to do with her interpretation of the character as "connected to the land." That makes no sense to me. She wore sack dresses everywhere, not just at home potting plants and cooking. She wore those hideous dresses to the Oil Baron's club for goodness sake, as late as Season 7 and into the Clayton years. I think the real reason Bel Geddes wore that was her own body and aging insecurities. She was not trying to compete with nor be comparared to the gorgeous Linda Gray, or Victoria Principal. Or any of the younger ladies on the set. I think BBG was quite simply, body-conscious. So she covered up, big time.
 
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Miss Texas 1967

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Now, with that being said, I vehemently disliked Barbara Bel Geddes wardrobe, and I dislike it more as I get older. I do not believe BBG wardrobe choices anything had to do with her interpretation of the character as "connected to the land." That makes no sense to me. She wore sack dresses everywhere, not just at home potting plants and cooking. She wore those hideous dresses to the Oil Baron's club for goodness sake, as late as Season 7 and into the Clayton years. I think the real reason Bel Geddes wore that was her own body and aging insecurities. She was not trying to compete with nor be comparared to the gorgeous Linda Gray, or Victoria Principal. Or any of the younger ladies on the set. I think BBG was quite simply, body-conscious. So she covered up, big time.
That's definitely it, it's reading too much into it to connect the frumpy clothes to the character being from a ranching background. Miss Ellie as she was when we met her wasn't a rancher, she was a society woman, she hung out with the DOA ladies, I'm sure a few of them had come from the same circle but they certainly didn't dress all dowdy and homely. The clothing was all BBG as an actress, not a character decision, she had a mastectomy sometime in the '70s and I guess she was self-conscious after that, it's really too bad she got it in her head that a sack dress was the style to hide the bits of herself she didn't like. It also seems like a horrific waste of money for the studio to have paid for a designer to continue "designing" those dresses, once you have the pattern drawn for one any seamstress could do the rest, they were all the same bland, unflattering style. I don't blame the studio for not trying to claw them back for sale or memorabilia purposes lol

Info gathered from this part on UD:
http://www.ultimatedallas.com/backstage/wardrobe.html

Contribution from Barbara Bel Geddes's daughter Susan on the wardrobe of Miss Ellie

"While it is true that my mother did use Jean -Louis for some of her wardrobe, it would be historically accurate, and fun to note, that most of the costumes she wore over the years were personally designed by Mom and her principle designer, Iris Teragawa. This included everything from formal outfits (including several gowns worn to Oil Barron's balls, etc.) to casual clothing and suits.
(Iris constructed some impeccable clothing and should be acknowledged for this.)
Contrary to the remark in the article, Mom retained the vast majority
of her Dallas wardrobe.
"
 

Seaviewer

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Reed didn't want to be a BBG clone, probably couldn't be if she tried, nor was she ever asked to be by the producers.
I think this is the reason that the recasts don't work. The producers should be looking for clones. The same thing was true of Emma Samms in Dynasty. I understand she was already known from a daytime soap and the pre-publicity was good. The initial buzz from the Donna Reed announcement was good as well.
 

Rove

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Turning Miss Ellie from sack dresser to the bipolor opposite as a feminine mid-80s oppulant and elegance (Joan Collins on Dynasty, Jane Wyman on Falcon Crest, etc.),
If anything, I see a lot of Nancy Reagan in Donna Reed's styling of Miss Ellie. I have no issue with Barbara Bel's styling of Miss Ellie or Donna Reed's styling of Miss Ellie. The problem was the producers thought the viewers would willingly accept Donna Reed. Daytime soaps can easily get away with this kind of thing but not a high rating prime-time soap. Imagine the uproar if - for whatever reason - Larry Hagman was replaced after watching him for several seasons. It's just dumb.

If Barbara Bel Geddes had requested some leniency with her commitments couldn't the producers and writers simply grant that request. Let's be honest, Lorimar Productions had already created Hollywood Southfork (to save money) so Barbara Bel didn't have to travel to Dallas for location shoots.
 

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I see a lot of Nancy Reagan in Donna Reed's styling of Miss Ellie.
I never thought of that before but it's very interesting. When Dallas debuted in the Carter era Miss Ellie was seen as a counterpart of the president's mother who was known as Miss Lillian.
 

pete lashmar

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I always felt it was a shame that Donna didn't played Ellie in the dream season - that, at least, could have been explained away as part of the dream.

Unfortunately, BBG was so established in the role and loved and adored by fans, no one was ever going to succeed when the role was re-cast.

It's a great shame though that it led to such bitterness though, it's TV not life or death, and the stress, court cases etc were very ugly and unnecessary.

Ultimately we got BBG back though, which was fantastic.
 

Mustard

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It's a myth, oft-repeated, that BBG sat at home that year jealously watching another actress in her role, and then called up producers and demanded her job back.
Isn't this what Arthur Bernard Lewis claimed? He said something like Barbara saying that she hated seeing somebody else say her lines.

BBG was fired because she asked for a temporarily reduced workweek due to coronary bypass recovery issues and (at the same time, I'm guessing unwisely) a raise.
That is certainly true. Knowing these hard-headed business types, they probably felt that they had done enough in allowing Barbara to miss the first 11 episodes of Season 7, yet now she was asking for a temporarily reduced workweek combined with a pay rise. They went off Barbara because of that.
 
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Lastkidpicked

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There is another issue with Donna Reed, that once again is not her fault:

During the original run, a friend casually walked through our living room while they were playing the episode at the Oil Barron's Ball.

Friend: Who are those two?
Me: That's Miss Ellie and Clayton Farlow
Friend: Huh?
Me: They replaced Barbara Bel Geddes this year
Friend: Oh. And they replaced Jim Davis as well?
Me: No
Friend: But that's not the same actor who played Jock.
Me: That's because that's not Jock. That's Clayton Farlow. Different character altoghether.
Friend: So that's a different actress, playing the same character, but married to a different husband. . . Never mind.

So poor Donna Reed came in just as they were starting to shuffle characters around, which only made things worse.
 

Mustard

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There is another issue with Donna Reed, that once again is not her fault:

During the original run, a friend casually walked through our living room while they were playing the episode at the Oil Barron's Ball.

Friend: Who are those two?
Me: That's Miss Ellie and Clayton Farlow
Friend: Huh?
Me: They replaced Barbara Bel Geddes this year
Friend: Oh. And they replaced Jim Davis as well?
Me: No
Friend: But that's not the same actor who played Jock.
Me: That's because that's not Jock. That's Clayton Farlow. Different character altoghether.
Friend: So that's a different actress, playing the same character, but married to a different husband. . . Never mind.
Hmm. Your friend can't have been a regular watcher, then. Howard Keel's Clayton Farlow had been with Barbara Bel Geddes' Miss Ellie for a while before Donna Reed came in, including the storyline with Clayton's crazy sister, Jessica, where Miss Ellie was kidnapped.

So poor Donna Reed came in just as they were starting to shuffle characters around, which only made things worse.
My biggest criticism of Donna Reed on Dallas is how she seems to be holding back her emotions. I'm not quite sure why she decided to play Miss Ellie this way, but there's not much difference between anger, feistiness, sadness, joy etc. in her portrayal of Miss Ellie. That is such a contrast to Barbara Bel Geddes, who is a force of personality in her own right.

I also wonder what the other cast members were thinking of the whole situation, from Barbara's initial dismissal, to suddenly working with Donna, to Donna's dismissal and Barbara's return. In my opinion, Donna Reed had good onscreen chemistry only with Howard Keel and Susan Howard, and okayish chemistry with Victoria Principal. Barbara Bel Geddes had very good onscreen chemistry with everyone.
 
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Lastkidpicked

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Hmm. Your friend can't have been a regular watcher, then.
You are right about that, Mustard. And that's just the problem. In the early years you could miss several episodes but come back to familiar characters. It was almost like a family reunion.
 

ArchieLucasCarringtonEwing1989

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@ramled99's quote: Turning Miss Ellie from sack dresser to the bipolor opposite as a feminine mid-80s oppulant and elegance (Joan Collins on Dynasty, Jane Wyman on Falcon Crest, etc.)

@ramled99 your spot on there! It was like TPTB felt that DALLAS needed its own grand and fashionista-ish lady to equal Alexis Colby and Angela Channing, but Dallas was more gritty than DYNASTY & FALCON CREST
Were, so having a long established character go from a ranch girl to Angela Channing 's clone overnight was the first in many mistakes DALLAS would make, it did seem like a major two fingers at BBG
 
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