Sunday, October 27, 2013

Holly Harwood's Memorably Graceful Exit from "Dallas"

A few months ago I commented on the wrong way to write a character out of a TV show, but now I want to comment on the appropriate way to close out a character that had made a strong impact and impression upon a series.  Throughout the 1982-83 season of "Dallas," Lois Chiles gave a marvelous performance as intially-naive, but ultimately strong-willed oil heiress Holly Harwood.  After having inherited her father's oil company, Harwood Oil, after his death, she foolishly hires JR Ewing (Larry Hagman) to help her run it.  Rather than asking for traditional remuneration, JR asks for 25% ownership of Harwood Oil, which Holly agrees to give to him.  Holly would later regret this decision after she realizes that JR is using Harwood Oil assets to help give him an edge in his competition against his brother Bobby (Patrick Duffy) to win Ewing Oil.  Throughout the season, Holly often consulted with Bobby, who she found herself falling in love with.  After JR gets her involved in an illegal deal to sell oil to Cuba, Holly decides to manipulate JR's wife Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) into believing that they are having an affair in order to force Sue Ellen to issue an ultimatum with JR for him to cut all ties with Holly.

When Sue Ellen catches Holly and JR in bed, she goes on a bender that eventually leads to a tragic car accident that leaves Sue Ellen facing criminal charges and Ray Krebbs' cousin Mickey Trotter (Timothy Patrick Murphy) paralyzed from the neck down.  JR agrees to return his 25% share of Harwood Oil to Holly, but only if she pays him $20 million.  Bobby urges Holly not to pay JR for fear that the payment would put JR far ahead in the competition.  In the finale of that season, Holly attempts to stall JR by suggesting to him that she stagger the payments over a period of time.  JR at first refuses, but eventually relents, warning her not to take too long with the payments because "Holly Harwood is not on my list of all-time favorites."  It would have been easy to assume that that was the end of Holly Harwood on "Dallas," but in the next season the writers and producers of the show gave her a proper exit that also laid the groundwork for the long-term impact the character would have on the show.

When the show returned in the Fall, Holly was nowhere to be seen in the first four episodes.  It appeared as if her storyline was over and done with.  But Holly reappeared in the fifth episode of the season entitled "The Quality of Mercy," which aired October 28, 1983.  It would be the first of three appearances in the new season spread across three consecutive episodes.  In the first scene, Holly reappears when she interrupts a luncheon between Bobby and his ex-sister-in-law Katharine Wentworth (Morgran Brittany), who conspired with JR to break up Bobby's marriage with her half-sister Pam (Victoria Principal), and is scheming to win his affections now that he and Pam have divorced.  We learn that Holly left town for awhile to try and regain perspective on what has happened to her life in the last year.  Holly expresses condolences to Bobby for his divorce from Pam and apologizes to him for paying JR $20 million to leave her company.  Holly is surprised when Bobby informs her that he and JR have decide to call off the competition and split the company 50/50.  Lois Chiles expresses the right air of self-reflection and regret as she reacts to the news "That battle was so bitter!  I mean, I'm an outsider and look at the things that I did.  I suppose it changed all of us.  It's taken me quite awhile to start liking myself again."

Bobby admits how he understands the way Holly feels--and that it's taking him a long time to like himself again after all the scheming and manipulative things he did the previous season to try and win Ewing Oil.  In so doing, Bobby expresses a level of empathy for Holly's regrets and mistakes that puts the two characters on a level playing field.  After Bobby comments that he's glad to see Holly again, she breathes a sigh of relief and says, "Thank goodness.  It took all the courage I had to come talk to you....well because I know that I've done things that you don't approve of.  But you know how I always felt about you Bobby.  And I just wanted us to be friends again."  After Bobby assures Holly that "right now I could use all the friends that I can get," an irritated Katharine Wentworth attempts to interrupt this conversation by asking Bobby to order her another drink.

A wise and perceptive Holly immediately picks up on Katharine's personal interest in Bobby and refuses Bobby's offer to get her a drink as well.  The two women, both carrying an unreciprocated romantic interest in the same man, eye one another competitively across the table.  Both Lois Chiles and Morgan Brittany are marvelous in articulating the different modus operandi of these two women.  Chiles projects a directness and honesty in Holly's dealings with Bobby that strikes an interesting contrast with the devious manipulation that is Katharine's hallmark on the show.  I particularly like the way Holly evokes Katharine's quietly seething animosity when Holly asks Bobby out to dinner some night.  When Bobby tells Holly that he "wouldn't be very good company," Holly responds, "I'm willing to risk it if you are...I just thought that, for once, the two of us could sit down and have a civilized meal.  No business.  Just kind of get to know who we are.  Not Harwood Oil, not Ewing Oil, just us."

Bobby finally agrees, which further irritates Katharine, as he promises to contact Holly and set a date soon.  As Holly departs, I believe she is sincere when she says, "Nice meeting you Katharine.  I hope you'll forgive me for monopolizing Bobby like that."  Katharine leans forward, possessively marking her territory as Bobby's companion for this meal, and responds, "Oh that's all right.  We have plenty of time."  Amused and challenged by Katharine's maneuver, Holly lightly chuckles under her breath, rises from her seat and delivers another blow back at Katharine as she pointedly remarks, "And I think it's...admirable, you're helping Bobby get over your sister."  Recognizing how Holly has seen right through her underhandedness, Katharine smirks and says "Thank you," as an oblivious Bobby kisses Holly goodbye as she departs back to her office.  Bobby is so naive as to what's just transpired between these two women to such a degree that, after he comments, "Nice lady, isn't she?," he fails to recognize the sarcasm in Katharine's voice when she responds, "Wonderful."

This beautifully written, acted, and naunced scene is notable because it demonstrates the different tactics of two women who are clearly interested in Bobby and who hope that he might reciprocate their feelings now that he is divorced from Pam.  Despite Holly's manipulation of Sue Ellen, seducing JR so that his wife will catch them in bed together, she's essentially a straight-forward, honest individual who was driven to setting JR up out of desperation.  In all of her dealings with Bobby, she has been completely honest about her emotions and motives.  The previous season, when she attempted to seduce Bobby while dressed in a bathing suit at her pool, she is direct about her longings and desires for him.  Once Bobby makes it clear that he is a faithful husband, Holly stops trying to seduce him and instead forges a genuine friendship with him.  Even though she and Pam only encountered each other in one scene at the Ewing barbecue, I always had the impression that Holly, after being rejected by Bobby, genuinely respected, as well as envied, Pam's role as Bobby's wife.  She only waited until Bobby and Pam were divorced before making another effort to make her feelings to Bobby known.

In contrast, Katharine has no such respect for Pam's role as Bobby's wife, even though they are half-sisters.  She schemed with JR to break them up, and even forges a fake letter, purportedly from Pam to her attorney, that she shares with Bobby in order to make him believe that Pam no longer wanted to be married to him.  In contrast to Holly's directness and honesty where Bobby was concerned, Katharine continually operated in a state of deception and subterfuge.  She initially did not reveal to Bobby, until later, her own romantic feelings for him.  By not being honest with Bobby from the beginning, Katharine continued to allow herself to believe in a fantasy she had created in her mind that Bobby would eventually fall in love with her.  For all of her villainy, there was a delusional quality to Katharine that just seemed desperate.

The next time we see Holly is in the following episode "Check and Mate," which originally aired November 4, 1983.  Bobby and Holly are seen walking together at an outdoor shopping area, alongside an elaborate waterway, as they come from a distance and walk closer to a bridge, where the camera filming this scene is situated, so they can stop and confront each others feelings once and for all.  The first section of the scene is shot in one long, unbroken take, where we see both characters from a distance as they walk closer to us, the audience, until both characters have reached and stepped onto the bridge, upon which time the remainder of the vignette is dramatized in long shots and close-ups that underscore the divide that has come between them.  They chit chat about the end of the Battle for Ewing Oil competition, which is due to end the next day, and the wounds and damage that the competition has caused.  Holly attempts to be cheerful and hopeful as she reassures Bobby that "Wounds heal after awhile, at least mine do.  I'm not even so angry at JR anymore."  She then pointedly asks, "What about you Bobby?  Can you forget what happened?...with me and JR?"

Bobby curtly asks "Holly, what are you really saying?" A frustrated Holly admits, "It's hard to fall out of love."  Bobby becomes uncomfortable and attempts to deflect her statement by saying "Please, Holly," as she continues saying "And I was just wondering if I was gonna get another chance with you now that you're a free man."  Bobby's tone of voice becomes slightly impatient as he says "Look, Holly, we can be friends, we can help each other, but I can't see havin' the kind of relationship that you want to have."  A disappointed Holly continues pressing Bobby as she asks him "Tell me somethin' it because I set JR up that time?"  Bobby says, "I don't know, maybe."  Holly continues, "Is it because I set him up, or because I slept with him to do it?"  Bobby responds, "I don't know.  Maybe both."  A perceptive and slightly annoyed and frustrated Holly observes how "Men have such fragile egos.  If this conversation were reversed, and you'd done the sleeping and the setting up, you'd expect me to just forget about it.  You wouldn't care how I felt."  After having witnessed the way Bobby expected Pam to accept the scheming and blackmailing and manipulation that he resorted to in order to win Ewing Oil, we're not surprised how Bobby realizes the truth of Holly's statement and the hypocrisy of his perspective.  He acknowledges to Holly, "You know something, you might be right.  But I don't see myself changing, Holly."

A disappointed Holly accepts Bobby's rejection and says, "Guess that's the end of the road then.  Not that there ever really was a road for you and me."  In saying that, Holly reveals that she is not only direct and honest, she's also a realist, a point which is further emphasized a moment later, after Bobby tries to reassure her that they can remain friends.  A slightly bemused Holly scoffs, "Friends?  No, we won't.  I could never be comfortable being just your friend."  In so doing, Holly demonstrates how she is unwilling to live a fantasy, the way Katharine has, where she can accept crumbs and remain second-best by being just platonic friends with Bobby.  Holly appears to understand that remaining Bobby's friend will perpetuate a fantasy that he might some day become romantically interested in her.  In the previous episode, when she interrupted his lunch with Katharine, Holly expressed an interest in being friends with Bobby, which this scene later contradicts.  I believe Holly has changed her mind because, after witnessing Katharine's obvious interest in Bobby, and sensing how Bobby has no interest in his own ex-sister-in-law, Holly has seen for herself how desperate and fruitless it would be to cling to Bobby forever.  If Katharine is the dangerous delusional, then Holly remains the healthy realist who knows what she needs, and doesn't need, for herself.  She's willing to say goodbye to Bobby in order to retain her dignity. 

For her final scene with Bobby, the writers gave Lois Chiles a killer exit line.  Holly kisses Bobby on the cheek and, looking straight into his eyes, tells him "You know what really kills me?  There's someone out there, somewhere, who's gonna end up with you.  And it won't be me."  She then turns and walks away from Bobby forever, never looking back at him.  She leaves a dumbfounded Bobby speechless on the bridge, too stupid to understand how he has allowed this terrific lady to slip from his life.  Considering how the lady Bobby does end up with, the incredibly bland Ann Ewing (Brenda Strong) on TNT's new "Dallas," is not nearly as compelling or interesting a character as Holly Harwood was, it's not hard to understand Holly's frustration with the situation.

We might be forgiven in believing that Holly was over and done with, but in the following episode, "Ray's Trial," which aired November 11, 1983, the writers gave Holly an additional exit scene to tie up her character and storyline once and for all.  Having resolved her dangling, unrequited relationship with Bobby, the writers now focus on tying up her contentious dealings with his brother JR, who she has not encountered in about 6 episodes.  At the end of the previous episode, as the executor of Jock's estate, Punk Anderson, and the accountants and attorneys wrap up the last details of the competition for Ewing Oil that Bobby and JR's father has set up for them, JR attempts to break the deal that Bobby made with JR to stop the competition and split the company 50/50 by asking for a full audit of both their earnings that year.  It looks as if JR will end up the majority owner of Ewing Oil, if not for the last minute arrival of Bobby's Canadian business partners, who has shown up to bring Bobby a check for $26 million for his share of investing in drilling for oil in ice covered Canadian oil fields.  This puts Bobby far ahead of JR in the competition, making him the winner and majority owner of Ewing Oil.

At the start of the episode in "Ray's Trial," we find a grieving JR in a bar, drinking away his anger and frustration at losing the competition to Bobby and having to share in the company with him.  After telling his waitress to keep the drinks coming, a gloating Holly, grinning from ear-to-ear like a Cheshire cat, shows up to gloat about JR's failure.  Lois Chiles plays the scene with the right air of schadenfreude as she tells JR, "I just heard the most astounding news!  That you and Bobby are gonna run Ewing Oil side-by-side.  Share and share alike."  In contrast to the scene where Holly interrupted Bobby and Katharine's lunch, and Bobby graciously asked Holly if she would like a drink, when the waitress in this scene returns to JR's table, and asks Holly what she would like to drink, JR curtly remarks, "The lady's leavin'...aren't you?"  Holly continues gloating as she observes how "Looks like the only friend you've got left is in that glass.  I just think it's wonderful!  That despite all your manipulations, despite all your crooked deals, despite your hitting me up for $20 million bucks to get you out of my company, despite all that you still couldn't beat Bobby!"

JR attempts to save face by trying to make it appear that he and Bobby agreed to split up the company long before the final audit for the competition.  Holly slyly responds, "Maybe you did, but the way I heard it, you were gonna double cross Bobby.  It was Bobby who agreed to share Ewing Oil with you, not the other way around."  JR attempts to demean Holly by insinuating that she got the information as to what actually happened in the final audit room by having slept with one of the auditors, "or all of them as the case may be."  A sanguine Holly remarks, "Same old JR.  Losin' has done nothin' for your soul.  But I'm happy that you lost because you cost me the one thing in the whole world that I ever really wanted."  JR realizes that she is referring to his younger brother Bobby and encourages her to pursue him because "he's free now, honey.  You can go after him, free as a bird."

 A bitter Holly responds, "You made that impossible."  JR seems truly surprised at Holly's revelation "I did?  You mean because of that one night that I spent in your bed?  Oh, my saintly brother."  A disgusted Holly gets up from the table, as JR grabs her by the arm to finish his thought, "Darlin' I'd like to make a little the fact that you will never, ever be my sister-in-law.  And I want to thank you too, for reminding me how, how ethical my brother is.  It's a flaw in his character that eventually will cause his downfall in the oil industry.  I'm not finished yet, honey.  Not by a long shot.  Thank you, I'm feelin' better."  Holly wrests her arm out of JR's grasp as she turns and walks out of "Dallas" forever.

In so doing, the scene establishes several themes that will continue to dominate "Dallas" in seasons to come.  One is how Bobby will continue to have an aversion to any women who were romantically involved with his older brother.  In Bobby's eyes, they have become "tainted" for having been with JR.  JR uses this to make Katharine believe that Bobby will reject her once he finds out that she has been sleeping with his brother.  JR later causes Katharine to believe that he has played Bobby an audio tape of him and Katharine in bed together, which leads to Katharine to confess all of her sins to Bobby and destroys their friendship forever.  In later seasons, when Bobby is dating April Stevens (Sheree J. Wilson), JR attempts to blackmail April into doing his bidding or else he will tell Bobby about their previous romantic relationship.  He refers to Holly Harwood as an example of what April has to look forward to if she does not comply with JR.  April admits her relationship with JR to Bobby, which causes their breakup.  It's only later, when Bobby gets over his prudishness and realizes how much he loves April, that he can stop seeing women who were involved with JR as "fallen women."  In the 1988-89 season of "Dallas," Holly Harwood is once again mentioned when Sue Ellen is planning to produce a film about her life with JR and she tells Don Lockwood (Ian McShane), the writer/director she has hired, about Holly's scheme to have Sue Ellen catch her and JR in bed together.  Later, we see a scene being filmed where Sue Ellen and JR quarrel over his sexual involvement with "Molly Woodward."

The final scenes of Holly Harwood are notable in the prime time soap genre because they not only provided an appropriate finish for her character, but also established how she would continue to have a long term impact on the show.  She was not a character who came and left without a trace after she was gone.  Her specter continued to haunt "Dallas" for years to come.  What's great about Holly Harwood is that she never wore out her welcome on the show, the way other characters like Jenna Wade (Priscilla Presley) did.  In so doing, Holly left fans with good feelings for her character, rather than impatience and contempt.  After all these years, fans of "Dallas" continue to discuss Holly on fan message boards, and wonder whatever became of her.  I think this helps demonstrate how she was such a memorable and compelling presence on the show, which is why I imagine they would welcome an appearance from her character in the new TNT "Dallas" at some point.  Throughout her time on "Dallas," Lois Chiles admirably underplayed her scenes as Holly so that the humanity of the character continued to shine through.  She never overacted, the way others in the prime time soap genre are capable of doing, and the character never degenerated into camp.  Chiles' sincerity in her work ensured that that would never happen.  As with all great TV characters, Lois Chiles' Holly Harwood makes such a strong impact that she leaves you wanting even more from her.