Love Is All Around

28 Jun

Isn’t it strange, the things we remember? Stranger still are the things we didn’t remember we remembered until we’ve remembered them!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon visiting Southfork Ranch in Parker, Texas. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Southfork is the ranch on which the fictitious Ewing family lived on the long-running television series, “Dallas.” The show is currently enjoying a revival of sorts with the new series of the same name which focuses on the next generations of Ewings, and a lot of the show is now filmed on the ranch. (During the original series’ run, only exterior shots were allowed to be filmed there per the agreement with the family that actually lived in the house).

Southfork Ranch: Home to the Ewings on "Dallas."

Southfork Ranch: Home to the Ewings on “Dallas.”

Pulling up to Southfork yesterday brought back so many memories of my childhood, even though I don’t recall anyone in my family actually watching “Dallas.” My Mom used to make fun of Linda Gray, who played Sue Ellen Ewing, and the way she would overwork her mouth when speaking. But seeing the ranch, I immediately starting singing the “Dallas” theme song to myself, and walking into the Visitor’s Center, I was confronted with a room full of tacky Texas souvenirs (there is a book called, “The Art of Boots.” Who knew?) and a handful of “Dallas” related merchandise. On the walls were huge black and white headshots from the late 70’s of Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal, Barbara Bel Geddes…all the stars of the original show. The prop gun that was used to shoot J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman) in what would become the second most-viewed episode of television in U.S. history (the final episode of M*A*S*H* still holds the record for the largest audience in American history) was on display in a glass case. A wave of nostalgia started washing over me, even though I was only 2 years old when the series began.

The prop gun used to shoot J.R. Ewing on "Dallas," on display at Southfork Ranch.

The prop gun used to shoot J.R. Ewing on “Dallas,” on display at Southfork Ranch.

From the Visitor’s Center, we were driven over to the mansion on a tram which was pulled by a giant green John Deere tractor. The ride was a good 10-15 minutes, though it only took me 5 minutes to walk back when the tour was over. (Side note: I was surprised to learn from our guide that the original “Dallas” series was seen in over 95 countries around the world in more than 50 languages.) As we drove up to the house, I had a strange feeling that I’d been there before. We walked into the back patio door and suddenly I felt like I was back in 1978. As I mentioned before, none of the interior scenes for the show were filmed inside the house, but the current owner decorated the inside of the house to replicate what it may have looked like in the late 1970’s. Big floral patterns, earth tones, maroons, dark navy blues, lots of mirrors and crystal and carpet, tassels…just absolute tackiness by today’s standards, but the height of sophistication back then. It reminded me of one particular dress that my Mom had – I couldn’t even tell you what kind of fabric it was, but whatever it was, it was flowy and most certainly synthetic – and the wide-collared shirts my Dad used to wear. It also reminded me of being in my Aunt Carol Ann’s Tudor-style living room, watching David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear in 1983. If these little tidbits are floating around in my head, what else is up there, I wonder?

I had done some research before I went to Southfork, so I knew not to expect to see the actual sets from the show, but seeing the house and, in particular, seeing the gate that leads to the house, was a real thrill for me. “Dallas” and Southfork are such a part of popular culture and history that I was really glad I went to see it. Sure, it’s 25 miles outside of Dallas, but I had a car, so it was fairly easy to get to.

Getting to Mary Richards’ house was another story.

One of the things that I’ve really loved about this tour is doing research for each city that we go to. I like to find weird things that most (read: “normal”) people wouldn’t think to do…like going to Southfork Ranch when they visit Dallas or finding the house that was used as the exterior of Mary and Rhoda’s apartment building on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

“Mary Tyler Moore,” which is the actual title of the show, premiered in 1970 and ended exactly 4 months to the day after I was born, so I never saw it in its original run. I’d heard about it – I mean, I’d seen “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion,” but I had no idea what “I’m the Mary, you’re the Rhoda” meant. I saw the episode of Oprah where she talked about how the show had influenced and inspired her and then Mary Tyler Moore walked out and surprised her and she became a blubbering mess in front of millions of people. And I remembered seeing Mary toss her hat in the air. But I didn’t know the show.

Then Valerie Harper went public with her terminal cancer diagnosis in March. Even though I’d never seen one episode of “Mary Tyler Moore,” the idea that Rhoda was dying upset me. I don’t know why I was so upset by it – like I said, I’d never seen the show and I certainly don’t know Ms. Harper personally – but there was a deep, visceral sadness about her illness that I couldn’t explain. Perhaps it upset me because I have already known too many people who’ve died from cancer. Perhaps I was just moved by her astounding display of strength. Perhaps I was upset because I’m getting to a point in life where the people I grew up watching and admiring and emulating are starting to die off and it’s made me realize that the people I admire – and the people I love – aren’t going to live forever. I’m 36 years old and, remarkably, I still have three of my four grandparents. My parents are starting to talk to me and my brother about their wills and the benefits of cremation vs. burial. I’m getting older. Maybe that’s what upset me about Ms. Harper’s announcement. It made me realize my own mortality.

In any case, out of curiosity and respect for Ms. Harper, I decided to see what all the fuss was about “Mary Tyler Moore.” I watched the first three seasons on Hulu+ in three weeks. One of those weeks, we just happened to be in Minneapolis. I knew the show had been taped in California, but Mary had clearly been in Minneapolis to film shots for the opening credits – including the famous hat toss – so I did a quick Google search to see what I could find. There is a statue in downtown Minneapolis of Mary Richards tossing her Tam o’Shanter right in front of Macy’s. The first morning we were in town, I found the cross streets and headed straight there. Standing on the spot where Mary threw that hat into the air felt strange somehow. It almost felt magical. History had been made right on that spot. Maybe it didn’t change the world…but maybe it did.

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The Mary Tyler Moore statue in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Mary Richards – the character played by Mary Tyler Moore on the show – was a single woman in her early 30’s who had a career, her own apartment and a love life. She didn’t need a man to support her. She confronted her boss about equal pay. She was awkward and funny and sexy and she was something TV had never seen before. This was good television, folks…even (or perhaps especially) by today’s standards.

The more I watched, the more I fell in love with the characters – especially Mary and Rhoda and their nosy landlady, Phyllis. I wasn’t sure if it even existed, but I did a quick search to find out if the house that was used for the exterior shots of Mary and Rhoda’s apartment building was in Minneapolis and, if it was, if there was any way I could get to it without a car. As luck would have it, the house was still there and, after a 20-minute bus ride and a mile-long walk, I found it. Things had changed a lot in 40 years – trees are taller and paint colors have changed – but you can tell it’s the same house. Apparently the previous owners did some cosmetic work to the front of the house to make it look a little less like the “Mary and Rhoda House” because they have so many visitors in their front yard taking pictures – like me. In fact, while I was there, I met another man who had driven 45 minutes just to get a couple of snapshots of it for his wife. I had noticed the house was up for sale and he mentioned to me that the asking price was $3 million. Sounds fair to me for a piece of iconic television history.

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Mary, Rhoda and Phyllis’ apartment building on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

I wonder where the current generation will make pilgrimages to seek out the happy little nuggets of their childhood? What will be their nostalgic mecca? What would be yours? Have you been there? If you have, I would love to hear about it.

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4 Responses to “Love Is All Around”

  1. Amy Launius July 1, 2013 at 6:36 pm #

    So have you watched Rhoda’s show yet? I actually preferred it to Mary Tyler Moore for awhile.

    • jasonhbratton76 July 2, 2013 at 5:44 am #

      No, I haven’t. I haven’t even finished the entire MTM series. There are so many episodes!!!

  2. Craig Woythaler July 4, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    When I was in high school, we would drive around for HOURS, trying to find the Amityville Horror house. We never could because at one point, the owners had the address legally changed. I suppose, had we used our brains, we could have figured it out…

    • jasonhbratton76 July 4, 2013 at 1:19 am #

      I think I read that they also changed the facade of the house, or maybe just the two creepy eye windows in the attic so people wouldn’t recognize it…

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