Hagman was born in Weatherford, Texas, near Fort Worth. His mother, Mary Martin, was 17 at the time of his birth and later became a Broadway actress; his father, Benjamin Jackson "Jack" Hagman, was a lawyer, accountant, and district attorney, who was of Swedish descent. Hagman's parents divorced in 1936, when he was five years old. He lived with his grandmother in Texas and California while his mother became a contract player with Paramount in 1938.
When his mother moved to New York City to resume her Broadway career, Hagman again lived with his grandmother in California. A couple of years later, his grandmother died and Hagman joined his mother in New York. In 1946, Hagman moved back to his hometown of Weatherford, where he worked on a ranch owned by a friend of his father. After attending Weatherford High School, he was drawn to drama classes and reputedly fell in love with the stage and, in particular, with the warm reception he received for his comedic roles. He developed a reputation as a talented performer and in between school terms, would take minor roles in local stage productions. Hagman graduated from high school in 1949, when his mother suggested that he try acting as a profession.
Hagman began his career in Dallas, Texas, working as a production assistant and acting in small roles in Margo Jones' Theater in 1950 during a break from his one year at Bard College. He appeared in The Taming of the Shrew in New York City, followed by numerous tent show musicals with St. John Terrell's Music Circus in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Lambertville, New Jersey. In 1951, Hagman appeared in the London production of South Pacific with his mother, and stayed in the show for nearly a year.
In 1952, during the Korean War, Hagman was drafted into the United States Air Force. Stationed in London, he spent the majority of his military service entertaining U.S. troops in the UK and at bases in Europe.
After leaving the Air Force in 1956, Hagman returned to New York City where he appeared in the Off-Broadway play Once Around the Block, by William Saroyan. That was followed by nearly a year in another Off-Broadway play, James Lee's Career. His Broadway debut occurred in 1958 in Comes a Day. Hagman appeared in four other Broadway plays, God and Kate Murphy, The Nervous Set, The Warm Peninsula and The Beauty Part.
Barbara Bain as a guest star in the short-lived adventure and drama series Harbormaster. Hagman joined the cast of The Edge of Night in 1961 as Ed Gibson, and stayed in that role for two years. In 1964, he made his film debut in Ensign Pulver, which featured a young Jack Nicholson. That same year, Hagman also appeared in Fail-Safe with Henry Fonda.
Hagman was cast as Barbara Eden's television "master" Air Force Captain (later Major) Anthony Nelson in the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie for NBC. The series ran for five seasons. In November 1999, after 29 years, Hagman agreed to reunite with Jeannie co-stars Barbara Eden and Bill Daily and creator/producer Sidney Sheldon on the The Donny and Marie Show. In 2002, when I Dream of Jeannie was set to join the cable channel TV Land, Hagman once again took part in an I Dream of Jeannie reunion with Eden and Daily, this time on Larry King Live. On the TV Land Awards in March 2004, Hagman and Eden were the first presenters to reunite on stage.
In 1977, Hagman was offered a part on a new show called Dallas, in the role of conniving elder son and businessman J. R. Ewing, a man whom everybody loved to hate. Hagman became one of the best known television stars of the era. Producers were keen to capitalize on that love/hate family relationship of J.R.'s, building anticipation to a fever-pitch in the 1980 cliffhanger season finale in which J.R. is shot by an unknown assailant.
At the beginning of the third full season later that year, audience and actors were trying to guess "Who shot J.R.?", now one of fictional TV's most famous questions to have ever been asked. During the media buildup, Hagman was involved in contract negotiations, delaying his return in the fourth season. Holding out for a higher salary, Hagman did not appear in the first episode of the show until the final few minutes. Producers were faced with a dilemma whether to pay the greatly increased salary or to write J.R. out of the program. Lorimar Productions, the makers of the series, began shooting different scenes of Dallas which did not include Hagman. In the midst of negotiations, Hagman took his family to London for their July vacation. He continued to fight for his demands and network executives conceded that they wanted J.R. to remain on Dallas. From then on, Hagman became one of the highest-paid stars in television. At the beginning of the 1980-81 season, writers were told to keep the storylines away from the actors until they really found out who actually shot J.R., and it took three weeks until the culprit was revealed on November 21, 1980 in a ratings record-breaking episode.
For his performance as J.R. Ewing, Hagman was nominated for two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1980 and 1981, but did not win. He was also nominated for four Golden Globe Awards, between 1981 and 1985. He was nominated for a Soap Opera Digest Award seven times for Outstanding Villain on a Prime Time Serial, Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role on a Prime Time Serial, Favorite Super Couple: Prime Time and Outstanding Actor in a Comic Relief Role on a Prime Time Serial, and won five times. In 1984, co-star Barbara Bel Geddes left the show after suffering a heart attack. At one point, Hagman suggested to his real-life mother Mary Martin that she play Miss Ellie, but she rejected the suggestion and Bel Geddes was briefly replaced by Donna Reed for the 1984-1985 season. By the end of its thirteenth season in 1991, ratings had slipped to the extent that CBS decided to end Dallas. Hagman was the only actor to appear in all 357 episodes. He had also made five guest appearances on the Dallas spin-off series Knots Landing in the early 1980s. Some years after Dallas ended, Hagman appeared in two subsequent Dallas television movies: J.R. Returns in 1996, and War of the Ewings in 1998.
Hagman reprised his role as J.R. Ewing in TNT's continuation of Dallas, which began in 2012.
Larry Hagman had completed shooting a number of episodes, believed to be six, before his death, and will appear in the 15-episode season two of the series, slated to premiere Jan. 28. According to
I think that J.R. should leave this world the way he lived. He lived wheeling and dealing so he should die wheeling and dealing. The important thing is the even though J.R. is gone he will still leave an impact on the Ewing clan that will last for years. After all Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) and Jock (Jim Davis) are a very important part of the new series.
Good Night Mr. Hagman