A television actor who manages one iconic character in a career is rare. Manage two and you are on a very short list indeed.

Though I spent a good portion of my late teens and early twenties being referred to as “J.R.” (after having spent an equally good portion of the previous few years being referred to as “John Boy”–now there’s a conflicted persona just waiting to be born–I’m sure it’s only my faith that kept me from the shrink’s couch), I never got into Dallas.

Didn’t need to.

For me, Larry Hagman was always Tony Nelson and his best achievement in my youthful eyes was that, until I saw him play J.R., I never assumed his Major Nelson involved any acting at all. This despite the fact that he wasn’t very much like anybody I knew and wasn’t the least bit like what anybody thought an astronaut was.

And, no, I was never confused as to why Tony was reluctant to marry a genie, even one that looked like Barbara Eden (which is to say, like a woman I would not personally have been able to resist for five seconds). I didn’t articulate it to myself, but I knew there was some awesome combination of old-fashioned honor and old-fashioned fear at work.

Now, of course, we live in an age where we do not know–or at least do not deign to acknowledge–either. Not in the public sphere at least.

Nowadays if somebody talks about “honor,” we automatically assume they must be referring to a mobster. And if somebody talks about fear, we know they must be putting some Oscar bait on a hook.

And all I can say is that, when Tony Nelson was on the case, nobody had to be confused about these things…unless they wanted to be.

(Note: Barbara Eden’s fine tribute is all over the net, just search for the two names together)

(**Yes, you can spot them occasionally in the background of I Dream of Jeannie, which was supposed to be set in Cocoa Beach, a short hop across two bridges and an island from where I was born. Ah, Hollywood. Unrealistic you might say and you’d be right. Of course you would. But believe me, for us natives, the notion that Cocoa Beach might have twelve thousand foot mountain peaks was nowhere near as disconcerting as the idea–worked into a plot at least once–that somebody, somewhere, thought it might have a public library. I mean, dude….if you’ve got Ron Jon’s Surf Shop, what do you need a library for?)