‘Dallas’ star Charlene Tilton recalls her last meeting with Larry Hagman, tumultuous childhood
Charlene Tilton still has fond memories of her former “Dallas” co-star, Larry Hagman.
Hagman, who played one of TV’s most beloved villains in the hit series, passed away in 2012 at age 81 from complications caused by cancer. At the time of his death, he was in Dallas filming an episode of the TNT’s reboot of the original series, which he starred in from 1978 until 1991.
Tilton starred as his troublemaking niece Lucy Ewing.
“Larry was a father figure to me,” the 60-year-old recently told Closer Weekly. “He and his wife, Maj [Axelsson], were two of the most wonderful people. … I think about him a lot because he was so much larger than life. And I know it might sound kind of hocus pocus-y, but I feel his presence.”
Tilton told the magazine she vividly remembers the last time she ever saw her co-star and friend.
“Before he passed away, my last time visiting him, he was sick in his apartment while filming the reboot for TNT,” she recalled. “We sat looking out the window at downtown Dallas, we just fist-bumped for two hours.
“He would giggle and we would say something, then we wouldn’t say anything, and he got such enjoyment out of watching the flickering lights. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s how I want to be.’ Just getting pleasure from the simplest things. It was magical.”
Tilton shared filming “Dallas” alongside Hagman was one of the greatest highlights of her life.
“From the time I was 8, I was raised with my mom in a little one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood,” said Tilton. “We didn’t have any money — it was the poor part of town and I was a latchkey kid — so before school, I would look through the gates of the studios and want to be in there so much.
“I was able to travel the world because of the show and meet thousands of wonderful fans. A kid like me doesn’t get opportunities like that. I still cry thinking about it. Of course, there have been a lot of struggles as well, but that’s life, isn’t it?”
Tilton described how growing up, she knew nothing about her real father and had never even seen a picture of him.
Her mother was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic when Tilton was only 5. She was sent away to live with relatives in Nebraska and Illinois.
“When I was around 6 1/2, [my mother’s] twin sister took me to see her, and she was in a straitjacket,” said Tilton. “When she was released, she got an apartment in Hollywood and I was sent back to live with her. She held down a job as a secretary for an insurance company, but she battled mental illness her whole life. She would think that the CIA was monitoring her through her coffee cup.
“And when I was 15, she had another breakdown. We were evicted and got another apartment where the only furniture was a mattress on the floor. I said, ‘I can’t live like this,’ and left.”
Tilton said she got a job at the Egyptian Theatre making $1.70 an hour and found an apartment on Hollywood Boulevard.
“The manager had an addiction problem and worked as a stripper, but she was the sweetest lady,” recalled Tilton. “When I [later] got the part on ‘Dallas,’ the neighbors put a tinfoil star on my door!”
Tilton would go on to audition for the role of Lucy in “Dallas,” but she didn’t instantly sway the show’s casting director for the job of a lifetime.
“Just to audition for ‘Dallas’ was a struggle!” said Tilton. “… Lucy was described as a manipulative sexpot born with a silver spoon in her mouth whose parents were driven away by her horrible uncle J.R. It said she had everything a girl could want. I said, ‘No, she doesn’t have her parents!’
“I clicked with Lucy immediately and said, ‘This is my part.’ But the casting director said, ‘Nope, we need someone older with more experience.’ I’d literally sneak into the studio every day for two weeks and they kept saying no. Finally, I got the part after they’d seen, like, 200 actresses.”
Tilton added she still stays in touch with her other castmates.
“Every time I go back to Southfork Ranch, it’s like going home,” she said. “I grew up there. The cast genuinely felt like a family. We all love each other and are still close today, but sometimes you go, ‘Wow, it’s been 40 years!”
While Tilton is grateful for the role that catapulted her to stardom, she has kept herself busy pursuing her childhood dream. In 2017, she filmed a movie titled “Vengeance: A Love Story” alongside Nicolas Cage. She is also currently writing a book as well as a one-woman show about Tammy Faye Bakker.
“She gave me the rights before she passed away,” confirmed Tilton to the magazine.
And after her fiancé, cinematographer Cheddy Hart, passed away suddenly from heart failure in 2009, Tilton began working with Actors for Autism, a nonprofit that teaches acting to children on the autism spectrum. She is also a proud grandmother.
Tilton said that despite the many challenges life has thrown her way over the years, she has always been determined to persevere.
“I was not blessed with long legs, but I was blessed with the ability to see the irony in situations and the good in them ─ even the most dire situations ─ and a really gosh darn positive attitude,” said Tilton. “It’s a gift God has given me, and it has served me well in life!”