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Charlene Tilton: Lucy Ewing Of 'Dallas' Was Nothing But Trouble

Icons | December 4, 2017

From the American television series 'Dallas' shows Charlene Tilton (as Lucy Ewing) as she leans across the arm of a chair, September 1978. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

Standing 4'11", Dallas actress Charlene Tilton as Lucy Ewing was a dynamo of trouble and treachery. She used her feminine wiles to her advantage and, often, her own downfall, but never learned her lesson too well. That's the nature of soap operas -- the constant drama and unbelievable reversals of fortune keep viewers tuning in. Tilton was all that and more, becoming a major sex symbol. Tilton was said to have appeared on 500 magazine covers, and the 1981 episode on which Lucy got married drew 65 million viewers

When J.R. Ewing Is Your Uncle, Things Are Bound To Get Interesting

Lucy Ewing, Tilton’s character, was born into a privileged, although troubled and dysfunctional family. Her fictional father, Gary Ewing (David Ackroyd & Ted Shackleford), was an alcoholic. That being the case, the marriage fell apart and Lucy was the product of a broken home. She quickly learned how to use that disadvantage to her advantage; becoming somewhat of a problem child. She ultimately made her way to the family ranch, Southfork, for the purpose of being raised by her grandparents. Her uncle, J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), made it his business to insert himself into much of the family business, including anything and everything concerning Lucy.

Lucy Was Like Any Teenage Girl, Only Moreso

In true soap opera fashion, Lucy, although only a child, brought some very colorful baggage to the show. When she landed on Southfork Ranch, she had a reputation for being a troubled, as well as a troublemaking teen. Like many teenagers, she was rebellious and skipped school. That, however, was a way to spend more time rolling in the hay with Ray, a ranch hand who worked on her family’s ranch. Ray was much older than Lucy which only added her desire to the pursuit of the relationship. As it turned out, Ray was actually Lucy’s uncle.

Lucy Wasn't Bad, She Just Acted That Way

Ok, so skipping school and having eyes for an older man does not make a teenager all bad. But Lucy took the drama to a higher level. Lucy was a conniving little vixen. She was young, clever, privileged and drop-dead gorgeous. Of course, Lucy was smart enough to know that all of these qualities could be used to her advantage; and use them she did. She knew that her beauty opened doors. Tilton relished playing the character, and knew she would from the start, as she recalled in 2018

I kind of read between the lines of the description of the character of Lucy. The description was she was a manipulative little sexpot, born with a silver spoon, had everything money could buy. But I felt that [there was something more]. She wasn’t living with her parents. Her parents were driven away from her off the ranch. I saw that there was a lot underneath that surface of her. Her antics, she was acting out, but doing it because there were underlying things within her. ... I loved Lucy. She was great.

Lucy's Love Life Was A Mess

Since Lucy had a problem going to school, she needed some extra help with her studies. At one point, Lucy was being tutored for math. She falsely accused her math tutor of rape. In exchange for clearing his name, she extorted help from her Aunt Pam (Victoria Principal). If Pam would lie to her grandparents and tell them she was doing well in school, she would clear the tutor of wrongdoing. 

After breaking it off with Ray, Lucy found herself engaged to be married to someone else -- someone her own age -- only to break it off after finding out that he was gay. Lucy then had a brief marriage that ended in divorce, only to find out she was pregnant with another man’s baby. Later in the series, after Lucy had matured somewhat, they reunited and remarried -- then divorced again. This is soap opera fodder at its finest.

Audiences Lived Vicariously Through Lucy

Although Lucy was an expert at the family business of manipulation, she was ultimately no match for her much more experienced elders, especially, J.R.  She was usually reined in, but not before the damage was done. There was something awesome about living dangerously through Lucy.

Charlene Tilton After Dallas

Beverly Mitchell, Barry Williams, Danny Bonaduce, Charlene Tilton, and Willie Aames on a 2017 episode of 'Battle of the Network Stars.' Source: IMDB

Tilton continued to act throughout the '90s and into the 21st century. Many of her roles have been in comedies, including Problem Child 2 (1991), The Silence Of The Hams (1994), Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003), and Superhero Movie (2008). She also appeared as Lucy Ewing again on six episodes of the re-launched Dallas, which ran from 2012-14. 

Tilton still remembers her time on Dallas fondly, and credits the show's success to the chemistry of the cast. She said in 2018:

You can’t buy it. You can’t bottle it. It’s just a rare gift when that happens. And we had it. And we became a family pretty instantaneously when we all met. I think that played a very big part. I also feel like the storylines at that point and time — it was the ‘80s. There was a lot of money and family drama and things like that. They were great scripts, great acting.

Tags: Charlene Tilton | Dallas | Lucy Ewing | The 1970s | TV In The 1970s

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.