Victoria Principal: Dallas' Pamela Ewing, Then And Now
1980 portrait of Victoria Principal, best known for playing Pamela Barnes Ewing in the television serial Dallas, wearing a red low-cut belted dress. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
From 1978 to 1987, Victoria Principal was the other big reason to tune into Dallas -- next to Larry Hagman, who owned the show as J.R. Ewing. As Pamela Barnes Ewing, Principal was the glue that held the family together even if she was constantly under suspicion from the members of the Ewing family who didn't believe her sincerity. But away from the popular prime time soap opera Principal was nothing like her most famous character.
Not just an actor, Principal has been a multi-hyphenate since her early days in front of the camera. This actor-agent-skincare queen has spent much of her life trying to make the world a better place in any way she can, be it through her craft or through philanthropy. Even so, she'll always be remembered for her time with Ewing Oil in a little town called Dallas.
Principal didn't always want to be an actor
Growing up in Japan, Victoria Principal was far from your standard Army brat. She was only five years old when she started appearing in commercial work. Even after she moved to the States with her family her life was far from normal. She moved around the country and ended up racking up enrollment in 17 schools during her primary school years.
In 1968, Principal graduated from South Dade Senior High School in Miami and intended to study medicine, but after suffering an injury in a car crash she had to spend months in recovery and during that time she came to the realization that her life could change at any time, and rather than continue to pursue her medical studies she decided to become an actor.
Throughout 1970 and 1971, Principal kicked around New York and Europe to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before moving to Los Angeles in hard pursuit of her onscreen career without an agent, although it turned out she was more prepared to sell herself than any talent manager.
The life and times of Victoria Principal
After moving to Los Angeles, Principal went after major film roles and won a role in John Huston's The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean as the mistress of the titular Roy Bean played by Paul Newman. The film put her in the crosshairs of the Hollywood elite, and she even earned a Golden Globe nomination for best newcomer.
As great of a debut as this was, the next few years were somewhat disappointing for Principal. She appeared in Playboy in 1973 to promote the film The Naked Ape, which flopped, and the next year she went on to appear in the 1974 disaster movie Earthquake. While the film was a hit, it didn't give her the kind of satisfaction that she was looking for in her career.
Principal moved away from feature films in the late '70s and decided to study law while supporting herself through television roles.
Principal used her talent as an agent to get herself an audition on Dallas
From 1975 to 1977 Principal worked as a talent and booking agent before she was lured back to the screen by Aaron Spelling with an offer to make a guest appearance on the pilot of Fantasy Island. At the time, Principal was still set on going to law school so she asked to be written out of the show ASAP.
It wasn't until Principal read the pilot script to Dallas that she actually decided to return to acting full time. Principal says that she received to the script for the purposes of sending it out to her clients (you know, like an agent does) but decided to audition for the part herself. She explained in 2004:
I had left acting to be an agent and was on my way to law school, but when a friend dropped off a Dallas script, I read it. When I finished, I knew my life had changed - that part was mine. So I called the [casting] person and said, 'I'm sending someone in.' She said, 'Who?' I said, 'Just put down my name. It will be a surprise.' And it certainly was a surprise - I showed up with me! I sent myself in for it!
Victoria Principal felt like she was born to play Pamela Ewing
Things may have ended on a sour note for Victoria Principal with Dallas, but she's always said that Pamela Barnes Ewing was the part she was meant to play, and that she knew Dallas would be a hit from the moment she read the script. Going into the production, Principal negotiated her own contract with CBS and was able to make sure that she was able to appear in commercial work to supplement her income. As mercenary as that sounds, Principal explained:
As a result that's why, you can only notice in hindsight, I was the only person in the cast who did commercials, who was doing movies of the week, who wrote books and these all belong to me. I retained the control and ownership of my image. No one owns me.
Whatever behind the scenes machinations Principal pulled off, she played a major part in the success of the series. It's hard to even envision how popular Dallas was throughout the 1980s. It wasn't just "must-see" TV, it was appointment television with storylines that begged audiences to watch on a weekly basis. During her nine year tenure on the series she was nominated for a Golden Globe and two Soap Opera Digest Awards.
She left Dallas over a contract dispute
It's sad that Principal's time on Dallas came to an end suddenly after nine years, but when she entered into contraction negotiations with the production company, but she found it harder to get what she wanted this time around. Principal has intimated that she may have not sought a change in her contracts if many of the people she liked working with behind the scenes hadn't quit. She told Entertainment Weekly:
The first five years on Dallas were so unbelievably wonderful — then some key writers departed, and by year seven there was a decline in the writing, which was an enormous part of my decision to leave. I informed the producers during renegotiations in the seventh year that I would only stay for two more. They wanted a longer contract, and I said no. I was completely transparent. I learned a lot from playing Pam. She was someone with such innate goodness and who was courageous in fighting for what she believed in. It was really a privilege to play her.
The skincare empire of Victoria Principal
Principal didn't rest on her laurels after leaving Dallas, something she absolutely could have done. Instead, she appeared in a series of TV movies while building her skincare and natural-beauty company, Principal Secret. When asked why she pivoted to skincare she told the Huffington Post:
I have always had a fascination with skin, and after my feeble attempts with flour and Crisco led to an outbreak throughout my entire family, I realized I needed to learn to apply healthier ingredients to the facials I gave everyone... I decided to break out of this cycle and to search out a healthy and holistic manner to treat my skin. Once I discovered I was allergic to more than half the ingredients of all skin care and make up, I arranged with a chemist to help make a cleanser, a moisturizer and an eye product that did not contain any of those irritants.
She launched the company on QVC and with an infomercial, adding entrepreneur to her long list of credits. By 2013, Principal's company revealed that it had a revenue of $1.5 billion.
She spends her time helping people
After stepping away from Principal Secret in 2019, the former actress focused on philanthropy with a wide array of recipients. Principal donated a fleet of rescue boats to the American Humane society following Hurricane Harvey, and in 2018 she made a similar donation following Hurricane Florence, and the 2018 California Wildfires.
Aside from making donations to the American Humane Society, Principal has operated a ranch outside of Los Angeles since 2012 where she rehabilitates animals while trying to get away from her life on Dallas. She says that while she loved her time on the show, she can't imagine going back to the series in a reboot or some kind of sequel. Although, she's happy that people still care. She told People:
I’m happy, based up all the emails that I’ve gotten, that people are introducing their children or their grandchildren to Dallas. I’m so excited that people continue to remember Dallas.
Tags: Dallas | Victoria Principal
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