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Dallas, Texas: Southfork Ranch - 2002-05-05

In the 1980s, the television series "Dallas" made the city of Dallas, Texas, known worldwide. Most of the action in the long-running series takes places at Southfork Ranch, just north of Dallas. Most of the exteriors were filmed on the grounds of the ranch, but the interiors were done in Hollywood because the house was occupied by a real Texas rancher and his family. On television, Southfork was home to the fictional Ewing family, whose members were both ranchers and oil businessmen. The home of the fictional Ewings is a popular tourist destination.

The tour of Southfork starts in the museum of the "Dallas" memorabilia and continues on a little tram, which takes visitors to the house, the barns, the ballrooms and the grounds. Southfork Ranch attracts 400,000 people a year. Finnish-born Katrina moved to Texas several months ago and is visiting the ranch with her two guests from Finland.

Katrina: "We used to love the Dallas show in the [19]80s."
Female visitor: "That's why we are here."
Hoke: "And so what do you think of it?"
Katrina: "Great, it's beautiful."
Hoke: "How does it relate to what you saw on television?"
Visitor: "It's smaller, but I can remember lots of places."

Indeed, what seemed larger than life on television is a small-size ranch in reality. Tour guide Sally Peavy says that's one of the first things that visitors notice. "The most common things, the moment they see the house and they hop off the tram is: what happened to the swimming pool, how come the house is so small, it was huge," she says. "And we can explain all of that on the tour and we do that."

Sally Peavy says mirrors and wide-angle lenses were used to make the swimming pool look larger in the movies. The swimmers wore special harnesses around their waists and someone was pulling them back so they would not swim very far. And so the illusion of grandeur was achieved.

Mark Thompson, the director of marketing and public relations for the Southfork, says a Texas rancher bought it in 1970 to breed horses there. "He had three small boys and did so for eight years until finally a helicopter that was circling the area, looking for a location to film this series approached him and asked to do filming here," he says.

That was in 1978. The rancher agreed because Dallas was going to be only a five part non-continuing drama. No one envisioned that it would become such a phenomenal success. By 1990 when the shooting ended, the series had 356 episodes. Visitors began flocking to the small ranch in the 1980s and the original owner eventually moved to a more private place.

In the early 1990s, the new owner, a businessman from Arizona, spent about $13 million on extensive renovations to make Southfork what he calls the "Rolls Royce of Texas Ranches." The interiors were decorated to reflect the opulence that people saw on television. Each room is now themed after one of the Ewings and reflects the character's personality. The J.R. Master Suite is named after J.R. Ewing, the most popular character in the series. The bed raised on a platform with slate-blue silk and brocade draperies and the accompanying bath with marble vanities, crystal decorations and a Jacuzzi tub, reflect his wealth and arrogance.

Mark Thompson, the director of marketing for Southfork, says many visitors have a hard time separating the fantasy from reality. "And some of them, I think are a bit dismayed that J.R. and Sue Ellen aren't sitting around the pool and having a mint julep," he says.

Tour guide Sally Peavy has a story of Southfork's number one fan. "Actually, she is a Texan and she writes to us monthly about - you know, how we are doing, how is Southfork etc. and she named her cat Elvis, not anything to do with the show Dallas, but her cat was missing for about a week and the only way (she opened up cans of cat food and tuna fish and all his favorite treats and called the kitty to try to get Elvis to come home, but the only way he ever returned after being gone for a whole week is she whistled the tune "Dallas", the theme song, and he returned. And so she whistledand Elvis came home and it was a happy ending for all."

The shooting of "Dallas" ended in the early 1990s, but the CBS television series "Dallas" is still shown in more than thirty countries of the world. In addition to being a museum of the "Dallas" memorabilia, Southfork Ranch is now a large conference facility, hosting more than 1,400 events a year. But most people still come here to see the home of the fictional Ewing family.