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‘Dallas’ star Linda Gray hits town for both book and bourbon

“Dallas” star Linda Gray will forever be associated with her long-running role as Sue Ellen Ewing, but the actress has absolutely no problem being part of that groundbreaking TV legacy. It’s something she celebrates in her new memoir, “The Road to Happiness: Is Always Under Construction,” which Gray will be signing and chatting about at a 2 p.m. Saturday appearance at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville.

The other day, I caught up with the actress on the phone and she explained why she felt it important to include all aspects of her life in her autobiography. “When we started the whole project, I thought, ‘If I’m going to do it, I’m going to tell the whole story of my life and my experiences,’ or why would I bother? That’s honestly how I felt,” said Gray, explaining how she couldn’t write about her life and overlook the dark side of her experiences — including suffering polio as a child, having an alcoholic mother and having been trapped in an emotionally abusive marriage for more than two decades.

However, Gray loved talking about the happier times and “my absolute joy” of having the opportunity to not only play Sue Ellen in the original run of “Dallas” but also in the reincarnation of the show in more recent times. “I have loved the opportunity to not only play Sue Ellen, but to really get to know that woman and how she has evolved over the years. Actually over the decades!” said Gray with a big laugh.

One fun anecdote in “The Road to Happiness” is about a very small modeling gig Gray landed, back in her 20s. “I’ve been blessed with great legs, so I got a call to do a photo shoot. I never knew what it was for. All I was told — it was for a movie poster. I was paid $25 and that was it. That’s all I knew.

1967-The-Graduate“I never thought any more about it, until ‘The Graduate’ came out. Of course, everyone thought that was Anne Bancroft’s leg on the poster, with Dustin Hoffman in the background. But, of course, that was my leg!”

Gray never got the chance to meet Bancroft, but she thinks the late actress — known for her keen sense of humor — would have had fun joking with Gray about it. “I’ll bet we would have had a lot of laughs on that score!”

While in town, Gray also will be promoting J.R. Ewing Bourbon, the liquor named in honor of the iconic role created by her great pal and longtime co-star Larry Hagman. “Larry would love the fact they’ve made this bourbon and that I’m the spokeswoman for it,” said Gray. “Of course, the funny thing is, while Sue Ellen was an alcoholic, I’m not much of a drinker. But Larry was the original party boy and I was always like his big sister, though I was younger than he in real life. I was always telling him not to party so much, but of course, Larry never listened to me. … He really did love a good party — and was always the life of any party he attended.”