Flashback Friday: Before the Victoria’s Secret angels there was Valentine Girl Mandy Winger
Linda Gray’s spirited performance on TNT’s new Dallas as Sue Ellen Ewing after a 14-year break from the character is winning raves. Sue Ellen is in a good place in 2012. She’s a confident and powerful woman who has made a life for herself apart from JR and Southfork and has pledged her support to her rascally son John Ross in his battle against good guys Christopher and Bobby Ewing. Sue Ellen first tapped into her newfound strength due in large part to an unlikely source: model Mandy Winger. Deeply insecure and vulnerable, Sue Ellen had long put up with JR’s infidelities and emotional abuse, lashing out with the occasional affair and turning to the bottle for comfort. When JR took up with Mandy in 1984, Sue Ellen faced the first genuine threat to her position as a Ewing wife and, over time, found it within herself to give JR a taste of his own medicine. A voluptuous brunette with feline eyes, Mandy, played by Deborah Shelton of the short-lived NBC primetime soap The Yellow Rose, first appeared as a love interest for Cliff Barnes but soon fell for JR’s charm. JR and Sue Ellen were once again living a marriage of convenience after his dalliance with oil heiress Holly Harwood so Mandy was an invigorating breath of fresh air for the notorious ladies’ man. Unlike his past mistresses, however, Mandy became a fixture in JR’s life that provided respite from the pressures of his battles with Bobby and made him feel young again. When JR began to publicly flaunt his relationship with Mandy at her insistence, Sue Ellen began drinking again. Her deterioration hit rock bottom during the infamous dream season of 1985 when the Ewings dealt with the aftermath of Bobby’s death. Linda Gray did some of her best acting that year as she took Sue Ellen from the depths of skid row to recovery working as a glamorous fundraiser for a charity run by Mark Graison’s friend Jerry Kenderson. As Sue Ellen blossomed, JR damaged his relationship with Mandy by having some after-hours hanky panky with sexy Greek shipping executive Angelica Nero and Mandy leaked Ewing Oil secrets to Cliff in retaliation. A hypocritical JR lost faith in Mandy after the incident and, as usual, his interest in Sue Ellen was rekindled. Rejecting Mandy’s efforts to win him back, JR reconciled with Sue Ellen only to have the storyline wiped out when producers explained Patrick Duffy’s return by making the entire year’s events a vivid dream that Pam Ewing had the night of her reconciliation with Bobby.
The start of the 1986-1987 season had JR and Sue Ellen estranged again as he cavorted with Mandy and she found solace in booze. A chance meeting with Mandy that ended in a brutal exchange of insults gave Sue Ellen the inspiration to clean up her act and figure out a way to put JR in his place. Learning that JR was prudish about women modeling lingerie in advertisements, a devious Sue Ellen bought a trashy lingerie store called Valentine Lingerie and secretly arranged for Mandy to accept the job of its signature model, The Valentine Girl. The campaign was an immediate success, making Mandy a sex symbol and JR a very jealous sugar daddy. Mandy’s refusal to quit modeling skivvies irritated JR and forced a showdown when a B-movie producer came calling to cast her in next flick, financed by Sue Ellen, of course. JR finally admitted to Mandy that he couldn’t leave Sue Ellen and Mandy went off to become a starlet. Learning that Sue Ellen was behind the scheme that sent Mandy packing made JR see his wife in a new light and the two reconciled yet again, finding a new rapport as fellow business moguls. When viewer demand caused Dallas producers to bring Shelton back later in the season, Mandy returned for a new campaign to turn around Valentine Lingerie’s plummeting sales. Mandy slipped back into the company’s bustiers while a nervous Sue Ellen fretted with good reason. Mandy had really returned to get JR back but was unable to win him back despite her best efforts. Shelton left the show for good after one final showdown with Sue Ellen, making her dramatic comeback somewhat anticlimactic. At least JR had finally learned to be faithful to Sue Ellen. Until oil heiress Kimberly Cryder in the next season, that is. But that’s another story.