Flashback Friday: How Pam and Cliff found their mother Rebecca Wentworth only to lose her again.
Watching Ann’s heartbreaking efforts to make up for the years lost between her and her indifferent daughter Emma on the current Dallas makes me think about the bittersweet story of Pam Ewing’s quest to find her long-lost mother Rebecca back in 1980. In some ways, it was Ann’s story in reverse. Pam and her brother Cliff grew up with a deep aching for their mother, who had abandoned their alcoholic father Digger Barnes and was presumed dead. Although well raised in humble circumstances by their loving aunt Maggie, Pam and Cliff never got over their abandonment issues. While Cliff became a commitment-phobe, Pam channeled her need for a maternal connection into a desperate desire to have a child. After enduring two miscarriages, Pam learned she couldn’t carry a baby to full term and became obsessed with baby John Ross while a bitter Sue Ellen ignored him for a time, projecting onto her son her frustrations over her miserable marriage to J.R. and disastrous affair with Cliff. Sue Ellen overcame her issues through therapy and became a true mother to John Ross, leaving a devastated Pam out in the cold. Pam threw herself into her work and her relationship with Bobby but neither were enough to fill the void she felt. The tawdry revelation that her true biological father was not Digger but a Southfork foreman named Hutch McKinney, coupled with Digger’s death, made Pam determined to prove her mother was still alive. After several false leads, her detective located a woman living in a mansion in Houston named Rebecca Wentworth. Rebecca, her patrician beauty still intact after so many years, denied being Pam’s mother, fearing the turmoil her past life might bring to her new one as the wife of industrial baron Herbert Wentworth, chairman of Wentworth Industries, and mother to the beautiful Katherine, a journalism student in New York City. Pam returned to Dallas heartbroken once again and fell into a deep depression that led to a suicide attempt in 1981. Rebecca re-emerged and admitted to being Pam and Cliff’s mother. Pam joyously embraced her return while Cliff took longer to confront his childhood trauma before eventually reconciling with Rebecca, who relocated to Dallas after Herbert’s death in 1982. Reuniting with her children brought Rebecca much happiness, especially when Pam and Bobby adopted Christopher, but it also dragged her into the center of the Barnes-Ewing feud when J.R. tampered one too many times in Cliff’s affairs.
Although Rebecca’s love and wealth helped make Cliff a player in Dallas business circles, his penchant for self-sabotage was unavoidable and an ugly incident involving his girlfriend Afton Cooper and a sleazy refinery owner named Gil Thurman sent him into a tailspin on the eve of a crucial business deal that Rebecca took it upon herself to close on Cliff’s behalf. Flying to the site of the deal, Rebecca’s private jet crashed and she passed away from her injuries shortly thereafter. Just before dying, she begged Pam to look after her brother. Pam and Cliff carried on once more without their mother, fighting J.R.’s never-ending plots against them. Rebecca’s death unleashed the festering rage of Cliff and Pam’s half-sister Katherine, who resented their intrusion in her life and set out to destroy Cliff and steal Bobby from Pam. Katherine even teamed up with J.R. against her siblings and proved to be more unhinged than anyone could have imagined. Her plots, though ultimately unsuccessful, left a wake of destruction in their path. Pam’s remarriage to Bobby in 1987 was cut short by a fiery car crash and, like her mother so long ago, she is presumed dead by her loved ones. Katherine ended up a fugitive from justice and Cliff is now a fabulously wealthy but lonely and bitter man. His daughter — Pam and Rebecca’s namesake — exhibits a talent for two-faced scheming similar to her psychotic aunt Katherine. With a legacy like this, Rebecca Barnes Wentworth is probably turning over in her grave.