Who Shot JR - to Romania? 'Dallas' Fans Flock to Ranch
In the country where the sinister Dracula once made his mark, a little piece of Americana has arisen that would make J.R. sneer with pride.
Southfork Ranch, home to the warring Ewing clan on the long-running TV series Dallas, now brightens this drab industrial city of 50,000 in southwestern Romania. Gleaming white, the palatial Southfork Romanian-style is an exact replica of the original, down to the length of the road leading to the residence.
Built at a cost of $1 million, Southfork is Romania's answer to Notre Dame or Big Ben. More than 2 million people have visited the fantasy site since it opened last May.
Presiding over this American dream is Ilie Alexandru, an entrepreneur known as the J.R. of Romania. Like many Romanians, he has watched every episode of the show. Unlike them, he is rich.
Mr. Alexandru sports bolo ties and hand-made German suits. Like his television idol, he enjoys the trappings of wealth. He lives with his third wife in a 60-room mansion, has eight secretaries working in two shifts, and breeds horses.
He also has a tight grip on the town. His company, Hermes S.R.L., employs 2,000 workers, or one-seventh of Slobozia's work force. Besides a thirst for profit, other similarities with J.R. include a love of beautiful women and a Texas-sized ego.
"I'm like a living legend," he said. "Be sure that I'm the subject of all dinner conversations around here."
Alexandru earned his money and his moniker through hard work and shrewdness. When the Iron Curtain fell in late 1989, he traveled to Istanbul, Turkey, and sold cheese, cheap suits, and silverware in open bazaars. He bought Turkish blue jeans with his earnings and sold them in Romania at a big profit.
After four months, he had saved enough money to open the first private store in the area. Hermes gradually expanded into a variety of businesses, including publishing, agriculture, and restaurants. Last year, the conglomerate posted a $10 million profit on sales of $60 million, making it one of Romania's most successful firms.
The idea for Southfork came to Alexandru in 1994. "Dallasmania," along with his widespread identification with J.R., led him to make the ranch the centerpiece of the Hermes Vacation Park. It was one of Alexandru's most savvy business moves.
No television show can rival Dallas's popularity here. In the late 1970s, it ran for three years before the late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu yanked it off the air for "immorality" and "bourgeois values."