On Topic: Second Acts for Jeffrey Skilling and J.R. Ewing

Michael Chevy Castranova
Published: April 28 2013 | 6:00 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 2:38 pm in
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Even if you don’t love it when art and life conspire to mirror each other — sometimes in a rather scary, mocking way they have when they get together, like a pair of old college drinking buddies — you’ve at least got to give them their due, and nod.

That was the case in April when not one but two famous connivers from Texas — one real and one fictional — let out one more shout to remind us of their many ill deeds and that they’re not quite yet done for.

The fictional character was malevolent J.R. Ewing, that master trickster and smiling evil brother from the TV series “Dallas.” The prime-time soap opera ran for 13 years in its first incarnation, then was revived in 2012.

The new-version second-season finale’s revealed the late J.R. had pulled yet another fast one, in a long list of fast ones more enviable than that of Aroldis Chapman’s — this time having swapped oil land from the father of another character. (J.R.’s character was written out of the program to mark the death of its star, Larry Hagman).

As in the tradition of all long-running soaps, the twists and machinations over the years ranged from repetitive to preposterous: Who truly owns Southfork and loves Miss Ellie more? Who shot J.R.? Seriously, Bobby’s not really dead, he’s just taking a long shower? Really?

But before we dismiss the made-up subterfuges and second-act returns of this fictional villain and his kin as too preposterous, listen to this: Only days before the “Dallas” finale was aired, Reuters and other news agencies reported that a real-life miscreant from whom we thought we’d hear no more indeed might be back among us regular, non-criminal folk sooner rather than later.

Jeffrey Skilling, you’ll recall, was sentenced to 24 years in prison on a clutch of federal felony charges and fined $45 million. He and other executives had reported “profits” at Enron Corp. that hadn’t actually come into existence in the real world as you, I and honest accountants know it. (That is, he lied. Massively.)

Oh, and he sold his own $60 million in Enron shares just before the Texas energy company’s stock price hit the canvas.

In 2001 Enron — for a time this planet’s biggest energy trader, and named America’s Most Innovative Company by Fortune magazine six years in a row — went bankrupt, shareholders saw something like $11 billion swoosh down the drain and 20,000 employees lost their jobs. The last of the giant organization’s remaining businesses was sold off in 2006.

And yet, seven years after Skilling’s conviction, the U.S. Justice Department said it is negotiating with the former CEO’s lawyers about letting him out of jail early.

Skilling’s lawyers contend they possess new evidence but have yet to reveal that might entail. (He’s actually an innocent bystander and it’s the fault, as he’s claimed all along, of short-sellers and, of course, the media? He in fact was off having drinks at Southfork while Enron’s numbers were being manipulated? He didn’t shoot J.R., really he didn’t?)

You just wait and see. Cue theme music.

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