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Linda Gray Chats On Her Memoir: From A Drunk Sue Ellen, Larry Hagman, The End Of TNT’s Dallas & How The Road To Happiness Is Always Under Construction!


What is a great way to celebrate and mark your 75th birthday?  Well, if you are iconic Dallas star Linda Gray (Sue Ellen), you do it by looking back on your life’s journey filled with its bumpy roads, potholes, wrong turns, and right turns!  This month, Gray has released her memoir,The Road to Happiness is Always Under Construction (available on and book stores everywhere) which details her life’s adventures, but also gives to women of any age; wisdom and tips on how to deal with whatever curve balls life throws at you.

In her book, Gray shares some very deeply personal stories and memories including: her early childhood illness, her mother’s battle with alcohol, her stormy marriage to her one and only husband, and landing the role as Sue Ellen Ewing on the original Dallas.  She also reveals more about her unique and special friendship with her longtime Dallas co-star, the incomparable Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing).  In addition, Linda let’s her readers in on crafting her portrayal of the best drunk on TV, and relates her heartbreak and frustration over the cancellation of TNT’s reboot of the series.

On-Air On-Soaps chatted with the effervescent Gray to get some more insight into the topics revealed in her memoir.  For any fan of Dallas, you will love to read how Linda created and revised her portrayal of Sue Ellen Ewing, what happened when she found out Sue Ellen was going to go on a bender after J.R’s Ewing death, and the trauma of being away from America during 9/11 and watching it all play out in London, while performing in the stage version of Mrs. Robinson.

As an accomplished director and her fight to direct episodes in a male-dominated series such as Dallas, to her work as former United Nations Ambassador, and her numerous film, stage, and TV roles, this can be said: Linda takes risks, fights for what she believes in, and has one of the biggest hearts.  So, here’s our chat about the life and times of Linda Gray in her own words.


Your life has such an interesting dichotomy to it – early on as a child you were afflicted with polio.  Fast forward you became one of the most sought after leg models at the beginning of your career.  One of your most notable gigs … was doubling for Anne Bancroft on the poster of the motion picture, The Graduate!

LINDA:  The front and the back cover of my memoir are all about legs, and I fought the book publishers on that.  But they said to me, “Well, you do talk about polio.”  I finally said, “O.K. put them in.  Put those little legs on the cover.”   Hard to believe I became this leg model.  But as far as the polio, I never really talked about it until the book.  It never even occurred to me to even talk to my kids about, which is kind of odd, but only because it wasn’t an issue.  You don’t dwell on it.

But as a young girl weren’t you terrified learning you had polio?

LINDA:  Actually, I wasn’t.  Everyone is my family didn’t know what to do and they were so saddened.  But I thought: “Wait a minute.  Grandpa is doing great.  He is in his wheelchair, and I can have my own little wheelchair, and I go around with grandpa!”  The family was crazed when I said that.  They all were just sobbing and they didn’t want to have to put me in an iron lung.  I was just five-years-old.  What did I know?  I just thought it was cool: “Grandpa was fine, so I can be in a wheelchair.”

You were married to your husband Ed Thrasher for over two decades.  He had created some of the most amazing album covers including: “Purple Rain” for Prince.  But in your book, you reveal you felt emotionally trapped and unsupported by him, which ultimately led to your break-up.  What can you summarize happened there?


LINDA:  Ed was a lovely human being, but here is the bottom line:  He was an art director/photographer and a really good one, obviously.  His dream was to move to the country and build a house, and have horses and live a cowboy life.  I was like, “It’s OK to follow his dreams, but what about my dreams?”  I thought my dream was never going to happen.  So, I thought, “This is not working.”  I took acting classes and not being a very rebellious woman about it.  I was married and had children, and I was responsible.  However, I wanted to fulfill my dream, and so I did.   Ed was OK with that, but then I got this job on Dallas and as it progressed, and the show and I became more successful, he hated my success.  He didn’t want me to do it, and that was traumatic.  I wanted my husband to be supportive of my dream, like I was with him.  We were apart emotionally, spiritually, physically, and the relationship was not supportive and loving.

I thought one of the more interesting things about the dissolution of your relationship is that you had secretly gone and gotten another place to live in Malibu.

LINDA:  I did!  I felt trapped, and I needed my own space to say, “Let’s rethink this thing.   I can’t rethink it when I am in the house, and then on the set of Dallas.”  I had no escape valve.  I needed to take a breath, and a break, and I had to find a place, and I did.  I found it in like a day and half.

And somehow the relationship had a full circle moment: when your children, and you, were present at Ed’s deathbed.   Were you glad you were there?

Photo Credit: Gary Berwin/NY Times

LINDA:  I felt it was kind of divinely guided – that Patrick Duffy (Bobby, Dallas) and I were at Larry Hagman’s (J.R. Ewing, Dallas) deathbed – and my children and I were together for Ed’s death.  It made it so meaningful.  There was closure in the most beautiful way.   It was saying goodbye and saying, “We will see you when we get there.”  It was magical, and things in my life have been magical.  A lot of my friends went, “Oh, my God. You were present at your ex-husband’s death bed?” And I went, “Yes! He was the father of my children. Why would I not be there?”

Your memoir draws a lot of parallels in your life including: as the attacks of 9/11 were happening in the United States, you were in London performing in the stage version of Mrs. Robinson.  And in Mrs. Robinson, you had a terrifying time having to drop a towel during each performance, in which you are then nude on-stage for a few seconds.  How did you get through those moments?

LINDA:  When I was performing in Mrs. Robinson in London and 9/11 happened, I couldn’t come home.  I was under contract for five months and my children were here in the states.  So, I watched 9/11 from the UK.  I watched our country ban together and support one another, and be more patriotic that I had ever seen before.  I wanted to be part of it, but I had to be part of it from a far.  As far as the towel moment in Mrs. Robinson, I did not want to drop the towel during the performances.  I loved the movie and the play, and it was an iconic moment.  I asked two of my girlfriends in London to please go see the show with Kathleen Turner in the role, and see if that moment is really offensive.  If it is, I’m not going to do it.  They went and called me and reported back that it is tastefully done and 15 seconds long.  They also told me the lighting is beautiful and you are at the very back of the stage, and there are wooden shutters.  So, I said I would do the show.   I was terrified over that and doing it every night.  I never got less terrified.  (Laughs)  It was traumatic.


In your book, you detail your mother had a drinking problem and that for years you were not close.  However, when you received the first scripts from Dallas you shared them with her, because Sue Ellen drank.  You went on to relate that this moment brought you closer together than you had ever been.  It was then that your mother basically admitted to you for the first time, she did have a problem with alcohol.   Did you base Sue Ellen Ewing’s battle with booze at all off of your mother’s experience?

LINDA:  First, it was a powerful moment for me.  It was almost divinely guided again that I got to play my mother’s life, but it wasn’t hers.  She was more like a blurry drinker and was kind not there a lot of times, but she was not the Sue Ellen type drunk. When I play a character, I go way deep into it and try to find the nuggets such as: Why did she marry J.R. Ewing?  Sue Ellen and my mother were not the same, and I never wanted the comparison at all.  I wanted to create a different character.  I didn’t want to emulate my mother.

Were you concerned you would become an alcoholic in real life?  You were playing an alcoholic on television, and your mother also had struggled with it.


LINDA:  No.  I think people forget that alcoholism is a disease that needs to be treated.  It can’t be pushed under the rug, but that was the society that I grew up in.  Everybody had wet bars and little alcohol bottles, and that was the way it was – it was the Mad Men time.  Everybody drank, and some people drank to excess, and some people drank a cocktail, or whatever they did.  When you realize you have grown up like this and it is a disease, I went to Al-Anon meetings to find out … how do I deal with this when I got a little older?  I realized it is hereditary and you have to be very, very careful.  You have to pay attention.  You don’t do stupid things.

Every Dallas fan knows you portrayed the best … drunk … ever!  Fans couldn’t wait for Sue Ellen to get tipsy, or fall off the wagon hard!  In your memoir, you talk about the little things you would do as actress to play drunk.   How did you decide how far to go with her when Sue Ellen was inebriated?


LINDA:  One of my pet peeves is seeing actors go over the top.  For me, when I thought about Sue Ellen, she is a very classy, wealthy Dallas woman.  She wouldn’t just go running around falling down drunk and sloppy.  I didn’t want that, and I didn’t want her to be portrayed like that.  In the first five episodes, Sue Ellen didn’t have that much to do.  So, I would go to the mall and check out the women: what did they wear, what kind of purse did they carry, what kind of shoes did they wear, where did they get their hair done, what do they talk about, what do they eat, and what do they drink.  There is one night I talk about in the book in a hotel ladies room, and a woman opens her very tiny Judith Leiber purse in there.  We are both putting on lipstick.  I happen to look down at her purse and I said, “Is that a gun?” (Laughs)  And she says with her Dallas accent and beautiful eyes, “Well, yes, Darlin’. This is Texas.”  I thought, “Oh, God! Where am I?” (Laughs)  It was one of those wonderful moments, and so I even told the producer of Dallas, “Please put this in the show,” and he did!

I remember, and you even addressed this, that when you first started on Dallas, Sue Ellen had a much stronger dialect.  However, as the show moved along you softened it.

LINDA: Yes.  It was to over the top at the beginning, and I nuanced it.  I had never been to Dallas before.  I didn’t know, and nobody seemed to be telling me otherwise.  I look back at it now and how I sounded, and I just laugh!


What about that final bender on TNT’s reboot of Dallas?  Sue Ellen drank up a storm and then Southfork was set on fire!  Originally, it looked like she was the guilty party!  Later it would be revealed, she wasn’t.  However, Sue Ellen was guzzling everything in sight!  Are those scenes hard, or fun to play?

LINDA:  As far as those types of scenes; my most favorite moment was when Sue Ellen got to play drunk in the alley on the original Dallas with the bag lady! (Laughs)  I loved it.  The actress who played her was phenomenal.  We had the best time working together.  I loved the make-up and the hair for the scenes, because they could do it in ten minutes!  Normally, the Sue Ellen that we knew and loved took two hours to get ready – one hour in hair, and one hour in make-up.  I couldn’t sit that long.  It was crazy!  But in the reboot version, when I opened one script after Larry Hagman had passed, the script said, “And, Sue Ellen pours a drink.”  I thought I was going to pass out.   I was so mad.  I thought “C’mon!”  They told me I was never going to drink again.  I have done it well, and as best as I could, and now you’re going to have me drink again?   I was not happy.  But then they said, and they were very kind to me about it, that when J.R. Ewing dies, we do think it’s appropriate for Sue Ellen to have that drink.  So, I talked to some of my friends in AA and I said, “Help me with this.  It’s written in the script that I am mad, and I think it’s inappropriate.”  They said, “No, no.  Hold on.  That would be a moment when you would drink, if you were so inclined, and if you didn’t have a sponsor who was babysitting you.”  So then I said to the producers, “OK fine.”  So that is when they had the fire, and the whole drinking binge.

In your book, you fondly recall working with your longtime scene partner, the iconic Larry Hagman.  You share that when on the set of Dallas that once he knew you could ping-pong off of him in scenes, an this dynamic repartee emerged between J.R. and Sue Ellen, he embraced you.  What is your takeaway from your experience of knowing this bigger than life man, and the deep friendship you shared?       


LINDA:  Larry was, and is extraordinaire.  Patrick Duffy and I talk about this all the time that he will always be a part of our lives.  He’s the magical, mystical, pied-piper as I would call him.  He was a party!  The minute Larry walked in; the party began no matter what you were doing.  He was so generous and kind, and he was so supportive to everyone around him.  Larry wasn’t afraid of death.  In the book when my divorce happened and I am living in Malibu, Larry didn’t even know that we were a half a mile away from each other.  He came to me with the best bubbly champagne, and threw me on his scooter, and he took me around Malibu.  It was so beautiful.  In kind of my repressed marriage, he was a breath of fresh air, and a gift to me.  Dallas was gift to me.

When TNT’s Dallas was cancelled after only three seasons, were you devastated?  So many fans of the show hoped it would live to see another day, but sadly it did not happen.


LINDA:  I was mad, because I feel like the executives did not give us the respect that the series deserved.  It was a generational show, and we were iconic, and one of the most watched TV series ever.  I remember I was driving in LA when I saw this billboard saying, “The final season of Mad Men”   Now that was respect to me.  They gave Mad Men the respect to say, “OK, guys.  Set your DVR’s and sit in front of the TV, and do whatever you want.  But this is done … this is the finale.  So, we want to tell you in advance.”   Had they done that with the reboot of Dallas, and given us 5, 8, 10 more shows, and sewn up every plotline, and said, “Goodbye, you will never see these people again so make sure to watch,” I would have liked that.  Yes, I know it’s sad, but give us the respect!  They didn’t.  They waited six months before they told us we were canceled, which I thought was really not nice.  I put in the book, because I felt that strongly about it.  Not only that; it was the fans they disappointed.  I went to London after we were canceled to do Cinderella, and I played the Fairy Godmother.  All the fans who came backstage after the play would ask, “Why did Dallas get canceled?”  The fans not only were disappointed, but they felt disrespected, too.

So, what did you think about Linda’s life stories including: playing a drunk Sue Ellen, working with Larry Hagman and her enduring friendship, her real-life marriage, her frustration over the sudden ending of TNT’s Dallas, and her iconic run on the CBS hit version of the series?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below!

Leave a comment | 12 Comments


  1. Tom Jones

    September 28, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    I watched every episode of Dallas, both versions. Also, I saw all 3 movies. Yes, they should have had final episodes to wrap up plotlines. Linda Gray is one of the most beautiful women actresses ever, like Sophia Loren. I have enjoyed watching her for all these years. I hope that I get to see her for many more years. If there is a miracle, maybe one day a final mini-series could be made to give a proper goodbye to DALLAS.

  2. JUDY

    September 28, 2015 at 2:35 pm


  3. Charday

    September 28, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    Linda Gray’s great. I look forward to reading her new book and I sure do miss DALLAS!!!

  4. Tristan

    September 28, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    Wonderful lady. Wonderful interview. Thank you Michael.

  5. Andrew

    September 28, 2015 at 7:50 pm

    I only watched the original sporadically, but I made sure to watch every episode of all three seasons – the writing was stellar and the performances great.. I can’t figure out why it didn’t draw a bigger audience. I guess Dallas set the tone and the rest of the nighttime dramas became bigger in the ensuing decades that once Dallas returned, it just wasn’t racy enough (although watching Judith Light do coke and Jon Ross in a three way was good stuff).

    I wish too that they’d done some sort of two hour wrap up or mini series – would have been really nice – the end of Cliff Barnes and the new generation coming into its own. Plus, OMG they blew up ***** at the end (for those who haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it).. how can you end the show on such a monumental cliffhanger?

    Although maybe for the TV show that generated a lot of its fame on the most infamous WhoDoneIt? in all of television history, it’s appropriate that it ends, not with a happy ending, but with their biggest cliffhanger ever (although, sadly, not big enough for lightning to strike twice).

  6. Linda

    September 28, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    I met Linda Gray in a local post office recently, and all I could say to her was that she was awesome in everything she has done and thank her for everything that she has done! I grew up watching this woman, and am still watching her! Check out Significant Mother! She is more beautiful in person than she is on our screens! I hope to run into her again! Mr. Fairman, thank you for a wonderful interview with her, and thank you for all of your wonderful, insightful interviews!

  7. Mateo

    September 28, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    Linda Gray is and always will be the best drunk on television EVER. She was so in control of her acting skills when she drank. The top of the cake was when she drank right before J.R.’s funeral. When she walked up to give her speech about J.R. and said, “I’m still a little drunk now” I cried. She was amazing in that scene. I am disgusted that they cancelled the reboot of Dallas because it was classy and true to the original series. With the series that premiere on Netflix and Amazon I am surprised that the producers didn’t explore that avenue. I wish Linda Gray every success in all she does. She is one classy and talented lady.

  8. James R. Poissant

    September 29, 2015 at 5:58 am

    This was an awesome interview. Linda has so much class. I really felt bad when the reboot od “Dallas” was cancelled without a chance to see what happened after the season ended. That was the biggest load of horse puckey television has ever done, I am glad to see Linda carry on.

  9. Iakovos

    September 29, 2015 at 12:16 pm

    Love Linda Gray! Class act all the way. And very talented. Thank you for this interview, Michael.

  10. James

    September 29, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    I love this woman. She is a TV icon

  11. KansasGuest

    September 29, 2015 at 6:37 pm

    I think I watched every episode of the original & the rebooted series. Sue Ellen Ewing was barely a supporting character in the first season. But, Linda Gray made her so compelling that she became one of the best parts of the show. She not only had great chemistry w/Hagman. She had it opposite Ken Kercheval (Cliff) and the actor who played Dusty, her lover. It’s hard to make a cheating wife sympathetic. But, fans didn’t just root for her. They loved it when she went up against J.R. for her son, even when she was drunk.

    Also, no other actress in the 80’s used her shoulders more effectively than Linda Gray. The way she would strut into a room and just use those shoulder pads to be coy, confrontational or seductive was fantastic. Joan Collins as Alexis is a close second. But, with Alexis it was mainly hats and hair.

  12. clb

    October 3, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    I knew that TNT would not treat the series or the cast fairly. CBS should have picked it up for a proper finale. The show deserved it! Linda Gray is a class act and we will miss all the fun of Dallas.

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All My Children

ABC and PEOPLE’s ‘The Story of Soaps’: What Was Your Review Of It?

Tuesday’s night airing of ABC and PEOPLE’s two-hour special The Story of Soaps featured many notable daytime and primetime soap stars, past and present, clips from backstage to classic memorable moments, and some participants who were providing commentary on the erosion of the daytime soaps in our culture.  Still others, maintained and realized that everything today is serialized from the news we watch, to some of Netflix’s most binge-watchable series, and of course, the birth of reality-programming.

Throughout the airing of the special, The Story of Soaps was trending on Twitter and social media either at the #2, #3 or #4 spots for the entire duration of the broadcast presentation, and the cancelled and beloved All My Children was also at one point trending.

However, known soap writers, journalists, ardent fans, and actors of the genre, were all on Twitter last night live-tweeting their thoughts as the special went down, and there was definitely mixed reactions and reviews, when all was said and done.

What the special did not shy away from, but tackled, was Luke’s rape of Laura at the campus disco on General Hospital. and how that moment now, as Genie Francis (Laura), so eloquently put, would be considered as ‘date rape’ in our culture.  The series even included a pivotal moment where Laura addresses Luke (Tony Geary) about the rape years later, after helping Elizabeth (Rebecca Herbst) through her rape ordeal.

John Stamos (Ex-Blackie Parrish, GH) got a bevy of “Right On’s!” for his comment that the soaps do not get the credit that they deserve and clearly came through as one of the soaps greatest supporters, as did former The Doctors and Knots Landing star, Alec Baldwin.

However, throughout the two-hours, Andy Cohen’s commentary was thread throughout; mostly citing soap’s demise and the creation of reality-programming and his “Real Housewives” franchise, that the special touted as the new soap operas.  It continued on the narrative that people preferred to see real-life drama then made-up drama on a fictional soap.  And while, that has been a trend in American culture for decades, the commentary came off as often out of place in a celebration of the soaps; and bringing in a lot of negativity to the special that soap fans were tired of hearing.

In a lighting rod moment, Cohen stated: “I know Susan Lucci doesn’t agree with me, but I think that the Housewives have replaced soap operas because truth is stranger than fiction. Soaps became kind of unnecessary because you could do it with real people, and they’re writing the drama themselves.”

The special did also address the cancellations of All My Children and One Life to Live, (which many were not sure they were going to do – given this special was airing on ABC), where One Life’s leading lady and six-time Daytime Emmy winner, Erika Slezak (Ex-Viki) said what we all wanted to sa ywhen the ax fell on the towns of Llanview and Pine Valley, “People were horrified”.

Clearly, OJ Simpson and his murder trial and reality-programming were also given a chunk of time to show where the once mighty landscape of daytime soaps which once had 13 shows on the air, dwindled town to 4.  But, it would have been nice to see more time spent on how in this day and age, the people in this current landscape of the genre work so hard to get episodes done at an unbelievable pace, and how in that climate the performers still deliver gut-wrenching performances.

Photo: ABC

Former Loving, OLTL and Breaking Bad star, Bryan Cranston, did point out how the once powerful soaps, just don’t have the dollars they used to, and need to, to help with production costs and their taping schedule.

Viewers were reminded of soaps’ socially relevant storylines including hankie-inducing moments from: Robin (Kimberly McCullough) and Stone’s (Michael Sutton) HIV/AIDS storyline on General Hospital, to Billy Douglas being a gay teen coming out on One Life to Live, played by a young Ryan Phillippe.

There also did not seem time spent on the contributions of William J. Bell; one of the most prominent writers of the soap genre of all-time.

For many commenting on social media last night, there seemed to be a feeling of some glaring omissions of participants who could speak on this genre, who have been in the trenches as soap producers, soap writers, pundits, actors, and more, who were not included in the special.

So, what was your review of The Story of Soaps? How would you grade it? Do you feel it accurately reflected the history of the genre?  Were you happily surprised,  or when it came to the end where you over it, or somewhere in between? Sound off in the comment section below.  Below are some tweets from notables who have worked as an actor, a writer, and a journalist in the soaps.  

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DALLAS Online Reunion Coming With Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and More

Time to revisit Southfork during the coronavirus pandemic, with news on Friday that some of the cast from the original CBS primetime soap, Dallas will be participating in an online virtual chat next week!

According to Deadline, confirmed thus far are: Patrick Duffy (Ex-Bobby), Linda Gray (Ex-Sue Ellen), Charlene Tilton (Ex-Lucy) and Steve Kanaly (Ex-Ray).

They will all be part of the conversation on Friday, April 24th beginning at 8 p. m. EST.  The stars are taking part in the Stars in the House livestream series to raise money for The Actors Fund’s COVID-19 relief efforts.

Hosted by Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley, who have been bantering with cast members of several former and beloved shows, you can watch the virtual chat up on the Stars in the House website and on YouTube.

Since the first Stars in the House episode on March 16, the series has raised approximately $209,600 to benefit The Actors Fund.

So, will you be checking out the Dallas reunion next Friday? Comment below.

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Breaking News

‘Dallas’ star Ken Kercheval Dead At Age 83

Sad news to report for fans of the iconic primetime soap, Dallas.  Ken Kercheval, who played the thorn in J.R. Ewing’s (Larry Hagman) side, Cliff Barnes, has passed away.   The actor was 83 and died at his home in Indiana on Sunday.   The cause of death is under wraps.  He had been previously open about being a lung cancer survivor after years of smoking.

Kercheval was on Dallas for its entire run on CBS from 1978 to 1991, and returned to the TNT reboot from 2012 to 2014 to reprise his signature role.

On Dallas, Cliff Barnes was always the perennial loser when he went toe to toe with ruthless J.R, but in the final season, Cliff beats J.R at his own game and takes over Ewing Oil.  Cliff was also hopelessly in love with Sue Ellen Ewing (Linda Gray) and was the brother to Pam Barnes, played by Victoria Principal.

As for Ken’s first big acting breaks, that came on daytime soap operas when early in his career he appeared on Search for Tomorrow and How to Survive a Marriage.

Later, he appeared on episodic dramas such as Starsky & Hutch, and Crossing Jordan.  His final role was in a movie, 2019’s Surviving in L.A. said to be a comedy/drama in which he plays the business manager of a former teen sitcom star who trashed her life through drug abuse and is fresh out of rehab.

Share your thoughts on the passing of Ken Kercheval in the comment section below.   But first, watch him as Cliff Barnes in this scene from TNT’s Dallas when he sees J.R. for the first time in years!

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Video du Jour

B&B’s Heather Tom talks with Michael Fairman immediately following her record-tying win in the Lead Actress category during the 47th annual Daytime Emmy Awards.  Heather and Erika now hold the most wins for an actress with 6! Leave A Comment

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Power Performance

Steve Burton as Jason & Maurice Benard as Sonny

General Hospital

Airdate: 5-19/20-2020