Filed Under:Annuities, Suitability

Who fleeced J.R.?

The Gamut - Bill Coffin's opinion column on everything else

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

On November 23, television and film actor Larry Hagman died at the age of 81 from complications arising from throat cancer. Hagman was best known for his turns as the laughable Air Force Captain Tony Nelson on I Dream of Jeanie (1965-1970) and as the villainous oil baron J.R. Ewing in the prime time soap opera Dallas (1978-1990). As J.R. lied, schemed, swindled and blackmailed his way through the show, audiences loved him for it, and Hagman became one of television’s biggest stars throughout the 1980s. Dallas became such a cultural touchstone, that it has been noted as having a noteworthy and corrosive effect on communist regimes in various Eastern Bloc countries.

The final episode of the 1979-1980 season of Dallas ended with the mysterious shooting of J.R., leaving viewers to wonder all summer long who shot the villain everybody loved to hate. After all, pretty much the entire cast was a suspect. “Who Shot J.R.” was a meme before we even knew what they were, dominating pop culture for months, and assuring Hagman a place in television history. It also kicked off the tradition of the season-ender cliffhanger we see so commonly on TV today.

(True story: a friend of mine was in U.S. Army intelligence in the 1980s, and was tasked with monitoring radio traffic in East Germany. It turned out that the Bloc troops were watching bootleg tapes of Dallas and were just as fascinated by who shot J.R. as Western audiences were a few years before. My friend was sorely tempted to break radio silence and shout out who the culprit was, just to ruin it for them. That probably would have kicked off WWIII, however.)

But as much as Hagman’s career brought him fame and fortune, and as much as his death came quietly, peacefully and with his closest friends and colleagues at his side, one news story that emerged soon after Hagman died was the lawsuit he and his wife Maj filed against Citigroup for their treatment by broker Lisa Detanna. The Hagmans asked Detanna to invest their funds conservatively, and apparently, Detanna did just the opposite, crafting an aggressive portfolio of mostly stocks, and selling the Hagmans a life insurance policy they really did not need for the princely premium of $168,000 a year. Not surprisingly, then the markets crashed soon after and the Hagmans paid a large surrender fee on their life insurance; their total losses were huge. Ultimately, they settled with Citigroup.

Detanna, who was not named specifically in the suit, has since become a senior vice president at Raymond James & Associates. Along the way, she became a featured blogger for Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, dispending advice on pursuing a career as a broker. She was also named to Barron’s “Top 100 Women Financial Advisors” list. And yet, to some, she ends up looking like another Glenn Neasham: a financial advisor whose treatment of elderly clients has raised serious and persistent questions as to how this part of the industry should be regulated.

The notion of a federal fiduciary standard persists as a possibility, much to the displeasure of many in the financial services industry. The standard would cause as many problems as it solved, at least initially. But as long as the notion persists that financial advisors who service the elderly are probably at least as rapacious as J.R. Ewing himself, so too will persist calls that financial advisors of all stripes be held to ever stricter standards to put their clients first and their commissions second. The vast majority of advisors already do this. Too bad the general public tends to think otherwise. If even a bad guy like J.R. Ewing can sustain major financial damage from an advisor, so the thinking goes, what hope do the rest of us have? What hope, indeed.

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