- Written by Randal C. Hill Randal C. Hill
It’s the 1950s. Gorgeous Barbara Eden sits in the Hollywood office of a Warner Brothers casting director.
“You’re a very nice girl from San Francisco,” the man explains with a grin. “But I really think you should go home and marry the boy at home. This isn’t the town for you. You’re just not pretty enough.”
Eden didn’t follow his advice, however, and when she was cast later in the TV adaptation of How to Marry a Millionaire, Eden became a respected comedic actress.
Eventually, she won the role that brought her superstardom as the bottle-dwelling beauty on NBC-TV’s I Dream of Jeannie series.
The hit show was inspired by the 1964 movie The Brass Bottle. Originally a 1900 novel, it later became a film that featured Tony Randall, Burl Ives, and — lo and behold — Barbara Eden.
In Jeannie, Larry Hagman, the son of Broadway legend Mary Martin, co-starred as straight-arrow astronaut Capt. (later Maj.) Tony Nelson. But Hagman often proved disgruntled during the 139 I Dream of Jeannie episodes, as we’ll see later.
The opening show, set on a deserted island beach, saw Capt. Nelson stumble across Jeannie’s bottle home, where she had been imprisoned for two millennia. Soon, in a puff of pink smoke, the striking beauty was set free — and that’s when the fun began.
The show’s success meant keeping network censors busy trying to maintain a morally upright offering. Even though Jeannie slept in her bottle and Tony in his bed, it could never be shown that the bottle was in the captain’s bedroom. (They weren’t married until the fifth and final year of the show.)
Also, Eden wasn’t supposed to expose her navel, although it did appear occasionally. Along the way, some morality-oriented gatekeepers groused about her parading around in a “nightie.”
Eden dismissed that, explaining, “It’s what she wore during the day. That was her dress; that was her uniform.”
Finally, some feminists protested that Eden subjugated herself to Hagman. This brought about her miffed response: “She called him ‘master,’ but who was the real master there? She was … She wasn’t his subject; she was his equal.”
Hagman’s solo star turn would arrive later when, in 1978, he became infamous as the ruthless oil baron J.R. Ewing on the CBS-TV nighttime soap opera Dallas. Its success allowed him to abandon comedy.
Jeannie creator Sidney Sheldon (later the author of 18 hit novels) has admitted that not all went swimmingly on the I Dream of Jeannie set during its five-year run.
“The problem was Larry Hagman,” Sheldon has candidly admitted. “He wanted to be the star … [But] it was Barbara who was getting all the magazine covers and interviews. Larry wanted to show the world that he could be as successful as his mother …
“I began to write scripts to build up Larry’s character and make him more prominent. But when an actor is in a show with a scantily clad actress as beautiful and enticing as Barbara Eden, it is very difficult to become the star.”
Although Randal C. Hill’s heart lives in the past, the rest of him resides in Bandon, Ore. He can be reached at email@example.com.