Most folks know Barbara Eden for her role as the lovable 2,000-year-old genie that falls madly in love with an astronaut named Tony Nelson on NBCs hit fantasy sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. Eden’s on-screen chemistry with Larry Hagman was absolutely enchanting. In each episode, Jeannie had this uncanny habit of getting herself into and out of trouble. The show’s premise was simplistic and predictable but it was absolutely captivating.
Eden was one of the foremost reasons why I Dream Of Jeannie was such a success. According to her biography, Jeannie Out of the Bottle, she never expected for the series’ pilot to even sell and she was confused as to why Sidney Sheldon had cast her and not some kind of ‘tall, willowy, raven-haired Middle Eastern beauty queen’ – as she put it – for the part instead.
Well, she might not have seen it in herself at the time, but Barbara Eden was the perfect actress for the role and Sheldon knew that. Really, no one else would have sufficed. In this video, we’re going to see who the real Barbara Eden is. She might not have been a real genie, but she certainly is a magical person full of surprises and even a few hidden talents.
She’s Great With Lions
Eden has a very special hidden talent – and no it’s not her ability to squeeze inside a tiny brass bottle. She was actually exceptionally talented when working with trained African lions. It takes a lot of courage to work with such an intimidating co-star but Eden never showed an ounce of fear.
She had previously worked with lions on a couple of fox movies and by the time she starred in I Dream of Jeannie, she considered herself to be somewhat of a lion expert. She even developed her own technique of gaining the lion’s trust.
She tried to clue Larry in on her technique but he wouldn’t listen. He was much too afraid of the majestic felines.
According to Eden, the best way to befriend a lion is by standing very still and letting it smell you. Then you lean forward very slowly and gently stroke the lion with one hand – making sure your movements are subtle and not sudden.
Before She Was A Star
Before Eden found success as an actress, she had worked several other jobs. She learned the value of hard work having grown up during the great depression. Her family struggled to put food on the table and the kids all had to help out as much as they could.
One of her first jobs was working at a bank. She didn’t care about that job much but it paid the bills. Her next job was as a chorus girl at Ciro’s, a dinner club on Los Angeles’s sunset strip. It was while she was performing there that she managed to secure a contract with 20th Century Fox.
Larry Hagman Was Hard To Work With
Eden and Hagman were on good terms. In her memoir, she speaks very warmly of him but she does point out that he was kind of a pain to work with at times. She described him as a great human being but also a very troubled man.
He was a man of many vices. He would start off his day by consuming copious amounts of champagne while smoking a ton of weed. He was a heavy smoker and was rarely sober. His reliance on substances made his thinking irrational and made him less approachable on set. Granted, those problems didn’t stop him from having a solid professional and personal friendship with Eden.
The two remained very tight friends until Hagman passed away in 2012.
Trapped Inside A Bottle
Here’s a little bit of irony. The Jeanie from a bottle actually got stuck in a bottle. Eden once got trapped inside the giant perfume bottle with water up to her waist for several hours. The director had sent everyone out to lunch and it completely slipped his mind that Eden was still inside the bottle set -or at least that’s his side of the story. Other reports seem to indicate that it was a very intentional practical joke.
When everyone got back from lunch, she was let out but footage of her cries for help ended up making into the TV show. If you watch that episode closely you’ll clearly see that she wasn’t acting. The look of fear on her face was real.
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She Had Some Famous Love Interests But Dating Wasn’t Her Priority
She preferred to focus on her professional career instead of focusing on dating. That being said, she did capture the longing gaze of a certain Elvis Presley when she was working as a chorus girl at Ciro’s in 1957. The two also got to work with eachother on the film Flaming Star.
She also once received a note from John F. Kennedy while he was still a senator requesting that she give him a call. She never did. She had bigger fish to fry apparently. That being said, she regrets throwing away the note.
Her Son Overdosed
Back in June of 2001, Eden went through something that no mother should ever have to deal with. Her son Mathew Ansara overdosed in his car in the parking lot of a Chevron gas station in Monrovia which is just east of LA.
By the time paramedics arrived at the scene he was already dead. The cause of death was attributed to a heroin overdose. He had been battling with that demon for many years.
Ansara was a fitness trainer and a bodybuilder and had recently gotten engaged. When he passed it was just a couple of months before he was going to get married.
Eden was absolutely devastated by the loss. He was her only son. Since his death, she has become an outspoken advocate for addiction education and recovery programs.
Personality Over Looks
When Eden first got into acting, she was initially discouraged by the way she was received by talent scouts and producers. They indicated to her that she didn’t have the looks for a lot of lead roles. She became very self-conscious about her bust size and other physical attributes but she wasn’t going to let that hold her back from pursuing her dream.
She instead focused on becoming a character actor. If she didn’t have the looks that Hollywood was looking for, she knew for a fact that she had the personality to fit the bill. The experience taught her to not listen to people’s negativity. If she followed her heart, she would find the success that she was looking for.
Her First Husband
Barbara Eden met her first husband, Michael Ansara, on a blind date. The two were wed in 1958 and had one child together. A few years later Eden got pregnant again but she gave birth to a stillborn and her mental health took a nosedive. Her intense depression put a major strain on their marriage and that eventually led to them getting divorced in 1974.
She certainly has had her fair share of hardships over the years, but Eden has always put her career first. This approach has helped her get through some of the toughest times. Not many people love what they do, but she does. So when she was dealing with her son’s death, her miscarriage, and failed marriage, her job helped her stay focused with a sense of purpose.
Eden Also Played Jeanie’s Sister
In addition to just playing Jeanie on I Dream of Jeanie, Barbara Eden also played Jeannie II, Jeannie’s evil twin. Jeannie II was the polar opposite of her sister in every conceivable way. Jeannie was good while her sister was evil, one was blonde while the other had black hair, etc etc.
Interestingly Barbara also played Jeannie’s mother on three occasions in season 4.
Brand New Life
In 1989, Barbara Eden starred in a sitcom called Brand New Life. The show was about a struggling working-class divorced mom of three that meets and marries a wealthy attorney named Roger Gibbons who also has three children. The two families blend together as everyone moves into his posh Bel Air home.
The premise was strikingly similar to The Brady Bunch, but Eden denied any similarities. Granted, I Dream of Jeanie only was conceived because of the popularity of Bewitched, so apparently derivative works weren’t anything new for Barbara.
She Was Married Three Times
Her first marriage was to Michael Ansara. After that, she got married to Charles Fegert but he had a bit of a substance abuse problem that proved to be the death of their marriage. After only four years together they called it quits.
Eden’s third marriage was to Jon Elchotz in 1991 and they’ve been happily married ever since.
She Dressed as Jeannie For A Benefit In 2013
Barbara has reprised her role several times for I Dream of Jeannie reunions. In 1985, she stepped back into character for the TV film I dream of Jeannie….Fifteen Years Later and in 1991 she appeared in I Still Dream of Jeanie.
In 2013, she attended the Life Ball in Vienna, Austria where she went out on stage decked out in her Jeannie costume. Her fans were thrilled to see her back in character. It had been 22 years since she last put on the costume. She must have been thrilled that it still fit.
Barbara Eden wasn’t just known for her work on I Dream of Jeannie. She appeared in quite a few different TV series such as I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke.
She co-starred with Elvis Presley in the film Flaming star and she has quite a few stage credits as well. She’s a talented singer and dancer and has worked on numerous musicals such as The Sound of Music and Gentleman Prefer Blondes.
She’s a woman of many talents. In addition to acting, she also enjoys writing. She’s published two books. The first being Barbara Eden: My Story which was released in 1986 and most recently Jeannie Out of the Bottle, which was published in 2011.
Eden is 89 but she still doesn’t consider herself to be retired. In recent years she has done some voice acting, has appeared in multiple stage plays, and has made guest-appearances on TV shows as herself.
Wonder when the last time was that she hung out with a lion?
Anyways, seeing as I Dream of Jeannie was inspired by the success of Bewitched, which show do you enjoy more? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
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