American actress, Barbara Eden, quickly gained international acclaim for her starring role in the TV comedy series, I Dream of Jeannie, which first aired in September of 1965. Eden played the role of Jeannie for five years, over 139 episodes.
While continuing with a successful career in film, television and theatre, there was undoubtedly more drama in Eden’s true life than that of any of the characters in which she played on screen. Many people wonder what happened to the successful actress, what did she suffer through? What has she overcome?
Join us as we take a look at the life of Barbara Eden and the unfortunate hardships that impacted her life forever.
The tough years before becoming the iconic Jeannie
Barbara Eden was born in Tucson, Arizona, in 1931. Motivated by her aspirations to become a singer, Eden studied at San Francisco’s City College as well as the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre.
Eden arrived in Hollywood in the 1950s, but during one of her first meetings with a casting director, she was told that she wasn’t beautiful enough to make it in Tinseltown. While told that she was a very nice little girl from San Francisco, she should go home and marry a boy there. This was quickly followed by being told that Hollywood wasn’t the town for her.
The encounter became more bizarre as the Warner Bros. casting director showed her a photograph of his daughter, using her as an example of what they want. Eden was stunned, particularly by the girls cleavage on display. But she was not disheartened. She knew what she was there for. She was there to act. She’s human. Pretty or not, she can make it in this town.
Luck seemed to be on Eden’s side, but it’s safe to say that her talent was the deciding factor. A few years later, Eden was cast in How to Marry a Millionaire. She impressed and was able to display her acting chops, particularly in comedy. Her role featured the most humor of the main characters, even requiring her to perform dramatic physical comedy.
I Dream of Jeannie
Barabara Eden’s comedic performance was a great help in being cast in the most influential role of her career. In 1965, Eden was cast as Jeannie in the TV sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie. She played the mythological genie-in-a-bottle who falls in love with an astronaut.
In 1964, Bewitched was the number-two show on television and producer Sidney Sheldon was quick to follow its success. Out of this came I Dream of Jeannie, which aired on NBC.
Eden had married character actor, Michael Ansara, best known as Cochise in the 1956 to 1958 Classic TV Western Broken Arrow. By the time Eden had been signed to play Jeannie, she was already pregnant and was concerned that she would be fired from the series. But instead, the producers decided to shoot around her pregnancy.
Eden’s chemistry with her co-star Larry Hagman was inspiring, and the show was a tremendous hit. The quirks of the show, including the pink costume, the blink-and-nod gesture when granting wishes, and the unique concept were all loved by a large and loyal fanbase.
Many grant the success of the show to Eden’s talents, as she shined in every scene she was in. Up until this point, Eden had mostly been cast in supporting roles and romantic interests. Her leading role on the show quickly made her famous around the World and gave her much that her other roles had not.
She played the role of Jeannie for five years over one hundred and thirty nine episodes. She was also featured in eight episodes playing Jeannie’s evil sister, where she donned a brunette wig. As well as this, she played Jeannie’s mother in two episodes, further impressing the show’s fanbase.
Her son, Matthew was born about a month before the show premiered, on August 29, 1965. Growing up alongside the show, Matthew developed some resentments towards the sitcom and his mother’s beloved character, Jeannie. One such incident that sparked his resentful feelings was Eden missing his second birthday due to the need to work. This only escalated as he got older, since he found himself having to share his mother with the rest of the world.
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Good to her fans
Barbara Eden has been applauded for her warm personality, as she has been notably loving towards her fans. Eden’s fanbase has supported her since the beginning and this is not lost on the TV icon.
Nobody in or out of the business talks badly about Barbara Eden. Known for being kind, intelligent and loving, it’s no wonder her work is still looked upon today. Whenever she attends an event, her smile is unmistakable. She never refuses an autograph or the opportunity to fold her arms and assume her famous Jeannie pose.
Success came at a price
By 1971, her starring role as Jeannie was over. But Eden was filled with joy as she was pregnant with her second child. Despite her condition, Eden continued to work. She was involved in touring companies of The Unsinkable Molly Brown and The Sound of Music, which were physically exhausting for the star.
Eden returned home at seven months pregnant. Tragically there were complications with the pregnancy and the child was stillborn. This took an extremely damaging toll on her marriage to Michael Ansara. Eden suffered severe postpartum depression alongside the inescapable guilt, believing that if she’d stayed home during the pregnancy, perhaps the baby could have survived.
In some cases, such a tragedy can bring a couple together, but with Eden and Ansara, that was not the case. Their marriage collapsed and the two of them divorced in 1974.
The loss of her son, Matthew
Eden’s first child, Matthew, was in need of direction. In 1984, Eden became concerned for her son, noticing changes in him like losing weight, being lethargic and developing a temper. She soon discovered that Matthew had been misleading her, making her believe that he was attending college when he was not.
This quickly escalated into a confrontation where Matthew left and was not seen for several months, despite Eden and her ex-husband searching for him. It was later discovered that he had been living on the streets and become addicted to heroin.
Eden insisted that he enter a rehab center. After a month, he returned home. He was interested in acting and despite Eden’s concerns at first, she supported her son. They starred together in the 1989 TV movie Your Mother Wears Combat Boots, but Matthew didn’t have the same success as his TV icon mom.
To Eden’s heartbreak, Matthew started using heroin again. She followed the advice of professionals and had no choice but to lock him out of her life until he’d acquired the help he so desperately needed. Over the next fourteen years, Matthew fell in and out of rehab until he appeared to have turned a corner with his addiction.
At twenty seven years old, things seemed better for Matthew. He had fallen in love and gotten engaged with an accountant. He studied creative writing at UCLA and found himself a job. For about a year life seemed to be going very well for him. But he fell back into the cycle of heroin once again. His fiance left him, and he blamed everything on her. Sadly, such behaviour isn’t surprising for a drug addict, unable to take responsibility for their own actions.
On June 27th, 2001, the body of a man was found in a car at a gas station in Monrovia, about ten miles east of downtown Los Angeles. It was Matthew, aged thirty five. In the car, police found vials of anabolic steroids, which he had been taking in preparation for an upcoming bodybuilding competition. Blood work revealed that there was a high level of heroin in his system.
About halfway through Eden’s run on I Dream of Jeannie, she spoke in an interview about her son Matthew, “The only thing that bothers me is being away from Matthew. There’s so little time to spend with a child when you think of how short a time it is before he grows up. He’ll never be there again, and I just hate every day that I’m not with him to enjoy that age.”
Once the show had ended, Eden spoke out further on these thoughts. She explained that even though she had received offers for shows with three different networks, she was determined to devote herself to her family. She said, “It’s so good to be around when Matthew needs me.”
With only two choices before her, Eden could allow the tragedy to consume her or find the strength within herself to stand up. Eden chose the latter, stating in her autobiography, “I have put one foot in front of the other and carried on as best I could. I’ve often been asked how anyone can cope with losing a child. You don’t. You can’t. You don’t know how you will get through it, how you can survive, but you just do. There’s no other choice.”
Such a tragic loss is hard to comprehend, but it has only made Barbara Eden more loved by her fans around the world. Her strong spirit and warm heart is what makes her a true television icon.
What do you love most about Barabara Eden, her classic performance of Jeannie, or her indomitable strength of character outside of the spotlight?
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