My mother is so proud of those pigtails that I never once complain when she braids them tightly every morning. Today, at the end of class, a couple of the boys have fun pulling them over and over again real hard—maybe because they don't like me, maybe because they like me too much and are trying to get my attention. I don't really know. All I do know is that they are hurting me a lot.
As soon as I can, I yank myself away and run home in floods of tears. My mother takes one look at me and declares, "Rise above it, Barbara Jean! Rise above it!" And I think, Rise above it? Rise above it? I'm only four years old. How the heck can I rise above anything?
But I love and trust my mother, so I dry my tears, try to rise above my bullying schoolmates, and, by some kind of a miracle, actually succeed. From that time on, my mother's early decree to "rise above it" will become indelibly engraved on my psyche. It will become my own private mantra, the way I live my life and cope with whatever fate will throw at me through the years—through all the hungry years of the late fi fties and early sixties when I was a struggling Hollywood contract player, through the bitter weeks of trying to survive as a chorus girl at Ciro's supper club, through the hairy moments as Johnny Carson's comic sidekick on live TV, through my days on I Love Lucy doing my utmost to avoid Desi Arnaz's sexual advances, through my heart- pounding on- screen cameo with Paul Newman, and through my weeks as Elvis Presley's leading lady, spending hours drinking in his vulnerable sweetness, only to discover years later that he secretly had amorous designs on me as well.
My mother's edict stayed with me through all my years of tangling with Hollywood's most high-testosterone players: Warren Beatty, Burl Ives, Tom Jones, Tony Randall, Tony Curtis, O. J. Simpson, and more. And through all the lonely years when— on the verge of a breakdown after my younger son was stillborn— I performed in Las Vegas, shared George Burns's dressing room, and smiled through my tears as best I could.
Most of all, her words echoed in my mind during those fi ve seasons of working with Larry Hagman on I Dream of Jeannie, which sometimes felt like I was walking on hot coals. But before I tell you about some of the most challenging moments, I want to make it crystal clear that I think Larry Hagman is a terrific actor and I'd work with him again any day, not just because of his talent but because he is a warm and kind human being.
Let me Jeannie- blink an example for you. We have a guest director on the show, whose name I have mercifully blanked out simply because the memory of him is so unpleasant. He is an old- time movie director, the relative of some studio bigwig. He is long past his prime as a director and probably should have retired, because he is now borderline senile.
As it is, he is extremely frustrating to work with because he doesn't always make himself clear when he sets up a scene, so that none of us knows where we are supposed to stand or what we are supposed to do. The end result is that we work long hours in the studio without getting much fi lm in the can. One day a situation ensues that goes something like this:
DIRECTOR: "Who said cut?"
CAMERAMAN: "I did, sir!"
DIRECTOR: "Why did you say cut? You're not supposed to say cut!"
CAMERAMAN: "I said cut because someone walked in front of the camera, sir."
DIRECTOR: "Who did that? Who did that? Whoever did that, they're fired!"