While the scene is being set up and the props put in place, I go through my routine of bonding with the lion. I let him smell my fi ngers and lick my hand, then slowly, very slowly, I stroke him under his chin. He gives me a sidelong glance and visibly relaxes, and I silently congratulate myself on our new and warm friendship. The lion is led away from the couch. After a few minutes, Larry walks back onto the set and sits down next to me, while the director places a piece of raw meat between us. The lion is led right up to the couch, takes one look at Larry, and lets out an almighty roar. Whereupon Larry bolts off the set, out of the studio, and into the street, while the crew runs out after him, terrifi ed. Meanwhile, I am left alone on the set with a nine- hundred- pound lion in my lap, purring contentedly.
But back to Larry. As I said before, to this day I love and respect Larry, both as an actor and as a human being. Nonetheless, I feel that, in the interests of television history and of accuracy, it's time to tell the whole, unvarnished truth about what really happened behind the scenes on I Dream of Jeannie, shocking as some of it is.
Larry himself has made no secret about the fact that he was taking drugs and drinking too much through many of the I Dream of Jeannie years and that he has regrets about how that impacted him. And I, of all people, know that I can't afford to be judgmental about the lure of drugs and the dreadful repercussions of taking them.
But this is one of my more startling memories of Larry while filming I Dream of Jeannie. Jeannie blink: Sally Field is fi lming The Flying Nun on the next sound stage, and one morning a group of elderly nuns pay a visit to the set. Afterward, someone comes up with the bright idea of bringing them over to the I Dream of Jeannie set for a visit as well.
So here they are, about ten of them: sweet, gentle, and demure in their black- and- white habits, their hands folded, their eyes bright with anticipation at the thought of visiting another Hollywood set and meeting all of us. Larry takes one look at the nuns, grabs an axe (which one of the technicians happens to have in the studio that day), and swings it around his head so ferociously that he could easily have killed someone. As he swings it, he lets out a torrent that includes every single foul swear word I've ever heard, and some I haven't—right in the stunned nuns' faces. If that isn't enough, he starts hacking at the cables frenetically until someone grabs the axe, frog- marches Larry off the set, then escorts the shaken nuns out of the building. It's hardly surprising that no visitors were ever allowed on the I Dream of Jeannie set again.
Sally and I were often in makeup at the same time. When I was rehearsing my Las Vegas nightclub act while I was working on I Dream of Jeannie, I used to arrive at the makeup department at six in the morning, with my little tape recorder with a tape of all my music in it, and learn my songs for my act while the makeup artist was applying my makeup.
Recently, in an interview, Sally let slip, "The only uncomfortable thing about doing The Flying Nun was, my God, Barbara Eden singing all the time in the makeup room at 6 am and never stopping!" Sorry, Sally! If only I'd known, I'd have practiced in the shower instead.