Barbara Eden: A 'Jeannie Out of the Bottle'

Actress Barbara Eden looks back at her time on "I Dream of Jeannie."

ByABC News via via logo
April 04, 2011, 12:55 PM

April 4, 2011— -- Most of us know Barbara Eden as the delightfully adorable genie from the hit 1960s sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie." Whether it was a magical chemistry with co-star Larry Hagman or Jeannie's unbelievable ability to get herself in and out of trouble, the show was irresistible.

In her new book, "Jeannie Out of the Bottle," Barbara Eden describes her journey to the show and her life afterward.

Check out the excerpt below or click here to learn more more the famous bottle.

Introduction, "Jeannie Out of the Bottle"

December 1, 1964, Sunset Boulevard, 66 Angeles, California

It's the end of the first day fi lming the I Dream of Jeannie pilot, "TheLady in the Bottle," and three of us—the series's creator, writer, andproducer, Sidney Sheldon; Larry Hagman, who plays Captain AnthonyNelson; and I—are in the company limo speeding the thirtymiles from Malibu back to Hollywood after a long day on locationat Zuma Beach, the scene of Captain Nelson's fi rst meeting withJeannie.

Still in my flimsy pink chiffon harem- style pantaloons and minusculevelvet bolero, I shiver from head to foot, snuggle into mybrown cloth coat, and wish I'd been allowed to keep my full- lengthmink from my days as Loco in the TV series How to Marry aMillionaire.

How to Marry a Millionaire ran for two years, but— althoughI'm happy to be playing Jeannie, and thrilled that my fi rst day wentso well— I'm not counting on the I Dream of Jeannie pilot beingsold at all. But it's a job, and I'm glad to have gotten it, thoughI'm still stunned that Sidney Sheldon didn't cast a tall, willowy,raven- haired Middle Eastern beauty queen as his Jeannie instead ofa short American blonde like me.

The limo glides to a halt at a traffi c light, right next to a maroonMustang convertible sporting Kansas license plates and driven by anelderly man and his middle- aged wife.

Without any warning, Larry rolls down the limo window, leansout, and to my utter amazement yells at the couple, "Someday I'mgoing to be a star! Someday you're going to know who I am!"When I recover from my surprise, I think, A star! Why in the blazeswould he— or anyone else, for that matter— ever want to be a star?I blink my Jeannie- style blink and flash back two years to April10, 1962, on the sound stage at Twentieth Century Fox, where Iam filming Five Weeks in a Balloon with Red Buttons, and MarilynMonroe is filming Something's Got to Give on sound stage 14, whichis adjacent to mine. Evie—Evelyn Moriarty, my stand- in since I fi rstarrived at Fox in 1957, and Marilyn's as well— announces in herinimitable twang, "Barbara, my other star has asked to meet you!"I know she means Marilyn Monroe, because that's how she alwaysrefers to her, and I am both thrilled and curious to meet Marilynat last. After all, Evie has been confi ding in me about her foryears. So although I am dressed for the movie like a clown in baggyplaid pants and a massive white shirt, when Evie grabs my handand pulls me over to the Something's Got to Give sound stage, whereMarilyn is about to start a wardrobe test, I follow her without a moment'shesitation.

Fox sound stages in those days were huge, like small cities, andthis one is a massive cavern, with a little lighted circle in the middle.A trailer in the background serves as Marilyn's dressing room,where the legendary costume designer Jean Louis is working withher on her wardrobe for Something's Got to Give as well as the sensationalfigure- hugging gown she will soon be wearing when shesings "Happy Birthday" to President Kennedy at Madison SquareGarden.

But, of course, none of us knows any of that yet. Nor do wehave a glimmer that Something's Got to Give will be Marilyn's fi nalmovie. Had we known what lay ahead for her, we would have beenshocked to the core.

Then the trailer door opens, and Marilyn materializes on theset. Evie grabs my hand and utters the immortal line, "Marilyn, Iwant you to meet my other star. . . ."

My other star—that's how Evie describes me, the former BarbaraJean Huffman, to Marilyn Monroe!

I step into the spotlight with Marilyn. She takes my hand. Wehave a conversation, during which I try to put everything Evie hasrevealed to me about Marilyn firmly out of my mind (I'll tell youmore later) and instead do my utmost to focus on this vision of lovelinessin front of me.

So I'm standing there, the image of Bozo the Clown on a badday, but Marilyn is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life.She just glows. There is something in the ether swirling about her,in her, through her, around her, and if James Cameron, the directorof Avatar, had seen her, he'd have cast her as one of his special people.She's every inch a star, but after what Evie has confi ded to me, Idon't envy Marilyn, not an iota.

And I don't envy any of the other stars I've met and worked withup till now, either. None of them, not Elvis Presley (who tried toseduce me by confiding his vulnerabilities to me), not Paul Newman(who, strangely enough, had a complex about his physical appearance),not Lucille Ball (who was forced to cope with her husband'svery public infidelity on practically a daily basis). Stars each andevery one of them. But happy and fulfilled? I wonder.

As for me, right now I'm an actress, not a star, and I'm contentwith that. But here in the limousine speeding back to Hollywoodafter the fi rst day of filming the I Dream of Jeannie pilot is LarryHagman, clearly burning with red- hot ambition to become a star,and, more important, passionately believing that I Dream of Jeanniewill instantly make him one.

This is what Sidney Sheldon said many years later about Larry'sunbridled ambition: "Suddenly, Larry found himself in a show witha beautiful half- naked girl and there was no way that it would be hisshow. I tried everything, but it was always only Jeannie the publicwas interested in, and through fi ve seasons he became frustrated andvery angry."

On a good day, I understood and sympathized with Larry's frustrationand anger. On a bad day . . . well, I'll tell you about thosebad days, and you can judge for yourselves. First, though, anotherJeannie blink.

It's 1938 and I'm at school in San Francisco. I'm one of thepoorest children in the school, and certainly not one of the prettiest.I may be proud of my school shoes (the only other pair Iown are church shoes), but I'm not in the least bit crazy about thepigtails my mom wants me to wear all the time because she thinksthey look cute.

My mother is so proud of those pigtails that I never once complainwhen she braids them tightly every morning. Today, at the endof class, a couple of the boys have fun pulling them over and overagain real hard—maybe because they don't like me, maybe becausethey like me too much and are trying to get my attention. I don'treally 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 oftears. 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 abovemy bullying schoolmates, and, by some kind of a miracle, actuallysucceed. From that time on, my mother's early decree to "rise aboveit" will become indelibly engraved on my psyche. It will become myown private mantra, the way I live my life and cope with whateverfate will throw at me through the years—through all the hungryyears of the late fi fties and early sixties when I was a struggling Hollywoodcontract player, through the bitter weeks of trying to surviveas a chorus girl at Ciro's supper club, through the hairy moments asJohnny Carson's comic sidekick on live TV, through my days on ILove 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 hoursdrinking in his vulnerable sweetness, only to discover years later thathe secretly had amorous designs on me as well.

My mother's edict stayed with me through all my years of tanglingwith Hollywood's most high-testosterone players: WarrenBeatty, Burl Ives, Tom Jones, Tony Randall, Tony Curtis, O. J. Simpson,and more. And through all the lonely years when— on the vergeof a breakdown after my younger son was stillborn— I performed inLas Vegas, shared George Burns's dressing room, and smiled throughmy tears as best I could.

Most of all, her words echoed in my mind during those fi ve seasonsof working with Larry Hagman on I Dream of Jeannie, whichsometimes felt like I was walking on hot coals. But before I tell youabout some of the most challenging moments, I want to make itcrystal clear that I think Larry Hagman is a terrific actor and I'dwork with him again any day, not just because of his talent but becausehe is a warm and kind human being.

Let me Jeannie- blink an example for you. We have a guest directoron the show, whose name I have mercifully blanked out simply because the memory of him is so unpleasant. He is an old- timemovie director, the relative of some studio bigwig. He is long pasthis prime as a director and probably should have retired, because heis now borderline senile.

As it is, he is extremely frustrating to work with because hedoesn't always make himself clear when he sets up a scene, so thatnone of us knows where we are supposed to stand or what we aresupposed to do. The end result is that we work long hours in thestudio without getting much fi lm in the can. One day a situationensues that goes something like this:

CAMERAMAN: "Cut!"

DIRECTOR: "Who said cut?"

CAMERAMAN: "I did, sir!"

DIRECTOR: "Why did you say cut? You're not supposed tosay cut!"

CAMERAMAN: "I said cut because someone walked in front ofthe camera, sir."

DIRECTOR: "Who did that? Who did that? Whoever did that,they're fired!"

CAMERAMAN: "But that was you, sir!"

(I suppose that I Dream of Jeannie director was a minor improvementover director Irwin Allen, with whom I worked on acouple of movies, although at the time I didn't quite see it that way.Irwin wasn't senile, just wildly eccentric, and imagined that he wasCecil B. DeMille. Instead of yelling "cut," he would fire a gun intothe air.)

Toward the end of a day of working on I Dream of Jeannie withthat senile, tyrannical old movie director barking ludicrous ordersat us incessantly, I am close to tears. So, during a short break in thefi lming, I run off the set and hide behind a piece of scenery, far removedfrom all the action. And I stay there, sobbing away as silentlyas possible, while my makeup pours down my cheeks and all thecrew and cast run around trying to find me.

Of course, Larry, a clever man in all sorts of ways, is the oneto fi nally fi nd me in my hiding place. He puts his arms around megently and says, "Don't cry, Barbara. That's my act!" Bless his heart!I am simultaneously touched and surprised—touched that Larry isbeing so kind to me, and surprised that he is being so honest abouthis on- set emotional breakdowns, which sometimes actually didculminate in him crying in front of all of us.

But I Dream of Jeannie wasn't just a hotbed of drama and intrigue.It was also a comedy, and Larry and I had plenty of fun alongthe way as well. A classic Larry story involves the two of us and alion named Simm, a veteran of The Addams Family, who appearedwith us in an episode entitled "The Americanization of Jeannie."The plot has Jeannie begging Captain Nelson to allow her tobring her former pet into the house. Not knowing what kind of petJeannie means, he agrees, only to be confronted with a fully grownmale African lion.

Let me Jeannie- blink back to what really happened behind thescenes. As chance would have it, I've worked with lions before ona couple of Fox movies, and now I consider myself somewhat of alion expert. So before we shoot our scene with the lion, I take Larryaside, advise him to make friends with the lion, and explain how."Here's what you do, Larry. You have to stand very still and let thelion smell you. Then, when he's fi nished doing that, you should leanforward very, very gingerly and stroke him as gently as you can. Thatway, he'll get to know you and everything will be fi ne," I say helpfully.Larry's reaction? "Dream on, Barbara. I'm not making friendswith any f—— lion!" He strides back to his dressing room.

At that moment, the lion trainer leads the lion onto the set.Larry and I were supposed to sit on the couch, and at a certain pointin the script the lion was meant to stick his big paws over the backof the couch.

While the scene is being set up and the props put in place, Igo through my routine of bonding with the lion. I let him smellmy fi ngers and lick my hand, then slowly, very slowly, I stroke himunder 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, Larrywalks back onto the set and sits down next to me, while the directorplaces a piece of raw meat between us. The lion is led right upto 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 thestreet, while the crew runs out after him, terrifi ed. Meanwhile, Iam 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 respectLarry, both as an actor and as a human being. Nonetheless, I feelthat, in the interests of television history and of accuracy, it's timeto tell the whole, unvarnished truth about what really happened behindthe scenes on I Dream of Jeannie, shocking as some of it is.

Larry himself has made no secret about the fact that he was takingdrugs and drinking too much through many of the I Dream ofJeannie 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 aboutthe lure of drugs and the dreadful repercussions of taking them.

But this is one of my more startling memories of Larry whilefilming I Dream of Jeannie. Jeannie blink: Sally Field is fi lming TheFlying Nun on the next sound stage, and one morning a group ofelderly nuns pay a visit to the set. Afterward, someone comes up with the bright idea of bringing them over to the I Dream of Jeannieset for a visit as well.

So here they are, about ten of them: sweet, gentle, and demurein their black- and- white habits, their hands folded, their eyes brightwith anticipation at the thought of visiting another Hollywood setand 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 thatday), and swings it around his head so ferociously that he could easilyhave killed someone. As he swings it, he lets out a torrent thatincludes every single foul swear word I've ever heard, and some Ihaven't—right in the stunned nuns' faces. If that isn't enough, hestarts hacking at the cables frenetically until someone grabs the axe,frog- marches Larry off the set, then escorts the shaken nuns out ofthe building. It's hardly surprising that no visitors were ever allowedon the I Dream of Jeannie set again.

Sally and I were often in makeup at the same time. When I wasrehearsing my Las Vegas nightclub act while I was working on IDream of Jeannie, I used to arrive at the makeup department at sixin the morning, with my little tape recorder with a tape of all mymusic in it, and learn my songs for my act while the makeup artistwas applying my makeup.

Recently, in an interview, Sally let slip, "The only uncomfortablething about doing The Flying Nun was, my God, Barbara Eden singingall 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 showerinstead.

But back to Larry. After Sidney Sheldon suggested that Larrysee a therapist and he agreed, the therapist was frequently on theset during fi lming of I Dream of Jeannie, in case he was needed. Buteven he didn't seem able to put the brakes on Larry. Consequently,Larry's dramatics escalated, and— now that we live in an X- rated age— could most likely become the basis of a terrifi c comedy seriesthemselves.

In fact, you could devote a whole episode to the time whenSammy Davis Jr. guested in "The Greatest Entertainer in the World"and ended up threatening to kill Larry, and another to the time wefi lmed "The Second Greatest Con Artist in the World" in Hawaiiwith Milton Berle.

But there is one episode that I don't think would actuallymake it onto the air even today: the time when Larry, in frustrationand anger at what he saw as the show's shortcomings and thesecond- string status of his character, Major Tony Nelson, relievedhimself all over the I Dream of Jeannie set.

I'll be sharing more of Larry's tantrums in the rest of the book,no holds barred. But working with Larry was still a walk in the parkin comparison to many other things that happened to me throughoutthe years, particularly in my private life— my stillborn son;two divorces; the death of Matthew, my only child, when he wasthirty- fi ve and on the threshold of marriage; and the loss of my belovedmother.

Through it all, my mother's voice has always echoed in mymind: Rise above it, Barbara Jean, rise above it! I've tried as hard as Ican to do so. Sometimes I've triumphed and risen above whateverlife has flung at me, but other times I've failed dismally, floundered,and been utterly swamped. This is the story of all those times, goodand bad, better and worse, exactly how they happened, exactly howI coped, and exactly how I didn't.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events