As Jeannie, a 2,000-year old genie on 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, the beautiful Barbara Eden is synonymous with a time of TV innocence, where there was always something entertaining to watch despite a landscape with only three broadcast networks. I Dream of Jeannie, of course, was NBC’s response to the successful Bewitched on ABC, with Eden’s Jeannie set free by Larry Hagman (pre-Dallas) as astronaut and United States Air Force Captain Tony Nelson. For 139 episodes, the comedic hijinks of this lovable pair was a weekly escape from the real world.
Over 50 years have past since the conclusion of I Dream of Jeannie, and today we wish everyone’s favorite genie, Barbara Eden, a Happy 90th Birthday.
Embracing her signature role for a lifetime, there is actually so much more to the career of Barbara Eden. She began on television with occasional appearances on half-hour variety series The Johnny Carson Show in 1955. Next was a series of guest-star appearances on TV series like I Love Lucy, The Millionaire, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Bachelor Father, and Father Knows Best. Who could forget the episode of I Love Lucy with Eden as Diana Jordan, the attractive niece of the Ricardos’ neighbors whom Lucy (Lucille Ball) and Ethel (Vivian Vance) encourage their husbands to dance with? They refused, until they set their eyes on her. But yes!
I Dream of Jeannie was actually not Eden’s first regularly scheduled TV role. From 1957 to 1959, she appeared in sitcom How to Marry A Millionaire, the tale of three young women who move to the big city in search of wealthy men as potential husbands. The two-season series was based on the 1953 movie of the same name, which starred Marilyn Monroe, Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable.
After her next set of guest-starring roles on TV series like The Andy Griffith Show, Dr. Kildare, Route 66, The Virginian, Rawhide and Burke’s Law (not to mention roles on the big screen in movies like Swingin’ Along, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Brass Bottle, and opposite Elvis Presley in Flaming Star), Eden was cast in her career-changing role on I Dream of Jeannie. Not only did Eden play the blonde bombshell in the series, she acted as Jeannie’s brunette evil sister — also named Jeannie.
Eden would later appear opposite Larry Hagman in TV movie A Howling in the Woods in 1971, and on the original Dallas in the 1990-91 season. She also headlined sitcoms Harper Valley P.T.A. (based on the movie of the same name, and later retitled Harper Valley), which aired for two seasons from 1981 to 1982; and one season entry A Brand New Life in 1989-90.
Eden abandoned her innocent Jeannie persona for a number of dramatic television movies, including The Stranger Within (1974) and Stonestreet: Who Killed the Centerfold Model? (1977). There was also more innocent made-for television fare, including The Secret Life of Kathy McCormick (1988) and Opposites Attract with John Forsythe in 1990. And, not surprisingly, there were two I Dream of Jeannie reunion movies: I Dream of Jeannie…15 Years Later in 1985, and I Still Dream of Jeannie in 1991.
From 2000 to 2004, Eden starred in the national touring production of the play The Odd Couple: The Female Version playing the role of Florence Unger opposite Rita MacKenzie as Olive Madison. And, in 2011, Eden wrote her memoir Jeannie Out of the Bottle, which chronicles her personal life and Hollywood career of more than 50 years, and includes intimate details about her life (including the tragic passing of her son Michael Ansara from a drug overdose in 2001).
More recently, Eden co-wrote her first children’s book, Barbara and the Djinn, which focuses on the adventure of a young girl named Barbara who discovers and releases a wizardly genie.
“We need more empathy, love and understanding in this world, especially now,” said Eden in a press release this month. “My hope is that this little book can help foster these traits in the children who read it.”
Needless to say, this is only a capsule summary of Barbara Eden’s many contributions to the world of media. And from this writer (and from the masses, of course), a very Happy 90th Birthday to one of the most beloved stars in the history of television.
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