On August 23, 1934, Barbara Jean Morehead was welcomed into the world in Tucson, Arizona. She was actually credited under that name in her earlier acting gigs. After her parents split up when she was three, Eden’s mom married a telephone lineman, but the Great Depression hit the family pretty hard, and they didn’t have much money.
During this time, her mother would sing to her, and that’s what sparked Barbara’s passion for the theatrical arts. While you may know her as an actress, she is an incredible singer and found solace in music throughout her hardships in life. From trying to make ends meet to becoming a beloved Hollywood darling, here is a look at Barbara Eden’s rise to the top. Plus, we included some interesting behind-the-scenes secrets from the set of I Dream of Jeannie. Stay tuned!
A Working Girl
When Eden first arrived in Hollywood, she didn’t jump straight into stardom. First, she got a job working at a bank. She said that her time as a banker was the only job in her early career that didn’t involve Hollywood. Eden had this to say about her experience working at the bank:
“I didn’t know enough… I had no relative in the field, and I didn’t know enough to tell producers that I belonged to Actors Equity and could qualify for membership in the Screen Actors Guild.” After the bank job, she performed as a chorus girl at Ciro’s, a club on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. Her amazing performance got her a contract with 20th Century Fox.
She Loves Lions
Barbara Eden is a talented actress, but one of her most impressive skills has to do with very big cats. She worked with trained African lions numerous times before bringing one on as her “pet” on I Dream of Jeannie. Eden’s advantage was that she developed a method to gain the lion’s trust. She told her technique to her co-star, Larry Hagman:
“Here’s what you do, Larry. You have to stand very still and let the lion smell you. Then, when he’s finished doing that, you should lean forward very, very gingerly and stroke him as gently as you can. That way, he’ll get to know you, and everything will be fine.”
The Original Joe Exotic
Yeah, just pet the wild animal like it’s a dog; it sounds like a wonderful idea. Reportedly, Hagman responded, “Dream on, Barbara. I’m not making friends with any f*cking lion!” Good for him. I’ve seen Tiger King; these creatures act all nice and cuddly before ripping your arm off.
But as it turns out, Hagman needed her advice. When the lion returned to set, it took one look at the actor and roared. Hagman and the crew ran away terrified, and Eden was left alone with a massive beast. At least one person on that set was brave. Since she had already bonded with the lion, it just sat beside her calmly.
Her Co-Star Larry Hagman Was Difficult on Set
Eden had nice and candid things to say about her co-star, Larry Hagman, who portrayed Major Anthony Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie. She described him as “a great human being, but a troubled man.” She watched his frustrations accumulate over the “trite” scripts they received for the show and noted that his uncontrollable drinking became daily and excessive:
“He started every day at the studio drinking vast quantities of champagne, and between scenes, he sequestered himself in his dressing room smoking pot and downing yet more champagne.”
But She Was There for Him
Obviously, excessive drinking on set is not the healthiest work environment, but Eden understood her co-star and saw his good side. Although the pair never had a romantic entanglement, she was always there for him no matter how much trouble he was causing.
Eden and Hagman stayed close friends until the actor passed away in 2012. Eden dealt with all his antics, including chasing after studio guests with an ax. Yikes! She certainly has a lot of patience. She said Hagman’s erratic behavior was due to frequent alcohol consumption, diet, and medication.
Trapped Inside Jeannie’s Bottle
Jeannie’s bottle has got to be a comfortable place to hang out, considering the extended periods of time spent in there. Well, Eden was once trapped in there, and it completely changed her outlook. Let’s just say it’s not a place you want to be trapped in for long.
One day, the director sent everyone to lunch; the crew forgot all about Eden. Not only did they neglect to invite her, but they left her inside the bottle. When everyone returned from their break, she was finally let out. Her cries for help were recorded and ended up in the show.
She Had Famous Suitors but Wasn’t Interested
Eden explained that even when she was in high school, dating simply “wasn’t a priority.” She spent her time focusing on her career goals, mainly her desire to become a singer and actress. Although dating and boys were on the back burner, the starlet still attracted plenty of interested prospects. Some were considered the most eligible bachelors of the time.
During her stint as a chorus girl, Eden caught the attention of a singer you may have heard of, Elvis Presley. He actually called the club’s manager to asked about a potential date. In 1957, she received a note from then-Senator John F. Kennedy that read “call me” with a phone number attached.
Tragedy Strikes the Family
In June 2001, Eden’s only son, Matthew Ansara, was discovered in his car at a gas station, dead by an overdose. After receiving a phone call from police at 3:30 a.m. with the news of his passing, Eden was absolutely “devastated.”
Ansara was Eden’s child with her first husband, Michael Ansara. He worked as a fitness trainer and bodybuilder. Matthew was only 25 years old and just a few months away from his wedding. During an interview conducted ten years after the incident, Eden said she still struggled with it. She believed her son’s issues began after a neighbor introduced him to pot as a kid.
A Charming Personality Wins Over Big Boobs
As a teenager, Eden was told her looks would be a stumbling block when she started going after acting roles. Reportedly, one acting scout showed her a photo of his daughter and said, “See, honey, that’s what you need. Big t*ts!” Which is disturbing on so many levels.
Eden wouldn’t allow any of that to discourage her. Instead, she started searching for character work. About six months after that talent scout incident, she ran into him again on a Warner Bros set. He didn’t even recognize her and asked her to come in for a screen test.
Who Was Barbara Eden Married To?
Eden was set up on a blind date with her first husband, Michael Ansara. By 1958, the couple tied the knot, and in 1965, they welcomed their son, Michael. Eden got pregnant again in 1971, but tragically, the baby was stillborn. Obviously, this wasn’t an easy thing to cope with.
The tragedy really set Eden off the deep end into a deep, dark depression. To make matters worse, Eden and Ansara’s relationship couldn’t survive this heartbreak either. Unfortunately, many couples can’t overcome these kinds of difficult circumstances. The two divorced in 1974.
Performing Helped Her Cope
Throughout her life, Eden dealt with many moments of hardships, including the loss of her baby and two divorces. Furthermore, when she moved to Chicago with her new husband, she was forced to make the difficult decision to give up custody of her 12-year-old son Matthew.
Eden admitted that during that time, she “cried a lot.” But with every struggle she went through, Eden had a career to focus on to help her cope. In an interview with the Spokesman-Review, the actress said, “Everyone has to work. And I think I’m very lucky that I’m able to work at something I love to do.”
Almost Like the Brady Bunch
Eden took on a brand-new role in 1989, when she played a mother of six on a sitcom called Brand New Life. The idea was noticeably similar to The Brady Bunch, as both sitcoms showcased blended families, with each parent bringing three into the mix. But the children on Brand New Life were older than the Brady Bunch kids. In fact, the oldest sibling moved out when the show started.
Whenever someone made comparisons between the two shows, Eden brushed them off. She claimed to have never even seen The Brady Bunch and told Spokesman-Review that “We’re just hoping to offer 60 minutes of fun. It’s light, with real-life situations like any family would have. But there won’t be any tragedies…”
Third Time’s the Charm
After she and her first husband, Michael Ansara, split up in the mid- ‘70s, Eden met Charles Fegert and tied the knot with him. According to Eden, she had so much fun being around him, but it soon became clear that he had issues with substance dependency. His behavior was so unpredictable, which is the reason Eden left the marriage after four years.
In 1991, Eden married her current husband, John Eicholtz, something she never thought would happen in her 50s. She speaks kindly of him and says, “[We] share the same ideas about life and enjoy traveling together. There is tremendous loyalty. I have his back, and he has mine.”
Appearing as Jeannie to a 2013 Benefit
In 2013, Eden went to Vienna, Austria, to attend the Life Ball, a European AIDS benefit. She showed up on stage wearing her classic “Jeannie” costume, complete with a pink crop top and harem pants. Joining her on stage were former president Bill Clinton, singer Elton John, and Olympic diver, Greg Louganis.
Eden, who was 78 years old at the time of the event, posted a picture on social media and captioned it, “Here it is, folks! The navel that put NBC on edge!” Jeannie still holds a special place in Eden’s heart. In her one-woman show, On the Magic Carpet with Barbara Eden, the starlet looks back at her time on the show. According to Eden, if they ever decide to reboot the show with a modern take, executives plan on giving Eden a huge role in it.
San Fran Gal
Born in Arizona, Eden was just three years old when she moved with her mother to San Francisco. That’s where she spent the rest of her childhood and her teenage years, so she views it as her hometown. She barely remembers living in Arizona. In 1951, she won the Miss San Francisco beauty pageant, and at 18, she earned her first Actor’s Equity card while performing in the city.
Later that year, under the name Barbara Huffman, she went on to compete in the Miss California pageant. When she was ready to pursue her long-time acting dream, Eden headed to Los Angeles, much closer to home than if she relocated to New York City.
She Can Add Author to Her Resume
Eden wrote two books detailing her life in Hollywood: 1986’s Barbara Eden: My Story and 2011’s Jeannie Out of the Bottle. The 1986 book is harder to come by, but Jeannie Out of the Bottle was a top-selling collection of stories and memoirs for Eden and her glamorous life.
The book is filled with behind-the-scenes anecdotes, backstage secrets, and memories from the early years of her life. Upon its release, Jeannie Out of the Bottle made it to #14 on The New York Times Best Sellers list. Not too shabby.
She’s a Tripple Threat!
In addition to her comedic performances, Eden is best known for her time playing “Jeannie.” But she was a woman of many talents. She made appearances on shows like I Love Lucy and Gunsmoke and starred alongside singing sensation Elvis Presley in Flaming Star. She also has a long list of stage roles to brag about.
Eden is an accomplished singer and performed in touring musicals like The Sound of Music and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The starlet was even invited to the White House in 2001 by President George W. Bush to sing, “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” at the official tree lighting ceremony. In honor of her over five-decade career, Eden was presented with Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Broadcasters Hall of Fame, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and the T.V. Land Television Network.
She Wishes Jeannie and Nelson Never Got Married
The sexual tension between Hagman’s astronaut character and the mischievous genie living under the same roof (for the first four seasons) was what kept the show exciting. And I’m not talking about the objectification of Eden’s character.
The midriff-bearing beauty was willing and able to fulfill every wish and every command of her master. Still, he was somehow able to keep Jeannie out of his bedroom for most of the show’s run. The sexual revolution was well underway by 1969, and it was time for Tony and Jeannie to get together.
It Might Have Ruined the Show
Except, as we all know, that type of creative decision is a nail in the coffin for a television show, and things were no different in I Dream of Jeannie. The characters got married during the 1969-1979 season, which also ended up being the last season of the show.
During an interview with Today Show’s Willie Geist, Eden was straight up about her feelings concerning the Nelson marriage. “It ruined the show,” she said. “Because [Jeannie] wasn’t human… she thought she was, and [Tony] knew she wasn’t… I think it broke credibility.”
The Theme Song Didn’t Exist in the First Season
We all know the son, Matthew Broderick, danced a 12-second routine to it in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But the bouncy riff that will always be linked to I Dream of Jeannie didn’t appear until a new, in-color opening sequence was introduced in the second season of the show.
The first season, which was shot in all black and white, tried a few different openers: First, there was the expository one that brought the audience up to speed on how Tony and Jeannie met. Ultimately, they ditched the exposition for the jazzy, albeit, abbreviated, animated sequence.”
They Tried to Hide Her Pregnancy
Jeannie’s skimpy pink-and-red harem costume was an iconic look since the moment the show aired. But other than the 1965 pilot episode “The Lady in the Bottle,” Eden was significantly covered up for the first ten episodes. The reasoning wasn’t due to modestly or censorship issues; the starlet was actually expecting a baby.
On the very day that I Dream of Jeannie was picked up, Eden confirmed her pregnancy. Instead of replacing her, producers decided to use various techniques in order to hide the baby bump on screen, like adding extra veils to her Jeannie costume. “I looked like a walking tent,” Eden joked in a 2001 Lifetime Intimate Portrait Documentary.
Larry Hagman Was Told About the Show’s Cancellation From a Studio Guard
Before he passed away, Hagman revealed that he heard about the 1970 cancellation of I Dream of Jeanie from the most “Hollywood” source imaginable: a guard on the studio lot. He had been vacationing in South America after completing the fifth season of the series, and when he returned to the U.S., he wanted to grab something from his dressing room.
Then, the “guy at the gate” realized he had to break the bad news to the Jeannie star that there was no sixth season. Hagman wasn’t surprised at the cancellation of the show, citing low ratings combined with the creative decision to marry Jeannie and Tony.
Reunited on Dallas!
In the furthest thing from a Jeannie and Tony reunion, Eden appeared on Hagman’s sudsy drama Dallas as J.R. Ewing’s embittered former lover Lee Ann De La Vega. In one scene, she tells Hagman’s oil tycoon character that she’s in town to seek vengeance. Why? Because in a move that’s very un-Tony-Nelson-like, J.R. knocked her up years prior.
It resulted in a botched abortion that made her unable to have children. So, Lee Ann believes stealing Ewing Oil out from under J.R. is the payback he deserves. If you pay attention to Eden’s monologue, you’ll notice a nice little tribute to her history with Hagman: Nelson was her character’s maiden name.
Phil Spector’s Cameo
A couple of decades before becoming a convicted murderer, Phil Spector was one of the most sought-after record producers in the industry. In the fall of 1967, the man was on top of the world, producing hits for various artists from the Ronettes and Ike to Tina Turner.
In the Season Three episode “Jeannie, the Hip Hippie,” Jeannie needed a record executive to listen to her blinked-together rock group; she didn’t settle for anything other than a legend. She went to the best in the business: Phill Spector.
Who Is Steve Davis?
Phil Spector had a good attitude and was on board with making fun of himself – and the rest of the music industry – with his introductory lines. While on a phone call with an unnamed artist, Spector assured his client that despite the “very weak” bridge, the “awful” tempo and lyrics that “stink,” he had another “smash” hit under his belt.
In a bizarre continuity error, Phil Spector is actually credited as playing “Steve Davis,” which is seen at the end of the episode, even though he was referred to as Phil Spector throughout the episode. Perhaps, before Spector agreed to make an appearance (as himself), they were going to name the record producer character Steve Davis. But still, rooky mistake!
Jeannie’s Connection to The Monkees
Although The Monkees only lasted two seasons, it had an adorable brother-sister-type relationship with I Dream of Jeannie while it was airing. Both were on NBC and used the same music supervisor, Don Kirshner. About halfway through the fall of 1966, in The Monkees episode “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” there seems to be a little tribute to Jeannie.
In the episode, Davy Jones rubs a small table lamp. In true Jeannie fashion, a stunning harem-costumed genie emerges from a cloud of smoke and tells her “master” that she will help him. A confused Jones said, “Imagine that – wrong show!”
More Associations With The Monkees
Although the genie in The Monkees episode wasn’t Barbara Eden, it was a fun little tribute that fans certainly didn’t miss. The following year, in the I Dream of Jeannie episode “Jeannie, the Hip Hippie,” Jeannie puts a band together, including Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.
If those names sound familiar, it’s because they were the ones who wrote some of The Monkees’ most popular songs. At a certain point in the episode, you can hear an instrumental version of “Last Train to Clarksville,” one of the duo’s biggest hits. Plus, in one scene, Hart is holding a copy of The Monkees’ first album.
Paris Hilton Once Played Barbara Eden
In one of the last episodes of NBC’s American Dreams (2002-2005), Meg Pryor (Brittney Snow) and her best friend, Roxanne Bojarski (Vanessa Lengies), take a vacation in Los Angeles in the early summer of 1966. They were dancers at Bandstand, and while they were visiting a studio lot, they end up on the I Dream of Jeannie set and meet Barbara Eden.
Keeping up with the trend of the time, where popular stars play popular stars from the ‘60s, Eden was played by Paris Hilton, who was the “it-girl” in the early 2000s. Hilton, as Eden, just happened to be walking around in her Jeannie costume and made the girls so happy when she recognized Meg from Bandstand.
No Belly Buttons Allowed
While I Dream of Jeannie was televised, the 1960s censorship rules were still pretty conservative, so the Jeannie costume needed to be strictly monitored to make sure it was appropriate enough to wear on air. Given the nature of its storyline, the show was already considered pretty risky.
All the Jeannie outfits had to cover Barbara Eden’s belly button, and her pants needed to be thick enough so that audiences couldn’t see her legs through them. The one area that didn’t have much censorship was, of all things, cleavage! The actress was allowed to show as much cleavage as the network executives wanted.
They Wanted an Exotic-Looking Jeannie
The show’s creator, Sidney Shelton, originally pictured a genie that was much more exotic-looking than Barbara Eden. That’s because he didn’t want to draw any comparisons to other magical television ladies at the time, specifically the witch from Bewitched.
Shelton felt that a blonde genie would be too similar to Bewitched but still ended up casting Eden, who is clearly blonde, for the role. Why? Apparently, after going through all the auditions, no one was as good as her. I’m not complaining; I think Eden was the perfect genie.
Barbara Eden Played Jeannie’s Evil Sister
In the show, Jeannie has an evil sister with the same name who looks almost identical to her; the only difference is the evil twin has brown hair, and Jeannie is blonde. If you ask me, it’s pretty obvious that Barbara Eden played both characters, but a lot of audiences missed this.
In fact, Barbara Eden received letters from fans asking her who the dark-haired actress was. I’m surprised at how oblivious the viewers were, but it was a different time. Either way, she tricked the audience. It goes to show how versatile and talented Eden really is.
The Pilot Was Shot in California
The original pilot of I Dream of Jeannie was filmed on Zuma Beach in Malibu, California. Even though it was in California, the weather was apparently pretty cold, and the entire cast had to deal with it in their costumes.
Can you imagine wearing Barbara Eden’s revealing costume in the cold?! I’m shivering just thinking about it! But Zuma Beach would later be featured in the series again, but this time, as a deserted island in the South Pacific. It’s crazy how the set designers were able to transform that place, especially in the 1960s.
Barbara Eden Has a Favorite Episode
On multiple occasions, Barbara Eden has been asked what her favorite episode was, and her response is always the same: “Lady in the Bottle.” This was the I Dream of Jeannie pilot episode in which we were first introduced to the lovely starlet.
When asked about filming on that cold California beach, Eden exclaimed, “I was freezing.” But despite the weather, the actress enjoyed filming the episode because of the storyline. Astronaut Tony Nelson ends up on a deserted island when he comes across a bottle with the genie Jeannie inside.
So, How Did She End Up in a Bottle?
In I Dream of Jeannie, the story behind why Jeannie is a genie varies quite a bit. Originally, the reason she turned into a genie was that she refused to marry Blue Djinn, who was played by Michael Ansara, Eden’s real-life first husband.
As punishment for rejecting him, Blue Djinn turned Jeannie into a genie and trapped her in the genie bottle for eternity. But later on in the series, it seems producers altered the story a bit, claiming that Jeannie and her family have always been genies – meaning it was her genetics, not a punishment.
It Was the Last Show to Be Filmed in Black and White
The first season of I Dream of Jeannie was the very last season of any network television show to be filmed in black and white. The reason it needed to be filmed like that was because of budget cuts, and filming in color was simply too expensive.
Apparently, the network didn’t really see I Dream of Jeannie working, so they decided not to even waste money on filming in color. Once the series proved the network wrong, Season Two was shot in color. I’m just wondering why they aired the show in the first place if they expected it to be a bust.
Jeannie’s Signature Move
Each time Jeannie granted a wish or used her magical powers, she would make that iconic move. She crossed her arms, blinked her eyes, and nodded her head… and then suddenly poof! The magic happened. If only it were that easy.
As it turned out, the crossed arms and blinking moves were created by Gene Nelson, the first director of the series. It was Eden who wanted to add her own little twist and included the head nod afterward. It looks like the memorable motion that has become iconic took teamwork and was a group effort!
Constant Costume Replacements
On the set of I Dream of Jeannie, Barbara Eden was pretty physical since her character was constantly on the go. Since she was always running around, Eden was often catching her heels in pantaloons and ripping them open accidentally.
The actress had a bunch of different costumes, to begin with, but since they kept getting torn, she had to frequently replace them. At least the costume department on set was keeping busy. I wish my clothes would be magically replaced every time they get caught on something and I accidentally ruined them.
She Only Took One Thing From the Set
Out of all her costume changes and costume replacements on I Dream of Jeannie, Eden only kept one thing from her wardrobe, a single hat. After spending years on the show, it’s a little surprising that she only took one thing, but the reason behind it is kind of funny.
As it turns out, that one hat was Eden’s only option. The production studio lent out a bunch of her costumes to the producer’s wives for Halloween. Unfortunately, most of the outfits were never given back. In fact, when Barbara Eden did a Lexus commercial a little later, the company had to commission a new genie outfit for her because she didn’t have one.
She Didn’t Think There Was Anything Wrong With Her Costume
Any fan of I Dream of Jeannie can spot the iconic genie costume anywhere. With a headpiece and veil included, the character’s costume is completed with a sexy two-piece. Many would argue that her outfit is revealing and risqué (especially for the time), but Eden thought otherwise.
In one interview, Eden said exactly how she felt about Jeannie’s costume: “It was just an illusion. So many people… try to make something out of the fact that she was living with a man, and they weren’t married. She was running around in her nightie. But it was what she wore… it was a uniform.” Wow! Well, thankfully, times have changed, and women can dress however they want.
How Old Is Barbara Eden?
Believe it or not, Barbara Eden is still alive. Although she hasn’t done much acting in recent years, her last credited role was Mrs. Clause in 2019’s My Adventures with Santa. After an emotional breakdown following her son’s 2001 death, the starlet took a step back from the spotlight.
The 89-year-old actress seems to have retired from Hollywood, but she certainly left her mark. Although she is no longer actively working in the industry, Barbara Eden made a name for herself as the legendary Jeannie and truly embodied the role in a way no one else could have.