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October 19, 2013

BARBARA EDEN–FOREVER JEANNIE!

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Actress Barbara Eden, photo taken at the Hollywood Show Chicago, September 7, 2013. Obviously, she has worked some Jeannie magic--she looks like she hasn't aged a day!

Actress Barbara Eden, photo taken at the Hollywood Show Chicago, September 7, 2013. Obviously, she has worked some Jeannie magic–she looks like she hasn’t aged a day since I Dream of Jeannie ended!

How do you describe someone who is considered a Living Legend? That term is bandied about frequently in today’s pop-culture world. If anyone truly deserves this title it certainly must be actress Barbara Eden.

Who would have ever thought that starring in a silly 1960’s sitcom would make anyone an icon? But it sure did for Eden. The actress, an incredible 82, recently drew thousands of fans at a Chicago celebrity show. They came from near and far and waited in lines for hours for the chance to meet her.

It was interesting to watch the dynamics between star and fans. Some admirers were so awestruck they could scarcely speak, others were overcome to the point of near-tears, but most just told Eden how much they enjoyed her and her show and what a big part of their lives she had become.

 

Barbara is giving real-life husband Michael Ansara a tense look in this scene from 1961's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Eden said she enjoyed working for the film's producer, Irwin Allen; he used her in a couple other of his feature films for 20th Fox in the 60's. (c) 20th Century-Fox

Barbara is giving real-life husband Michael Ansara a tense look in this scene from 1961’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Eden said she enjoyed working for the film’s producer, Irwin Allen; he used her in a couple other of his films for 20th Fox in the 60’s. (c) 20th Century-Fox

Her appearance at the show seemed to be a culmination of a long and rich career. Eden had enjoyed an active life in films as a starlet in the 1960’s. She was a contract player at 20th Century-Fox during this period, and the studio frequently used her as decoration in a number of their films. She even appeared in one of the final I Love Lucy episodes.

I Dream of Jeannie came around in 1965. It was the brainchild of literary schlockmeister Sidney Sheldon. On the surface it was puerile TV at its finest: a stranded astronaut finds an ancient bottle, containing a beautiful genie who could grant his every wish. But the chemistry of Larry Hagman as the astronaut and Barbara as the genie made it work.

Kids loved it for the fantastic elements, and producer Sheldon loaded it full of implied sexual tension. In its juvenile way, Jeanie pushed the envelope on the mores of that era. It also gave NBC fits–they wouldn’t allow Eden’s navel to show. They had to make it clear that Hagman’s character did not keep the bottle in his bedroom. Silly stuff for today, but such issues were a constant source of network worry.

A rare photo of a brunette Barbara Eden, as she was seen in the 1964 film, Ride the Wild Surf, co-starring Tab Hunter. By this time Eden was a veteran of many movies and TV appearances. (c) Columbia Pictures.

A rare photo of a brunette Barbara Eden, as she was seen in the 1964 film, Ride the Wild Surf, co-starring Tab Hunter. By this time Eden was a veteran of many movies and TV appearances. (c) Columbia Pictures.

What really made it all work was Eden’s immense charm and likeability. While the show was not quite a stellar hit, Barbara scored tremendously on the secret TVQ ratings networks kept, that measure the audience popularity of certain performers. That’s why we see the same actors in one series after another, as they would rate high on these viewer polls. Networks kept these findings secret, lest stars use them to lever for more money.

Post-Jeannie, Eden did not miss a beat. She was in constant demand for TV guest shots and made several pilots for new series. She quickly became the darling of the TV-movie, starring in a long list of these films made directly for the tube. She never left the public eye.

Eden starred in an ultra low-budget film, Harper Valley PTA, based on the popular song by Jeannie C. Riley. The movie was shot away from Hollywood, in the rural midwest and co-starred a passel of bottom-rung comedians. The film was a tremendous 70s hit, due in no small part to Barbara's tremendous charm. It was spun off into a sitcom, Harper Valley, also starring Eden. (c) NBC

Eden starred in an ultra low-budget film, Harper Valley PTA, based on the popular song by Jeannie C. Riley. The movie was shot away from Hollywood, in the rural midwest and co-starred a passel of bottom-rung comedians. However, the film was a tremendous 70s hit, due in no small part to Barbara’s tremendous charm. It was spun off into a sitcom, Harper Valley, also starring Eden. (c) NBC

She eventually found her way into another series, Harper Valley, a spin-off of the popular movie she also starred in. After that it was more TV-movies, dinner theatre and all the other things working actors do to stay busy.

Another brunette Eden, this one from a 1981 episode of her sitcom, Harper Valley. The dude on her left is actor Jonathan Frakes, light-years before becoming Captain Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. (c) NBC

Another brunette Eden, this one from a 1981 episode of Harper Valley. The dude on her left is actor Jonathan Frakes, light-years before becoming Captain Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. (c) NBC

During this period–continuing today-I Dream of Jeannie played incessantly in reruns, not only across the US, but internationally as well. The result that she became forever identified with the iconic role. A situation she gladly accepted–unlike some stars who find such identification distasteful.

When some actors finish a role, they don't want to be reminded of it. Eden always appreciated her sitcom success and embraced her Jeannie character. Here she is in a Harper Valley episode where she masqueraded as a visiting princess---but we all knew it was really Jeannie!  That's Fannie Flagg on her left. (c) NBC

When some actors finish a role, they don’t want to be reminded of it. Eden always appreciated her sitcom success and embraced her Jeannie character. Here she is in a Harper Valley episode where she masqueraded as a visiting princess—but we all knew it was really Jeannie! That’s Fannie Flagg on her left.

By this time Eden was more popular than ever. Many are not aware of her considerable singing skills, and she eventually played Vegas and other musical venues. She also threw herself into charity work, volunteering for many worthy causes.

Her life seemed as charmed as Jeannie, but reality came crashing into her almost perfect life. In 2001 Matthew Ansara, her son by ex-husband Michael Ansara, was found dead in his vehicle from an accidental heroin overdose. Matthew was Eden’s pride, and he even acted with her in several TV films.

After Jeannie folded, Eden became the Queen of the made-for-TV movie. Your Mother Wears Army Boots was yet another of the assembly-line films she made for the tube. This one is notable as it co-starred her real-life son, Matthew Ansara (l). In 2001 Ansara was found dead in his parked car, the victim of an accidental heroin overdose. (c) NBC a

After Jeannie folded, Eden became Queen of the made-for-TV movie. Your Mother Wears Army Boots was yet another of the assembly-line films she made for the tube. This one is notable as it co-starred her real-life son, Matthew Ansara (l). In 2001 Ansara was found dead in his parked car, the victim of an accidental heroin overdose. (c) NBC 

Devastated, he actress bravely carried on, throwing herself into her performance work and volunteer commitments. She never stopped working, much to the delight of her fans. The constant Jeannie reruns and DVD releases have made her a small-screen superstar.

Barabara’s life is good now. She doesn’t need to work and could enjoy retirement, but for some reason that will probably not happen. Just watching her at the Hollywood Show made it clear that she truly enjoys meeting her fans and grateful for their love and support.

Weekly visits on the small screen make some performers almost like family. It would be safe to say this honor is one shared by Barbara Eden. She’s a woman of innumerable talents, but will always be remembered as Jeannie the genie—and I think she’s just fine about that.

The inevitable TV reunion movie, I Still Dream of Jeannie, from1991. Larry Hagman chose not to particpate in this opus, but co-star Bill Daily reprised his original role of Major Healey. (c) NBC

The inevitable TV reunion movie, I Still Dream of Jeannie, from1991. Larry Hagman chose not to particpate in this opus, but co-star Bill Daily reprised his original role of Major Healy. (c) NBC

 

 

 






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