Some of genie’s magic rubs off on Barbara Eden (1965)

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Some of genie’s magic rubs off on Barbara Eden (1965)

by Bert Resnik, Independent Press Telegram (Long Beach, California) August 15, 1965

A very expectant Barbara Eden, title star of NBC-TV’s fall I Dream of Jeannie series, beamed and smilingly said, “I thought I had picked up a bug somewhere.”

So she went to the doctor, and he told her it was no bug. “We,” said Barbara, “were pregnant.”

The “we” includes actor-husband Michael Ansara, whom Barbara wed in 1958. “We let the first year go by,” said Barbara, “but we’ve tried ever since. When we did get pregnant, we really didn’t know that’s what it was. We had sort of given up.”

Barbara “picked up her bug” during the time the sample pilot for Jeannie was being taped.

Michael Ansara and Barbara Eden during their marriage
Michael Ansara and Barbara Eden during their marriage

The series is about an astronaut (Larry Hagman) who finds a bottle out of which pops a genie. Barbara feels that some of the magic of her genie role must have rubbed off on her. But she was concerned about how Sidney Sheldon, creator of Jeannie would take the news of the magic reaction. The sample pilot, with Barbara as one of the principal reasons, had sold as a series.

She had no need to worry. “That’s wonderful,” said Sheldon when she informed him about the baby. “Just wonderful. It’s the most wonderful thing that ever happened to a person,” he said, as if he had personally been through the experience.

Barbara Eden in costume for I Dream of Jeannie

The baby is expected in September. Before his/her presence became too evident, 11 segments of the series were taped. Barbara, who wears harem-girl attire, said: “I wore veils on veils.”

While she remembers what Sheldon said, she can’t recall hubby Mike’s first words upon hearing the news. “All I remember is his silly look,” she said. “He still gets it when he sees the baby kick.”

She’s not too sure she, also, doesn’t have a perpetual silly look. “It’s a miracle, she said, “if you ever stop to think about it. Especially when the little leg gets under you and you rub it and you gently push it down.”

Actress Barbara Eden and her toddler son Matthew Ansara (1966)
Actress Barbara Eden and her toddler son Matthew Ansara (1966)

She paused. She didn’t look silly. There was a glow and only a woman who has been expecting a baby would be able to fittingly describe that glow. Said Barbara, “I’ve never felt so important in my life.”

Last year, another television actress, Elizabeth Montgomery, found herself in the same expectancy boat after the pilot for “Bewitched” had sold as a series.

The comparison doesn’t end there. There are those who contend I Dream of Jeannie sounds like a copy of Bewitched, Barbara takes issue with those contentions.

“Look,” she said, “after they had sold Bewitched, there were a lot of people who said it was a copy of My Favorite Martian. Somebody is always making comparisons without seeing what they’re comparing. As far as ‘Bewitched and ‘Jeannie’ are concerned we’re night and day. We’re simply different.”

Whereby she preceded to prove it. She wrinkled her nose a la Liz Montgomery’s magic mannerisms in Bewitched. Nothing happened.

Barbara Eden for Coppertone suntan lotion in 1964

Barbara Eden for Coppertone suntan lotion in 1964

Barbara Eden: TV’s most mischeievous genie (1967)

By Harry Harris in The Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania) March 5, 1967

Is Barbara Eden, whose TV wishes come true, her own beneficiary these days? Blonde, blue-eyed Barbara, who started out as a mute band singer, may have abracada-braed herself back into a vocalizing career.

Barbara Eden with long blonde sixties hairstyle

Earlier this season, to critics’ applause, she sang, danced, and clowned in a Dom De Luise-starring NBC special, “The Barrump-Bump Show.” And Sunday night at 9 she’ll be performing similar channel chores on CBS’ “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

Come 8 pm Monday, however, she’ll be back to her magical machinations as the title genie in NBC’s “I Dream of Jeannie.”

This week she’s slated to blink-blink her astronaut master (Larry Hagman) into a blank-blank jam. Trying to be helpful by miniaturizing some of his space equipment, she inadvertently causes him to dwindle, too — down to cat food size.

Singing again is “fun,” she reports, but it doesn’t necessarily represent a long-time dream come true. Not anymore.

“I haven’t done much singing lately,” she says. “A couple of summers ago I was with John Raitt in a revival of ‘Pajama Game,’ and I had one song in a picture. I use my voice when I have to, but I don’t keep it up the way I did. In ‘Jeannie,’ I just hum a little in Persian or whatever it is, but never a whole song.”

Barbara Eden with Steve Forrest and Elvis Presley in Flaming Star in 1960 (Colorized)
Barbara Eden with Steve Forrest and Elvis Presley in Flaming Star in 1960 (Colorized)

She was eager to be a singer, however, when she was a teenager — despite a devastating debut.

Born in Tucson, Arizona, but transplanted to San Francisco at 3, she studied voice in the latter city. When another student, suffering from a cold, asked her to pinch-sing with a dance band, 14-year-old Barbara quickly agreed.

The only trouble was, she came down with an acute case of bandstand fright, and instead of “Embraceable You” produced only “Gluggigig.” The bandleader let her earn her $10 fee with smiling silence.

Given a second chance the next night, she did better. So much better, in fact, that for three years she financed music and acting lessons as a dance-band diva. Her singing continued in Hollywood, where she made 14 appearances on a pre-“Tonight” “Johnny Carson Show.”

Spotted in a Laguna Playhouse production of “The Voice of the Turtle,” she was signed to a 20th Century-Fox contract that put a temporary halt to her do-re-mis.

Supposedly slated for a role in the movie version of “Peyton Place,” she was detoured instead to a TV series, “How to Marry a Millionaire,” in which she played Marilyn Monroe’s movie character, Loco.

Working next door in the “Broken Arrow” series was ersatz Indian Michael Ansara. He went loco over Loco; she married a Michael instead of a millionaire.

When “How to Marry” went into what turned out to be reruns, TV became taboo. “Once I’d finished the series,” says Barbara, “Fox wouldn’t let me do television. I couldn’t even do a guest appearance in Mike’s series, ‘Law of the Plainsman.’

Young Barbara Eden with short hair

“Spyros Skoures, then in charge of the studio, didn’t believe in mixing movies and TV. Not that I wanted to do TV. I was averaging two, three pictures a year, and that was much more convenient and much less physical work.

“I was offered three other series that went on the air at the same time as ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ September before last, but only ‘Jeannie’ appealed to me. It was a different kind of part–not a housewife, not a dizzy dame.”

Barbara didn’t feel that “Jeannie” represented copy-cutting, an attempt to cash in on the hocus-pocus heroine formula used by “Bewitched.”

“There are no entirely original stories,” she says. “Everything’s been done. But the two shows are different. The only similarity to ‘Bewitched,’ which I love, is the magic.

“But Liz Montgomery, as Samantha, is married, and I’m a 2,500-year-old spinster lady. Jeannie isn’t like Samantha. Any role reflects the personality of the performer.”

Barbara Eden on I Dream of Jeannie set (1960s)

If pressed, though, she’ll admit points of similarity which have caused ‘Jeannie,’ in which she wears togs befitting a harum-scarum harem honey, to be dubbed “‘Bewitched’ with cleavage.”

Both shows are Screen Gem productions, some of the off-camera personnel overlap, and there’s sound-alike casting. Agnes Moorehead plays a principal role in “Bewitched;” Barbara Jean Moorhead stars in “Jeannie.” (That’s the name on Miss Eden’s birth certificate, later changed when her divorced mother remarried, to Barbara Huffman.)

Also, both Barbara and Liz Montgomery had to postpone work on first-season episodes because of imminent maternity. “For a while, pregnancy seemed a way of life at Screen Gems. Some actresses were afraid to walk on the lot!”

Her only child, Matthew Michael Ansara, was born two Augusts ago.

She enjoys playing Jeannie, she reports, especially now that the show has added color. “Trick photography is very expensive,” she says, “and doubly so in color, but it was a shame not to show how beautiful the sets and costumes were last season. Besides, I’m better in color!”

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Free of her bottle at last, Jeannie’s singing up a storm (1970)

By Cecil Smith in The Miami Herald (Florida) October 12, 1970

“People tell me I’m lucky to be out of that bottle and finished with Jeannie,” said Barbara Eden.

“But I don’t know. Here’s a new season beginning and we’re not a part of it. After five years, it’s like divorce, I guess — the breakup of a family.”

She grinned a dimpled, impish grin. “At least I don’t have to go around proving I’ve got a navel,” she said. Then she added, seriously, “It’s good for me, of course. Now I can do a lot of other things. Like sing.

Barbara Eden at home on I Dream of Jeannie

“WHAT’S WITH people?” she suddenly asked. “Why are they shocked to find a performer can do more than one thing? I wouldn’t think much of a performer who couldn’t sing, act, dance, do tricks, turn cartwheels — it’s all the same bag.

“I started out singing. I studied acting to improve my singing. I was singing in musicals around San Francisco and a member of Equity when I was 15. Now when I come out to sing, people say: ‘Who does she think she is?'”

They don’t say it long. Barbara’s singing has been knocking the audiences out in a way that her dizzy blonde performing never did. No one is more aware of this than the moguls of the ABC network. It was on ABC’s production of ‘Kismet’ with the eminent Alfred Drake that audiences first became aware of the Eden voice.

It was on ABC she whirled through a wild, sensuous number on the special that launched the ill-fated Engelbert Humperdinck show — and what critics wrote about was not Engel but Barbara.

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NOW THAT the five years of Jeannie on NBC have ended, there have been a number of tentative bids toward another series emphatically turned down. But the ABC network has ideas of developing a musical Eden on their schedule — for perhaps next season or the year after.

To that end, she is co-starring with Gene Kelly in a series of four specials devised and produced by Bob Scheerer under the generic title, “The Changing Scene.”

The first of these with Jim Garner and Arte Johnson as guests was shown a few weeks ago; the second with Lee Marvin in his first TV appearance in some time turns up in November. Barbara was here taping the two shows back-to-back.

She’d been on tour in the most unlikely role for a genie of the novitiate turned stepmother to a brood of singers in “The Sound of Music.” She’s due next week in Australia to open a nightclub gig in Sydney. “Jeannie is very big in Australia; I was voted the No. 1 TV star,” she said, almost shyly.

THERE’S ALWAYS been that shyness about her — perhaps the explosive freedom of her singing-dancing performances are doubly surprising because of it.

I first knew her when she was a $200-a-week contract player for 20th Century-Fox doing the giddy, myopic Loco in “How to Marry a Millionaire” on television and swishing through movies whenever they didn’t need her on the Millionaire set.

Old How to Marry a Millionaire 50s TV show with Barbara Eden (1958)

She let others do her talking for her — then co-stars Merry Anders and Lori Nelson, later husband Mike Ansara, the Cochise of “Broken Arrow,” now primarily a director.

Barbara is as lost without her glasses as Loco was in the series and there was always that insecurity because she couldn’t really see you (she wears contact lenses now). But there, too, Barbara never quite fitted the pigeonhole assigned her; she looked as giddy a dimpled blonde as ever batted a false eyelash, but behind the face was a very canny lass.

NOW BARBARA’S up in the $200,000-a-year class; she’s secure for life with a deferred payment residual deal from Jeannie.

She says mockingly: “I’m still married to the same husband, still live on the same street in Sherman Oaks. The only thing that’s changed is Matthew — and he’s just turned five. And now I sing. But then,” she said, “I always did — only now people know it.”

TV’s Barbara Eden: “By today’s standards, I’m a strict mother” (1971)

By Peer Oppenheimer in the Waco Tribune-Herald (Texas) December 19, 1971

“My parents always had to know where I was, and I was not allowed to stay out past 12 when I was in high school. We are raising our own child, Matthew, with love, but he has rules, and he knows it.”

“I am a Christmas person,” Barbara Eden told me as she was getting ready for the holiday season. “Christmas was always a big thing for me. I still have the Christmas book and the little toy train my parents gave me when I was three.

Every year until I was married, I celebrated with my family, and we’d read the book of Christmas stories and put out the train. Even after Michael and I were married we used to go to San Francisco and spend the holiday with my parents.

“Only after Matthew was born did they send us the Christmas ornaments with which we used to decorate the tree when I was a child, and the Christmas book and toy train. We will use them and keep them in trust for our children, so they can carry on the tradition. I was never alone for Christmas. I pray my children will never be either.”

Actress Barbara Eden when she was young, in a sequined dress (1960s)

Both Barbara and Michael are strong believers in Christmas, in tradition, in plain old-fashioned togetherness — which makes it all the more amazing that a nice girl like Barbara should have done so well in an industry built on toughness and exhibitionism. In fact, that’s exactly what a Hollywood casting director told her when she first arrived in town.

At 17, Barbara Eden was a blonde, blue-eyed babe among wolves — Hollywood variety. Cute as a button, with a nicely developed figure but not exactly a la Jane Russell or Marilyn Monroe, she’d come to Tinseltown naively expecting to land a singing job as easily as she’d managed back home in San Francisco.

She was in for a shock. “What’s a nice girl like you doing in Hollywood?” the first casting director she met wanted to know. “If you want to get any place in this business, you gotta look like this!” and he whipped out a picture of an amply endowed starlet.” That’s what they want, kid. If I were you, I’d go back home and marry a nice dentist!”

But Barbara stayed. She also remained a nice girl. She moved in with her aunt and uncle in nearby San Marino and, while doing “Voice of a Turtle” at the Laguna Playhouse, was discovered by a 20th Century Fox director who put her under contract. She went on to establish herself as a star in films, night clubs, civic light opera, theatres and eventually the hit TV show, “I Dream of Jeannie.”

YouTube video

To Barbara, however, stardom isn’t all there is to life. In the first place she old-fashionably belongs to her husband of 13 years, actor Michael Ansara, and their six-year-old son Matthew Michael.

“I met Michael on a studio-arranged blind date,” Barbara recalled. “I was doing ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’ (TV series) and he was Cochise in ‘Broken Arrow’ (also TV). He didn’t really want to take me to the publicity party but finally gave in. He showed up at the studio make-up department before the make-up man was finished getting me ready. I was so embarrassed!”

Undaunted, Michael was sufficiently impressed to ask her to dinner before their scheduled appearance. They enjoyed each other’s company so much, they didn’t arrive at the party until all the other guests — and photographers — had left! Two months later, they were married.

Because both are in show business, their marriage has had to sustain some unusual pressures. They are often separated Barbara’s career has had easier sledding than Michael’s. However, both insist, that because they are actors, they’ve been able to adjust to one another much better.

Barbara Eden - Jeannie - Pumpkin and pilgrim outfit - Thanksgiving-Color-Restored

“When Barbara works in a series, she’s gone from five in the morning until seven at night and then comes home tired, showers, takes a nap, studies her lines. If I wasn’t in the business myself, I feel it would disturb me greatly,” admitted Michael.

Said Barbara, “I am sure a normal nine-to-five businessman wouldn’t understand at all. Nor would he have the patience. I couldn’t get along without the hours and hours Michael helps me every night, learning lines! And because he knows I have to concentrate a certain amount of time during the day, he keeps Matthew busy while I study.”

Barbara and Michael are self-contained, were never anxious to be part of the traditional Hollywood scene. “We haven’t deliberately avoided going out,” Barbara explained. “Occasionally I love parties! But there are only so many hours in a day, and if you have a script to learn and a small son to look after and you want to spend some time with him, you can’t go out, too!”

Barbara’s upbringing is evident in every phase of her life. “By today’s standards, I was raised strictly. Manners were very important in our family. My parents always had to know where I was. and I was not allowed to stay out past 12 when I was in high school.

Actress Barbara Eden in the 1960s-1970s

“We are raising Matthew with love, and he’s a very happy little boy. But he has rules to live by, and he knows it. He isn’t allowed to make other people’s lives uncomfortable. We all live together, and we can’t think just about ourselves.”

She has quite a head on her shoulders. She clearly anticipated the turn of events that foreshadowed the demise of films as entertainment. With Michael’s help, she began easing into other facets of show business. Since she had done her first musical at 16, she was a natural for nightclub work. Audiences loved her.

She is equally successful with summer stock. Earlier this year she starred in “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” and “Sound of Music.” She constantly appears on TV panel shows. There isn’t any facet of show business that down-to-earth Barbara can’t handle.

“I don’t think show business is in such a healthy state that you can say I will only do this or that. I think you better be ready to do just about everything.”

Do just about everything and still be a nice girl, a good wife and mother, and thoroughly professional — that’s our Christmas cover girl, Barbara Eden. 

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One Response

  1. Love knowing that about Barbara Eden I love both the shells I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched two beautiful women they don’t make them like that anymore

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