What it was like inside the ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ bottle? It was hard to watch the sitcom and not imagine the experience.
I Dream of Jeannie popped onto the TV scene on September 18, 1965, and starred Arizona native Barbara Eden as the genie Jeannie, and Texan Larry Hagman as her astronaut “master,” Major Tony Nelson.
Jeannie ran for five seasons, and over the course of the series’ 139 episodes, the 2000-year-old, green-blooded Jeannie created a steady stream of misunderstandings and all other kinds of chaos for Major Nelson. And while it was created to compete against the other big magical female-centric sitcom of its day, Bewitched, the show held its own — and stood the test of time.
One of I Dream of Jeannie‘s most memorable sets was the inside of the sweet genie’s true home — her bottle. But instead of the actual bottle being an exotic antique, its origins were much more humble. It was, in fact, a cleverly-painted Jim Bean Scotch Whiskey decanter. The smoky green crystal decanter shown below was made especially for the Christmas season in 1964. (The company reportedly stopped making the bottles in the early ’90s.)
PS: Watch where you put that bottle
“Who says the people who produce television are not sensitive? Barbara Eden says they have strict orders on the set of ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ that the bottle in which her genie character lives can be any place in the house except the bedroom of the astronaut, played by Larry Hagman.” (From November 12, 1966)
Major Nelson (Larry Hagman) finding the magical bottle on a beach
Beam’s Choice bottle (1964): The original ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ bottle
Of course, the guys who know great bourbon aren’t going to be impressed by fancy decanters. Even when they’re made of fine, smoked crystal, like ours.
Because when it comes to holiday giving, the real Bourbon drinker likes to give the whiskey he respects most. And we think he’d pick Jim Beam even if it came in the same old bottle we use all year round.
Then why did we fuss with crystal decanters and big, beautiful gift packaging? Especially when we don’t charge any more for it?
Holiday spirit, gentlemen. Holiday spirit.
Jeannie and her color TV bottle
Get ready to make your wish!
The bottles, from left to right Barbara Eden with a painted Jeannie/genie bottle; the original prop bottle from I Dream of Jeannie; and a plain Jim Bean decanter, minus the label.
Barbara Eden in the ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ bottle
For the second season of the sitcom series, production switched from black-and-white to color, and that meant Jeannie needed a whole new bottle — inside and out.
As was reported in newspapers nationwide the week of June 1, 1966, “They’re giving Barbara Eden, the genie of ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ a new bottle, now that the show will be in color for the 1966-67 seasons. The bottle [set] costs $6,000. It opens up, displaying lavender-velvet upholstery, satin brocade pillows and glass jewels.” (See the new set piece in a behind-the-scenes look below.)
‘I Dream of Jeannie’ bottle & special effects: Color adds tricks on TV (1966)
Special effects man has a tough job
By Dick Albain in The Tampa Times (Tampa, Florida) August 18, 1966
[ORIGINAL] EDITOR’S NOTE: Behind every science-fiction or fantasy program there is an ingenious special-effects man who really creates the illusions. Dick Albain, behind-the-scenes magician of NBC’s “I Dream of Jeannie” tells of the problems the addition of color creates for him.
Rainbow colored smoke; shirts which float out of the automatic washer all ironed and folded; row boats which speed like PT boats; palm trees that wave and bow.
Such special effects on “I Dream of Jeannie” are my unholy bailiwick.
To the American viewing public, Barbara Eden is the moving force behind the strange things happening. Although Barbara is an enchanting girl, she is no magician.
THE MAGIC is the result of neither Barbara’s acting ability nor my gimmickry. Producer-writer Sidney Sheldon dreams up the tricks we’re expected to stage successfully.
Since the show goes to color this fall, we decided that her emergence from the genie bottle should be in colored smoke, instead of last year’s old garden-variety gray.
Out came the dry ice machine, the fans to blow the smoke and the bright colored lights across which it must blow, from lavender to green to royal blue. It took days of experimentation.
Finally, Barbara was summoned in her genie outfit to shoot the rainbow-colored smoke. Everything went beautifully — with one exception. I forgot that chiffon harem pants when exposed to the moist, colored smoke, would shrink. And they did — right up to mid-shin. There was no solution for that problem except to keep the camera at about knee level so it would miss the sight of Barbara’s climbing pantaloons.
THE FOLDED shirts from the washing machine are a simple matter of well-manipulated puppet wire (with me up on a catwalk above the machine). The rapid changes of clothes effected by Jeannie and her astronaut master, Tony Nelson (co-star Larry Hagman), are a matter of stopping action, making a quick change of clothes, assuming the same pose and continuing with the storyline.
There are more complicated matters — miniature ships sink- ing in simulated ocean storms so that they appear as full-sized ships on camera; golf balls circling in flight (we drilled a hole through the ball and had it circle a tree as though it were turning in flight).
My training as an electronics engineer comes in handy every day. One of the tricks set up for a fall episode, “My Master, the Pirate” calls for Larry, Barbara and a guest player to escape from a pirate ship by rowboat. When the pirates give chase and are about to capture them, the rowboat takes off swiftly across the lagoon.
I WAS ASKED to put the capper on this by having a rowboat travel up on the beach where a leaning palm tree straightens up, permitting the rowboat to disappear into the jungle foliage. Shooting the scenes gave us a grueling morning, during which a small tractor on shore (attached to underwater cables pulling the rowboat) continually goofed the cue.
My troubles have just begun. A new “Jeannie-bottle” had been constructed of crescent-shaped segments of plexiglass with brilliant “jewels” embedded in it. It was a thing of beauty, provided nobody within 10 feet of it breathed. The $6,000 bottle, to put it bluntly, creaked like an ancient one-hoss shay. The pieces of plexiglass had been joined by some tape which caused the creaking. The creaky bottle-home for a first-class genie was unthinkable.
What alchemy did I use to remedy the situation? Since I’m never sure, my business cards read: “Dick Albain powder-wire-electronics.” Which of the three I used, I never tell. After all, the man-behind-a-genie has to have some secrets!
Behind the scenes on the ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ bottle set
Here’s a look at the “I Dream of Jeannie” crew/cameramen filming Barbara Eden in the “bottle.”