Monday, November 14, 2011

Fresh As A Daisy

I've written about the trouble with biographies of people like Buster Keaton or Preston Sturges, who were in show biz for many years but are mostly of interest for the work they did during one particular decade.  This problem is even bigger for Barbara Eden, who had what most would call an indifferent career but is remembered for the five year she did I Dream Of Jeannie.

Nevertheless, I saw her book, Jeannie Out Of The Bottle, in my library, so I checked it out.  While she spends a fair amount of time discussing the show, it's still only a small portion of the book.  I'm not saying the rest of her life is of no interest, but if it weren't for Jeannie would anyone be reading her memoir?  (I didn't know that her first husband, and the great love or her life, was Michael Ansara.  He was a fairly big TV star as Cochise in Broken Arrow when they married in 1958, though he's best known today, I'd say, as Kang on Star Trek.  He also appeared on I Dream Of Jeannie.)

Eden was surprised she got the role.  She figured they'd hire a willowy, Middle-Eastern looking brunette, not a petite blonde. The most memorable thing about the show, apparently, was what a lunatic Larry Hagman was.  Maybe it's because he wanted to be a star but Eden got all the attention.  Or maybe because he was drinking a lot at the time.  Or maybe he saw just how bad the scripts were.  For whatever reason, he fought against producer Sidney Sheldon all the time, and made the set a very tense place. 

Eden also addresses feminist complaints about her character, who lived to do the bidding of her "master."  Mainly, she tells them to get a life. The show is a fanstasy, after all.  And that's what genies, who are usually men, do. She also notes Jeannie has her own mind.  In fact, many of the plots were built around Jeannie doing things her own way.  She also notes the show was in some ways ahead of its time--think about it, this is the first TV show ever where a single guy had a live-in girlfriend.

Jeannie was never a huge hit, but it became big in syndication, which is when I saw it.  I think both Eden and Hagman do good jobs.  Eden is a hottie, of course, but I'm fascinated by how Hagman holds the farce together by taking the situation so seriously.  Hagman would one day became the star he always wanted to be as J.R. on Dallas, but I never watched that, so he'll also be Major Anthony Nelson to me.

After the show, Eden continued working on various projects, but none she'll be remembered for.  She also had a number of personal tragedies, the worst being the loss of her only child, Matthew, who died in 2001 of a drug overdose.  Some things you can't blink away.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently you have no love for Harper Valley PTA (the series not the song). Jeannie was a hottie fer sure but like her soul sister Samantha, I was always most intrigued by the dark-haired evil twin.

9:31 AM, November 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's just something about the bad girl. Though I wonder why she has to have dark hair.

11:25 AM, November 14, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right- Larry Hagman was always secretly haunted by the fact that he could be replaced by a Dick Sargent type.

BTW what it is about men playing silly TV roles that made them so unbearable- admittedly I only know about the Brady Bunch guy and now Larry Hagman- was it compensation for their not terribly macho characters? [I bet Dick York was a pain too.]

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