I Dream of Jeannie was a hit show of the late 60s — the sitcom about the astronaut-turned-master of a 2000-year-old blonde genie was a staple of family-friendly television. Barbara Eden was particularly stunning in the role of Jeannie, an innocent genie mischievous and completely in love with her master, Major Tony Nelson. Behind the scenes, however, things weren't always the way they seemed. From actors' struggles to friendly lions, there was a lot on the I Dream of Jeannie set that never made it to air.
No, not the one from Aladdin. Sidney Sheldon, the creator of I Dream of Jeannie, saw a film in 1964 called The Brass Bottle, where a man buys an antique bottle with a genie inside. The genie is well-meaning but causes havoc in his attempts to help. The movie received poor reviews, but Sheldon felt it would work as a sitcom with a female lead. Interestingly, Barbara Eden was also in The Brass Bottle, playing the fiancée of the main character.
I Dream of Jeannie was created in competition with Bewitched, another 60s sitcom about a magical woman struggling to adjust to a non-magical world. Sidney Sheldon hoped to cast a brunette to differentiate Jeannie from Samantha Stephens' witch character. He definitely didn't want to cast a blonde. When Barbara Eden gave the best audition, Sheldon tried to convince her to dye her hair dark. Barbara refused, and the iconic blonde Jeannie was born.
Larry Hagman, who played Jeannie's master, Major Anthony Nelson, had leading man ambitions and resented that Barbara Eden's character got more focus on the show. Weed and alcohol were Hagman's coping mechanisms. The more dissatisfied with the show, Hagman became, the more he drank, and he became known for aggressive and inappropriate behavior towards his fellow actors and visitors to the set.
The first season of I Dream of Jeannie was filmed in black and white, with later seasons appearing in color, although color film was available. Executives at NBC thought the premise was too far-fetched to succeed, so they filmed the show in black and white until it was clear that audiences loved it, at which point they paid the extra money for color film.
Jeannie's iconic belly-baring outfit only appears in the first season's pilot episode. After that, her outfits covered much more of her body until season two. This costume decision wasn't out of modesty — Eden was pregnant with her first child while filming that season, and the costuming department had to add additional shawls to hide her stomach.
Jeannie's outfit was scandalous at the time — Sheldon wanted the costume to be a bit revealing to draw in viewers and to represent Jeannie's carefree, innocent, flirtatious personality. NBC's executives, however, had precise requirements. Designers had to ensure the costume never showed Barbara Eden's belly button or the outline of her legs.
Lions featured alongside Barbara Eden in several of her previous films, so she was perfectly comfortable when a 900-pound lion was brought in for an episode of I Dream of Jeannie. Eden knew to stand still while the lion got used to her scent and then very gently pet him. Soon the lion was purring in Eden's lap. Larry Hagman was less interested in getting to know his new costar and stayed far away when they weren't filming.
A genie needs a bottle, and the purple bottle in I Dream of Jeannie was particularly gorgeous. The original bottle was green with gold leaf details to make it look antique, but when the show changed from black and white to color, it was given a makeover. Prop makers took a Jim Beam decanter from 1964 and spent hours painting it by hand. Hundreds of dollars went into creating this one prop. There was only one bottle, so the actors had to be careful with it.
Bill Daily was hilarious in his recurring role as Major Tony Nelson's friend and co-worker Roger. He had dyslexia, making it difficult for him to learn his lines as quickly as a television schedule demands. Luckily, Daily was an inventive and talented performer, and when he didn't remember a line, Daily improvised. Many of his impromptu jokes and reactions made it into the final show.
When Major Nelson discovers Jeannie's bottle, it's on an island in the South Pacific. The actual pilot episode was filmed on Zuma Beach in California in the middle of winter. Jeannie and Nelson look perfectly comfortable chatting on what looks like a tropical beach, but the actors were actually freezing. Especially Barbara Eden, who was wearing Jeannie's gauzy, midriff-bearing costume. She apparently wasn't too bothered by that, as Eden later said that episode was her favorite of the entire show.
Tired of Larry Hagman's behavior on set, the crew once got back at him by filling his cup of tea with salt instead of sugar. Another prank started as an accident. The staff went for a lunch break after filming a scene of Jeannie in her bottle and left Barbara Eden, who was accidentally locked inside the set. They did release her, but not until after they'd recorded her shouting to be let out. The audio made it into a later episode.
For most of the show, Jeannie and her beloved master are not married, and TV morality laws meant that the series could never imply a sexual relationship between them. If the pair ever entered a bedroom, the door had to remain open, and Jeannie had to be seen leaving it. Even when Jeannie vanished into a puff of pink smoke to return to her bottle, the scene had to show her completely disappearing before moving on.
Whenever she wishes to use her powers, Jeannie simply crosses her arms, blinks, and nods her head, and the magic does the rest. Barbara Eden was told to cross her arms and blink by Gene Nelson, the show's original director. She felt, however, that there was still something missing, so Eden added a nod at the end to seal the magic.
Before meeting Major Nelson, Jeannie was imprisoned in her bottle for centuries because she refused to marry another powerful magical being, the Blue Djinn. In Season 2, the Blue Djinn returns. Interestingly, the villain who wants revenge on Jeannie for not marrying him was played by Barbara Eden's real-life husband at the time, Michael Ansara.
In the 60s, it was expensive to maintain a set that would never be used again. Show makers typically ended a show by allowing actors to take props or furniture that they wanted for a keepsake and then burning down whatever was left behind, and I Dream of Jeannie was no different. Barbara Eden rescued her bottle, but most of the rest of the set went up in flames.
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