Published on July 14, 2016
Barbara Eden (born August 23, 1931)
is an American film, stage, and television actress, comedian, and singer. She is known for her starring role of “Jeannie” in the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie.
Eden was born Barbara Jean Morehead on August 23, 1931, in Tucson, Arizona, the daughter of Alice Mary (née Franklin) and Hubert Henry Morehead, although for decades, her year of birth was thought to be 1934. Her parents divorced when she was three; her mother, Alice, and she moved to San Francisco, where later her mother married Harrison Connor Huffman, a telephone lineman. The Great Depression deeply affected the Huffman family, and as they were unable to afford many luxuries, Barbara’s mother entertained the children by singing songs. This musical background left a lasting impression on Eden, who began taking acting classes because she felt it might help her improve her singing.
Eden’s first public performance was singing in the church choir, where she sang the solos. When she was 14, she sang in local bands for $10 a night in night clubs. At age 16, she became a member of Actor’s Equity. She studied singing at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and acting with the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre. She graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco in the Spring Class of 1949 and studied theater for one year at City College of San Francisco. She was then elected Miss San Francisco, as Barbara Huffman, in 1951. Eden also entered the Miss California pageant, but did not win.
Television and film roles
Eden made featured appearances on television shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (as “Barbara Morehead” and “Barbara Huffman”), The West Point Story, Highway Patrol, Private Secretary, I Love Lucy, The Millionaire, Target: The Corruptors!, Crossroads, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, December Bride, Bachelor Father, Father Knows Best, Adventures in Paradise, The Andy Griffith Show, Cain’s Hundred, Saints and Sinners, The Virginian, Slattery’s People, The Rogues, and the series finale of Route 66 playing the role of Margo.
She guest-starred in four episodes of Burke’s Law, playing different roles each time. She was an uncredited extra in the movie The Tarnished Angels with Rock Hudson, in partnership with 20th Century Fox studios. She then starred in the syndicated comedy TV series How to Marry a Millionaire. The show was based on the film of the same name.
Discovery in the Hollywood sense came when she starred in a play with James Drury. Film director Mark Robson, who later directed her in the movie From the Terrace, had come to the play and wanted her for 20th Century Fox studios. Her screen test was the Joanne Woodward role in No Down Payment. Though she did not get the role, the studio gave her a contract.
Eden did a screen test for the role of Betty Anderson in the 1957 film version of Peyton Place, but Terry Moore got the role. She had minor roles in Bailout At 43,000, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and The Wayward Girl, and then became a leading lady in films and starred opposite Gary Crosby, Barry Coe, and Sal Mineo in A Private’s Affair, and had a co-starring role in Flaming Star (1960), with Elvis Presley.
The following year, she played in a supporting role as Lt. Cathy Connors in Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. She starred in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, a George Pal-directed Cinerama film for MGM, and another Irwin Allen production for 20th Century Fox, Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962). Eden was also the female lead in the 1962 20th Century Fox comedy Swingin’ Along, starring the comedy team of Tommy Noonan and Peter Marshall, in their final joint screen appearance. She did a screen test with Andy Williams for the 20th Century Fox movie State Fair, but did not get the role.
Her last film for 20th Century Fox was The Yellow Canary (1963). She left Fox studios (due to budget cuts) and began guest-starring in shows such as Saints And Sinners, also acting in films for MGM, Universal, and Columbia. She played supporting roles over the next few years, including The Brass Bottle, and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, both with Tony Randall. In The New Interns, she co-starred with Michael Callan. Then she signed to play “Jeannie” a genie in a bottle rescued by an astronaut in the television sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. She played this role for five years and 139 episodes. Eden also played Jeannie’s evil sister in eight episodes and Jeannie’s hapless mother in at least one.
After that, Eden did an unaired pilot, The Barbara Eden Show, and another pilot, The Toy Game. She also began starring in and sometimes producing a string of successful made-for-TV movies, making at least one a year for one of the networks. Her first TV movie was called The Feminist And The Fuzz. Although she is best known for comedy, most of these films were dramas, as when she starred with her “Jeannie” co-star Larry Hagman in A Howling in the Woods (1971). She starred in The Woman Hunter (1972) with Robert Vaughn, an earlier co-star from Gunsmoke.
In The Stranger Within (1974), Eden plays unwitting housewife Ann Collins, who becomes one of many earthling women who are impregnated by extraterrestrials. Like the mother-to-be in Rosemary’s Baby, Ann develops unusual prenatal cravings (in this case, coffee grounds, massive amounts of salt, and blood-rare meat). The screenplay was written by Richard Matheson and directed by Lee Philips.
Eden played Liz Stonestreet, a former policewoman now private detective investigating the disappearance of a missing heiress, in a critically acclaimed TV movie Stonestreet: Who Killed The Centerfold Model? (1977), co-starring Louise Latham, Elaine Giftos, Ann Dusenberry, and Sally Kirkland. She played Lee Rawlins, a woman who worked at a department store, in the ABC TV movie The Girls in The Office (1979), and starred in and co-produced with her own production company (MI-Bar Productions) the NBC TV movie romantic comedy The Secret Life of Kathy McCormick (1988), about “a simple grocery clerk, who finds her way into her local high society and the life of a wealthy suitor who thinks she’s a stockbroker.” In addition, she starred in and produced the romantic comedy TV movie Opposites Attract (1990), co-starring John Forsythe, their first joint screen appearance since her guest-starring role in a 1957 episode of his Bachelor Father TV series.
I Dream of Jeannie
Eden as Jeannie in a variation of the famous “Jeannie costume” seen only in the pilot episode
In 1965, Eden signed a contract with Sidney Sheldon to star on his up-and-coming fantasy sitcom I Dream of Jeannie that would air on NBC. After various brunette starlets and beauty queens unsuccessfully tried out for the role, she was approached by Sheldon who had seen her in The Brass Bottle and had been recommended by various colleagues. Eden played Jeannie, a beautiful genie set free from her bottle by astronaut and United States Air Force captain (later major) Anthony “Tony” Nelson, played by Larry Hagman. Hoped to be a blockbuster like its rival-show Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie was only a mild ratings success, topping off its first year at #27, tying with Lassie. The series spent its second, third, and fifth seasons out of the top 30 programs. Season four proved to be the sitcom’s most successful year, ending at #26.
In the series, Eden wore her trademark “Jeannie costume”, designed by Gwen Wakeling with the colors pink and red chosen by Eden. During the second season, reporters visiting the set would joke that Eden had no navel, as it was almost never visible when in costume. The story picked up momentum and as it did, the network censors began to insist that her navel remain hidden. In the fourth season, George Schlatter, the creator of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, expressed a desire to premiere Eden’s navel on his show. As soon as his intentions were revealed, the network held a meeting of executives to discuss his idea and it was deemed inappropriate to do so. However, her navel is glimpsed in a few season-four and season-five episodes, much to the dislike of the censors. After four years of dating, Jeannie and Tony got married in the show’s fifth season, a decision that was forced by the network. Eden complained to the network about the two marrying, claiming that this change in the plotline would take away from the show’s humor and the sexual tension between Jeannie and Tony. However, even after the change, the network had grown tired of the series by the end of the 1969-1970 television season, and canceled the show after five seasons and 139 episodes. The series became hugely popular during decades of syndication and has had two spin-off reunion movies. The first, I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later, a 1985 television movie, starred all the original cast excluding Hagman, who was unavailable due to the shooting schedule of his then-current series, Dallas. The role of Tony Nelson was played by Wayne Rogers for this film only. The second television spin-off movie of the series, aired in 1991, was called I Still Dream of Jeannie, in which Hagman was still absent – Tony Nelson does not appear in this film