The Magic of Jeannie: Barbara Eden Looks Back

Barbara Eden as
Barbara Eden as "Jeannie"/Photo © Sony Pictures Entertainment

Escapism, fantasy, and magic are all things we need. It just so happens that I have had the pleasure of working in an industry where these elements are a part of daily life.

As an actor, the most thrilling work one hopes for is the work that allows us to create these fantastic worlds. A perfect example is "I Dream of Jeannie." It was a turbulent time for everyone; with wars raging, our nation was divided on so many levels. So many people needed escapism, fantasy, and magic. When I took on the role of Jeannie, I was excited for the work and for the opportunity to bring her to life. Not just for her creator, Sidney Sheldon, but for the people who would watch her on their televisions.

So many people ask what it was like being considered a sexualized female character. That makes me giggle! I never saw Jeannie as a sex kitten, or even an over-sexualized being. If anything, I saw her as a tomboy, who happened to be a genie. What she wore is what genies wore. First and foremost, she was in love with Major Nelson and wanted to grant his wishes, to make him happy. After all, he rescued her from two thousand years of solitary confinement in her bottle! She may have said "yes, Master" but she called the shots. Her only fault was her lack of common knowledge. She was a fish out of water in the modern world. That is where the comedy existed. We have always stressed that Jeannie was a comedy. Our goal was to create laughter and joy. There were no hidden agendas.

So much has changed since then. With pop culture shifting and growing on a daily basis, I see things on television I thought I'd never see. As everyone knows, I wasn't allowed to show my belly button on "I Dream of Jeannie." Now we have actors and actresses (almost) baring it all! Besides that, computer technology has vastly expanded. The art of CGI has made a day out of what would have taken me three to film on "I Dream of Jeannie"! I am amazed and awed by the visual elements we previously only dreamt of.

Looking back at "I Dream of Jeannie" and other beautiful fantasy productions I was involved in, such as "The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao," I feel a fondness for the style. True, by today's standards they pale in comparison to the effects used now. However, they are a shining example of the ingenuity of their technicians and craftsmen of the time. We were creating fantasy, escapism, and magic. If we could transport the viewer to another place, another feeling, or moment, we considered it a success.

Looking ahead, it would seem that so many people just want fame and fortune. Me? I wanted work! I love to work! In the entertainment industry, fame is a side effect of good work. I never went into it thinking, "Oh, someday I'll be famous!" The fame came later after a lot of hard work. If you do it because you love it, it will show. If you can get work doing what you love, that is a blessing! So many people have to work at jobs they hate. I know I am very fortunate to have been able to work at what I love. I am happy that I spent five years working in a pink harem costume. The joy it has brought to so many delights me, creating that escapism, fantasy, and magic for the people who need it. That is my reward; everything else is just a perk!

BARBARA EDEN has been a television, film, and stage actress, and a Las Vegas headliner, for more than five decades. She is best known for her title role in the hit TV series "I Dream of Jeannie." She grew up in San Francisco and currently lives in Beverly Hills with her husband, Jon Eicholtz, and their Labradoodle, Djin Djin. Her memoir, Jeannie Out of the Bottle, is available now.