The Untold Truth Of Barbara Eden

There aren't too many actors who've experienced the kind of career longevity enjoyed by Barbara Eden. As Eden's IMDb credits demonstrate, her career extends back to the mid-1950s, encompassing both film and television. Along the way, Eden has worked with a who's who of some of the world's biggest stars, including the likes of Lucille Ball, Clint Eastwood, and Elvis Presley. 

Yet despite her numerous roles over the years, Eden will always be associated with one: Jeannie, a 2,000-year-old genie freed from the bottle she'd been trapped in by a wayward astronaut in the hit television sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie." After the show's five-season run from 1965 until 1970, the series lived on through the magic of reruns, with generation after generation becoming enchanted by the whimsical adventures of Eden's most iconic character.

Fans may think they may know everything there is to know about this celebrated star, but there's plenty about which they may be completely unaware. Read on to discover the untold truth of Barbara Eden.

Her first job in Hollywood was working in a bank

Like many aspiring young actors, Barbara Eden journeyed from her hometown (in her case, San Francisco) to Los Angeles in order to pursue her dream of Hollywood stardom. She did not, however, get off to an auspicious start. "I went to see an agent, and he said to me, 'Honey, go home. Marry the boy next door. You're not tough enough. You're not pretty enough. And your [breasts] aren't big enough.' I was so shocked," she recalled in a 1989 interview with the The Spokesman-Review.  

As a result, when she first arrived in L.A., she worked not on a Hollywood soundstage, but in a bank. "I had no relatives in the field," she explained, "and I didn't know enough to tell producers I belonged to Actors' Equity and could qualify for membership in the Screen Actors Guild." 

Admitting she was initially crushed by the agent's assessment of her prospects in Hollywood, Eden decided that she'd rejig her dreams and aim at being a character actor, not a leading lady. Several months later, she happened to encounter that same agent while she was working on the Warner Bros. lot. Even after she recounted their conversation to him, he still couldn't place her — but he insisted on taking her to do a screen test, telling her, "You're going somewhere." That experience taught her, she said, "to have faith in yourself, because things aren't always what they seem."

She was secretly pregnant on I Dream of Jeannie

In 1965, Barbara Eden shot a pilot for a sitcom with a pretty ridiculous premise, playing a genie trapped inside a bottle who is freed — not by Aladdin, but by an astronaut (played by Larry Hagman) who crash lands on a deserted island due to a malfunction with his spacecraft. As ABC News reported, on the same day that she discovered she was pregnant, she found out that the pilot, "I Dream of Jeannie," was being picked up to series. 

This coincidental confluence of good news, however, presented some rather obvious complications, given that Eden's character was very much not pregnant. Eden told the producers, expecting she'd be fired and the role of Jeannie the genie recast; instead, however, the decision was made to film with Eden in the role, hiding her condition behind various props and billowing veils. 

"I had many, many scarves — I looked like a walking tent," Eden joked of her pregnancy during a CNN interview with Piers Morgan. "They'd put me behind furniture and things. The only time that it was a little ticklish, was when Gene Nelson, the director, came to me and had a red two-piece bathing suit he wanted me to wear." Eden balked, reminding the director that she was pregnant. He insisted she at least try it on, so she obliged. When the director saw her in the bathing suit, Eden said, "He went, 'Oh. Oh, yeah, yeah.' Turned around, walked away."

She discovered she has a knack for working with lions

While filming an episode of "I Dream of Jeannie," Barbara Eden learned she was going to be working with a special guest star: a lion named Simm. As Eden explained in her 2011 memoir "Jeannie Out of the Bottle," she was actually accustomed to acting with big cats. "As chance would have it, I've worked with lions before on a couple of Fox movies, and now I consider myself somewhat of a lion expert," Eden wrote. 

According to Eden, she gave co-star Larry Hagman some advice on how to gain the lion's trust before filming, offering some tips about befriending the cat and how to ensure the lion remained relaxed and didn't become agitated. Hagman, however, refused. "Larry's reaction? 'Dream on, Barbara. I'm not making friends with any f***ing lion!' He strides back to his dressing room," she wrote.

When Hagman returned to the set, he took his place next to Eden on the couch, with a hunk of raw meat placed between them. "The lion is led right up to the couch, takes one look at Larry, and lets out an almighty roar. Whereupon Larry bolts off the set, out of the studio, and into the street, while the crew runs out after him, terrified," wrote Eden. "Meanwhile, I am left alone on the set with a nine-hundred-pound lion in my lap, purring contentedly." She later told Fox News that the story was one of her favorites.

Barbara Eden saved her I Dream of Jeannie co-star

Behind the scenes, the dynamic between "I Dream of Jeannie" co-stars Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden eventually grew complicated. Eden said in her book, "Jeannie Out of the Bottle," that Hagman had expected that the show would catapult him to stardom. However, she recalled that series creator Sidney Shelton once said of Hagman, "Suddenly, Larry found himself in a show with a beautiful half-naked girl and there was no way that it would be his show. I tried everything, but it was always only Jeannie the public was interested in, and through five seasons he became frustrated and very angry."

Hagman coped with those feelings, Eden explained, with the help of alcohol and drugs. "He started every day at the studio drinking vast quantities of champagne and between scenes he sequestered himself in his dressing room smoking pot and downing yet more champagne," Eden told the Express, recalling her co-star as "a great human being but a troubled man." As the outlet recounted, Hagman expressed his frustration with the show's increasingly vapid scripts via antics that ranged from urinating on furniture to chasing off a group of visiting nuns (from "The Flying Nun") while brandishing an axe. 

It had progressed to the point that producers were considering firing Hagman and recasting his role. Eden, however, stepped in to save his job. "I simply said, 'He can't get along with people. That's all. You can get around that. I think it would be foolish to switch him in the middle of the show,'" Eden told Fox News

Barbara Eden turned down advances from famous men

As a beautiful Hollywood star, Barbara Eden was typically approached by her male co-stars, including Welsh singer Tom Jones when she appeared on his TV variety show. "Tom Jones was wonderful and of course he propositioned me," Eden told the Express. "I said, 'Tom — I'm married!' He said, 'So what? So am I.'"

Those kinds of advances were not uncommon. In fact, Eden wrote in Sunday Life magazine how she was once propositioned by future president John F. Kennedy. While in an airport in 1957, a man approached her and asked if she'd like to meet the then-Massachusetts senator. She did, and they briefly said hello and goodbye. "As I was boarding the plane, I put my hand in my coat pocket and there was a note that said, 'Call me,' and a phone number," she wrote. "I binned the piece of paper, but I wish I still had it" (via the Sydney Morning Herald).

Eden also recalled that when she was working as a dancer in a nightclub on the Sunset Strip, Elvis Presley called the owner of the club wanting to take Eden on a date. "I assumed the owner was kidding and didn't think about it again until 1960, when I worked with [Presley] on the film 'Flaming Star,'" she recounted for Sunday Life. Eden wrote in her memoir that while co-starring in the film, Presley "tried to seduce me by confiding his vulnerabilities to me."

She tragically lost her son to addiction

While starring in the first season of "I Dream of Jeannie," Barbara Eden and then-husband Michael Ansara welcomed a son, Matthew. In 2001, reported ABC News, Eden faced every mother's worst fear when she learned that her only son had been found dead. Eden was described as being "devastated," while an investigation revealed the cause of death to be an accidental heroin overdose.

Twenty years later, Eden opened up about her tragic loss in an interview with People. "Drugs are inexplicable," she mused. "It's just so frustrating." Eden admitted she felt angry and guilty over her son's death. "Even though he was 35, he was still my baby."

However, she'd eventually come to realize that openly discussing her son's death and the addiction that caused it could help other parents going through similar situations. "He was such a beautiful young man," Eden told Closer Weekly. "The only way I can honor him is to talk about him and not pretend like he never was. ... I think if we knew about it sooner, we could have dealt with it better," she shared. As a result, the outlet noted, the mom became a staunch advocate of early intervention when parents suspect a child is in the throes of addiction.

She starred in a short-lived series with marked similarities to The Brady Bunch

While "I Dream of Jeannie" only ran for five seasons, the show lived on through reruns. Unlike actors on other shows of that era who found themselves typecast, Barbara Eden admitted she never experienced that. "Let me just say, I don't think Jeannie has hindered me at all in my career and my life," Eden told the Los Angeles Times, "or maybe it did and I just never knew it. You're very lucky if you have a part that defines you. So I consider myself incredibly fortunate."

And while Eden never did land a role that permeated the pop-culture consciousness to the same degree that "Jeannie" did, she continued to work steadily after the show went off the air in 1970. One of those jobs was the 1989 NBC series "Brand New Life," in which Eden plays a divorced woman with three daughters who marries a man with three sons. Promoting the show in an interview with The Spokesman-Review, Eden addressed the obvious resemblance between her new series and classic sitcom "The Brady Bunch." "I never saw 'The Brady Bunch' so I can't comment on the similarities," she said, describing her show as "60 minutes of fun."

While the series only ran for a few episodes, two of Eden's onscreen daughters went on to have Hollywood careers of their own: Jennie Garth and Alison Sweeney, best known for "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Days of Our Lives," respectively.

She revived her Jeannie role for a 2013 charity benefit

More than 40 years after "I Dream of Jeannie" ended its five-season run, Barbara Eden reprised her iconic sitcom character for a 2013 charity event in Vienna, Austria. Eden, then 78 years old, took to Twitter to share a photo of herself in her full Jeannie garb at the Life Ball — bare belly button and all. "Here it is folks!" Eden wrote. "The navel that put NBC on edge!" She was referring to the network's increased worry over Eden's exposure in the genie outfit.

As HuffPost reported, Eden was in some pretty star-studded company for the charity gala in support of AIDS research, described as the biggest charity event in Europe that yearharper. Also in attendance were Kelly Osbourne, Sir Elton John, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Eden, decked out as Jeannie, appeared onstage with Clinton, who took her by the hand as he gushed, "Of all the things I have to thank [event organizer] Gery Keszler for, meeting Barbara Eden may be the best." 

Resurrecting her sitcom character's risque wardrobe, Eden explained during an interview on the Life Ball red carpet, fit right in with the event's steamy "Arabian Nights" theme. "It's a very sexy event, oh yeah," she declared.

Her connection to a hit country song

While not nearly as iconic as "I Dream of Jeannie," Barbara Eden starred in a subsequent project that garnered a fair bit of success: the 1978 feature film "Harper Valley P.T.A." As country music aficionados will recall, the movie is based on the hit song of the same name, recorded by Jeannie C. Reilly, about a ticked-off single mother who tells off the self-righteous members of her local P.T.A. after receiving a letter criticizing her for wearing short skirts.

"It was fun — that was a fabulous part to play," Eden recalled in an interview with the Television Academy Foundation. Piggybacking on the success of the song, the film made enough money at the box office that a TV series was produced, with Eden reprising her role. While she couldn't recall how the idea came about to adapt the film for TV, Eden remembered receiving a call asking if she'd do it, and immediately responded, "Oh yeah!"

According to Eden, the "Harper Valley P.T.A." series was more of a "caricature" than the movie. While Sherwood Schwartz (whose TV creations included "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch") was producer on the first season, a behind-the-scenes shakeup in the second season resulted in Sherwood's exit and several new producers coming in, each with their own take on the show, a situation that Eden thought was detrimental. Ultimately, the series was axed after that second season.

Barbara Eden published her first children's book at age 90

"Jeannie Out of the Bottle" isn't the only book that Barbara Eden has written. In 2021, Eden — who had recently turned 90 — celebrated the publication of her first children's book, "Barbara and the Djinn." 

As Eden told The Hollywood Reporter, she was inspired to co-write a children's book (with Dustin Warburton) by her own love of reading as a child. "My aunt and my mother read to me when I was 2, 3 and 4 years old, enough that it just made my imagination bloom," she explained. "When I was old enough, they took me to the library and I got my own library card. By the time I was 7, 8, 9 and 10, I would go to the library on a Saturday and check out the full limit of books — six at a time — and bring them home to read all week."

The book's storyline borrows a bit from "I Dream of Jeannie," with a young girl discovering a Djinn (or genie) in a lamp. However, there's also an important and timeless message underpinning the story. "It's very simple, and it's all about understanding people who are different and having empathy and love for them. When the Djinn comes out of the lamp, she deals with it and goes on a journey," Eden said, adding, "We couldn't use a bottle because we don't own the rights."

She's admittedly not much of a cook

While Barbara Eden has showcased many talents over the course of her decades in show business, one that has managed to elude her has been cooking. That became clear when she was among the stars to appear in Food Network's "Worst Cooks in America: Celebrity Edition" in 2016. Appearing alongside "Facts of Life" star Mindy Cohn, actor Matt Dallas, Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino of "Jersey Shore" fame, and "Real Housewives of Atlanta" alum Kenya Moore, Eden demonstrated an utter lack of ability in the kitchen. 

As Eden explained in an interview with Food Network, the circumstances surrounding her training and subsequent employment as an actor led to meals being provided for her, so she never needed to learn to cook. In fact, the demanding schedule of starring in a television series pretty much cemented that. "I'd come home at 8 o'clock at night; there was no way I was going to cook anything," she explained. "I probably, looking back now, I probably had a very hefty lunch, and I didn't eat dinner."

Asked to describe her cooking style, she admitted, "I have no style; I am learning. I am on a learning curve, and I'm not really at the curve part yet." While hopeful she would exit the show with increased culinary skills, she also remained realistic. "I'm starting with baby steps, and I hope I climb the ladder fast, but I don't guarantee anything," Eden admitted. Loni Love was the winner that season.

Her secret to feeling great in her 90s

In August 2021, Babara Eden marked a major milestone when she celebrated her 90th birthday. Speaking with Closer Weekly, Eden shared her personal secret to staying vibrant as a nonagenarian. "I think the secret to feeling great is to keep active, do things that you love and have a good sense of humor," she said.

In another interview with the same outlet, Eden revealed that what she eats is also part of the equation. "I'm very careful about [my] diet. I'm a carnivore ... I like steak. We eat a lot of pork, chicken, steak [and] vegetables," she noted, adding that she also allows herself to indulge when it comes to sweets. "We don't stint ourselves on desserts," she said.

Regular exercise is also an important factor. "I walk a lot. I was spinning and I had a trainer. But I haven't done that now [in] over a year since COVID-19," she shared. Eden also stressed the importance of involving herself with like-minded friends who share her positive attitude toward aging. "I think it's important [to surround yourself with people that] keep active and have good senses of humor," she added.

Barbara Eden has made millions in show business

Boasting screen credits that extend from the 1950s up to the modern day (a 2019 Christmas movie), Barbara Eden's career in show business has been both long and lucrative. According to Celebrity Net Worth, she's amassed a fortune estimated at $10 million. 

In addition to the money she's made from her numerous acting roles over the years, Eden has also displayed an entrepreneurial streak that's evident on her social media platforms. This is particularly true on her official Instagram page, which is chockablock with posts promoting her online store

There, fans will find everything from autographed copies of her memoir, "Jeannie Out of the Bottle," to $6.98 greeting cards themed for various holidays, to autographed "I Dream of Jeannie" dolls going for the sale price of $350 (having been reduced from the original cost of $500). Other items up for grabs include an autographed Jeannie Christmas tree ornament (retailing for $250), $10 Barbara Eden mirrors and, for $25, a set of "I Dream of Barbara" paper "party cups."  Meanwhile, a personalized autograph — available on a selection of photos — sells for a cool $100.

Barbara Eden explained why she'll never retire

Having celebrated her 90th birthday in 2021, Barbara Eden has admitted that retirement isn't on the table. As she explained in an interview with People, she's taken a pragmatic view on continuing to act for as long as she's able. "Sometimes one is forced to slow down, but I'll do what I do until I can't," she said. 

Eden went on to describe herself as being in a state of gratitude for the life she's had. "I'm really lucky," she said. "I have dear friends. I have a wonderful family, a very supportive husband, a dog who is adorable, but a brat! Yes, I'm very happy. I think life, everything, has to work itself out. There's a reason for most things, and I can't wish for it."

Eden's refusal to retire, she believes, has also been responsible for her longevity. Speaking with Closer Weekly, Eden joked, "I will be kicking along until they kick me out. That's what keeps my energy up. I love to work. If I don't work, then I get lazy." In fact, she even said that she'd be up for a reboot of "I Dream of Jeannie" if it ever happened. "I'd love it," she declared. "I could be Jeannie's grandmother!"