Secrets About Life on the Set of I Dream of Jeannie
I Dream Of Jeannie earned its spot as a 1960s classic television show. The beautiful blonde genie that showed up in astronaut Tony Nelson’s life has since become as recognizable a character as Fred Flinstone. Life on the set of this TV show, however, was not as light-hearted it appeared. These lesser-known facts about I Dream of Jeannie will give you a new perspective on the playful comedy.
The Scandalous Belly Button
Barbara Eden’s outfit as Jeannie took audiences by surprise — after all, it was not common to see so much skin on a 1960’s television show. To mitigate the controversy caused by Eden’s clothing, the show had to get creative.
The solution they settled one was hiding her belly button as much as possible. For some reason, this was the body part that viewers were most outraged to see on screen. As bizarre as it seems today, this small change quelled criticism enough to keep the show on the air.
The Real Jeannie’s Bottle
You might imagine that a genie’s bottle would have a handle and a long spout like something out of Aladdin, but Jeannie’s bottle was much different. It was tall, narrow and purple, and its true origins are surprising. The bottle viewers often see on the show? It was originally a limited edition bottle of Jim Beam whiskey.
With a little ingenuity, the empty bottle was made into Jeannie’s iconic home. It was originally painted black and gold and only received a makeover in purple once the show transitioned to color.
Larry Hagman Wasn’t Happy
Any die-hard fan of the show knows that Larry Hagman, the man behind Jeannie’s “master” Tony Nelson, was absolutely miserable on set. There are several theories as to why he hated the job so much, but many believe it had to do with Barbara Eden outshining him.
No matter what, viewers of the show were always most interested in Barbara Eden’s character. She was ultimately the star of the show, and many believe Hagman didn’t like that she got all the attention. Even so, Hagman stuck it out for five seasons.
The Crew Wasn’t Happy With Larry Hagman
Thanks to Larry Hagman’s bad attitude on set, the rest of the crew wasn’t happy, either. He expressed his dissatisfaction with his role through rude behavior and sometimes outright insulting everyone around him. The cast and crew had to put up with it — but they had their small forms of revenge.
For example, crew members tell the story of Hagman demanding a cup of tea. Instead of adding sugar, they added spoonfuls of salt. Hagman took a sip and spit the liquid out, enraged. A little bit of karma!
The Stiff Competition
There was another show on air during I Dream of Jeannie’s tenure that bore many similarities to the comedic fantasy. This was the equally popular Bewitched, starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York. As many viewers noticed, both shows were built around the combination of “normal” life and magical beings, and Barbara Eden and Elizabeth Montgomery even resembled each other somewhat
As a result, some viewers saw I Dream of Jeannie as trying to ride Bewitched‘s coattails, and there was initially a sense of competition between the two shows. With time, however, they learned to work together. They even shared some visiting actors.
It Wasn’t Easy Returning to Jeannie’s Bottle
In the show, all the audience saw was a puff of smoke when Jeannie magically returned inside her bottle. On set, however, getting into the bottle wasn’t such an easy endeavor. Eden had to make some awkward maneuvers to pull it off.
The life-sized bottle set was atop an eight-foot structure made of wood. Every time they had to shoot a bottle scene, Eden climbed a ladder and bridged a precarious gap. You’d think they would have built a staircase to help speed things up, but no, it was a ladder every time. Speaking of which …
Trapped in a Bottle
Because the bottle was such a complicated set piece, Eden couldn’t actually exit it without assistance. On one occasion, she actually got trapped inside during shooting. The irony surely wasn’t lost on her.
The director announced lunchtime and everyone began to leave the set — and left poor Barbara Eden behind. She had to scream and yell for help before someone came back to get her. The worst part? Her screams were recorded and incorporated into some episodes. The more realistic, the better, right?
Its Popularity Was Unexpected
As it turns out, no one thought I Dream of Jeannie would last for more than one season. Initially, the network wasn’t even willing to film the show in color — they didn’t want to spend the extra money. That’s why the first season was filmed in black and white.
While the show was popular enough to be shot in color for season two, it didn’t really take off in popularity until after the finale of season five. It was during reruns of the show that it gained a truly dedicated cult following.
It wasn’t just Barbara Eden’s belly button that was highly scrutinized by network executives. They had strict rules regarding Barabra Eden’s body and how much of it could be visible, including that her legs could never be shown.
Because of this, Jeannie almost always wore long flowy pants — although sometimes those pants were translucent. They never had a problem showing Barbara Eden’s midriff, however. It’s part of what made Jeannie so memorable!
Jeannie Was Blonde Because of Barbara Eden
Originally, producers were against casting a blonde Jeannie. When Barabra Eden auditioned for the part, however, they fell in love with her. They tried to convince her to dye her hair brown for the show, but Eden wasn’t having any of it.
Eventually, they had to accept her decision. They were nervous about Eden’s resemblance to her competition, Elizabeth Montgomery in Bewitched, but things seemed to work out in the end. Fans fell in love with Eden just like the casting director did.
Hagman Self-Medicated to Get by
There are plenty of stories about Larry Hagman’s behavior on set, and many of them involve his substance abuse. In an attempt to cope with his profound dissatisfaction with the show, he allegedly self-medicated with alcohol and marijuana. It began first thing in the morning, according to Eden.
She claimed Hagman started the day by downing champagne and smoked marijuana and drank more between scenes. Eventually, the network decided to intervene. They encouraged Hagman to seek support, but his time on the show continued to be difficult.
Jeannie’s Ever-Changing Backstory
Jeannie’s origin story underwent some changes over the course of the show. In the first episode, Jeannie explained that she was trapped in the bottle by an evil djinn 2,000 years ago and that she was once a normal human woman.
Later on, however, Jeannie’s backstory changed — she then claimed she was descended from a long line of genies and was never a part of the human race. Perhaps they didn’t want to pursue the Jeannie-as-human angle, but either way, not many people picked up on the inconsistency at the time.
Eden Loved the Lion on Set
Barbara Eden confessed in an interview that one of her favorite I Dream of Jeannie episodes was the one with the lion. In the episode, Jeannie decided she wants to have a pet around to keep her company, so she conjured up a ferocious feline.
Eden had worked with lions before, so she loved working with the gentle giant for the scene. Hagman, on the other hand, refused to get too close to the animal. According to Eden, Hagman said, “I’m not making friends with any f*cking lion!”
Hagman’s Antics Were Ridiculous
Larry Hagman didn’t just drink and smoke on set. Rumor has it that Hagman actually vomited and urinated on some of the props following a script he found particularly upsetting. It’s a wonder Barbara Eden put up with him!
On one occasion, the producers invited nuns from the neighboring Flying Nuns set to come over for a visit. Hagman took the opportunity to start shouting profanities and use a prop ax to threaten them. Needless to say, the nuns couldn’t get away fast enough.
The Secret Behind That Impressive Updo
If you’ve seen even one episode of I Dream of Jeannie, you can appreciate the impressiveness of Barbara Eden’s towering updo. She sported some blonde bangs, a thick twist of a braid, and a ponytail that cascades to her shoulders. Could all of that hair have belonged to Eden?
The truth is that most of those blonde locks weren’t Eden’s. The ponytail was actually a clip-in, although the bangs were Eden’s real hair — she even wore them off-set. Eden’s transformation into Jeannie, including make-up, took about three hours to complete every day before shooting.
They Masterfully Hid Eden’s Pregnancy
Eden learned she was pregnant only halfway into I Dream of Jeannie’s first season. Given that Eden’s character typically went around with her midriff exposed, getting pregnant could have proven problematic. Thankfully, the show found a way to work around it.
They often used Jeannie’s flowy fabric in creative ways, draping swaths of cloth across her midsection. They also posed Jeannie behind other objects. According to Hagman, they filmed episodes back-to-back so they could finish before Eden got too big. In the end, not many viewers noticed.
The inspiration behind the show and its title is older than you might think. Part of what gave the creators the idea was an old song from the 1800s that went, “I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair / Borne, like a vapor, on the summer air.”
The song may also be why producers wanted Jeannie to be a brunette. Even with blonde hair, however, Eden managed to capture Jeannie’s light effervescence effortlessly — all you have to do is switch the song from “brown” to “blonde.”
An Exciting — But Cold — Beginning
When watching I Dream of Jeannie, you might not consider the consequences of Eden having to walk around with so little clothing on all the time. According to Eden, it wasn’t always so glamorous to have so little protection from the cold.
During the show’s pilot episode, Eden had to act in her outfit on a chilly beach in December. While everyone else had adequate covering, Eden had to tough it out in her genie costume, all while pretending she was on a tropical island.
Eden Still Wears Her Costume Decades Later
Barbara Eden doesn’t let her age interfere with her ability to rock the Jeannie costume. During the I Dream of Jeannie 50th anniversary, she donned her old costume and took to the stage — midriff and all. Eden was 78 years old at the time and looked just as stunning as ever.
Many applauded Eden for stepping back into her old role for the occasion. Many celebrities came out for the celebration, and the show was honored for the classic sitcom that it’s become. Sadly, the late Larry Hagman couldn’t be there.
Eden Tried to Warn Producers
There is one event in the I Dream of Jeannie series that is widely recognized as the show’s downfall. In the final season, Tony Nelson and Jeannie got married. The network was pleased by the change — they’d received criticism over having the unmarried Jeannie live with Tony — but the actors weren’t so happy.
Eden explained that marrying the two killed the appeal of the show; it was their scandalous flirtatiousness that everyone loved, after all. Moreover, Jeannie was an otherworldly being, not a housewife. Viewers weren’t enthused.
Hagman Was the Last to Know
For unknown reasons, Larry Hagman was not formally informed when the show got canceled. Even his agent wasn’t tolf. Story has it that Hagman had just returned from a vacation overseas when he visited the set to retrieve some personal items and found out about the decision.
A security guard ran into the actor and asked him why he was there, at which point Hagman learned the truth. Poor Hagman had no idea and was understandably angry at the network. Imagine hearing you’re out of work from a security guard!
They Burned the Set to the Ground
When the classic comedy finally came to an end, they didn’t know what to do with all of the props and set pieces. It was too expensive to transport them or find an alternative home, so they simply set everything aflame. I Dream of Jeannie burned to the ground.
It’s not quite as shocking as you think — burning old sets was common practice in Hollywood at the time. It’s certainly not something you would see today, but for the 60’s, it was how you fixed the problem of unwanted materials.
Eden Is Adamant Jeannie Isn’t Human
oVER the years, Barbara Eden has been quick to remind viewers that her character Jeannie is not, in fact, human. This is part of why she objected to the marriage with Tony Nelson — the two don’t even belong to the same species!
Focusing on the fact that Jeannie was a magical being also helped calm those that were scandalized by the show. Jeannie wasn’t an ordinary woman living with an unmarried man while wearing skimpy clothes and flirting outrageously. She was otherworldly, and therefore, the normal rules didn’t apply to her.
The Evil Djinn Was Eden’s Beau
The original premise of the show was that Jeannie actually had been human once upon a time. In that storyline, Jeannie was imprisoned in her bottle by an evil Djinn who wanted to punish her. The djinn was played by none other than Michael Ansara, Eden’s husband.
Ansara was the first of three husbands Eden would have, and their marriage lasted 16 years. They had a son together named Matthew who tragically died young in 2001, decades after the couple split. Michael Ansara has also since passed away from Alzheimer’s disease.
Bill Daily Needed Extra Support
Actor Bill Daily played the role of a NASA astronaut on I Dream of Jeannie. His character, Roger Healy, was Tony Nelson’s best friend on the show and held a significant spot in the action. His hilarious antics made him a favorite among fans, but things weren’t so easy off-screen.
Daily admitted that reading the scripts was arduous work for him since he suffered from dyslexia. With enough help, however, Daily made it work. Sometimes, he simply had to improvise his lines instead of memorizing the dialogue!
An Unexpected Connection
I Dream of Jeannie shared a network with the popular show The Monkees. In one “The Spy Who Came in From the Cool” , observant viewers may have noticed a funny reference to I Dream of Jeannie: a scene with a very familiar lamp.
Davy Jones gave the lamp a rub, and out came a genie! It wasn’t Barbara Eden. “Imagine that,” quipped Jones, “Wrong show!” For viewers at the time, this subtle reference would’ve been a delightful inside joke for fans.
The Original Inspiration for the Show
1800s songs aside, I Dream of Jeannie is mainly based on the 1964 film The Brass Bottle. The movie starred Barbara Eden, although she wasn’t the genie in that one — instead, she was the girlfriend of the main character. This role was crucial to her landing the part of Jeannie on the show.
Before the 1964 film, there was also a silent version in 1923. Thirteen years before that, Brass Bottle was a Broadway play. Who knew this 1960’s comedy sitcom had such old origins? These original versions can’t be viewed, however, as they have sadly been lost.
Plenty of Blunders
Television shows nowadays are held to much higher standards when it comes to fact-checking. In the 60’s, however, plenty of errors made it throuugh. One of these blunders in I Dream of Jeannie came in one of Tony Nelson’s discussions about NASA. He talked about their headquarters being in Florida, but NASA was really in Texas at the time.
Another time, Nelson described Italy to Jeannie as a country she would have known as Gaul. However, Gaul was actually in what is now France. Oops! Looks like the script-writers needed to double check their work.
A Heated Conflict
Thanks to Larry Hagman’s insufferable behavior on set, he didn’t always get along with the visiting actors. Usually, these disagreements didn’t escalate too far, but one exception came when Sammy Davis Jr. of Rat Pack fame made a guest appearance.
Davis Jr. needed Hagman to read him his lines. Instead, rumor has it that Hagman drooled in response. One thing led to another, and the two got into such a big fight that they had to be separated. Later, Davis Jr. asked Eden how she could work with “such an a**hole.”
An Unlikely Reunion
I Dream of Jeannie has had a couple reunion specials over the years: one in 1985 and another, I Still Dream of Jeannie, in 1991. Fans appreciated these films, but there was another way in which Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman reunited decades later.
Hagman went on to star in the TV show Dallas. In a fun twist, Barbara Eden was invited to do a few episodes on the show, too. If you listen closely, fans can catch several subtle references to their past on I Dream of Jeannie.