Barbara Eden on 'Jeannie' Sexism, Larry Hagman and ... O.J. Simpson?
by PopEater Staff, posted Apr 10th 2011 11:30AM
Barbara Eden is uncorking the bottle and letting the Hollywood secrets out. In her memoir, 'Jeannie Out of the Bottle,' the 'I Dream of Jeannie' star shares the story of her long and charmed life in Hollywood -- from her Marilyn Monroe connection to working with Elvis Presley, and of course starring as one of pop culture's iconic TV characters.
Although Eden has thrived career-wise, she has also experienced a terrible amount of tragedy. Her second husband was verbally abusive and a cocaine addict, and most heart-breakingly, her only child, Matthew, died of a drug overdose at age 35. Eden talked to PopEater about the lingering pain of losing her son, how she dealt with her difficult 'Jeannie' costar Larry Hagman -- she also loudly disputes claims the show was sexist -- and reveals what it's like to be hit on by O.J. Simpson ("uncomfortable") and Elvis Presley ("sweet").
How many men have told you that you were their first crush?
[Laughs] Lots of them, but it's when they were little boys.
It's amazing how popular 'I Dream of Jeannie' still is.
It's an anomaly isn't it? Jeannie has never been off the air.
You don't get residuals, do you?
No, but I'm happy that it's on. Understand the minute 'Jeannie' went down I went on and did other things, although they haven't been as persuasive, I did do other characters and series. For me it was fine because I was active and working.
Is there any country in the world that doesn't show 'Jeannie'?
I'm not sure, I only know by my fan mail. I get mail from South America, Europe, Israel, Eastern Europe, and Asia. I even get fan mail from Iran.
Well, I'll tell you he was interesting. He kept things alive, let's put it that way. I think Larry was going through a very difficult time in his life. I'm no psychiatrist; he's wonderful, thoughtful and loving. He truly is but he's also a perfectionist and he wants things to be just right from his point of view and it frustrated him horribly that the scripts weren't what he would do, the way he wanted that carried over in his relationship with the crew, never with me though.
You were lucky he was nice to you.
I think we really got along. I would see the behavior coming and turn around and go into my dressing room.
You write how he urinated on the set.
That's what I hear. I was on set but not present. Whenever I knew something was going to happen I left, I went to my dressing room. You could tell when it was coming.
Sounds like a spoiled child having a tantrum.
Well yeah, but it kept you awake.
What do you say to critics who say the show was sexist?
It wasn't at all. First of all it's a fantasy and Jeannie was doing her job which is to please her master, it could have been a mistress. In this case it was a guy who was really cute so she fell in love immediately. She'd been in that bottle a long time. Her main thrust was to make him happy no matter what and that's where you get the comedy, that and the fact she was a fish out of water.
Did you think it was silly NBC wouldn't show your belly button?
Well it was silly. It didn't bother me. I didn't care one way or the other. It all happened because a reporter came down on the set and said to me that he didn't believe I had a belly button. He wrote about it and it got picked up by stringers all over the country. It sort of ballooned.
You were a very good girl. You never succumbed to the casting couch.
Well, I got married. I guess it didn't stop a lot of people but it stopped me.
You must have been hit on 24/7.
It's hard to answer because sometimes as a woman you may be hit on but if you don't acknowledge it, it goes no further.
OJ Simpson really did hit on you.
That was very uncomfortable. That was something you tried not to acknowledge but it was blatant. I was very surprised how aggressive he was, also because it was in front of so many people. Of course they blamed me because of what I wore. I wore a shammy pant suit which was a natural color and a black turtleneck sweater; I had a jacket over it. It was very modest but they said, 'Well she wore this clingy thing so what else is he going to do?' That was I guess a blatant case of male chauvinism.
You must have encountered lots of male chauvinism in Hollywood in the '50s and '60s.
Oh, the men were definitely in control. I didn't always mind that actually because you know it takes a little responsibility away from the woman. You can say, 'Aha, it's his fault.'
You worked with Elvis.
He was a delight, a lovely guy. He was very well bred by his mother who had taught him manners. I'd walk on the set and he'd stand up immediately and pull a chair out for me. We laughed and flirted but it was tame, it was sweet. Years later I was with my second husband and we saw him in Vegas and Elvis said to him, 'How did you ever get with her? I tried!' I looked at him like, 'What? Come on,' but it was nice.
You lost your only child to a drug overdose.
The pain never goes away. I didn't go to support groups. I did before he had the overdose. I went to Al-Anon so I was very involved before his death because I was trying to find ways to help him. I felt helpless for many years.
It must be nice to have played a character that's so beloved.
For me it's like looking back at someone else. She's very, very easy to live with. I like her a lot. I'm so lucky and so appreciative. I have never had a rude fan. They're all very mannerly, as my mother would say, and good, they're nice people.
You worked in Vegas for years. Are you still performing?
No, no there's a time when you hang up your tap shoes.
Do you miss it?
I do miss it. There's something wonderful about being able to express yourself through music. I love to sing and there was so much good music when I was appearing in Vegas like 'MacArthur Park,' and 'I Will Survive,' those numbers to me were like tiny plays so I could express myself in them.
'Jeannie Out of the Bottle,' by Barbara Eden and Wendy Leigh, is in stores now.