Sunday, June 5, 2011

THe Groove Book Report: Jeannie Out Of A Bottle - Barbara Eden with Wendy Leigh

This a the transcript - 1st Broadcast 9 June 2010

Growing up, Barbara Eden was definitley my biggest crush. As Jeannie from I Dream of Jeannie, she was the epitome of the 60's blonnde Bombshell - a little come-hither, demure, tame, with an under current of wild (...But always sophisticated and never crass - like the hotter version of Peggy Lee). No surprise, then that Eden's biography is quick to point out all of this in the early few sentences of the introduction. Or put another way, Eden was very aware of her self and the image she protrayed. And true to form, Eden's book is refined and polite. Oh, it does dish some dirt, but with a golden trowel, not a gravedigger's shovel. She is graceful and delicate around issues like Larry Hagman, who was notorious for getting stoned before filming Jeannie.

Eden was born Barbara Jean Morehead in Tucson, Arizona.. Her parents divorced when she was three; she and her mother Alice moved to San Francisco where later her mother married Harrison Connor Huffman, a telephone lineman. Barbara's mother entertained the children by singing songs. This musical background left a lasting impression on the actress, who began taking acting classes because she felt it might help her improve her singing. At no stage is Eden bitter about this, always looking at oppotunities as a gift - at times that's a little saccahirine, but endearing on the whole.

Her first public performance was singing in the church choir. She was always doing the solos. When she was 14 she was singing 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 Conservatory of Music in San Francisco and acting with the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre. She graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco in 1949 and went one year to the City College of Theatre in San Francisco. Then she was elected Miss San Francisco in 1951. Barbara also entered the Miss California pageant, but did not win.

Eden made featured appearances on television shows such as The Johnny Carson Show (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 TV, 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 How To Marry A Millionaire Eden's co-stars were Merry Anders, and Lori Nelson. After 39 episodes, Lori Nelson left the show and Lisa Gaye joined Barbara and Merry Anders from the 40th episode to the final 52nd segment.The show was based on the movie of the same name about 3 girls looking for millionaires to marry.

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 1956 for the movie Peyton Place, though 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 costarring 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, with Frankie Avalon playing the trumpet while she danced in one of many successful science fiction outings by the so called "Master of Disaster." 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 didn't 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 and also doing films for MGM, Universal, and Columbia. She played supporting roles over the next few years, including The Brass Bottle, and the notable, if odd, movie 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, both with Tony Randall. In The New Interns, she co-starred with Michael Callan. She starred in the beach movie Ride the Wild Surf playing the role of Augie with Fabian.

Whew! That's a mess of work. Yet despite all this - It's I Dream of Jeannie that won her audience and out hearts. She signed to become "Jeannie," a genie in a bottle rescued by an astronaut in the television sitcom I Dream of Jeannie and played this role for five years and 139 episodes.

As nearly everyone knows, ...Jeannie is the sitcom tale of a genie set free from her bottle by astronaut and USAF Captain (later Major, then Colonel) Anthony Nelson, played by Larry Hagman (played by Wayne Rogers I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later). Interestingly, Eden was initially passed over for the role as she was blonde and of small stature, but Sidney Sheldon called on her when he was unable to find a suitable brunette to play the part. Eden is very nonchalant about this. She, again, is graceful about this fate. I Dream of Jeannie was a mild success in the ratings, and it ran from 1965 until 1970, and during this time Eden was nominated twice for Golden Globe Awards. Ironically, it's become a cable/re-run classic. The appeal is in the nostalgia and the cheese factor cannot be underestimated either. Eden was a little apprehensive, as she illustrates in her book, abot reprising her Jeannie role in two made-for-TV reunion movies (I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later in 1985 and I Still Dream of Jeannie in 1991), both which bombed, alas. Worth You tubing is the Jeannie appearances in TV commercials (AT&T, Lexus, Old Navy). I Dream of Jeannie has gone on to international syndication and finally found it's eternal place in TV Sitcom Heaven.

Her book isn't really a great revelation, most of it is on the web, in other books, or in print somewhere. But it's a great package. She's kind to her three husbands, and never blames her upbringing, or any one else, for that matter. There's a lengthy narrative around meeting actor Michael Ansara in October 1957, as part of a blind date arranged by her studio and publicist Booker McClay. They married in St Nicholas Church in Hollywood January 17, 1958. Eden had difficulty conceiving and her first pregnancy in 1961 ended in miscarriage. This, she whimsically blows off as an oppotunity missed, like a cue. The show goes on, the audience forgets and focuses only on the action on stage right now. And so the same is for her. Later, and successfully, her son, Matthew Ansara, was born, in 1965, shortly after filimng the 11th episode of the first season of I Dream of Jeannie. Sneakily, to conceal her obvious pregnancy the directors of the show covered her with veils, and filmed only above her waist. The heartache continued with her third pregnancy, in 1971, ending in a stillbirth and Ansara and Eden divorced three years later. It's all a light tocu for what really was a desperate survival from an abusive, cocaine-addicted husband. Later the drugs emerge again to cause her "emotional breakdown" following the loss of her only son, Matthew Ansara, due to drugs

Eden was married to her second husband, Chicago Sun-Times executive Charles Donald Fegert, from September 1977 to 1983. And with little commentary she marries fro the third timeto Los Angeles real estate developer Jon Trusdale Eicholtz in 1991. Both of thse seem to be a bit prefunctionary, as Eden prefers to focus on the set and TV work around this time than on her nuptuals.

I'm not sure if this really is the tell-all memoir we were promised. Whilst it describes Eden's public and private tragedies that came with her Hollywood fame. The book includes intimate details about her two failed marriages.

Overall, this is a graceful, intimate and honest memoir of personal tragedy and a legacy of work. It is with some candor that Eden reflects on the challenges she has faced and the joys she has experienced. All through she has maintained her humor and optimism. It's obvious the Jeannie magic is still there.

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