Thursday, May 26, 2011

Barbara Eden Uncorks Her Jeannie

Jeannie Out Of The BottleBarbara Eden will forever be identified with Jeannie, an iconic role that helped her reach television superstardom. But as she reveals in her autobiography written with the help of Wendy Leigh, there is much more to Eden than I Dream Of Jeannie.

Eden has enjoyed one of Hollywood’s most enduring and respected careers. But there is heartbreak behind her smile and story. You can even hear it in her voice at times as she narrates her own story. It remains warm and entertaining throughout.

Eden was born in Tucson, Arizona, but the book picks up slightly later with her childhood in San Francisco where she was known by her real name of Barbara Jean Huffman. Affected by the Great Depression, Eden's family was poor, but happy. And as a girl, Eden wanted to be a singer.

Barbara says hello to Hollywood.

As someone who later studied singing at the Conservatory of Music in San Francisco and acting at the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre, it was only a matter of time before Eden would head toward Hollywood. She was welcomed almost immediately, becoming a contract player with 20th Century Fox.

As such, Eden had a few breaks, landed the plum role of Loco in the show How To Marry A Millionaire, and married actor Michael Ansara. But as many people know, these first few roles were nothing compared to what would come next.

Her big opportunity came with a screen test for the role of Jeannie, a featured character in the pilot for I Dream of Jeannie, written by author Sidney Sheldon. She didn't believe she would land the role. Instead, she was sure it would go to a “tall brunette with very long legs.”

The tiny (5’3”) blonde Eden was surprised to win the role. And it's perhaps in sharing her experiences on the Jeannie set that Eden’s story becomes the most entertaining. Her telling is somewhat mischievous, and it is obvious she relishes many of her recollections.

Eden clearly loved the show, the cast and crew. But Larry Hagman, cast as Major Anthony Nelson, was apparently a real piece of work (my words, not hers). As the “star” of the show, he hated playing second fiddle to Jeannie and he let everyone know it. In truth, he hated being outshined by anyone. And he showed it by urinating on the set, routinely smoking pot, guzzling champagne between takes, and insulting guests like Sammy Davis Jr.

Her other encounters with stars are more touching, from the doomed Marilyn Monroe and elderly Groucho Marx to the lecherous Tom Jones (“Can I show you London, Barbara?”) and a surprisingly polite Elvis Presley. And even when some other guest stars put the moves on her, she evaded them with her characteristic dignity and amusement.

The sadness behind a contagious smile.

Barbara EdenAlthough she had a successful career, her personal life wasn’t idyllic. Eden candidly describes the tragedy surrounding the stillborn death of her second son in 1971. She still wonders if her non-stop workload was a contributing factor.

There is the painful divorce from Ansara, which Eden regrets to this day. The loss of her beloved mother. And her second marriage (and divorce) to a mentally abusive schmuck.

All of it is overshadowed by the most poignant part of the story. Her son Matthew Ansara began using drugs at a very young age and Eden never knew it. She never looked. She never saw warning signs. And she unabashedly cautions all parents to snoop in their children’s rooms to avoid experiencing her loss. Matthew Ansara overdosed at the age of 35.

Jeannie Out Of The Bottle By Barbara Eden Blinks 6.9 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Listening to the audiobook makes the story all the more real. Eden even chokes back the tears while reading about the tragedy of her son. It’s compelling.

What you'll find inside will reinforce what Eden’s fans and colleagues already know. She is a classy lady, and probably the only person who could have ever read this story. She is animated, laughing, chuckling, and occasionally emotional.

Jeannie Out Of the Bottle by Barbara Eden with Wendy Leigh is available on Amazon. You can also find the book at Barnes & Noble. However, even better than the book, which features some never-before seen photos, is looking for Jeannie Out Of The Bottle audiobook on iTunes, read by Eden herself. The show, I Dream Of Jeannie, might be fun to watch again too, starting with Season 2.
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