If you're headed to this weekend's Fan Expo Comic Con at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, you may see more than a few women in an I Dream of Jeannie costume. Barbara Eden will be there, too, but she says there's no way she's donning the crop top and harem pants while she signs autographs. (It's not an entirely ridiculous notion that she might, though; she did wear the original outfit two years ago on stage at a charity event at which she appeared with President Bill Clinton.)
Though the 83-year-old actress has had a long and diverse career, Eden is best known for her role on the iconic sitcom, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. (Co-star Bill Daily also will appear at the convention.) Ahead of her trip to Dallas, Eden took time to talk about her memories, her fans and her fondness for her late co-star, Larry Hagman.
After 50 years, you still have such a loyal following for the show, even though it was only a five-year run. To what do you credit that longevity?
I think it made people feel good. In fact, you know, I know it did. About the second year of the show, I was sitting in the airport in San Francisco and a man came over to me and said, "Thank you." A very well-dressed guy. I said, "For what? I mean, that's nice." He said, "I'm a psychiatrist. I come home at night, and I just want to turn your show on. It just clears my mind. I have such a good time." And then he said, "All those men over there," and he pointed to a group of very well-dressed guys, "we were all at a convention at Stanford, and we all agreed that that show is the one thing that clears our minds at the end of the day." It just made me feel good.
Obviously, you are connected in fans' minds to Larry Hagman, mostly for I Dream of Jeannie, but people here might remember that you did some time on Dallas.
I did. LeeAnn De La Vega.
Do you have fond memories of that show, apart from your memories of working with Larry on Jeannie?
Oh, I had a good time. I mean, I got him good. I ruined that man. ... I remember the first day of shooting. I don't know if they did it on purpose -- I haven't even thought about it - but I was in an all-pink suit. And the first shot, I came out of an elevator, and Larry was in the hallway of this building. He turned around, and he went, "Oh my God. We're back there again."
His loss is still felt here in a big way. I imagine you feel it, too.
It was a huge part of my life, being with Larry every day, every day, every day, you know? And then working with him later. And then in later years, we traveled with Love Letters. Now that was fun. I enjoyed that. He was special to me, very special. He was part of me. ... We were a good match. Our rhythms were the same, our timing. We were really comfortable. I loved it. It was like a tennis match.
For the two of us, Jeannie was a genie. But she had real thoughts and real emotions, and he was an astronaut, and he was flabbergasted with this thing he had. And he played it beautifully.
I know you've been asked this question several times, if a show like that - about a woman calling a man "Master" - could exist today, but it strikes me that, not only could that show exist today, it probably could push boundaries even further. There was a lot of grief over your navel showing and there was pressure to get you two married. That wouldn't exist today, right?
(Laughing) No. It hardly did before. I do a one-woman show ... and we're looking at all these clips, and I'm looking at the shows that we did in Hawaii. Every woman including our co-star in the show has something on that's riding on the hips, with the navel showing. I have the ugliest one-piece bathing suit on that you've ever seen in your life. Oh my gosh, I had a good laugh about that.
But as far as the story? This is a classic story: a genie, the magic. I think it could be done anytime. It's a theme that is never-ending. But no, I don't think they get married. I never wanted them to get married. ... The minute they're married, it's just a housewife: "Honey, I'm home."
Changed the whole dynamic.
I think so.
Related: A couple of years ago, you famously wore the costume again -
No chance we will see that in Dallas?
No. Weren't supposed to see it there, either. The costume they had designed for me was very nice, but it didn't fit. It was really huge, and they couldn't' alter it. Just before I left the house, one of my girlfriends said, "Barbara, do you still have your Jeannie costume?" I said, "Yeah."
"Where is it?"
"Out in the garage, with the costumes."
"Just get it. Let's try it on."
"I'm not wearing it."
I got it and put it on. It fit. Got the hat - which is rather tattered - out, and my friend said, "Let's just put it in your suitcase. You just never know." So I did. And then of course, I had to wear it. Otherwise I would have been in my jeans up there on the stage.
It worked out wonderfully.
I guess. I cringe when I see it, but people were happy, so that's good.