From the beginning, there has been something very special about actress Barbara Eden and her connection with not only her famous TV persona on I Dream of Jeannie, but with the generations of fans who have taken her and the show to heart. Point to any other TV show that has lived on in reruns in the same way, and it’s likely you’ll find cast members who, for at least a time, were bitter and felt trapped by a role they couldn’t escape, yet were unable to benefit from it financially and hadn’t in decades.
Gilligan’s Island. Star Trek. The Brady Bunch. Batman. Even her Jeannie co-star Larry Hagman in his pre-J.R. Ewing days. Pick a show, you’ll find somebody who has fit the above description. But the other commonality is that there’s usually a time of reconciliation, where they come to grips with the reality around them, recognize that they’ve left their mark on the world, and start to fully embrace it all. But what separates Barbara from all of them — at least insofar as the outside world can tell — is that she never really went through that sort of period. Right from the start, she seemed to love the fact that we loved her and what she created. And typecasting? It never slowed her down.
Perfect example: After the series ended in 1970, she jumped into making one TV movie after another — as you’ll see below — and was able to explore the full breadth of her talents. Michael McKenna, who wrote the book The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen, says, “It wasn’t like she veered off and started doing Lifetime movies or anything like that. She was making network TV films with pretty good casts.”
Which, he notes, drove home the point that she was someone who was established as a TV star, and while the public’s perception of her may have been as Jeannie, her work in those films proved that she was capable of much more. “The makers of these films,” he says, “loved the advantage of a recognizable face and that it gave them a leg up on the competition to be able to put her in different films no matter what genre it was.”
What follows is our celebration of Barbara Eden, focusing on the highlights of her career and not focusing on the personal (including her marriages and the loss of her son). Born on August 23, 1931, she began by singing in the church choir and with local bands. Just about 70 years ago she was also named Miss San Francisco and entered the Miss California pageant. From there, she scored a recurring gig on Johnny Carson’s series before he took over The Tonight Show, and she went on from there, starring in movies, guest-starring on episodic television, and, of course, becoming a pop culture icon with I Dream of Jeannie.
More than sixty years. It feels like it’s passed with the folding of arms and the blink of her eyes.
Barbara Eden plays a character named Molly in this drama. Before this, she had two uncredited roles in the 1956 films Back from Eternity and Bailout at 43,000. After this one, she appeared in the Jayne Mansfield and Tony Randall film, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? also released in 1957. (Republic Pictures)
Barbara guest stars on an episode of ‘Highway Patrol’ in 1957, playing Kathy O’Shea in “Hostage Copter” (Ziv Television).
Barbara plays Diana Jordan in the ‘Country Club Dance’ episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ (CBS Television Distribution). Do You Remember recently provided a behind-the-scenes look at the episode.
Barbara’s first TV series, based on Marilyn Monroe’s film of the same name. Here she’s with co-stars Lori Nelson, and Merry Anders (Everett Collection).
Barbara plays Carla Adrian in “The Case of the Angry Mourner” episode of Perry Mason (CBS Television Distribution).
“Romeo” aired on Gunsmoke in 1957 and Barbara played Judy Pierce (CBS Television Distribution).
Barbara appeared in the ‘Bentley and the Revolving Housekeepers’ episode of Bachelor Father, a series starring John Forsythe who she would reunite with in the 1990 TV movie Opposites Attract (MCA TV).
Barbara Eden, Harry Morgan, and Dean Miller in the episode “The Other Woman” (Everett Collection).
In ‘The Rivals’ episode of Father Knows Best, which originally aired January 29, 1958, Barbara plays Marge Cobett. Here she’s seen with series star Elinor Donahue.
In 1958, Barbara married actor Michael Ansara, who she would be with until their divorce in 1974 (Everett Collection).
Warner Anderson, Barbara, and Tom Tully in ‘The Samuel Bradford Case’ episode of this 1950 to 1960 police drama (Everett Collection).
In A Private’s Affair, a trio of Army recruits prepare to compete on a TV talent show. Starring along with Barbara are Gary Crosby and Sal Mineo (20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection).
Someone in Witness Protection discovers the cops are working with the guy he’s testifying against. From left: Nico Minardos, Barbara Eden (20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection).
It’s Elvis Presley, Barbara Eden, and Steve Forrest in this adventure set in the Old West. Barbara received positive notices for her performance (20th Century-Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection).
Barbara was definitely moving up in terms of the quality of her projects, this one giving her the opportunity to work with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. (20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection).
A couple of conmen (one played by Peter Marshall, who would become the longtime host of The Hollywood Squares) try to win a songwriting contest, and Barbara is Carol, their choice for the singer (Copyright ©20th Century-Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection).
While commanding his Navy ship, Pat Boone gets romantically involved with Barbara Eden’s character, and (conveniently) manages to work in a couple of songs (20th Century Fox Film Corp./Everett Collection).
The underwater sci-fi adventure that would spawn the 1960s TV series of the same name. Pictured here are, sitting, Walter Pidgeon and Peter Lorre, and, standing from left: Robert Sterling, Barbara Eden (20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection).
It’s a look at the lives of the Brothers Grim, Wilhelm, and Jacob. Barbara plays the character of Greta Heinrich (MGM).
From left; Cedric Hardwicke, Barbara Luna, Barbara Eden, Richard Haydn. This is an adventure set in 1862 Africa (20th Century Fox Film Corp./courtesy Everett Collection).
Barbara with Andy Griffith in season two’s “The Manicurist” (Everett Collection).
Peter Mark Richman, Harold J. Stone, and Barbara in this crime drama’s season one episode ‘Savage In Darkness’, (Everett Collection).
Barbara with series star Nick Adams in this show about New York as seen through the eyes of a newspaper staff. The episode is ‘Daddy’s Girl’ (Everett Collection).
Barbara is a woman whose marriage with her husband is falling apart when their son is a victim of kidnapping (20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy: Everett Collection).
Barbara and Richard Chamberlain in the episode ‘If You Can’t Believe The Truth…,’ which aired in Season 3 (Everett Collection).
Series star Clint Eastwood with Barbara in the two-part ‘Damon’s Way’ in Season 7 (Everett Collection).
Tony Randall and Barbara Eden star in this fantasy adventure; Randall, of course, would go on to play Felix Unger in The Odd Couple (Everett Collection).
In a nutshell, the plot of this one has members of a bordello helping a thief track down the buried treasure. Barbara stars alongside Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland (Everett Collection).
Maybe Barbara is having visions of things to come in this fantasy involving a genie (Burt Ives) and reteams her with Tony Randall (Everett Collection).
Barbara is one of the nurses in a huge hospital, with other nurses and doctors played by Dean Jones, Telly Savalas, Michael Callan, Stefanie Powers, and Dawn Wells — who would not only play Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island but become one of Barbara’s closest friends (Everett Collection).
It’s all about romance and surfing. Pictured above, from left, are Susan Hart, Shelley Fabares, and Barbara (Everett Collection).
Barbara and Larry Hagman star in this show about … ah, we’re messing with you. If you don’t know Jeannie, odds are you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place. Perfect example of Classic TV! (Everett Collection).
Barbara Eden, with her and Michael Ansara’s newborn son, Matthew Ansara, August 1965 (Everett Collection).
Matthew Ansara, seen here with his parents, is about two weeks old in this photo (Everett Collection).
Barbara, seen here with Jerry Lewis, guest-starred on the NBC series during its 1967 to 1969 run (Everett Collection).
Jose Ferrer and Barbara lead the 1967 TV movie adaptation of the musical of the same name. Set in ancient Bagdad (Barbara should feel right at home!), the intersection of commoners and kings occurs as a princess falls in love with a beggar (Everett Collection).
An event celebrating the opening of Madison Square Garden pits Bob Hope against boxing champ Rocky Marciano, with Barbara standing by as nurse and Bing Crosby serving as a referee (EverettCollection).
Hosted by Gene Kelly, this special combined music, comedy, and dancing. Also appearing were James Garner and Arte Johnson (Everett Collection).
Barbara Eden and David Hartman are the title characters who conveniently end up in a situation where they become roommates, their individual viewpoints clashing with the others. Sounds more dramatic than it really is; it’s a comedy (ABC).
It’s an I Dream of Jeannie reunion (sort of) as Barbara and Larry come together as a married couple who may or may not be encountering a wolf creature in the woods (NBCUniversal).
Going on vacation with her husband (Robert Vaughn), a woman is suddenly being hunted by an international killer (Everett Collection).
Out of nowhere, Francine Gregory (Barbara) finds herself hosting her ex-husband and his family who are in need of a place to stay. It’s a comedy (Everett Collection).
Barbara’s a pregnant woman whose unborn child is turning out not to be something supernatural and is forcing her to do some strange things — including scoffing down raw meat (Everett Collection).
A magazine editor (Barbara Feldon) and a housewife (Barbara) decide to get a sense of each others’ lives by switching places (Everett Collection).
Barbara makes a furry appearance on a 1975 episode of the Tony Orlando and Dawn variety show (Everett Collection).
Divorced from her husband (played by Barney Miller‘s Hal Linden), a woman (Barbara) decides that she wants to win him back again. The question is raised: why mess with a good divorce? (NBC)
A group of Dobermans are used to carry out a series of crimes. From left: Fred Astaire, Barbara Eden, James Franciscus (Everett Collection).
Barbara Eden as private detective Liz Stonestreet who goes undercover as a porn actress in ‘Stonestreet: Who Killed the Centerfold Model?’ (NBC)
The play ‘Blithe Spirit’, from left: Concetta Tomei, Roger Mueller, Barbara Eden, Jane MacIver, Susan Dafoe. The show was performed at the Lincolnshire Theater in 1977.
Barbara is single mom Stella Johnson, who takes on an ultra-conservative small town. The film spawned the TV series of the same name (April Fools Productions/Courtesy Everett Collection).
From left: Jane Powell, Fred MacMurray, Barbara Eden at an event for the MGM Grand.
Barbara and Susan Saint James in this film about four women trying to balance professional and personal lives (ABC Television/ Courtesy: Everett Collection).
Considering it a disaster movie like The Towering Inferno, only on a much smaller scale as residents of a condominium community are threatened by a massive hurricane. Pictured are Barbara Eden and Ralph Bellamy (Universal/courtesy Everett Collection).
Barbara along with Gloria Swanson and Brooke Shields hosted this TV special (NBC / Courtesy: Everett Collection).
Barbara Eden and Don Murray in this story about a motorcycle gang with a heart of gold (not really) that helps Barbara’s character save her home (CBS/courtesy Everett Collection).
Barbara Eden and Bob Hope in a moment from his 1981 special, which was subtitled ‘It’s Still Free and Worth It!’ (NBC/courtesy Everett Collection).
To get the money in his father’s will, a football team owner (George Kennedy) needs to restore his father’s favorite train and take in a 24-hour run from Chattanooga to New York City. Barbara is among those along for the ride (Everett Collection).
Is it really a reunion movie if one of the stars doesn’t … uh … reunion? Wayne Rogers steps in as Tony Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie … Fifteen Years Later.’Barbara is a good sport and she still makes the costume work (Columbia Pictures Television / Courtesy: Everett Collection).
A sequel of sorts to The Stepford Wives, but now it’s the kids who are being replaced by deadly robots (NBC).
Barbara is the title character, a grocery store worker who captures the attention of Josh Taylor’s stockbroker character (NBC).
Barbara’s a mom who bets her son she can get through basic training, and if she does, he has to leave the Army — cause, you know, this set-up could happen (Everett Collection).
Barbara and Don Murray (him again!) are the parents in this short-lived comedy-drama series (Walt Disney Television/ courtesy Everett Collection).
Barbara’s mayoral candidate gets romantically involved with her political opponent (John Forsythe) in ‘Opposites Attract’ (NBC/courtesy Everett Collection).
Another welcome reunion between Larry Hagman and Barbara, this time on Dallas, on which she appeared in five episodes of Season 14 as LeeAnn De La Vegas (Lorimar Television / Courtesy: Everett Collection).
Tess O’Brien’s (Barbara) career and life are in danger from a seemingly psychotic protege (Heather Locklear) in Her Wicked Ways (CBS/courtesy Everett Collection).
Terri Furguson (Barbara) is being terrorized by her husband’s murderer, Connie Stewart (Loretta Swit) in ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ (NBC/courtesy Everett Collection).
The good news is Barbara reprises the role of the more evil ‘Jeannie II,’ but the bad news is that it’s another reunion movie that doesn’t feature a reunion between her and Larry Hagman as Tony Nelson (Everett Collection).
Psychologist Dr. Jesse Newman (Barbara) finds herself in the midst of mysterious murder when she begins experiencing paranormal visions (NBC/courtesy Everett Collection).
Barbara’s Dr. Jesse Newman is back and this time her visions reveal a conspiracy in the government of San Francisco (NBC/courtesy Everett Collection).
It’s Jeannie and the Shat! Okay, it’s actually Barbara Eden and William Shatner, but we like our notion better. In any case, Hennie O (Barbara) is an investigative reporter asked by old friend Chase Prescott (William) uncover who’s trying to kill him (CBS / Courtesy: Everett Collection).
An interfering mother (Barbara) pulls the strings to reunite her daughter and her high school sweetheart (Hallmark Channel).
Barbara Eden’s very special cameo in ‘A Very Brady Sequel’ (Paramount Pictures)
Another couple trying to stay together and Barbara’s another mother who throws herself in the middle of the mix (Pathfinder Pictures).
Barbara Eden and Erick Devine are Mrs. Claus and Santa who try to work a bit of Christmas magic for a family in need of it (Octane Entertainment).
As previously mentioned, we last saw Eden in 2019’s My Adventures with Santa. The90-year-old actress doesn’t have any new projects in the works, and typically will update her fans through social media from time to time. We hope to see her in something again soon!
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