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Why Barbara Eden Was “Very Careful” Around Lucille Ball And “Playboy” Desi Arnaz

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Today, Barbara Eden is as immortal as her famous I Dream of Jeannie character. But before the ’60s sitcom left the bottle, Eden, today 91, had to establish herself in the industry like every newcomer. She faced some memorable obstacles too, and it was memorable enough Eden was cautious even when she worked with the famous Lucille Ball – and especially when she worked with Desi Arnaz.

Just under a decade before Eden landed her biggest role, she actually appeared in an episode of I Love Lucy. But before even that, Eden had worked with a star she called a “diva” who she says didn’t like Eden. The experience was so powerful, she was wary about working with Ball. Then there was Arnaz’s reputation to consider. How did things actually play out for these legendary stars?

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Barbara Eden recalls fears working with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Barbara Eden was worried about working with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz / Everett Collection

A 1957 episode of I Love Lucy was actually Eden’s third job ever in Hollywood. “I’d had a little difficulty with the second one,” she revealed, and the experience left her “really worried.” So, she approached working with Ball with the promise, “I thought, ‘OK, I’ll be very careful. I’ll stay out [of her way].'” Eden further added, “And I knew Desi was a playboy, so I knew I had to be careful there.”

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RELATED: Barbara Eden: 60 Years of Her Magical Life from 1962 to 2022

Though Ball and Arnaz make up one of the most iconic – and formative, regarding television history – couples in the industry, they had a famously turbulent marriage. Rumors of how bad things got didn’t surprise Eden. “I assume there were dalliances,” she shared. “At that time, I think most husbands cheated on their wives.” A lot of her trepidation surrounding Ball was unnecessary, as it turned out.

Eden ended up pleasantly surprised

Barbara Eden in 1957 / Everett Collection

Genies can be wily when they fulfill wishes but Eden probably couldn’t have hoped for better when she actually worked with Ball. “She was wonderful,” Eden said of Ball. “She was absolutely a wonderful, beautiful person to work with. She was lovely!” With that dazzling review came a positively dazzling story in which Ball and her assistant personally helped Eden stand out better for the show, starting a family tradition of lifting people up.

Barbara Eden in 1957 / Ken Whitmore / TV Guide / courtesy Everett Collection

“[Lucy] was in her dressing room and she’s like, ‘Barbara, come here, come here.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my god. It’s going to start. Here it is,'” shared Eden. Her worries were in vain. “She said, ‘Do you like that dress?’ And I said, ‘I love it. It’s fine, it’s fine, everything’s wonderful,'” Eden recalled. “She said, ‘Take it off.’ So I take it off. Do you know that Lucy and her assistant sat there and put those shiny things [rhinestones] on that dress? They punched them in. But it was to make the dress look better.” Surely, the most eye-catching appearance should go to the title character. But no, Ball was perfectly fine with helping Eden shimmer like the star she was and would continue to become.

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