30 behind-the-scenes facts about ‘I Dream of Jeannie’
“I Dream of Jeannie” was arguably one of the greatest shows to exist during the “Golden Age of Television.” That didn’t come without some tension, however. From unruly cast members to wardrobe and censorship issues — here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the iconic show.
Larry Hagman hated being on the show
Upon learning that his character, Major Tony Nelson, wasn’t the center of the show, Larry Hagman immediately regretted taking the role. He then made sure to let the rest of the cast, along with the creators, know that he was not a happy camper.
Producer Sidney Sheldon admitted years after the show wrapped up that: “Suddenly, Larry found himself in a show with a beautiful, half-naked girl and there was no way that it would be his show. I tried everything, but it was always only Jeannie the public was interested in, and through five seasons, he became frustrated and very angry.”
Barbara Eden had to hide her belly button
Jeannie’s outfit was considered to be too scandalous for the ’60s, so network censors had to find ways to strategically cover Barbra Eden’s body without changing the famous costume. As a female genie, it was obvious that Eden had to don a skimpy outfit (because, of course) that still sat well with the viewers and network executives.
You’ll be surprised to hear that the biggest issue was Eden’s apparently sinful belly button. Eden recalls, that when George Schlatter [producer] wanted to “premiere my navel, executives at NBC got very frightened. George said he had never seen so many suits sitting around a table in his life discussing someone’s anatomy.”
The show competed with ‘Bewitched’
Due to their similar themes, Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie often found themselves in some heavy competition for ratings. Steve Cox, who wrote the book Dreaming of Jeannie: TV’s Prime Time in a Bottle, said: “Sure, there are similarities and shared traits between [them], but the latter can hardly be labeled a ripoff of the former.”
He continued, “Undoubtedly during production, there was a mild competition between the Bewitched camp and the Jeannie group. But they learned to work the same neighborhood and ended up playing host to many of the same guest stars, utilizing the same sets, writers, and designers…”.
There is a good reason season one was in black and white
Those who were avid watchers of the series saw a vast difference between the first season and the rest of the series. There are a few reasons why executives and producers decided to put the first season in black and white. The first, is due to the show’s use of special effects.
If the show were kept in black and white, it would be easier to get away with small blunders. The second reason is that NBC simply didn’t want to spend the money it took to add some color. Although I Dream of Jeannie is now considered a classic, NBC executives didn’t think it would make it past the first season.
Larry Hagman found out about the show’s cancellation from a security guard
Following the wedding that virtually destroyed the show, NBC finally decided to cancel it … without telling one of the major stars. It was after a vacation abroad that Larry Hagman returned to set to gather some things from his dressing room, and ran into a security guard.
The guard asked Hagman why he was there, seeing as the show had been officially canceled. His agent also hadn’t known about the cancellation until Hagman informed him. Hagman later said of the entire debacle: “Wow, that’s real Hollywood. I expected some kind of formal, pleasant way of telling you you’re out of work.”
Network censors had their hands full with the show
The show’s premise was already risque, so NBC censors worked overtime to hide any hint of impropriety between the two main characters. For instance, censors never allowed audiences to see Jeannie in Major Nelson’s room unless the door was kept open.
If Jeannie was in his room and she left in a puff of pink smoke, then the pink smoke had to be seen leaving the room as well. Although audiences were allowed to see Barbara Eden’s torso, producers were not allowed to show her legs on camera. Because of this, there was a thick fabric added to the lining of her see-through harem pants so viewers couldn’t get a glimpse at her legs.
The producers didn’t want a blonde genie
While it’s tough to picture anyone else besides Barbara Eden playing the quirky and flirty Jeannie, she wasn’t their first choice for the role. Producers didn’t want a blonde playing the lead, because they wanted to separate themselves from Bewitched.
They quickly ate their words when Barbara Eden showed up at the audition and completely blew them away. Once the producers decided to cast Eden, they suggested she dye her hair brown for the role. Eden decided to stick to her guns and refused to dye her beautiful blonde locks.
The marriage plot killed the show
During the fourth season, one episode’s plotline involved Jeannie and Major Nelson getting married. Although Barbara Eden was against this, NBC pushed hard to move forward with it. She wholeheartedly believed that since Jeannie was not human, it rendered the union between the two invalid. She also believed that it killed the “flirtationship” between the two.
Sidney Sheldon agreed, saying “That would destroy the show. The fun of Jeannie is the sexual tension between Jeannie and her master. Once you marry them, that’s gone. You have nothing to work with.” The show was canceled soon after the episode aired.
The entire set was eventually burned down
When the show finally came to a close, the set was burned in a dramatically Hollywood fashion. The showrunners and producers realized that storing the set’s props would be quite an expensive task, so they had no choice but to destroy the entire thing.
Although this may seem barbaric, this was a common practice in Hollywood back then. However, not all of the set and props were destroyed in the fire. Barbara Eden decided to hold on to her beloved genie lamp (which was fashioned from an old Jim Bean bottle). She held it in her personal bank vault until she decided to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
A staff writer was fired after it was discovered he was writing for another show
You probably understand by now that the comparison between Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie was a sore spot for producers. Writers and producers from both shows would often accuse each other of stealing plotlines, dialogue, and certain mannerisms (such as when Jeannie blinks her eyes and folds her hands when granting a wish and Samantha’s nose twitch).
One of the biggest incidents occurred when it was discovered that a staff writer, James S. Henerson, was writing for both series at the same time. He was immediately fired from I Dream of Jeannie. One of the plot lines that Henerson was responsible for was Jeannie’s look-a-like evil sister Jeannie II, which was a similar plotline to Samantha’s twin, Serena, in Bewitched.
Larry Hagman once terrorized nuns that came to see the show
The set for I Dream of Jeannie was right across from the soundstage for The Flying Nun, which filmed at the same time. One day, some of the nuns were invited to the I Dream of Jeannie’s set, where the were greeted by an angry Larry Hagman.
Upon seeing the nuns, Hagman grabbed an ax from a prop man and began swinging it at them while screaming profanities. He also began hacking at some nearby cables until the crew finally removed him from the set. Another guard had to escort the hysterical and terrified nuns from the set, and back to their own.
One of the stars had issues with the plot entirely
Looking back on the entire plotline of the show, Hagman recalls: “It was a kind of strange thing. Here’s this guy that finds this bottle and out of this bottle comes this absolutely gorgeous, beautiful girl that’s 2,000 years old, and she’s always on the make for him.”
He continued, “I mean, always trying to get him into the sack. And my motivation is, you know, I can’t do that, because I’m an astronaut and my career is at stake. How can you live in my home and…well, this just isn’t done.” Well, one can only be enamored by the show’s innocent nature.
Larry Hagman had quite a few dangerous vices
Larry Hagman wasn’t just a fan of Jeannie’s bottle, so it seems. When Hagman would divulge in the bottom of the bottle, his drink-fuelled personality wasn’t exactly pleasant. After it was suggested that Hagman partook in his vices due to his dissatisfaction with the show, NBC executives urged him to seek help.
Barbara Eden, who played Jeannie, explained, “Instead of being nervous, on edge, and confrontational, he started every day at the studio drinking vast quantities of champagne, and in between scenes, he sequestered himself in his dressing room, smoking p** and downing yet more champagne, all in the interests of maintaining a calm serenity.”
They struggled to hide Barbara Eden’s pregnancy during filming
Barbara Eden found out that she had won the role of the famous genie (named Jeannie) six weeks after she auditioned. Midway through the show’s first season, she found out that she was pregnant. Normally, this would be disastrous for a show just starting out, but executive producer Sidney Sheldon and NBC found a way to make it work.
They would cover Eden’s baby bump by strategically placing her behind various objects and adding extra veils to her costume, of which Eden said she, “looked like a walking tent.” Larry Hagman explained, “Because Barbara was pregnant now, we did 10 shows back to back just as fast as we could because she was getting bigger and bigger, and adding more veils and stuff like that.”
The famous theme song didn’t exist until the second season
The theme song that has been forever etched into our minds didn’t come about until the second season. The quirky riff that has become the show’s signifier wasn’t always synonymous with the show. The opening tune didn’t appear until the second season when the animated opening scene was added.
The show has had many different openers until producers decided on the right one. The first attempt was an opener that explained how Jeannie and Tony met, but they soon realized the cute and animated opener best fit the show’s theme.
Barbara makes a point to remind people that Jeannie wasn’t human
Like any show, many audience viewers have their critiques of the show. Over the years, Barbara Eden has heard complaints from viewers noting that Jeannie and Tony were living together, but they weren’t married. Many viewers also complained that Jeannie was always running around in her “nightie.”
Eden responded: “It wasn’t. It’s what she wore during the day. That was her dress, that was her uniform. I used to say he wasn’t living with a woman. This was a wisp of smoke. She was from another world, another time, another plane even. She wasn’t a human being, so why would anyone object to this freak living with him? It had nothing to do with being a woman, you know?”
Jeannie’s backstory was blundered
Avid watchers of the show likely missed this little detail, but it seems that Jeannie’s backstory wasn’t kept consistent throughout the show. In the pilot, Major Tony finds a mysterious bottle on a deserted island and releases Jeannie from the bottle.
She goes on to explain to him that when she was a human, she turned away a powerful and evil genie named the Blue Djinn. Out of spite for refusing his marriage proposal, he turned her into a genie and trapped her in a bottle for 2,000 years. Later on in the show, it is said that Jeannie had come from an extended family of genies and had been one her whole life.
Phil Spector made an appearance on the show
Just a few decades before he made headlines as a convicted criminal, Phil Spector was known for being a famous record producer. During the late ’60s, Spector made hits for iconic artists such as The Ronettes and Ike and Tina Turner.
This is why, in season three, when Jeannie needed a professional to listen to her rock group, she went to Phil Spector. Spector was one of the most influential figures in pop music history, but he has been incarcerated since 2009. He is serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life and will be eligible for parole for 2025.
A lion forced Larry Hagman from the set
Barbara Eden had previous experience with lions since she had worked alongside a few during her early films. When a 900-pound lion was a guest star during an episode of I Dream of Jeannie, Eden knew exactly what to do so that the lion was purring in her lap.
After she tried to advise Larry Hagman on how to appeal to the lion, he replied sarcastically, “Dream on Barbara. I’m not making friends with any f***ing lion.” Apparently, the lion wasn’t exactly a fan of Hagman as he let out a mighty roar when Hagman came near him. Barbara Eden wrote in her autobiography, Genie Out of the Bottle, “Larry bolts off the set, out of the studio and into the street.”
It was a movie that inspired the show
Many critics have noted the similarities between I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, which ran on ABC, but the show was actually inspired by 1964 film, The Brass Bottle. When I Dream of Jeannie became such a big success, Sidney Sheldon admitted that he borrowed a lot of ideas from the genie comedy.
The film follows a modern man who becomes friends with a genie. The comedic twist is that the powerful genie has been out of the genie’ biz for quite a while. Even more ironic, one of the film’s stars was Barbara Eden, although she did not play the genie role in the movie.
Larry Hagman and Sammy Davis Jr. did not get along
When rat pack member and famous singer, Sammy Davis Jr. appeared on the show, it seems that Larry Hagman didn’t exactly act courteously. Due to Hagman’s unruly behavior, his rude and obnoxious outbursts were routine.
When Davis Jr. appeared as a guest star, Hagman was asked to read him his lines while standing off-camera. It is said that he responded to this request by drooling out of his mouth like a child. According to Barbara Eden’s autobiography, things became so heated between the two that Davis Jr. threatened to kill Hagman.
The pilot episode was shot in less-than-favorable conditions
Barbara Eden has admitted that filming the pilot was her favorite memory from the show. She said that the location where they were filming the scene where Jeannie’s bottle washes up on the shore was “so cold,” and she felt more of the frigid temperatures than her castmates due to her “skimpy outfit.”
Production of the show began in December 1964, and the title of the pilot was dubbed, “The Lady in the Bottle.” Eden has said of the experience, “it was so exciting and wonderful,” and she added that her costume was quite “comfortable” because the garment was made exclusively for her.
Barbara Eden was married to the Evil Djinn in real life
You likely remember the Evil Blue Djinn that trapped Jeannie in her bottle after she refused his marriage proposal. Well, in reality, Barbara Eden was married to Michael Ansara, who played Djinn.
Eden and Ansara eventually separated, after which she married Chuck Fegert in 1977. Fegert and Eden also separated, and Eden met Jon Eicholtz, marrying in 1991. The couple is still happily married today.
Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman eventually reunited
The famous pair didn’t stop working together after I Dream of Jeannie went off the air. Almost two decades after the show, the stars went on to appear once more on the ’80s prime time soap opera, Dallas.
When Larry Hagman got the part of patriarch J.R. Ewing, he told producers that they should bring Barbara Eden on for a guest star role for a few episodes. There were even fun little I Dream of Jeannie easter eggs thrown in the plotline for fans to find. When Barbara’s character was asked for her married name, she said “Nelson,” which many fans of the show recall was Captain Tony’s last name.
‘I Dream of Jeannie’ had a funny connection to NBC sitcom ‘The Monkees’
NBC sitcom The Monkees only lasted two seasons, but it had a connection with I Dream of Jeannie since they were both on NBC and shared the same music supervisor, Don Kirshner. In 1966, The Monkees had an episode called “The Spy Who Came in From the Cool,” where Davy Jones rubs a small lamp and a genie emerges (although it wasn’t Barbara Eden).
Jones then hilariously says, “Imagine that —wrong show!” In 1967, the I Dream of Jeannie episode, “Jeannie, the Hip Hippie,” Jeannie forms a rock band with Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who wrote many of The Monkees’ famous songs. In one scene, Hart can be seen holding a copy of The Monkees’ first album.
Bill Daily had a lot of trouble memorizing his lines
Bill Daily’s humorous attitude as the astronaut, Roger Healey, made him a fan favorite. Although it was all delight and giddiness on-screen, Daily struggled profusely behind-the-scenes due to his dyslexia. He told the Naples Herald in 2018, “The scripts were brilliant, but I couldn’t read. But I was so grateful that I was working.”
Daily admitted that his daughter would often assist him in memorizing his lines, but many times he would have to rely on improvising, which likely led to some of his most memorable and hilarious scenes. The beloved actor unfortunately passed in 2018 due to natural causes.
The show wasn’t initially that popular
Although it is well-known that I Dream of Jeannie is one of the classics, it wasn’t exactly a “smash hit” during its original run. During the initial run of the show, it only reached Nielsen’s list of the Top 30 most-watched shows after it had been on the air for five years.
After its cancellation, I Dream of Jeannie gained so much attention that it won timeslots across the country, and it became the first non-network program ever to earn higher ratings than network far in the same slot. When reruns of the show debuted on New York’s WPIZ, I Dream of Jeannie won its time period with a 13 rating and a 23 share of the audience.
Barbara Eden constantly ripped her costume
As a character, Jeannie was quite active, and because of this, her costume just couldn’t hold up to her many escapades. Although Barbara Eden wanted to keep many of Jeannie’s outfits, it seems there weren’t many left as she had either ripped them all, or crew members had borrowed them and not returned them.
Eden’s heels would continuously get caught in the fabric of her pant legs, and they would tear right off. The show’s costume crew were constantly sewing, restoring, and making new harem-pants for Eden. When the show ended, Eden decided to leave the set with a single hat from one of her costumes.
Barbara Eden reprised the role years later
I Dream of Jeannie may have ended, but Eden didn’t have to say goodbye to Jeannie forever. Barbara Eden went on to star in two made-for-television films which take a peek into the future of Jeannie and Tony. Unfortunately, Larry Hagman was unable to reprise his role as Tony Nelson in either of the films.
Bill Dailey reprised his role as Roger Healey in both films, and Hayden Rorke appeared in the first film. Wayne Rogers played Colonel Anthony Nelson in the 1985 film, and Ken Kercheval played Jeannie’s “master” in the 1991 film. Although there was a third film in the works, it was never finalized.
The fountain in the opening of ‘Friends’ was from ‘I Dream of Jeannie’
The fountain that you see in the background during the opening credits of Friends has become a staple of the show, but it is originally from I Dream of Jeannie. The fountain is located across the street from the Nelson house which sits on what is now called Warner Ranch.
That isn’t the only connection I Dream of Jeannie has with the sitcom, either. John Bennett Perry, who played the owner of the sporting goods store in the I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later movie, is the father of Friends actor, Matthew Perry.