Over the last four decades, television series “I dream of Jeannie” has enchanted several generations of fans around the world, and inspired millions of teenage crushes on it’s beautiful blonde star, Barbara Eden. Best known for her starring role as Jeannie in the iconic hit television series, “I dream of Jeannie” Eden has achieve far much more and has a long filmography spaning six decades. However beneath all the glitter, Barbara was dealt more than her fair share of personal tragedy. Time to free Jeannie from the bottle…….
Barbara Jean Morehead was born on 23 August, 1934, in Tucson, Arizona. Her parents Alice Mary (Franklin) and Hubert Henry Moorehead divorced when she was three. After relocating to San Francisco, her mother took a new husband, Harrison Connor Huffman and she became Barbara Huffman. Growing up during the depression meant money was very tight. To entertain Barbara, her mother would sing to her. As a child, Eden suffered a severe vision problem, which required her to wear thick rimmed glasses and sometimes an eye patch. As a result, Eden felt like an ugly duckling and became very shy and reserved. This was when her mother decided to arrange singing lessons to help boost her confidence and deal with her insecurities. As a teenager, Eden had grown into a beautiful and attractive young woman, who became a popular cheerleader at Abraham Lincoln high school in San Francisco, California. She graduated in 1949 and made a living singing in nightclubs, but it didn’t take her long to have a change of heart about the road she was travelling.
In 1951, Eden entered a local beauty pageant and won the title of “Miss San Francisco” which was to become the catalyst that would propel the beauty queen towards Hollywood.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s, her career took a different direction as she turned her talents to acting. Eden appeared in several films and television shows. Her first film debut was a minor un-credited role in “Back from Eternity” (1956).
In 1957, Eden joined the cast of “How to Marry a Millionaire” a television series, based on the movie of the same name originally starring Marilyn Monroe, Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall. Between 1957 and 1959, Eden appeared in a total of 52 episodes as Loco Jones. For Eden, it was her first role as a regular cast member of any show.
Eden appeared in a pilot called “The Barbara Eden Show” which never left the cutting room floor. However she did appear in many popular shows including Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, I Love Lucy, and Route 66.
In 1958 Eden married her first husband Michael Ansara and they were divorced in 1972. She met Michael Ansara, who played Cochise on the old TV series “Broken Arrow” while both were under contract with Fox. The couple had a son, (the only child for Eden) Mathew Michael Ansara, born in 1965.
Eden’s most popular role which would define her career came in 1965 when writer Sidney Sheldon cast Eden in the fantasy sitcom “I dream of Jeannie”. The series was in direct response to rival the popular “Bewitched”. The role of Jeannie came easy to Eden, co-starring along side the very talented Larry Hagman, who played a NASA astronaut, Major Anthony Nelson.
As the storyline goes, Astronaut Major Nelson found a decorative pink bottle on a desert island after he splashed down in the ocean. Unbeknown to him at the time, the bottle contained a beautiful blonde haired Genie, played by Eden. As he lifts up the bottle from the sand to inspect it further, he innocently try’s to clean it to take a better look, when a puff of smoke appears and so does Jeannie who immediately assumes that Nelson is her new master.
He takes her home with him to Cocoa Beach, Florida where he lives, and in each episode, the forbidden use of Jeannie’s powers, alter reality in some crazy and wacky way. She falls for her handsome astronaut and struggles day in and day out as she must learn to adjust to life in suburbia. For a time things seem out of control but always benefit Major Nelson in the end. Together with his side-kick Major Roger Healey, they pull out all stops to try and conspire to keep Jeannie a secret from everyone. The chemistry between Eden and Hagman was a huge success, and the sitcom ran from 1965 – 1970. Over the shows five year run, Eden was nominated twice for Golden Globe Awards, as was her co-star Larry Hagman.
Ironically for a show that relied so heavily on sex appeal, Jeannie had to play things remarkably coy in order to satisfy NBC’s prudish standards. An example of this was, under no circumstances was Jeannie to show her navel.
Eden almost gave up the role because she had wanted to start a family. After being married for seven years, she finally learned she was pregnant on the very day the pilot for “I dream of Jeannie” sold.
Eden then told the producer, and instead of replacing her, the network agreed to shoot around her pregnancy. For the first 13 episodes, they hid her pregnancy with props and veils. In August Matthew made his appearance. Though Eden wanted to keep extending her family, her second pregnancy was a stillbirth, which she had to actually carry full term, even though the fetus was dead.
Eden never sort therapy after the loss of her second child, a choice she later regretted as she never really grieved for her lost child. She continued to work, until one day, she ultimately broke down on set. It wasn’t the only thing that broke down, so did her marriage. Eden divorced when Matthew was 9 or 10 years old, and this was around the time, Matthew started to use drugs.
Sadly for Eden, Hagman died from complications of acute myeloid leukemia in November, 2012. Eden remembers that first day of filming on Zuma Beach with him in the frigid cold.
Eden – From that day, and for five more years, Larry was the center of so much fun, and in retrospect, the memorable moments, that will remain in my heart forever”.
Eden still appears from time to time in commercials and cameo’s that poke fun at her former role, but she takes it all in her stride, as it was in fact her most memorable performance.
In September 1977, Eden takes husband number two, Charles Donald Fegert, and moves to Chicago. She had every intention of taking Matthew with her, but he wanted to stay in Los Angeles, and she said her ex-husband threatened to sue for custody. For the next 6 years, Matthew stayed with his father and Eden did the commuting back and forth every three weeks. Finally in 1983, Eden found the courage to end her second marriage as Charles had become abusive and was addicted to cocaine
She returned to Los Angeles, to find that her son was a moody and very withdrawn teenager. She had no idea what had happened to the boy she left behind. His behavior was so out of character.
It was some eight years later Eden would learn the horrible truth, that her only child had been using drugs for nearly a decade. Both parents forced Matthew into rehab.
It was the beginning of a 16 year battle. Matthew was in and out of rehab seven or eight times when on the advice of those close to Eden, she finally resorted to tough love. Matthew was told by both parents in no uncertain terms that if he was to continue living with either parent, he would have to stop the drug habit. It was either that or he knew where the door was. Matthew chose to leave.
Eden and her ex husband became frantic. They had no idea where he went. Matthew resorted to sleeping on the streets. Matthews bouts of homelessness tested his mothers patience. She would always go in search of him to give him food. As a mother, she needed to know he was ok, even if this was the life he chose to live. Eden couldn’t take him back into her home, she didn’t trust him.
Some eight years after the shows last episode, Eden played another popular role as Stella Johnson in the movie “Harper Valley PTA”, based on the popular country song, written by Tom T. Hall and was a major international hit single for country singer Jeannie C. Riley in 1968.
The movie later became a television series and aired for two seasons in 1981 and 1982. In the series, Eden played a single mother trying to raise a teenage daughter in the fictional town of Harper Valley, Ohio. Since then, the actress has only appeared on screen at irregular intervals.
She finally finds happiness with husband number three, Jon Eicholtz in 1991. Later in that same year, Eden found herself signed to a five episode guest starring spot of the highly successful drama “Dallas” which would re-unite Eden with Hagman once more.
In 1998 there was talk that Eden would have a cameo as Jeannie’s aunt in a feature remake of “I dream of Jeannie” starring Alicia Silverstone, but it never eventuated. Eden did however get to play a similar role in 2002 as Sabrina’s great aunt on the hot comedy series “Sabrina, The teenage witch”.
By the time Matthew turned 31, it had seemed he had got his life together. He became a dedicated body builder, bulking up and shaving his head. He landed the odd movie role here and there and even had time to fall in love.
He’d met a lovely girl, Eden definitely approved of her, so they got engaged. But Matthew had found a new temptation. He began injecting himself with steroids. Then in July of 2001, Matthew drove into a petrol station in Monrovia, California where a security camera picked up his truck at 6.30pm. Two and a half hours later, he was found slumped over his steering wheel. In Matthew’s truck, the police found small amounts of heroin, marijuana, anabolic steroids and a syringe.
Paramedics arrived on the scene and pronounced him dead at 9.15pm. The body at the time showed no sign of trauma, and they would have to rely on an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
If there ever was a time when her arm crossing and eye blinking was needed, it was now. As I am sure if she had real magical powers, Eden would have turned back the clock and wished that fateful day had never had happened.
The autopsy report declared that Matthew died of a heroin overdose, which ultimately stopped his heart from beating. When it became public knowledge, the press uncovered the truth about his addiction and that Eden had in fact been keeping it a huge secret.
Sadly for Eden, she was fooled into thinking Matthew had beat his demons. Eden is more determined than ever now to ensure that other parents in a similar predicament find the right advice and help, to ensure they too don’t have to go through what she did.
Eden made headlines when she appeared with former president Bill Clinton at the opening ceremony of the 21st Life ball in Vienna, where she donned on one of her Jeannie costumes for the event. At that time, 78 years young, Eden professed that the iconic midriff costume, had no special alterations.
Eden has wrote a memoir titled “Jeannie out of the bottle” which was released in 2011. It covers all aspects of her life including her movie and television roles, her two failed marriages, and her emotional breakdown with the death of her son.
It’s been nearly 50 years since the first episode of “I Dream of Jeannie” aired in 1965 and Eden says she’s grateful for every moment since and realistic about where she is today.
Eden – “There are times when I am really upset with the time passing. But I have a loving husband [Jon Eicholtz] and really good friends. You can’t possibly be what you were when you were younger. I am so lucky to be here. Really lucky.”
In 2015, Eden was honored with A Timeless Beauty Award, with all proceeds from the night, benefitting The Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
With a career that has spanned over 50 years, Eden has surely earned the title of an American Entertainment Icon. Eden continues to make countless appearances every year. In order to keep abreast of her busy public schedule, simply log onto her website.