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Magical Facts About ‘I Dream Of Jeannie’ That Change How We Think Of The Show

Steve Palace
Photo Credit: NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Photo Credit: NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The classic sitcom I Dream Of Jeannie rubbed viewers the right way between 1965 – 70. Barbara Eden played the title character across 5 seasons, with Larry Hagman as military man Tony Nelson.

It may have been a simple and fun show but a lot happened behind the scenes. Read on if you wish to learn some truly fascinating facts about I Dream Of Jeannie… including the time they had to hang out with a lion.

It was inspired by ‘Bewitched’

Bewitched Promo Photo
Bewitched Season 8 Promo (Photo Credit: ABC / MovieStillsDB)

I Dream Of Jeannie wouldn’t exist without Bewitched. The adventures of Elizabeth Montgomery’s nose-twitching Samantha led NBC to hire their own female fantasy figure.

Creator Sidney Sheldon liked the basic concept of the 1964 genie movie The Brass Bottle, so devised his own take. The genie in this case was male and played by Burl Ives. Co-starring was none other than Barbara Eden!

Barbara Eden’s midriff was hidden during the first season

I Dream of Jeannie Midriff
Barbara Eden, US actress, in costume sitting on a multi-colored pile of cushions in a publicity portrait for the US television series, I Dream of Jeannie, circa 1967.  (Photo Credit: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Jeannie’s exposed torso is a well-remembered part of the show. But for the first season, it was noticeable by its absence.

Why? Eden was expecting. According to Mental Floss, she “confirmed her pregnancy on the very day that I Dream Of Jeannie was picked up.” The team needed to obscure her bump in various ways, “including adding several extra veils to her Jeannie costume.”

Once son Matthew was born the belly was out, though the outfit stopped short of her navel. Such brazenness was forbidden in Hollywood at the time!

Creator Sidney Sheldon was an award-winning Hollywood heavyweight

Sidney Sheldon
Sidney Sheldon, Author, screenwriter, USA (Photo Credit: Sticha/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Before Jeannie, Sidney Sheldon won an Oscar for his screenwriting (The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, 1947). He co-wrote the 1948 classic Easter Parade, starring Judy Garland and Fred Astaire.

Sheldon also did the screenplay for Annie Get Your Gun (1950). Many of his musicals were staged on Broadway and on the big screen.

Larry Hagman hit the bottle… and we don’t mean Jeannie’s bottle

I Dream of Jeannie Publicity Still
I Dream of Jeannie Publicity Still (Photo Credit: NBC / MovieStillsDB)

Hagman was far removed from the strait-laced Tony Nelson. In fact, his nickname outside work was the “Mad Monk of Malibu.”

Eden described some raucous behavior in the 2011 memoir Jeannie Out of the Bottle (with Wendy Leigh). Her co-star reportedly disliked what he saw as mediocre scripts. Champagne and other substances were used to ease the pain.

“Those on the set recall Hagman showing up to filming wearing a gorilla suit once,” writes Past Factory, “and bringing an ax to the studio another time.” This weapon, possibly a prop, was allegedly wielded in front of some nuns.

Eden later revealed that visitors were banned following an incident involving 10 nuns. “Larry takes one look at the nuns, grabs an axe … and swings it around his head so ferociously that he could easily have killed someone,” Eden recalled to CheatSheet. “As he swings it, he lets out a torrent that includes every single foul swear word I’ve ever heard, and some I haven’t — right in the stunned nuns’ faces.”

The genie’s bottle had its own secret

I dream of jeannie bottle from Jim Beam
Promo shot for I Dream of Jeannie (Photo Credit:  NBC / MoviePics1001 / MovieStillsDB)

The famous vessel Jeannie emerges from is actually a re-purposed bottle of Jim Beam whiskey bourbon. No wonder the character was so intoxicating.

Is Jeannie a genuine genie? Even the show isn’t clear

I dream of jeannie not a real genie
Barbara Eden in a promotional portrait for the television series I Dream of Jeannie. (Photo Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the days before fandom ruled the roost, TV shows weren’t so hot on story continuity. Case in point – Jeannie’s status as a human.

While introduced as a mortal woman turned into a genie by the Blue Djinn, later seasons made Jeannie a full-blooded wish granter.

The most detailed description comes in print. Al Hine’s 1966 novel of the series states she is a genie called Fawzia and lived in Tehran hundreds of years ago with her family.

Carole King submitted a theme song and was turned down

Carole King
Carole King in rehearsal at BBC TV Studios in London in 1970, (Photo Credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot / Redferns)

I Dream of Jeannie’s famous theme was added in the second season. Sidney Sheldon wanted to replace its jazz waltz predecessor, composed by Richard Wess.

However, the show could have had a theme written by music legend Carole King! She and partner Gerry Goffin submitted a track. For an unknown reason, Sheldon never put it on air.

Barbara Eden Reunited with Larry Hagman on ‘Dallas’

Barbara Eden (left) and Actor Larry Hagman at the 2nd Annual TV Land Awards in 2004
Barbara Eden and Actor Larry Hagman present an award on stage at the 2nd Annual TV Land Awards held on March 7, 2004 at The Hollywood Palladium, in Hollywood, California. (Photo Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Eden and Hagman continued their working relationship after I Dream Of Jeannie had the stopper put on it. A year later they starred in the TV movie thriller A Howling in the Woods. The cast included Vera Miles (Psycho) and future Cagney & Lacey star Tyne Daly.

However, a more high-profile reunion happened during Hagman’s small screen smash in Dallas. Now world-famous for playing J.R. Ewing, the actor welcomed his former genie back as the astonishingly named Lee Ann De La Vega.

J.R. had of course done wrong by De La Vega, a former lover. Eden wasn’t granting wishes that time, but wanting revenge. Her maiden name was Nelson, a nice in-joke for Jeannie fans.

There was an animated series starring Mark Hamill

Mark Hamill in 1974
Mark Hamill appearing on the ABC tv series The Texas Wheelers in 1974 (Photo Credit: Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

Did you know Jeannie met Luke Skywalker? This wasn’t some crazy crossover by the way but a short-lived cartoon from the iconic Hanna-Barbera studio.

A few years prior to picking up a lightsaber, Mark Hamill voiced Corey Andrews, Jeannie’s new master. In line with the younger audience, Andrews was a hip young surfer.

Jeannie herself underwent a revamp. Her hair color changed and Julie McWhirter took over the role from Barbara Eden. Why? Blame Scooby-Doo. The New Scooby-Doo Movies featured star names such as Dick Van Dyke, Sonny & Cher, and Phyllis Diller. When the fun was over the money ran out. Maybe this was the reason Hamill multi-tasked and sang the Jeannie theme song?

Jeannie jumps the shark

I dream of jeannie
A still from the infamous wedding episode (Photo Credit: NBC / MoviePics1001 / MovieStillsDB)

TV shows “jump the shark” when past their prime, as a notorious episode of Happy Days demonstrated.

For the final season of I Dream Of Jeannie, genie and master tied the knot. The move wasn’t welcomed by viewers or the stars themselves. Despite the far-out premise, Eden and Hagman took their character motivation seriously.

A network stunt where the actors posed for wedding snaps made things worse. Country Music Family writes: “according to the show’s mythology, genies can’t be photographed, yet they still had a professional photographer at the wedding.”

This development was widely seen as a low point. I Dream Of Jeannie vanished in a puff of smoke soon after.

Eden bonded with a lion on the set

Eden and Hagman on the set with a real lion
“The Americanization of Jeannie” Episode 8. Barbara Eden as Jeannie, Zamba as “Simm” the lion, Larry Hagman as Capt. Anthony Nelson (Photo Credit: NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images)

Sitting on a panel at a Christmas Con held in Kansas City, Eden remembered the time she worked with a lion on the set of the show. She had already worked with lions a couple of times on various films, so she felt more comfortable working with the animal. She was encouraged to go over and “make friends” with the lion but to remain cautious. 

Eden and the cat were getting along swimmingly, unlike her co-star, Larry Hagman. When she tried to introduce him to the lion, he wasn’t having it. “I went over to Larry in his dressing room. I said, ‘Larry, we have to go make friends with the lion,'” Eden explained. “And he said, ‘What? I’m not making friends with any blankety-blank lion!’ And he walked away. I go, ‘Okay.'”

At this point, Eden basically had the lion to herself as she continued to bond with the creature until they started filming. “They’d put a bowl of raw meat right here by my thigh and he’d eat the meat and he’d look around. He’s very happy, very happy,” she said. “Then they brought in Larry.” As soon as they brought Hagman in, Eden said, the lion had become agitated and made sure its feelings were known. 

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“The lion was brought in and he ate the meat, looked around, looked at me, looked at Larry, and, ‘ROAR!'” she recalled. “Larry, I wanna tell you, he was off the set. Not only was he off the set, the cameraman, the whole crew. They broke the camera. And I had an 800-pound lion in my lap, purring. They purr, just like kitty-cats!”