Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Lexi Schwartz
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Lexi Schwartz
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ABC found a hit on their hands with “Bewitched” in 1964, so NBC felt like they needed a supernatural romantic sitcom of their own to contend. The response was a genie instead of a witch, and the show was dubbed “I Dream of Jeannie”. On the show, Larry Hagman played an astronaut who finds a genie that had been around for hundreds of years. The two fall in love and a series of magical hijinks ensue.
Barbara Eden played a genie in the film “The Brass Bottle” which inspired the idea for the show. Producer and creator Sidney Sheldon was looking for an actress to play Jeannie, but couldn’t find anyone that fit, so he settled to have Eden play a genie once more. It wasn’t the most inspired casting in television history, but at least Eden was a good fit for the role.
Eden’s Jeannie character had to spend a lot of time in her magical bottle. Since shrinking her down into a bottle would be impossible, producers built the bottle’s interior on a soundstage. Getting into it was quite difficult as it was a tight squeeze and Eden even had to climb a tall ladder to get inside. The bottle became the most famous prop on the show, and was actually a Jim Beam bottle made specifically for Christmas 1964 and different people have taken credit for finding and redesigning the bottle, so you might not ever know who brought it to the set for the first time.
Jeannie’s bottle wasn’t the only alcoholic bottle on set, unfortunately. Producers had to hide the fact that Larry Hagman was constantly drinking on set by chugging bottles of champagne in between filming scenes and hiding in the dressing room, drinking and smoking pot and even taking LSD. Hagman caused a lot of problems with his substance abuse and started lashing out at writers and producers about the creative direction of the show.
It wasn’t just the crew members that Hagman was irritating as cast members were having their problems. Sammy Davis Jr. was one of the guest stars on “I Dream of Jeannie” and got to experience Hagman’s outrage first hand. When they were filming together, Hagman mocked Davis by drooling on purpose as Davis was trying to read his lines. After the two got into blows, a stand-in was brought for Hagman. This prompted Davis to ask Eden “How in the hell do you work with this guy, Barbara? He’s a total a**hole!”
“The Flying Nun” was filming at the studio next door and star Sally Field brought some real life nuns over to the set to watch them film “Jeannie”. Hagman was having one of his drug fueled episodes where he grabbed an axe from the set and started swinging it around his head while approaching the nuns. He then started swearing and getting into their faces, causing the nuns to shake with fear and needing an escort from the studio.
Despite all of the lunacy that Hagman showed on set, he and Eden remained friends until his death and Eden even had a cameo on “Dallas” where Hagman played J.R. Ewing. They were upset that the show came to an end, and Hagman found out in an odd way when he showed up to get something from his dressing room only to be told that the show was cancelled...by a security guard of all people.
Producers had originally written a story about how Jeannie wasn’t a genie to start with, but was turned into one and sentenced to eternity in a bottle because she didn’t marry Blue Djinn (played by Eden’s husband Michael Ansara). Producers decided to change it up a little bit by saying that Jeannie had always been magical. Ansara and Eden were also expecting during the first season (just like on “Bewitched”) so she was covered with plenty of clothing to hide her belly through the season. That wasn’t the only time bellies had to be hidden as executives said Eden’s belly button could not be shown, so she had to wear some very high pants. That wouldn’t be a problem too much these days, we think.