Barbara Eden is an iconic American actress whose career spans over six decades. Best known for her portrayal of Jeannie in the television series “I Dream of Jeannie,” there are several interesting facts about her life and career that many people may not be aware of. Here are a few:
1. An interesting renaming
Barbara Jean Morehead, born in 1931, adopted her stepfather’s surname, Huffman, while pursuing her acting career in Hollywood. According to her autobiography, she mentions that her prospective agent, Wilt Melnick, disliked her original last name.. He told her: “The name Barbara Huffman sounds like a doctor. Change it and I’ll represent you.” When she agreed, Melnick added: “You seem kinda innocent, so let’s call you Eden, like the garden.”
2. Barbara Eden was bullied at school
In her biography, “Genie Out of the Bottle,” Eden wrote, “It’s 1938 and I’m at school in San Francisco. I’m one of the poorest children in the school and certainly not one of the prettiest.” Apparently, she only had two good pairs of shoes, and her mother forced her to wear her hair in pigtails, which the boys in her class reportedly liked to pull.
As she explained, her mother told her to “rise above it,” so from then on, she did. Her mother’s advice even helped her navigate Hollywood as an adult. “My mother’s edict stayed with me through all my years of tangling with Hollywood’s most high-testosterone players,” she wrote. So whether it’s a little boy pulling on her pigtail or a grown man trying to undermine her on set, Eden always tried to “rise above it”
3. Working Before Fame
Eden had a job at a bank prior to starting her acting career. Following her time at the bank, she pursued work as a chorus girl at Ciro’s, a supper club located on LA’s Sunset Strip. Eventually, she secured a contract with 20th Century Fox.
4. Young Actress, Eden Focused On Personality
At the beginning of her career, Eden lacked the physical appearance required for acting. Despite this setback, she remained determined and opted to concentrate on seeking roles that emphasized personality rather than looks.
5. Barbara Eden is a descendant of Benjamin Franklin
Her birth year was believed to be 1934 for many years. Following her parents’ separation, she and her mother relocated to San Francisco. There, her mother married Harrison Connor Huffman, a telephone lineman, and they had a daughter together who became Eden’s half-sister.
6. Good With Lions
Eden’s hidden talent is her impressive ability to work with trained African lions which she has done several times including the one that was her “pet” on “I Dream of Jeannie.” She even developed a technique to gain the lion’s trust.
7. Larry Hagman Was Reportedly Difficult On Set
While Eden has spoken warmly about her co-star Larry Hagman on “I Dream Of Jeannie” she also admitted that he could be difficult because he was “a great human being, but a troubled man.”
She also revealed that he often began the day “drinking vast quantities of champagne” as well as smoking pot. The substances caused him to exhibit extreme irrationality and behave problematically on the set. Nevertheless, they maintained a close friendship until Hagman’s passing in 2012.
8. Barbara Eden was pregnant while filming the sitcom
Barbara Eden discovered she was pregnant with Michael Ansara on the same day that NBC acquired “I Dream of Jeannie.” She had concerns about being replaced as Jeannie when she informed Sidney Sheldon, the creator of the series. Surprisingly, Sheldon hurriedly started production of the show. Eden later shared this information with People Magazine: “We did the first 13 shows with me pregnant. I was a walking tent. I had so many gauzy things hanging down. It was one of the happiest times of my life.”
9. Barbara Eden was trapped Inside Jeannie’s Bottle
Eden was previously confined within Jeannie’s Bottle, unintentionally left behind by the crew while on a lunch break. Upon their return, they released her, but her pleas for assistance inadvertently became part of the televised show.
10. Barbara Eden had a previous experience before playing genie in “I Dream of Jeannie”
Interestingly, Barbara Eden had a previous experience with a genie before her role in “I Dream of Jeannie.” In 1964, she acted alongside Tony Randall in “The Brass Bottle,” where Tony’s character purchases an old brass bottle housing a genie. However, in this particular film, the genie was portrayed by Burl Ives.
11. Famous Suitors But Didn’t Focus on Dating
Eden disclosed that her main focus was always on her career, stating that dating “wasn’t a priority” for her. Nevertheless, she managed to attract the interest of Elvis Presley while working as a chorus girl. Additionally, in 1957, she received a note from Senator John F. Kennedy, asking her to get in touch with him.
12. Her Son Overdosed Before His Wedding
Eden’s sole son, Matthew Ansara, tragically died from a drug overdose while sitting in his car at a gas station in June 2001. Ansara’s untimely death occurred a few months before his wedding, and he had been employed as a fitness trainer and bodybuilder.
13. Her First Husband
Eden and Michael Ansara encountered each other through a blind meeting. They tied the knot in 1958 and became parents to their son, Michael. Unfortunately, after Eden experienced the loss of a stillborn child, she fell into profound sadness, causing strain in their relationship and ultimately resulting in their separation in 1974.
14. Acting Helped Her
Eden shared in an interview with the Spokesman-Review that her career provided solace amidst the numerous challenges she has encountered throughout the years, she said:
“Everyone has to work. And I think I’m very lucky that I’m able to work at something I love to do.”
15. Starring In A Show Very Similar To ‘The Brady Bunch’
After the conclusion of “Jeannie” in 1989, Eden took on the role of a mother of six in a sitcom called “Brand New Life.” Despite its similarities to “The Brady Bunch,” Eden refuted the comparisons and expressed her differing opinion, she said:
“We’re just hoping to offer 60 minutes of fun. It’s light, with real-life situations like any family would have. But there won’t be any tragedies…”
16. Three Marriages
Eden was married three times. First to Michael Ansara, then to Charles Fegert. However, Charles’s dependency on substances saw the breakdown of their four-year union. Eden went on to marry her current husband Jon Eicholtz, in 1991.
17. Dressing as “Jeannie” For A 2013 AIDS Benefit
VIENNA, AUSTRIA – MAY 25: Barbara Eden performs during the ‘Life Ball 2013 – Show’ at City Hall on May 25, 2013 in Vienna, Austria. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Life Ball 2013/Getty Images)
In 2013, Eden left fans stunned when she attended the Life Ball, in Vienna, Austria and appeared onstage in her classic “Jeannie” costume.
18. San Francisco is Home
Despite being born in Arizona, Eden and her mother relocated to San Francisco when she was 3 years old. In 1951, she achieved the title of Miss San Francisco in a beauty pageant. She decided to move to Los Angeles to be in close proximity to San Francisco, as she considers it her true home.
19. Eden’s Writing Achievements
She proved she is multitalented when she wrote two books detailing the story of her life in Hollywood. The first was released in 1986 called “Barbara Eden: My Story” and the second in 2011 called “Jeannie Out of the Bottle,” followed by a children’s book called Barbara and the Djinn released in 2021.
20. Eden’s Busy Schedule in Stage Productions
Eden has been actively involved in touring stage productions, including The Sound of Music, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Love Letters (alongside her Jeannie co-star Larry Hagman), and the female adaptation of The Odd Couple.
21. Eden’s Pop Album Release
In 1967, Eden released Miss Barbara Eden, an album featuring pop recordings.
22. Overcoming Challenges with Positivity
Despite facing numerous challenges such as divorces, postpartum depression after losing a stillborn child, and the tragic accidental death of her son Matthew from a heroin overdose, Eden maintains a positive outlook. She shared her belief in a higher power and the purpose of being productive during an interview with TV host Larry King.
23. Contentment with Her Iconic Role
Eden is pleased with her long-standing connection to the cherished 2,000-year-old genie character, as she mentioned in an interview with People magazine.stating, “She’s easy to live with. I really like her.”
24. Giving Back through Charity
Eden, who is aware of her blessings, shows dedication to helping others by actively endorsing a range of charitable causes. She supports numerous organizations including the American Cancer Society, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the March of Dimes, Save the Children, and Childhelp USA. In addition, she performed for troops and joined Bob Hope in entertaining them during the Persian Gulf War. Furthermore, she undertook an eight-day USO tour during the holiday season.
25. No Plans for Retirement
Eden has no plans to retire in the near future, as she shared with People magazine. Her enthusiasm for her job provides her with ongoing energy., stating, “I will be kicking along until they kick me out. That’s what keeps my energy up. I love to work.”