Barbara Eden Recalls ‘Joys’ and ‘Challenges’ of Working With Larry Hagman on ‘I Dream of Jeannie’

Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman never met before their I Dream of Jeannie screen test together. “We started doing this scene and I threw my arms around his neck,” Barbara Eden tells Closer exclusively. “Later he told me, ‘You scared the bejesus out of me!’ He was always so honest, he’d just blurt out things.”

That auspicious meeting would change both their lives. I Dream of Jeannie, which originally aired for five seasons, from 1965 to 1970, starred Barbara as a beautiful 2,000-year-old genie who falls in love with her rescuer, dashing astronaut Tony Nelson, played by Larry. While never a ratings juggernaut, Jeannie would make both of them stars and continue to win new generations of fans in syndication and streaming.

It also made lifelong friends of Barbara Eden and Larry. “I’ve never worked with anyone with whom I’ve been so in tune and on the same level, acting-wise,” says Barbara, 92. “It was a joy and a challenge working with him. He was so talented and so very sweet to me. But he was his own worst enemy.”

Barbara Eden: Magic Carpet Ride

Their on-screen chemistry was so obvious, fans often wondered if they’d ever had an off-screen romance, but Barbara Eden denies it. She was wed to her first husband, Michael Ansara, during the run of I Dream of Jeannie and pregnant with her son Matthew during the first season. “I was a walking tent, but they just kept putting chiffon over my head,” she recalls with a laugh.

When the cameras weren’t rolling, Larry was a perfectionist who demanded long rehearsals and script rewrites — which didn’t endear him to the show’s writing team. “Sometimes comedy is not funny when you’re trying to work things out,” he explained. “And sometimes you get it on a page and it doesn’t read funny, so you try to make some business to help it along. It’s hard work.”

He could also be eccentric and silly. “He had a wonderful sense of humor. He was always doing something crazy,” says Barbara, who recalls her costar arriving on set in a train engineer’s uniform one time and a gorilla costume another. “I love being the center of attention. Why else be an actor?” Larry said.

Bill Daily, who played fellow astronaut Roger Healey, believed Larry’s stunts hid a deeper insecurity. “I think what bothered Larry a bit was that [Barbara Eden] became a superstar,” said Bill. “He’d get weird and clam up and hide in his trailer.”


Larry’s mood swings became worse in the second season when he decided to get healthy. “I had been addicted to tobacco and Bontril, a mild form of amphetamine,” Larry recalled, adding that he’d been taking the drug for five years to control his weight. “I stopped smoking, and I stopped speed at the same time.”

Quitting both abruptly made him angry, nervous, depressed and physically ill. In one off-kilter incident, Larry tried to silence a loud air conditioner on the set with a fireman’s ax, but accidentally cut off electricity to the entire soundstage. He feared he’d never work again.

Indeed, the network came up with a plan to replace Larry with Darren McGavin — but Barbara talked them out of it. “I think it would be foolish to switch him in the middle of the show,” she told them. Later on, Larry, who agreed to attend therapy, expressed his gratitude. “He thanked me for saving his house!” Barbara recalls.

But the fifth season brought new conflict when the network decided that Jeannie and Tony should get married. “I told them that marrying us would end the ballgame. I started looking for a new job right away,” said Larry, who became so despondent that he stopped speaking to everyone. “He flatly refused to talk to me or anyone else,” admitted Barbara in her 2012 memoir Jeannie Out of the Bottle.

Next Chapter


Fortunately, Larry ’s behavior didn’t end Barbara Eden’s affection for him. In 1990, she agreed to appear in a five-episode arc on Dallas, the nighttime drama that made Larry a superstar playing J.R. Ewing. “The first day on the stage, everyone was watching us,” says Barbara. “Larry looked at me and said, ‘Isn’t this the strangest thing? It’s like we’ve never stopped working together.’”

Larry overcame a lot before his cancer-related death in 2012 at age 81. In addition to smoking and pills, he largely stopped drinking after a liver transplant in 1995. “The last time I saw him, I was in Australia and he was great,” recalls Barbara. “He didn’t look sick. It was a shock to me when he left us.”

She always viewed him as a great actor and a dear friend. “I think we were just meant to be together,” Barbara says. “We clicked. He was a very kind man when he was feeling well. He really was, and I loved him a lot.”

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