I Dream of Jeannie is a classic fantasy sitcom that ran on NBC from 1965 to 1970. Starring Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman, the show is about a 2,000-year-old genie-in-a-bottle named Jeanie who was acquired by astronaut Captain (later Major) Anthony “Tony” Nelson while stranded on a desert island after a space mission. The astronaut took the genie in the bottle and takes her home with him, and he becomes her master. Hilarious situations ensued between them, with Jeanie falling in love with Tony at first sight. Eventually, they get married in the end.
The show was released to coincide with fantasy comedy shows like Bewitched, which was airing over at ABC. Many critics have noted the similarities between the two shows, but I Dream of Jeannie became a pop culture classic on its own. Here are some fun facts about the show that you never knew:
1. Barbara Eden was not the first choice of the producer
Being Jeannie was the role of a lifetime for Barbara Eden, since it catapulted her to stardom. Also, it’s hard to imagine anyone filling in Jeannie’s iconic costume than her. But Sidney Sheldon, the show’s executive producer, originally had reservations about hiring her. Sheldon didn’t want to cast anyone with blonde hair, to avoid comparisons with Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery. After various brunette starlets and beauty queens unsuccessfully auditioned for the role, they could not find anyone who could play the role as he wanted it. Eden was cast almost in an act of desperation, as Sheldon’s colleagues recommended her because of her performance in The Brass Bottle.
2. The show gave conflicting stories of Jeannie’s origins
When the series started, it was shown that Jeanie was transformed into a genie for refusing to marry Blue Djinn (who was played by Michael Ansara, Eden’s real-life husband back then). It became confusing when later on in the middle of the series, they mentioned that Jeannie came from a family of genies.
3. It was the last network series to be filmed in black and white
The first season of Jeannie was shot in entirely black and white because of budget restraints. Apparently, the studio execs didn’t expect the show to last for more than one season so they weren’t willing to spend extra bucks for the color film. Because of that, this was the last series from the network to be filmed in black and white. But as the show came out successful, they switched to color on the second season.
4. There was no theme song until the second season
The show didn’t have a theme song on the first season, tooThe familiar-sounding, catchy Jeannie theme song appeared in the second season, when a new, colored animated opening sequence was introduced.
5. Censors had problems with Eden showing her belly button
Due to strict television censorship at the time, Eden was restricted from showing off her belly button on screen. But there was one slip-up that caused a bit of commotion during the series. Also, her legs must always be kept covered with baggy pantaloons that must be thick enough so her legs won’t show through. Cleavage, however, was a fair game.
6. Barbara Eden was an on-set lion expert, too
Besides being the lead star, Barbara Eden also considered herself as somewhat of a lion expert on the set. During the first season, there was an episode where they featured a real lion on one scene. As Eden told her story in her memoir, Jeannie Out of the Bottle, she said she had some prior experience working with lions, so she was thrilled. She offered helpful advices for her co-workers on how to deal with the lion. However, her co-star, Larry Hagman refused to bond with the lion and didn’t feel the same way about the furry friend. When it came to do the scene, Eden was comfortable with the lion’s presence, but when it looked at Hagman, the furry friend let out a frightening roar. The frightened Hagman bolted out of the set, off the studio and into the street. Some crew members bolted off, too.
7. Barbara Eden was pregnant during filming the first episodes of the series
When the series began shooting in 1965, Barbara Eden was pregnant. During the first 10 episodes, the producers tried to hide her growing baby bump through different techniques, like adding several extra veils to her genie costume. Eden joked about it, saying “I looked like a walking tent.”
8. Larry Hagman handled his anxieties and frustrations on the set with booze
For an ambitious actor like Larry Hagman, it was hard to play as the second best star to Eden. Also, he would often get frustrated with how the script was written, plus he was carrying some of his own personal anxieties, so he drank away his sorrows. Eden wrote on her memoir that Hagman started every day at the studio drinking champagne, and then enter his dressing room in between scenes to smoke pot and drink more champagne to keep calm. This caused him to undergo a liver transplant in the ‘90s.
9. Also, Larry Hagman was problematic to work with
Because of Hagman’s alcoholism and unruly attitude, the show was hampered. The staff were irritated by his behavior, so the producers sent him to a therapist. However, it seemed to only make things worse because Hagman started to ingest lots of marijuana, LSD and more champagne “in the interests of maintaining a calm serenity.” He often lost his temper and once voiced his displeasure with the staff by urinating all over the set due to a disappointing script. And it didn’t affect only the staff. Legendary singer Sammy Davis Jr., who appeared in a season 2 cameo, became so enraged with the co-star that he actually threatened to kill Hagman.
10. Barbara Eden didn’t like that Jeanie and Tony Nelson got married in the end
It seems like Hagman wasn’t the only one who had problems with the script. The show ended with Jeanie and Tony getting married, which Eden didn’t approve of. Part of the whole fun of the show was the palpable sexual tension between the astronaut Tony and the mischievous and attractive Jeanie who both lived under the same roof, while Tony still managed to keep her out of his bedroom. The funny antics ran around watching Jeannie being willing to fulfill his wishes and calling him master, no less. But regarding the characters’ marriage, Eden said it ruined the point of the show and broke credibility, because Jeannie wasn’t human. “This just turned her into a housewife – more like Samantha from Bewitched,” she added.
11. Larry Hagman only found out that the show was cancelled from a studio guard
After the series’ fifth season, Hagman went to South America to take a vacation. Upon returning to the US, the actor wanted to get something from his dressing room on the set. He ran into a security guard who was perhaps surprised to see him there and told him that there was no sixth season in the offing. Apparently, nobody told him, and he only found out about the news from that guard. Hagman wasn’t surprised and said he halfway expected it, citing decline in ratings and the decision to marry off Jeannie and Tony. But he couldn’t help but observe, “Wow that was real Hollywood.” He lamented, “I expected some kind of formal, pleasant way of telling you you’re out of work.”
12. Phil Spector made a cameo on the show
Before he became a convicted murderer, Phil Spector was a big record producer during the 1960s and 70s. He appeared on a cameo on the show playing as himself when Jeannie had musical aspirations. Spector was game for poking fun at himself and the music industry in general.
13. The show had a fun little connection with The Monkees
While it only lasted for two seasons, The Monkeys, a fellow NBC sitcom, had some fun connections with I Dream of Jeannie as both shows referenced each other in some episodes. In one The Monkees episode, Davy Jones rubs a small table lamp and a beautiful genie (not exactly Jeannie) emerged, which led Jones to respond, “Imagine that – wrong show!” Then, cue the laugh track.
In I Dream of Jeannie, Jeannie puts together a rock band featuring Bobby Hart and Tommy Boyce, who wrote some of The Monkee’s most famous songs. At one scene, Hart is shown holding a copy of The Monkees’ first album.
14. Bill Daily had trouble memorizing his lines, but it turned out all right
Besides Eden and Hagman, I Dream of Jeannie also featured Bill Daily as astronaut Roger Healey. Daily was praised a lot for his comic ability, but little did people know that he suffered from dyslexia, which made him have trouble memorizing lines. The actor often add-libbed his lines, creating some of the series’ best moments in the process.
15. The producers burned the set of the show
After the show was cancelled, the show’s producers set to work dismantling the show’s production. During the 50’s and 60’s in Hollywood, it was quite expensive to store collective sets and props, and it was not worth spending the money if it won’t serve any purpose anymore. To resolve this, the crew burned down Jeannie and Major Nelson’s “home” to avoid a big expense with no payback. Barbara Eden did manage to get a hold of one of the series’ magic lamps, which she kept in her personal vault for years. Eventually, she decided to donate it to the Smithsonian Institution, which is one of the most famous and visited TV props in history.