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Classic Hotties: Barbara Eden

06.19.2013by: Droz

Many a smitten sitcom fan has had little choice but to fall in love with Barbara Eden. Several generations of people have grown up watching Barbara's genie character pursue her reluctant "master" in that sexy little outfit, in the process introducing a sanitized for prime time version of a dominant/submissive relationship to future generations of sexual libertines in the making. It was always a mystery how Captain Nelson could be so resistant to the possibilities of a beautiful blonde chickie just dying to get into his pants. The quality of goods his hot little bottle-bound hanger-on brought to the table never got lost on us, the viewers. Barbara was a hottie of the highest order - cute, funny, sexy, built and eager to please. What more could you ever need?

Born Barbara Jean Morehead in Tucson, Arizona on August 23rd, 1934, she is the daughter of Hubert and Alice Morehead. When her parents divorced 3 years after her birth, she and her mother moved to San Francisco where her mother remarried to a telephone lineman. Poor and deeply affected by the Great Depression, the family had few comforts aside from singing for one another to pass the time. A shy, awkward child forced to wear glasses over an eye patch, her mother helped Barbara overcome her disadvantages by getting her singing lessons. This spurred young Barbara on to doing public singing performances, first in her church choir and then later at $10 a night night clubs in her teenage years. By 16 she was studying singing at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and acting at the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theater. Clearly her mother's plans worked out well.

She graduated from San Francisco's Abraham Lincoln High in 1949 and did a year at the local city college. At 17, Barbara won the Miss San Francisco beauty pageant. She also entered the Miss California pageant that year, but didn't win. Sufficiently chuffed to pursue her lifelong love of entertainment, she soon moved on to Hollywood, where she appeared in many popular TV shows of the 50s and 60s, among them I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, Father Knows Best and The Andy Griffith Show. Barbara got bit parts in various 20th Century Fox movies and screen tested for larger roles in high profile movies like STATE FAIR and PEYTON PLACE, but those roles went to other actresses. Despite getting passed up repeatedly, Fox decided to put her under contract anyway on the strength of her tests. After that Barbara's bit parts got a bit more prominent with high profile movies WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER? and THE WAYWARD GIRL. Paying her dues soon moved her into leading roles opposite actors like Sal Mineo in A PRIVATE'S AFFAIR and The King himself, Elvis Presley, in FLAMING STAR.

Barbara remained a mid level celebrity well into the '60s, playing supporting roles in various TV and movie productions. She played Lt. Cathy Connors in 1961's VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA and the female lead in 1962's SWINGIN' ALONG. Budget cuts forced her out of her 20th Century Fox contract in 1963, making her a free agent of sorts for various studios doing supporting roles. That is, until she was approached by famed writer Sidney Sheldon for an up-coming fantasy sitcom he had in the works, intended to go head-to-head with established hit Bewitched. Barbara might not have known it, but this was to be her true big break.

The ironic part about Barbara's role as Jeannie the genie was that she already had previous genie experience, of sorts. One of her supporting roles just a year before in 1964 was as the girlfriend to the lead character in the film THE BRASS BOTTLE, which was about a genie who creates chaos for the man and his girlfriend. Though the producers of I Dream of Jeannie initially wanted a brunette to play their Persian genie in the bottle, Barbara's charm, sweetness and experience won them over and she was cast in the pilot episode in 1965.

NBC, as well as the production company behind the show, had little faith in their new quirky sitcom. A strict lock down on anything sexual in their shows prompted NBC to institute a "no navel edict" for Jeannie's costume, meaning that for most of the show's run she basically had no belly button. To add insult to injury, NBC also gave the show a limited budget which forced them to film it in black and white, despite the big switch to color programming happening at that time. Even producer Sheldon's offer to use his own money to get the show in color was rejected by the head of the production company, who's advice to Sheldon was "...don't throw your money away." That lack of faith, as well as the trickiness of getting the show's special effects to work in color, meant that the first season of Jeannie was one of only two shows to premiere in black and white for NBC's fall 1965 season.

Those lacking in faith for Jeanne had their short-sightedness validated for much of the show's run. As anticipated, it never did take off in it's initial airing, not once breaking into the top 10 in any of its 5 seasons, despite earning 2 Golden Globe nominations. It remained a cult show, with a small fanbase throughout its run and was certainly expected to disappear into TV limbo once it went off the air in 1970. However, Jeannie had one last wish to grant its producers when it went into syndication on New York's WPIX a few years later. To everyone's surprise, Jeannie won its time slot, and not just against local stations. It beat every station, thoroughly trouncing even top-rated, prime time TV shows on network affiliate channels. The same thing happened when it went into syndication on Washington D.C.'s WTTG a short time later. It was first time a local station ever beat a network affiliate in prime time. Such unprecedented ratings secured Jeannie's syndication run for decades afterward. It's still rerun across the globe to this day, securing for Jeannie TV royalty status most other shows of the day could only dream of. So much for the haters.

Her role as Jeannie was, by far, Barbara's biggest, so much so that she has reprised it several more times throughout her career, starting with nostalgic spin off TV movies in the 80s and 90s and later in movies like THE BRADY BUNCH. Just recently Barbara donned her Jeannie costume one more time for the Life Ball for AIDS awareness in Vienna, delighting the audience and proving that even at 78 she still looks pretty damn good in a midriff.

Barbara's TV career continued far beyond her time as a djinn, with new roles coming her way fairly regularly in the decades to come. She was well known for her many variety show appearances in the 70s and 80s, doing 21 Bob Hope specials alone. In 1978 she starred in the film HARPER VALLEY PTA, based on the famous country song. She went on to reprise the role for the TV series based on the movie based on the song. It ran for 2 seasons. She reunited with her former Jeannie co-star Larry Hagman for the final season of his monster hit show, Dallas in 1990, playing the character Lee Ann De La Vega. It is later revealed in the course of the season that her maiden name is Lee Ann Nelson, referencing Hagman's character's name and Barbara's character's married name on Jeannie. She later made various guest appearances on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and most recently on the show Army Wives, a show produced by her niece, Katherine Fugate.

Barbara has been especially prominent on the stage in recent decades, doing several high profile productions of Same Time Next Year, The Sound of Music, Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Doing such physically demanding shows has helped to keep her in good shape well into her sunset years, keeping her looking at least a decade younger than she is. Even today, she remains in damn good shape for her age or any age. So no hobbling about on last legs for Barbara just yet.

It seems like there's a special place of honor for those classic hotties who find their way into our hearts via an especially memorable TV show. Unlike the great silver screen legends of old, these classic sirens of the airways never really go away. They always find their way back into our lives eventually, thanks to the wonders of perpetual syndication. Such is the case with Barbara Eden. I'm sure 100 years from now people will still be falling in love with that cute little head nod. Honestly, how could you not?

Source: Moviehotties


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