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January 14th, 2013

Book Review: “Jeannie Out of the Bottle” by Barbara Eden and Wendy Leigh

Having watched many re-run episodes of “I Dream of Jeannie” when I first immigrated to US, I was rather intrigued to find out more about Barbara Eden, who played Jeanie in the show. I remember to show to be simple and mostly no-brainer kind of show that filled my lazy summer days between schools. And as Eden has emphasized, it’s a show that play out the fantasy of the people who the audience can easily relate to, hence the appeal.

I didn’t expect that much from this book but after listening to the audiobook, I found the book or Barbara Eden’s life to be rather interesting. Her love of singing brought her to Hollywood and got her career started. Trying out every audition was her way of playing the odds and getting herself in front of the movers and shakers.

Her being cast in “I Dream of Jeanie” was mostly because her earlier Genie role in a movie. It helps to get your hands dirty and try all different roles if you want to be an actor.

I’m convinced that she was truly in love with her first husband, Michael Ansara. Unfortunately, Michael’s acting career didn’t last and caused a strain in their marriage, which resulted in a divorce after 16 years. She attributed her broken marriage partially to postpartum depression after losing her 2nd baby due to the busy working schedule. She claimed that she would have kept the marriage to preserve a better environment for her first son, who was 6 years old at that time. This in turn may have contributed to Matthew’s drug addiction.

Larry Hagman, the co-star of the “I Dream of Jeannie” was such as basket case. Indulging himself in drug and alcohol, he was a huge disruption to the show with his mood swings. He didn’t feel that he was at his best. Of course not, he turned out to be a bigger star in Dallas.

The second marriage to Charles Donald Fergert didn’t turn out well because he resented his wife to be on the limelight. Barbara blamed herself for not seeing the telltale sign of his issues before the marriage – like the desire to be looked upon as Hugh Hefner of the Playboy Magazine.

There were interesting tidbits about her working with some of the biggest stars like Lucile Ball (a huge star with professionalism), Desi Arnaz (a womanizer even in front of Lucile Ball, Tony Curtis (tried to hit on her), Jim Jones (another womanizer, “I want to show you London”), Bob Hope (a fun, respectable guy), Elvis Presley (as a co-star role, may have feeling toward Barbara, who didn’t detect it. Found all of Elvis’ cousins to be unrelated to him), Sidney Sheldon (a genius producer), Don Rickle (who wouldn’t insult her because his beloved wife is also named Barbara) and many others.

The last act of the book was about her son’s drug overdose. It was very courageous for Barbara to describe in details of her son’s addiction and on that dreadful final day when she was told of his death. It’s very hard for any parent to accept that. Her quivering voice throughout this part of story reveals the heartache that she had to endure since then.

It is a good book if you want to know a little of the TV history and the early pioneers of the era. Barbara Eden practically grew up with the TV industry and benefited from its growing popularity. It pays to a pioneer in a new industry and she paid dearly and brought lots of joy to the audience.

Posted by Derek Tsai in Book Reviews

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