The very first episode of I Dream of Jeannie all began with the opening narration: Once upon a time, in a mythical place called Cape Kennedy, an astronaut named Tony Nelson went up on a space mission….and the rest is I Dream of Jeannie history.
The NBC series, which premiered in the fall of 1965 as the network’s answer to ABC’s hit Bewitched, starred Barbara Eden as the stunning, bottle-dwelling genie discovered on a deserted island by crash-landed astronaut Tony Nelson, played by Larry Hagman (before he took on the role of J.R. Ewing in Dallas).
Captain (later, Major) Nelson was a goner after seeing the beautiful, harem-clad magical woman, and Jeannie followed the NASA pilot back to Florida, where shenanigans ensued for five seasons. As Nelson tries to hide her powers from his suspicious superiors, the two stars were supported by an ensemble cast including comedian Bill Daily, who played Captain Roger Healey, Haydon Rorke as Dr. Bellows and Emmaline Henry as Amanda Bellows, his wife.
Fun facts about I Dream of Jeannie
Here, we take a walk down memory lane with some fascinating and fun trivia from behind the scenes of one of our favorite 1960s sitcoms.
1. Barbara Eden still gets asked about her belly button
Nearly six decades after blinking her way to TV stardom, Barbara Eden looks back on her Jeannie days with great fondness. Always with a sunny smile and glint in her eye, the 91-year-old actress (who is sadly the last-surviving cast member) wowed the world as the vivacious Jeannie while in her signature belly button–baring outfit.
“I’m still asked about my belly button,” the nonagenarian muses to Woman’s World. Story goes that a reporter used to visit the set and ask Eden about her belly button. “I’d say a nickel a peek,” she laughs. “He wrote about it and it became a whole thing — looking for Jeannie’s belly button.” Eden wasn’t allowed to take her original Jeannie costume but had a replica made for herself. “I do have the bottle though and an original hat.”
(Click through to see how Barbara Eden is still gorgeous today)
2. Eden was pregnant in the first 10 episodes
With the exception of the 1965 pilot, “The Lady in the Bottle,” Jeannie was covered up for the first 10 episodes of the series. It wasn’t because of any censorship issues; the actress was expecting a child. Eden confirmed her pregnancy on the very day that I Dream of Jeannie was picked up by NBC.
Luckily producers decided to keep her on as the star and instead used film magic to hide her growing belly. In an interview, Hagman later added, “We did 10 shows back to back as fast as we could because she was getting bigger and bigger, so they were adding more veils and stuff like that [to hide her pregnancy].”
“I looked like a walking tent,” Eden joked in a 2001 Lifetime Intimate Portrait documentary. She later went on to have her son during a hiatus of the show.
3. There wasn’t a theme song until season 2
The jaunty riff that will always be synonymous with I Dream of Jeannie (you’re humming it now, aren’t you?) didn’t first appear until the series’ second season, along with new in-color animated opening credits.
The first season, which was filmed in black-and-white, tried a couple of different openers: First there was the one that brought the audience up to speed on how Jeannie and Tony met; eventually, the background story was dropped for a shorter black-and-white animated sequence. Finally they landed on the color sequence and the jingle we all know and love:
4. Getting into the bottle required a lot of muscle
Although Jeannie made getting into her bottle look like magic, in reality, it required a bit of strength. The whole bottle set was built on a sound stage, which Eden had to reach by climbing an eight-foot ladder.
4. An elephant broke wind on Larry Hagman while on set
In Hagman’s memoir, Hello Darlin! Tall (And Absolutely True) Tales About My Life, he recalls a scene with an elephant on set. “As I protested the elephant being there – he was right next to me – he lifted his tail and broke wind, literally all over me,” Hagman writes. “Perhaps that’s what the elephant thought of my acting.”
5. A lion terrified Hagman while filming I Dream of Jeannie
In I Dream of Jeannie’s first season, one episode featured a scene with a real lion. In her memoir, Jeannie Out of the Bottle, Eden called herself “somewhat of a lion expert” having worked with the felines on set previously.
Eden felt it would be best if she and Hagman got to know their guest star before shooting. “You have to stand very still and let the lion smell you,” Eden explained to Hagman. “Then, when he’s finished doing that, you should lean forward very, very gingerly and stroke him. That way, he’ll get to know you and everything will be fine.”
Hagman refused to bond with the lion (“I’m not making friends with any —- lion!”). So when the scene started, the lion and Eden got along well, but as soon as it saw Hagman, he let out “an almighty roar.” A frightened Hagman and several members of the crew bolted off the set.
6. The I Dream of Jeannie bottle wasn’t created for the show
Jeannie’s iconic bottle was not actually created for the show. It was a special 1964 Christmas Jim Beam liquor decanter. Sitcom creator Sidney Sheldon had received one as a gift and thought it would be a perfect design for the series. It’s said during the show’s run that 12 bottles were painted and used.
7. It took three hours to put on Jeannie’s ponytail
When Eden would transform into Jeannie for filming, hair professionals would push her bangs out to the front and braided the rest of her hair so they could easily clip a ponytail for her genie look. It’s amazing, though, that it still took three hours each time to complete her look.
8. Eden thinks the wedding ‘ruined’ I Dream of Jeannie
While the romantic tension between Nelson and Jeannie was a driver for the show for four seasons, the characters tied the knot during the 1969-1970 season, which ended up being the series’ last.
In an interview with the Today show, Eden made no bones about her feelings regarding the Nelson marriage: “It ruined the show,” she said. “Because [Jeannie] wasn’t human … She thought she was, and [Tony] knew she wasn’t … I think it broke credibility.”
9. A studio guard told Hagman I Dream of Jeannie was cancelled
Hagman learned about Jeannie’s 1970 cancellation from a guard on the studio lot. He had been on vacation in South America after completing the series’ fifth season, and when he came back to the U.S., he wanted to pick up something from his dressing room. The “guy at the gate” delivered the bad news that there would be no sixth season.
10. Eden and Hagman reunited on Dallas
“I love playing the bad guy,” Hagman once stated. “It’s so much fun. Nice guys don’t have any fun. I get to love all the ladies, stab all the men in the back, steal and pillage.” So it made sense that he relished the role of oil baron J.R. Ewing on the hit show Dallas from 1978 to 1991.
Eden made an appearance on the hit nighttime soap opera as Ewing’s vengeful former lover, Lee Ann De La Vega, for several episodes in 1990. While their characters had none of the Jeannie Nelson sweetness, they do pay a little homage to her history with Hagman: Her character’s maiden name was “Nelson.”
Click through for more behind-the-scenes fun!
Bonnie Siegler is an established international writer covering the celebrity circuit for more than 15 years. Bonnie’s resume includes two books that combine her knowledge of entertaining with celebrity health and fitness and has written travel stories which focus on sustainable living. She has contributed to magazines including Woman’s World and First for Women, Elle, InStyle, Shape, TV Guide and Viva. Bonnie served as West Coast Entertainment Director for Rive Gauche Media overseeing the planning and development of print and digital content. She has also appeared on entertainment news shows Extra and Inside Edition.