The Tragic Life of I Dream of Jeannie Star Barbara Eden Was Far from Magical

Wed Sep 08 2021

While it’s been over five decades since Barbara Eden donned her Jeannie costume, there’s no doubt about the fact that she will always be considered a Hollywood icon. This actress took the world by storm when she starred in I Dream of Jeannie during the 1960s, and as soon as that first episode aired she won over the hearts of fans across the world. In their eyes, she was perfect.

But it seems as though there was so much more to Barbara Eden’s life than her beauty and her talent. Behind the scenes of her incredible career, Barbara’s personal life was being ripped apart at the seams. Her whole life has been filled with trauma and tragedy, and only recently has she started to really open up about the events that have unfolded over the years. Her show was magic, but her life was far from it.

Barbara Eden Came From Humble Beginnings, and Her Family Felt the Full Effects of the Great Depression

Although many records suggest that Barbara Eden was born in 1934, she was actually born Barbara Jean Morehead on August 23, 1931. But just as she made her way into the world, the United States descended into an economic depression that left her family scrounging for money. In the end, the financial pressure and strain were too much for her parents to bear, and they divorced when she was just a young girl.

So, Barbara and her mother left their hometown of Tucson, Arizona, and they moved to San Francisco. And while her mother remarried and had another daughter, the Great Depression still loomed over them. With little money to get by, her family couldn’t afford toys or even basic necessities. Instead, Barbara’s mom had to entertain her daughters by singing to them.

Young Barbara Had To Wear an Eye Patch as a Child, and to Combat Her Shyness She Took Singing Lessons

But it wasn’t just her family’s financial state that left Barbara wanting more. As a young child, Barbara had a lazy eye and had to wear an eye patch on a regular basis. Because of this she lacked confidence and was devastatingly shy. However, as her mom sang to her every evening she soon developed a love for music. And seeing her daughter’s passion grow, her mother decided to give her singing lessons.

In Eden’s 2011 Memoir, Jeannie Out of the Bottle, Barbara spoke of her mother and their shared love of singing. She noted that “Each night, we’d do dishes and she’d sing Gilbert and Sullivan ditties. I’d join in and, through her, developed a passion for singing. She always encouraged me and I knew she was there for me.” And this encouragement, and the singing lessons, made Barbara confident enough to start singing in her church choir.

As a Young Teenager, Barbara Used This Love of Singing To Earn Her First Wage as a Club Singer

As Barbara’s confidence began to grow, her lazy eye greatly improved, and she made her way into her teenage years, she knew that she wanted to continue singing and performing. Although she loved singing in the church choir; she wanted more. And before too long, she had landed herself a gig performing for local bands in nightclubs around San Francisco.

This was the first time Barbara earned money for herself, and these gigs earned her around $10 a night – which today would be around $150 a night. Counting this money after a night of doing what she loved made Barbara happier than she had ever been, and she knew that she didn’t want that feeling to go. So, she vowed to stay in the industry and made it her mission to make her mark in show business.

At 16 Years Old Barbara Tried Everything To Get Her Name Out There, and Even Won a Beauty Pageant

In an effort to give herself the best chance of success, a 16-year-old Barbara Eden – who then went by the name of Barbara Huffman – signed up to become a member of the Actor’s Equity and decided to obtain an official qualification in singing and acting. She made waves at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and then studied theater at the City College of San Francisco. But that wasn’t all.

In 1951, Barbara took her quest one step further and submitted herself as a contestant in the Miss San Francisco Pageant. Much to her delight, she won the whole competition and took home the crown. It was a far cry from her shy and insecure days as a child, but she still didn’t know if this would be enough to thrust her into the limelight.

When Barbara First Met a Talent Scout in Los Angeles, He Told Her That She Didn’t Have the Right Look for Hollywood

After winning the Miss San Francisco pageant, Barbara was automatically entered into the Miss California pageant – so she decided to stay with her aunt and uncle in Los Angeles while the event was taking place. During this time, she was approached by a talent scout for Warner Brothers who was looking for the next big star. And he was both intrigued and impressed by her formal acting training.

But despite her obvious acting talent, the scout wasn’t interested. During their meeting, he told Barbara that she didn’t have the right look to be a Hollywood star. He even showed her a picture of his daughter, who was a famous actress, and said to her “See, honey, that’s what you need.” This comment hit Barbara like a punch to the gut, and she almost considered giving up her dream.

Despite This Knockdown, Barbara Moved to Los Angeles to Work as a Dancer and Was Even Asked Out by Elvis Presley

The talent scout’s comments broke Barbara’s heart, but she knew she couldn’t let the opinion of one man spoil her hopes and dreams. And, after a short period of reflection, she realized that she didn’t want to be one actress that everyone loved and adored. She wanted to be a character specialist, who transformed into different roles every day. So, she decided to move to Los Angeles permanently in the hopes of catching her big break.

To pay her rent, she “took a dancing job at Ciro’s nightclub on Sunset Boulevard”, and this job allowed her to mingle with big names in Hollywood – including Elvis Presley, who was later her co-star in the 1960 movie Flaming Star. In her memoir, Barbara confessed that “One night, Elvis Presley called the owner and asked for a date. I assumed the owner was kidding…Elvis had such good manners and was lovely to talk to.”

Barbara Eventually Landed Her First Professional Acting Gig, but Her Fame and Fortune Wasn’t Instantaneous

Although much of Barbara’s time was spent working at Ciro’s, she still made time to attend as many auditions as she possibly could. And after countless screen tests and hours of memorizing lines, the young performer eventually landed her first professional gig in Hollywood. In 1955 she became a semi-regular on the popular variety show The Johnny Carson Show.

This first introduction into a fully working television show was everything Barbara wanted from her life – and more. But she quickly realized that, while she could call herself a professional actress, her fame wouldn’t be instantaneous. Over the next few she tried to make herself known, taking small roles in the likes of I Love Lucy, How to Marry a Millionaire and more. In fact, it was another 10 years before she finally got her big break.

Although Barbara Eventually Landed the Role of Jeannie, She Wasn’t the First Choice… Or Even the Second

It was 1965 when Barbara Eden landed the role of a lifetime in I Dream of Jeannie. But this role wasn’t just handed to her – and she certainly wasn’t the first choice to play Jeannie. The show’s producer Sidney Sheldon had always said that he didn’t want a blonde actress to play the title character, and so he avoided blonde actresses from the minute auditions started.

However, Sidney struggled to find a brunette who fit the bill, and after weeks of auditions, he still didn’t have his Jeannie. But during this time he began to hear about a young actress by the name of Barbara Eden, and he’d even seen her work himself in the movie The Brass Bottle. And while Barbara was a blonde, he decided to give her the benefit of the doubt and allow her to audition. Amazingly, she nailed it.

Barbara Won Over Fans as Jeannie in the Show, but the Role Wasn’t All Smooth Sailing

When Barbara learned that she had landed the role of Jeannie in I Dream of Jeannie, she was over the moon. This was her first real chance to shine as a leading lady, and she fully believed in the show. And it seems as though she was right to believe in it because the show quickly became a fan favorite. They loved the storylines, and these fans also loved the blonde beauty at the forefront of it all.

All in all, Eden played this role for five years and across 139 episodes – but it wasn’t all plain sailing. While the show thrust her into the limelight and made her a famous face to watch, this new life in the spotlight was a transition she struggled to get used to. Especially when it came to balancing her professional and personal lives.

Barbara Eden Discovered That She Was Pregnant on the Day the Pilot Episode Was Sold, and She Didn’t Know What To Do

In fact, these struggles began even before Barbara became Jeannie. In 1958 she married fellow actor Michael Ansara, whom she met when they worked alongside each other in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. While these two actors were fairly famous during the early stages of their marriage, their popularity amped up during the 1960s – just as Barbara’s career was starting to take off. But in 1965 Barbara learned that she was pregnant.

While this should have been overwhelmingly happy news for the couple, Barbara was left with doubts. It just so happened that she found out this news on the same day that the pilot of I Dream of Jeannie was sold. With this development to think of, Barbara didn’t know what to do. Would the studio let her go if she told them she was pregnant before the show had even started filming?

The Network Had Strict Rules About What She Wore and What Was on Show, so She Didn’t Think They’d Appreciate a Baby Bump

One of the shining moments of I Dream of Jeannie was Jeannie herself – and not just her bubbly, magical character. Fans of the show also loved her pink genie outfit that showcased Barbara in all of her beauty. But what fans don’t realize is that the network had very strict rules about what Jeannie was allowed to show, and this made pregnant Barbara very nervous.

The network told the show from the get-go that, under no circumstances, could a naval be shown on the screen. If Barbara’s costume were to slip and her naval was spotted, the network would have to deal with some serious fines, and they didn’t want that. And with this knowledge at the back of her mind, Barbara didn’t know what to tell the producers of her predicament. After all, how would they hide a baby bump?

Thankfully the Producer Wanted To Keep Barbara as Their Leading Lady, but They Had To Get Creative To Hide Her Bump

Barbara knew that she would eventually have to come clean and tell the producer of I Dream of Jeannie that she was pregnant. She was nervous to hear what they had to say, as the first season hadn’t even been filmed – which meant that she could very easily have been replaced. But the actress was over the moon when they decided that they wanted to keep her as their Jeannie.

But keeping a pregnant woman as their leading lady did present some challenges – especially when it came to the wardrobe department. The producer knew that Jeannie’s iconic costume was a hit with fans so they didn’t want to cover her entirely, but they did have to get creative by covering her in extra veils. Eden even joked that their attempts to cover her up made her look “like a walking tent.”

Although Barbara Maintained Her Fame and Welcomed a Healthy Boy, She Also Lost a Second Child During the Show’s Run

Amazingly, the show’s attempts worked in their favor as nobody knew until Barbara announced the birth of her son that she had been pregnant. And it was thanks to this hard work and determination on both Barbara and the show’s parts that allowed the actress to maintain her professional career and her new role as a mother. Life was perfect… for a while.

Although it’s not known exactly when it happened, Barbara Eden has confirmed that she fell pregnant for a second time after the birth of her first child. And while she carried the baby to its full term, her baby sadly passed away before it could breathe its first breath. At the time, Barbara was so busy with work that she didn’t go to therapy to deal with this loss. This is something she regrets today, and something that ultimately affected what happened next.

After the Show Came to an End, Barbara Continued Working but at Great Expense to Her Personal Life

Although Barbara was overwhelmingly happy with her son, Matthew, the loss of her second child hit her hard. But she pushed down her feelings and continued working even when I Dream of Jeannie came to an end in 1970. The actress thought this was the best thing for her career and her overall wellbeing, but it ultimately caused serious cracks in her marriage to Michael Ansara.

Barbara even noted that she had somewhat of a breakdown during this time, and as the weeks wore on her marriage began to unravel. Before too long, she was signing divorce papers, and her marriage officially came to an end. It was a tough time for Barbara, but the love that she had for her son kept her going. Little did she know that her son’s life would hang in the balance just a few years later.

Barbara Moved to Chicago After Her Divorce, but This Meant That She Had To Leave Her Son Behind

Barbara had been on such a high after the success of I Dream of Jeannie, but suddenly it felt like her whole world was crashing around her. So, she decided the best thing for her to do was to move to Chicago and start a new life – and she even found a new husband. But while Eden thought she was going to take her son with her to Chicago, this didn’t go according to plan.

When Barbara approached Matthew with the idea of moving to Chicago, he wasn’t convinced. He was a 12-year-old boy who wanted to stay with his father in Los Angeles, and although Barbara pushed for him to join her, Michael Ansara threatened to sue if she took him. This meant that Eden had to leave her son behind, and she only saw him every three weeks for the next six years.

In 1983, Barbara Moved Back to L.A but Discovered That Her Son Was a Shell of His Former Self

Throughout the early 1980s, Barbara Eden continued to act from her new home in Chicago, but in 1983 her second marriage broke down and she ultimately decided to return to Los Angeles to be with her son. However, time away from Matthew had allowed the actress to realize how much her son had changed. By this point, he was a moody and withdrawn teenager who wasn’t interested in spending time with his mom.

Barbara herself noted that “He wasn’t the happy warm boy that I’d known.” And while this upset Barbara, she just put it down to raging hormones and general teenager feelings. What she didn’t realize was that Matthew had actually been addicted to narcotics for many years, and his parents just “didn’t know any better.”

When Barbara and Her Ex-Husband Learned That Their Son Was Abusing Narcotics, They Sent Him Away to Rehab

When Matthew Ansara was 19 years old, his mother Barbara Eden finally discovered the secret he had been hiding. But at that point, her son had already been abusing narcotics for over a decade, and he was addicted. Together with her ex-husband Eden tried to talk Matthew away from the drugs, but nothing seemed to work.

In the end, they managed to force Matthew to go to rehab. They hoped that with professional help and without the ability to buy narcotics that their son would keep away from the harmful substances, but they were also so shocked by the revelation. After all, Matthew had been a moody teenager, but they had never expected something so extreme.

Barbara’s Son Was in and Out of Rehab for the Next 16 Years, and Matthew Even Ended up on the Streets

Although Barbara and her ex had high hopes for Matthew’s first rehab stint, it sadly didn’t work. Over the next 16 years, Matthew Ansara was in and out of rehab facilities. Every time he made his way out of rehab he would also make his way back to narcotics, and Barbara just didn’t know what to do. In the end, she decided to resort to tough love. She told him that he wasn’t welcome in her house if he were going to use drugs… so he left.

Barbara noted that when Matthew left “His father and I were frantic. We were looking for him everywhere. We didn’t know where he was… He was sleeping on the streets.” Seeing her son homeless cut Barbara deep, but she knew they couldn’t continue the same cycle. She “wanted to see my son, but I didn’t trust him.” So, she would take him food every so often to ensure that he at least had something to eat.

At 31 Years Old Matthew Finally Became Sober, but a New Passion for Bodybuilding Set Him Back

Eventually, the tough love from his parents and the realization that his life was crumbling around him made Matthew realize that he needed to get clean. And by the time he was 31 years old, he was managing to stay sober for longer and really making changes in his life. He was training to become an actor, and he even fell in love. In Barbra’s eyes, “His life was on an even track. He had a lovely, lovely girl he was engaged to and they were going to get married.”

But during this new time of his life, Matthew developed a love for bodybuilding and working out. He loved the feeling of pumping iron and it made him happy to see the physical response in his body. And as he began to grow frustrated when his bodily changes plateaued, Matthew found temptation in the form of steroids.

In 2005, Matthew Was Found Dead and It Was Confirmed That He Had Narcotics in His System

Sadly, Barbara could see that her son’s addiction to bodybuilding was taking him down a dangerous path – but she hoped that he knew better than to abuse steroids as he had other drugs in the past. She hoped that the thought of getting married would keep in on the straight and narrow, but in July 2005 she was told the news no parent ever wanted to hear.

Barbara learned that her son had driven to a gas station at around 6:30 pm on the night of his passing, but just two and a half hours later he was discovered dead in his car. The cops found narcotics and paraphernalia in his car, and Eden confirmed that “Apparently he had taken a hit of heroin and he hadn’t had it in quite a while, I guess. It killed him. It stopped his heart.”

Barbara Was Broken by the Loss of Her Son, and She Now Aims To Help Other Parents in Similar Situations

Barbara had already suffered the loss of an unborn baby, but the loss of her only son hurt her more than she could have ever imagined. Her heart was broken and she didn’t know what to do with herself. She felt as though a part of her was missing, and she began to question every decision she had ever made.

But although Barbara wondered whether she could have done anything more, one thing she knew for certain was that she didn’t want any other parent to go through what she had. Because of this, she has now dedicated her life to raising awareness for narcotics addiction and providing support to the families of those who have lost loved ones.

Barbara Will Never Forget Her Son, but She Has Continued To Live Her Own Life in His Honor

Barbara has only recently started speaking out about her loss and the heartbreak she has experienced over the course of her life. And while these moments have all stopped her in her tracks, she has continued to act every since. Just as her mom’s singing would keep her entertained during her younger years, working has kept Barbara entertained since the loss of her son.

And she now works in her son’s honor – even though her last acting credit came in 2019. But even if she isn’t actively working right now, Barbara is still remembered for her role as Jeannie, and she’s not afraid to admit that she misses this character. She’ll forever be indebted to the beautiful genie and the wonderful show.

Barbara’s Son Got To Witness His Mom Being Honored With Her Own Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Even though her son is no longer with her, Matthew saw how far she made it in Hollywood. He was alive for when she was the lucky recipient of her very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was November 17th in 1988, and she was being been honored for her contribution to the television industry.

While she is best known for her role in I Dream of Jeannie, that wasn’t all she was being celebrated for. Her performances in things like The Johnny Carson ShowThe West Point StoryHighway PatrolPrivate SecretaryI Love LucyThe Millionaire, and Crossroads had also gone down in history.

One of Barbara’s Greatest Loves Was Her Pet Labradoodle Called Djinn Djinn, Named After Her Canine Co-Star In I Dream of Jeannie

Something that helped Barbara through her grief was animals – dogs, specifically. Barbara absolutely loved having canine companions, and there was one in particular who stole her heart. Djinn Djinn, pictured below, was Barbara’s pride and joy, so much so that she talked about him publicly.

“Honestly he was every bit the type of dog one always dreams of having,” Barbara once stated. “His deep loveable eyes spoke not only volumes when he looked at me but were wells of love,” she added. But he also exhibited some of his mother’s acting talent: “His darling face and expressions earned him the nickname of ‘The Face’ as he was so clever at delivering an expression.”

In Barbara’s Opinion, We Don’t Honor Our Canine Companions Enough for Their Huge Contribution to Our Lives

In fact, Barbara was so passionate about her love of dogs that she went to dog shows and dog meet-ups, such as the 2009 “Doodle Romp.” She once stated shortly after Djinn Djinn passed away: “They say that dogs are man’s best friend. While I agree with the sentiment, I do not quite think it truly honors our canine friends fully.”

Barbara continued: “No, dogs are more than man’s best friend, my Djinn Djinn was so much more than just that. He was my sweet baby, he was Jon’s buddy and an element of my life these past thirteen years that will always bring a smile to my face and light in my heart.”

Barbara Often Had Reason To Re-Unite With Her Famous Co-Star Larry Hagman, But They Remained Good Friends Behind the Scenes Anyway

Barbara started reuniting with her I Dream of Jeannie co-star Larry Hagman in the late 80s. Pictured here in 1987, she was performing a United Services Organization show aboard the USS Okinawa assault ship. She was 56 years old at the time and looked absolutely unreal.

They had actually managed to maintain a strong friendship over the years, right up until his death in 2012. They also worked together in 1990, in the final season of the soap opera Dallas. Barbara, unsurprisingly, was playing the ultra-seductive part of LeeAnn de la Vega – a South American entrepreneur who was out for sweet revenge.

Barbara and Larry Hagman Coupled up To Promote the First-Season DVD of I Dream of Jeannie on a Ton of Chat Shows

Larry Hagman also accompanied Barbara for a publicity tour in 2006. It was in New York City and the co-stars met up to promote the first-season DVD of I Dream of Jeannie. And while it had been decades since the two starred alongside each other in the iconic TV show, they both looked just the same as they had back in their heydays.

Barbara and Larry actually traveled about together a bit for this promotion. They went on numerous chat shows, among which were Good Morning AmericaThe ViewAccess HollywoodEntertainment TonightMartha, and Showbiz Tonight. The American people were still totally obsessed with the iconic fantasy sitcom.

She Is a Tireless Self-Promoter With an Entrepreneurial Mindset That Got Her Far Later in Her Career

Barbara is getting older, but her mind is still as sharp and adventurous as ever. A few years ago, she decided to utilize the internet to connect to her fans from around the world by opening her very own Tumblr account. It included messages and posts from the iconic actress and she’s still active there to this day.

It didn’t stop there for Barbara. She also wrote her memoir in 2011, called Jeannie Out of the Bottle, where she went into great detail about the difficult times she’s had in her life. The public was interested, and her autobiography ended up debuting at number 14 on The New York Times Best Seller List.

Only in Her Later Years Did Barbara Embark Upon Learning How To Cook as a Contestant on Worst Cooks in America

In 2016, she had a hilarious appearance on Worst Cooks in America as a celebrity contestant. Two highly-esteemed chefs attempted to transform Barbara and her awful cooking skills, which was as comical as it sounds. In the picture below, she’s busy trying to replicate Hawaiian pork and poke.

When interviewed about the show, Barbara revealed that she’s not really been one to perform in the kitchen: “I have no style; I am learning. I am on a learning curve, and I’m not really at the curve part yet.” Barbara has spent her whole life as a performer, and that sometimes means that other areas of her life get little attention.

Barbara Lifts the Lid on How She Manages To Keep Her I Dream of Jeannie Figure After All These Years

One amazing thing about Barbara in her later years was that she had no problem squeezing into her I Dream of Jeannie outfit, even at 78 years old. She told People magazine: “I have a costume closet. My girlfriend said, ‘Take it out, try it on and see what happens.’ So I put it on and it fit!”

But to be fair to her, she’s worked hard for it: “I spin three times a week. Then I work with a trainer for half an hour with weights. It’s important to lift weights for your bones.” But been so, Barbara isn’t one for dieting and she evens has a sweet tooth: “I have a good breakfast, and I try to have protein at lunch.” So, that’s the secret!

Barbara Donned Her Famous Costume To Come Onstage With Bill Clinton, Elton John, and Fergie In 2013

Barbara donned her famous I Dream of Jeannie costume in May 2013, for a public appearance with former President Bill Clinton, British singer Elton John, and pop star Fergie. She was part of the opening ceremony of the 21st Life Ball in Vienna.

And amazingly, she didn’t have to have any alterations made to her original “Jeannie” outfit – she was exactly the same size as before. “It has to have been at least 30 years,” she admitted, since the last time she but on the crop top and harem pant combo.

Barbara Gave the Public One Last Appearance of Her Famous Genie Bottle Before Putting It up for Auction for a Staggering Price

At the same 2013 Life Ball in Vienna, Barbara donned a figure-hugging gold and sequin dress for the red carpet charity event. But she wasn’t without a nod to her famous past as she walked around with her hand-painted and mouth-blown purple genie bottle.

Barbara actually owned the original genie bottle that she shot with all those years ago in the sitcom. Back when they were shooting, the bottle is estimated to have cost around $5.99. But in 2017 Barbara put the bottle up for auction, where it reportedly sold for up to $50,000.