Thanks to Nick-At-Nite and summers spent with my Grandmother, I sat around the glowing tv set fixated on I Dream of Jeannie. I found myself wishing I could escape the whirlwind of elementary school by nodding my head and disappearing into my own bottle. Barbara Eden is an icon, and when I was given the chance to speak with her prior to her one-night appearance in Love Letters on Friday, September 13th at The Grand Opera House, I jumped at the opportunity. I was given ten minutes. TEN minutes that would pass by like TWO. I could spend ten minutes just thanking her for everything she has given to her fans… But in those ten minutes, I learned that Ms. Eden is still the utmost professional and just a dear human being!
AD- If NBC were to shoot the I Dream of Jeannie pilot all over again today in 2019, do you think that your character or even your portrayal of Jeannie would be different?
BE- Well, I’m sure there would be slight nuances that would be different… Actually, no. It’s a classical scene. This theme has been around… Oh, a thousand years– so you can’t really mess with it a lot unless you’re doing a comedy or something. (Laughs)
It is timeless and you did such a wonderful job with her. She has come through my room so many nights with my Grandmother. It’s just such treasured memories.
Your career has been impressive and expansive over the years. TV appearances on The Johnny Carson Show, I Love Lucy, Gunsmoke, The Andy Griffith Show… Movies like A Privates Affair and the 1960 picture Flaming Star– where you played Elvis Presley’s leading lady. Other than I Dream of Jeannie, do you have a favorite episode or a movie that just really stands head and shoulders above the others?
I think as far as a feature film is concerned, I did two, actually, at MGM with George Powell. One was The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, which was shot in Germany, and the second was the 7 Faces of Doctor Lao which was a book that was required reading, I understand, at university levels. But it’s a fabulous story, and I had a wonderful part in it. That, I truly enjoyed doing. And I enjoyed working with George Powell. If I would say a tv movie? Your Mother Wears Combat Boots. I loved doing that.
And like Elvis, you also sing. What song has been your favorite to perform? And do you still get the chance to perform musically?
I do, but I don’t really sing anymore. When I was studying at the [San Francisco Conservatory of Music], my teacher told me, “You’re going into voice…” She was Italian, and she said, “This will be like living with a piano over your head for the rest of your life. You have to lift this piano and carry it everywhere.” In other words, it’s a great responsibility and physical. Physicality. And that’s true, and I just don’t feel like doing that anymore (laughs)! I don’t mind doing it on a stage in a book show. But to sing as I used to, like in Las Vegas, and have a whole show? That’s quite demanding and I don’t think I want to do that anymore.
Which of your songs is your favorite?
There so many! They’re all so good. You know they really are. I think probably, and now don’t laugh… I started singing in church. And I think the song that I treasure is “Ava Maria” because it was such an honor for me to have the minister choose me to sing it at Christmas pageants– near the baby Jesus. I must have been, oh gosh, 11-years-old? I love that song. I did not sing it the way I… As a child, you don’t sing it as clearly as I hear it now when other people sing it. I love it!
Any actress who does it, I’m sure, loves playing this part. I certainly do. But you do it the way the man wrote it, you don’t try to make it different.
On September 13th you are going to be here in Macon, starring in Love Letters at The Grand Opera House. You will be performing beside an amazing actor, Barry Bostwick. Now, I know this isn’t your first time appearing in this show. In 2006 you acted alongside your I Dream of Jeannie co-star Larry Hagman. What was that like for you– being back together again?
Oh my goodness, it was wonderful. Anything I did with Larry, it was fabulous. He was an accomplished actor. Gosh, we even went to West Point on that tour. We were all over the East. And I have fond memories of it. I’ve always liked working with Larry, no matter what part we’re playing. We’ve worked quite a bit together.
He was wonderful and he is very much cherished. Now, your character in Love Letters, Melissa, she has been played by some incredible names over the years– Stockard Channing, Linda Gray, Carol Burnette, Sissy Spacek, Sigourney Weaver, Bernadette Peters, Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow, Candice Bergan and so many more. Ms. Eden how do you take this character and make her different?
I don’t do her different. I do her exactly the way she is written and the way the author intended for her to be, I hope. This is a fabulous piece of work. It is the most wonderful thing for an actress to do because it is so well written. Most of the time the audience understands it. They understand the arc from childhood into the great beyond. Any actress who does it, I’m sure, loves playing this part. I certainly do. But you do it the way the man wrote it, you don’t try to make it different.
Is there anything that you are hoping to accomplish in the next few years to add to your list of accomplishments?
I just hope I can make people happy.
Oh, you do such a wonderful job of that.
I think it’s important. I think it’s important that we enjoy our lives and respect them and understand and be grateful for what we have– and I love to do my job! If it can bring a little bit of happiness to someone or a twinkle to someone’s eye… That’s what I want to do.