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Friday, November 30, 2012

I Dream of Jeannie

Before I get started with today's edition of the blog, I just wanted to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a fantastic actor who passed away recently.

Last Friday, Larry Hagman passed away at the age of 81 in Dallas, Texas. The cause of death being complications from throat cancer. He leaves behind his wife of 58 years, Maj Axelsson, and his two children, Heidi Kristina and Preston, as well as countless friends and co-workers who were lucky enough to have worked with him.

It almost seems hard to believe that Larry Hagman is gone. After all, he did survive a life-saving surgery in the summer of 1995 after being diagnosed with liver cancer and requiring a transplant. And whenever I saw him doing publicity for his work in television, or doing talk-show interviews, he always had something about him that made him seem invincible. The confidence that he displayed throughout the years was nothing short of inspiring, as far as I'm concerned.

At the time of his death, he was working on the rebooted version of the show that helped cement his status as an actor, “Dallas”. His portrayal of the cunning, duplicitous, money-hungry J.R. Ewing helped make the original run of the series a huge success. After all, J.R. Ewing was the key player in one of Dallas' biggest storylines, “Who Shot J.R.?”. What was interesting about his time on “Dallas” was that he played a character that was universally hated by the other characters on the show, but off-screen, he shared an extremely close relationship with them.

When Hagman died last Friday, Linda Gray (who played J.R.'s long-suffering wife, Sue Ellen) called Hagman her best friend of 35 years and referred to him as “The Pied Piper of life” who “brought joy to everyone he knew.” And Patrick Duffy, who played J.R.'s brother Bobby, issued a statement of his own, saying that “he was a fighter in the gentlest way, against his obstacles and for his friends”. Both Duffy and Gray were both at Hagman's bedside when he passed away.

But while “Dallas” was probably one of the biggest career opportunities that Larry Hagman ever had, it was far from being his only successful project. A lot of people may not know this, but he entertained U.S. Troops at Air Force bases in the United Kingdom and throughout Europe during the Korean War, appeared on the television soap opera “The Edge of Night”, and performed in several Broadway plays.

And of course, everyone who grew up during the 1960s probably remembers him best for his role in this particular sitcom, the one that we'll be talking about in this special edition of the blog.

Yes, we're breaking free from the “canceled before their time” CBS dramatic series for this week to talk about the classic NBC sitcom, “I Dream of Jeannie”, which along with Hagman starred Barbara Eden as Jeannie, a 2,000 year old genie who is more than happy to grant the wishes of whoever becomes her master.

Created by Sidney Sheldon as a way to compete against the wildly popular television series “Bewitched”, the television series was inspired by a feature film, “The Brass Bottle”, which ironically enough also starred Barbara Eden, Tony Randall, and Burl Ives. Sheldon came up with the idea of making the main character a beautiful female genie in order to compete with Elizabeth Montgomery's Samantha.

Of course, finding the perfect Jeannie was a tough task for Sidney Sheldon. He was very picky about finding the right actress to fill the part the way that he had written it. In particular, he didn't want a genie that was blonde because of the fact that the main character of Bewitched was also blonde...but after many unsuccessful auditions, Sheldon called the agent of Barbara Eden, and the rest is history.

The show debuted on NBC on September 18, 1965. The show centered around astronaut Captain Anthony “Tony” Nelson (Hagman), who ends up landing on a deserted South Pacific island after a space flight. He ends up finding a bottle that has washed up on a beach, and rubs it, which causes Jeannie to appear to him. And it appears as though Jeannie hasn't seen a man for hundreds of years, as the first thing she does is plant a kiss so deep on Tony's lips that he is left completely gobsmacked.

There's also another problem with Tony releasing Jeannie out into the world. She can't speak English, which frustrates Tony as he can't understand her. But then Tony puts his brain cells together and realizes that he could make a wish to understand her better. And once he makes that wish, Jeannie can speak English for the rest of the series. Once that happens, Tony makes another wish, and ends up getting rescued from the island. Tony wishes to express his gratitude to Jeannie, so he tells her that she's free. But Jeannie's already fallen head over heels in love with Tony, and makes the decision to accompany him back to his home by hitching a ride in her bottle and sneaking aboard his duffle bag.

Once Tony returns home, the series depicts what life is like living with a 2,000 year old genie. Tony initially keeps Jeannie in her bottle for the majority of the show's first couple of seasons, but midway through the series, Tony realizes that he isn't doing Jeannie any favours by keeping her imprisoned in the bottle, so he makes the decision to let her out and enjoy her own life.

There's just one problem. Because Jeannie is a genie, her existence is very much linked to her master, and as a result, everything she does, she does out of her love for Tony. And this initially causes problems for Tony, who fears that he will lose his job if any of his superiors discovered Jeannie's identity. Jeannie successfully plays a key part in ending Tony's engagement to Melissa Stone, she almost becomes the master of Tony's friend Roger Healey after he steals Jeannie's bottle for his own selfish desires, and on top of all that, she has an evil twin (Eden in a dual role) that threatens to destroy the relationship that Tony has with Jeannie.

Of course, all that scheming was in vain. Tony ends up getting promoted to the rank of Major, and by the end of the series in May 1970, Jeannie and Tony got married to each other.

There were a couple of running gags that were present throughout the series run. One gag was that Jeannie's powers would be nullified if Jeannie found herself trapped in an enclosed space. In fact, one multi-arc episode featured Jeannie being trapped in a safe that was rigged to explode if the wrong combination was entered. It actually became an at-home contest, with viewers at home trying to come up with the right 3-digit number.

(In case you were wondering, the combo of the safe was revealed to be 497.)

And the other running gag involved Tony trying his best to keep Jeannie a secret, which often involved him acting erratically. This often got him some unwanted attention from NASA's resident psychiatrist, U.S. Air Force Colonel Dr. Alfred Bellows, and Bellows' unsuccessful attempts to discredit Tony.

And, here's some other interesting facts about the show itself.

Jeannie's genie bottle was not specifically created for the show. It was actually a Christmas 1964 Jim Beam liquor decanter!

The original bottle was supposed to be smoke green with gold embellishments, but due to the fact that the first few episodes were shot entirely in black and white, the colours obviously didn't show up. When the show began filming in colour about thirty episodes in, the colour of the bottle changed to purple.

It was estimated that a total of 12 bottles were used during the entire series. Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman, and Bill Daily each kept one of the bottles that were used in the taping of the shows after the series wrapped up.

The reason why season one was filmed in black and white was due to NBC's refusal to pay the extra money to have the show broadcast in colour.

Jeannie's birthdate was reported to be April 1, 64 B.C.

Barbara Eden's real-life husband, Michael Ansara, appeared in three episodes of the series.

Barbara Eden was actually pregnant during the first season of the series, so she was shot in close-up, or had a veil covering her stomach area. And on that note...

Barbara Eden was forced to cover up her navel as – believe it or not – an exposed navel was quite scandalous for the mid-1960s. Weirdly enough, the exposed navel didn't become a problem until the third season, when a person casually observed that it was visible when the waistband of her costume shifted. Oh, how times have changed.

Jeannie's costume is now on display at the Smithsonian. Her shoes were supplied by Neiman Marcus.

Apparently, Pontiac must have been a sponsor of the show, as all the characters drove cars made by Pontiac in the show.

Apparently, Larry Hagman was almost replaced by Darren McGavin, as some people reported that he was incredibly difficult to work with. The only reason Hagman stayed on was because the NBC executives loved him.

At one point, writer James S. Henerson wrote for both “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched”. Talk about conflict of interest! He was eventually fired from “Bewitched”.

An animated series was filmed by Hanna-Barbera based on the series called “Jeannie” which aired during the 1970s.

And, that's about all that I have to say about “I Dream of Jeannie”. It was a classic show that brought joy to a lot of people...and it was the show that helped kickstart the career of Larry Hagman...even if his behind the scenes storyline wasn't quite as idyllic as the life his character enjoyed on the show.

Rest in peace, may have made a name for yourself by getting shot on a long-running drama, but you also proved that you could be a nice guy on screen as well.

Larry Hagman

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