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Barbara Eden Reflects on ‘I Dream of Jeannie,’ Elvis Friendship

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Barbara Eden is reflecting on her decades-long career in Hollywood, including her starring roles in I Dream of Jeannie and Flaming Star — the latter of which gave her a friendship with the late Elvis Presley

Chatting with Kevin Frazier for her “TV grEaTs” interview, the 92-year-old actress — who portrayed the lovable genie (named Jeannie) on the series from 1965 to 1970 — opened up about the enduring impact of the series.

The NBC show, which also starred Larry Hagman, followed a United States astronaut (Hagman) who finds a bottle and discovers a genie (Eden) inside. The pair ultimately fall in love in the five-season comedy that has cemented itself in TV history. 

Eden told ET that to this day, more than 50 years after the show came to a close, people still approach her and share their love of the series. They also ask her to do Jeannie’s iconic blink and nod during face-to-face interactions. 

Barbara Eden as Jeannie in ‘I Dream of Jeannie’NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

“Oh, all the time,” Eden said, laughing. She added that the original motion chosen by producers required a little less energy, but she felt the character needed a more distinct motion. “It was supposed to have been just the blink and I added the arms,” she shared. 

The wink was just half of what made Jeannie — and Eden by association — an icon, though. The actress’ Jeannie costume — a two-piece with high-waisted, billowing pants and a crop top — became a cultural touchstone, parodied and recreated countless times over the years. 

While the costume may have caused controversy — and even a rumor that the network censored her belly button — at the time,  Eden said “it’s nothing” by today’s standards of what happens on television and in movies. She said she was never concerned about it.

“No, not with this. No, not at all,” Eden said, adding, “I had on tights, plus panties, plus a full bra.” She cited a journalist from The Hollywood Reporter who sparked the controversy after visiting the set and looking for her navel.

Barbara Eden in ‘I Dream of Jeannie’NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

“It became a thing. I’ve told people, I said, ‘Other people are known for very glamorous parts of their body — I’ve got a belly button,” Eden joked. “(It’s) not the sexiest thing in the world, but then the standards and practices for films suddenly realized I had a belly button I had never shown before,” she said.

Eden added, “It was silly.”

The actress also touched on her relationship with her Flaming Star cast member, Presley, who she had such great chemistry with that it sparked romance rumors. In reality, it was Eden’s then-husband, Michael Ansara, that the “Blue Suede Shoes” crooner was interested in.

“That’s right,” she said of Presley’s love of Ansara — who played Commander Kang in Star Trek: The Original Series. As for her own relationship with Presley, she told ET, “We were just good friends.” Eden was married to Ansara from 1958 to 1974.

Presley and Eden’s 1960 film follows a Texas rancher — whose mother was Native American — as his life is turned upside down as his mother’s tribe raids neighboring communities, leaving his character to feel torn between two worlds. Eden played Presley’s love interest. 

Barbara Eden and Elvis Presley pose for their film, ‘Flaming Star’Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images
Barbara Eden and Elvis Presley in a publicity photo for their film, ‘Flaming Star’20th Century-Fox/Getty Images

The singer famously died in August 1977 at the age of 42. — Eden says she will always remember him as the Elvis she first met, right after he got out of the army. “He was very happy.” 

For more of the “TV grEaTs” interviews and coverage, check out the links below. 

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