For Barbara Eden it’s “like being in a time warp. I said to Bill Daily, This is crazy—nothing’s changed since 1965!’ ” Daily is still playing Major Healey, best friend of a befuddled astronaut who shared quarters with a 2,000-year-old genie. Eden, as the now 2,020-year-old sprite, is still sporting her hot harem costume. This time she’s doing it for I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later, a two-hour NBC movie update (airing October 20) of the hit series (1965-70) and syndication favorite that remains a genuine artifact of ’60s TV silliness.
Needless to say, some things have changed. Wayne Rogers will play astronaut Tony Nelson, the part originated by Larry Hagman (the Dallas star reportedly was willing to return for a cameo, but not the whole show). And, in a nod to the era of Madonna immodesty, Jeannie’s navel—unseen in the ’60s—will now be in full view.
Jeannie’s beltline may have been lowered, but her consciousness has been raised. Barbara Corday, co-creator of Cagney and Lacey, produced this sequel and tries to give its frothy heroine a NOW twist. The story has Jeannie married to her astronaut-master, and they have a child (MacKenzie Astin, 12, son of Patty Duke and John Astin). Jeannie has become more assertively independent in her ’80s incarnation. When the man she calls “Master” takes her for granted, she eyes the door and moves out.
“Jeannie has realized her own value,” says Eden. “Before, she never would’ve had a one-to-one, toe-to-toe argument with him. She’s learned to accept herself.”
The same might be said for the Tucson-born and San Francisco-bred Eden, 51, whose life since Jeannie hasn’t exactly been a magic carpet ride. While Hagman went on to J.R. Ewing, Eden’s career took a header. Not that she was collecting unemployment—film, TV movies, commercials and stage shows kept her occupied. But with the exception of her high-grossing 1978 film, Harper Valley P.T.A. (which later flopped as a TV series), nothing—her private life included—matched the magnitude of Jeannie.
In 1973 Eden ended her 15-year marriage to Michael Ansara, the star of TV’s Broken Arrow series. Four years later she moved to Chicago and wed Charles Fegert, then an executive with the Chicago Sun-Times. Their different worlds, says Eden, were “tough to reconcile. I should’ve known it would be difficult for a man in business to have a wife who’s in the limelight.” The couple separated in ’80 and divorced in ’82.
The decision of her son, Matthew Ansara, now 20, to stay with his father in Los Angeles put an added strain on the marriage. “Not having him really pulled me apart,” says Eden. “If he had been there with me, that might’ve made a difference.”
The vicissitudes of the post-Jeannie years, says Eden, have given her an edge. “I’ve had to learn to change and grow. At least I hope to God I’ve learned.” She’s had help. Matthew, a student at a local college, has been living with Eden in her Beverly Hills home for the past year. And a frequent visitor is Dr. Stanley Frileck, 47, a Brentwood plastic surgeon and director of the Michael Jackson Burn Center in Culver City. “It’s such a relief to have someone who’s so well balanced,” Eden says of her boyfriend.
Frileck and Eden, who have been dating for two years, were introduced by her pal Michele (Knots Landing) Lee. “Barbara is very outgoing and vivacious,” says Lee. “Stanley needs someone like that. He’s always been attracted to people in the business.”
Divorced for 10 years and the father of two teens, Frileck liked Eden because she went against type. “You look at her,” he says, “and you think, ‘This is a blonde with not much there.’ But she’s a very well-read, intelligent and genuinely optimistic person. Not that she doesn’t get bitchy sometimes, but she’s a bright, firm, tough lady who knows her own mind.”
She knows her body as well. Although Eden rarely diets and infrequently exercises, she is still shapely enough to get offers from Playboy (she recently turned down a pictorial). “I think it’s the genes,” she says. “I don’t even remember to take a vitamin pill.”
Michele Lee, however, isn’t totally convinced. “I think she must be taking Jeannie pills to stay so…Jeannie,” she says, adding with a grim laugh, “Don’t you hate her guts?”