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Updated: August 23, 2023

The Girl in the Bottle

A Brief History of "I Dream of Jeannie"

By Bruce Fedow:

In 1965 Sidney Sheldon was riding high on the success of "The Patty Duke Show," which he had created, written for, and produced and was currently enjoying good ratings on ABC-TV. Screen Gems was eager for Sheldon to provide another hit series and for inspiration he turned to a 1964 film "The Brass Bottle" starring Burl Ives, Tony Randall and the lovely Barbara Eden. Sheldon had envisioned Eden as his genie named Jeannie from the beginning and was of course delighted when she was signed for the part.

Before selecting Larry Hagman Sidney considered accomplished actors such as Robert Conrad, Darren Mc Gavin and Gary Collins for the part of Captain Anthony Nelson. Later when the series went into production he often came to regret his choice of Hagman, who was described as "difficult to work with." Jack Warden auditioned for the role of Dr. Alfred Bellows but it eventually went to talented character Hayden Rorke. Rounding out the cast was comedian Bill Daily as Capt Roger Healy.

The first season of Jeannie was filmed in black and white. In many episodes Eden's midriff was hidden behind veils to conceal her pregnancy but most fans never noticed. Great special effects, crazy storylines and guest stars like Richard Kiel, Mako, J. Carroll Naish and a kid named Billy Mumy to name a few kept them from spotting Barbara's expanding waistline. The opening ( cartoon ) credits were created by none other than I. Friz Freleng, a pioneer in the field of animation who worked on Warner Brothers' Looney Tunes and later the Pink Panther. Dick Weiss composed the theme music for the first season.

Season two arrived in September of 1966 in color with fresh opening credits featuring new animation and a new theme by Hugh Montenegro. With the advent of color special effects wiz Richard Albain had a new problem, he needed to produce colored smoke! This he successfully accomplished with colored lights, dry ice and steam.

As the seasons progressed, Sidney Sheldon and the other writers realized more supporting characters were needed to flesh out the scripts so along came Jeannie's nephew, uncles, mother and sister ( the last two were played by Eden herself in dual roles ) and even her dog! Bewitched had used this formula of odd relatives with excellent results. It was decided that Dr. Bellow's wife should also be include so the wonderful Emmaline Henry was added as well. Various bosses for Majors Nelson and Healey in the form of Generals like Phillip Ober and Barton Mac Laine came and went. Even Barbara Eden's then real life husband Michael Ansara appeared in the series in two different roles. Superstars like Sammy Davis Jr., Milton Berle, the cast of Laugh-In and Groucho Marx were eager to guest star.

Sheldon tried everything to bolster the ratings from year to year including mail-in contests and in the fifth and final season even married Jeannie and Major Nelson, much to the chagrin of the cast who knew that although Bewitched featured a married couple and was still semi-successful in the ratings for I Dream of Jeannie this would spell the 'kiss of death' which it did. The show was cancelled at the end of its fifth season and, figured Sheldon, that was that. He and the cast moved on to bigger and better things including Hagman's long stint on "Dallas" and Sheldon's successful television mini-series like "Rage of Angels."

Surprisingly ( or maybe not ) I Dream of Jeannie lived on in endless syndication across the world and in 1991 Sheldon made a reunion movie, "I Still Dream of Jeannie" starring most of the original cast save Larry Hagman, who was replaced by Wayne Rogers, former star of television's MASH. This garnered very good ratings and another Jeannie reunion movie was broadcast a few years later, but by then the producers realized this would be the last of the Jeannie features and the show was respectfully laid to rest.

Lately there have been rumors that a new "I Dream of Jeannie" televison series with new actors will be produced by Sheldon in 2006 and a theatrical version is supposedly in the works but the inimitable Barbara Eden and her talented co-stars were the driving force behind this 1960's television phenomenon and its success will not likely be repeated.

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