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Interviews with Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman for DragonCon ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ reunion

Bill Daily, Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden back in the day.

Bill Daily, Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden back in the day.

The annual Dragon*Con convention draws tens of thousands to wax nostalgic about sci-fi/horror classics such as “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

But each year, the organizers throw a few curve balls. One year, they brought back the cast members from “Happy Days.” Last year, it was “Dukes of Hazzard.” This Labor Day weekend, the most unusual reunion will feature the original three stars from the late 1960s sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie:” 76-year-old Barbara Eden (Jeannie), 78-year-old Larry Hagman (Captain/Major Tony Nelson) and 82-year-old Bill Daily (Captain/Major Roger Healey).

The ostensible excuse? The 45th anniversary of the show’s debut on NBC in 1965, which followed the fantastical premise of an astronaut (Hagman), who discovers a genie (Eden) on a deserted island. She falls in love with him and calls him “Master.” The five seasons revolve around her efforts to please him and the trouble he gets into as a result.

Eden, in a phone interview earlier this month, said the trio don’t get together often. “But I love them both,” she said. “When we get together, it’s like a day hasn’t gone by.”

And while Bob Denver sometimes complained he was pigeonholed as Gilligan, Eden at this point in her life isn’t so resentful. “I’ve done a lot of other things,” she said. “For a show like this, it will be Jeannie all the way. That’s what they want to see. And she’s easy to live with!”

(Indeed, while talking to me, she was gazing at genie bottles and Jeannie dolls on her shelf in her Los Angeles home: “I’m constantly reminded of her. That’s okay. I like her!”)

She always found the squeamishness of NBC to allow her to show her belly button absurd. “We did a Jeannie movie a few years later. The belly button was out. Gravity did not reverse itself!” And feminists who pooh-poohed her use of the word “master”? “This is fantasy,” she said. “She’s not a real woman. And that’s what genies say!”

Hagman, who went on to even greater fame in the 1980s as J.R. Ewing from”Dallas,” said “Jeannie” was his first big break. He was paid what he considered a great paycheck at the time: $1,700 per episode, later upped to $5,000. (He would make $100,000 per episode on “Dallas” after almost walking out on the show.)

“It was a good job,” he said. “When I first read it, I just thought it would be a lot of fun. And it was.”

He has also remained friends with Eden through the years. In 1990, he even brought her onto “Dallas” in its final season as a former girlfriend of J.R. And they performed in a play together a few years ago.

“She still looks absolutely gorgeous,” he said. “The girl hasn’t changed at all.”

Both said TV execs sullied the final season by insisting the characters get married. “It was dead,” he said. “Down the tubes. I told them that marrying us would end the ballgame. I started looking for a new job right away.” (”They screwed it up,” Eden added.)

But in an odd way, he said, ” ‘Jeannie’ has transcended time whereas ‘Dallas’ has not. There’s an age group between 15 and 30 who don’t know about ‘Dallas’ but may know ‘Jeannie.’ ”

Not that this stops people even from Germany and France from shouting “Who shot J.R.?” at him 30 years after that infamous cliffhanger episode. “It’s an opening gambit for any conversation,” he said, without a trace of resentment. His typical answer? “Bing Crosby’s daughter.” [That's Mary Crosby, who played Kristin Shepard on the show.]

“Then, I get, ‘Who’s Bing Crosby?’ ”

“I Dream of Jeannie” episodes are available on YouTube. Before talking to Hagman, I caught the episode featuring an elephant.

When I told Hagman, he guffawed loudly.

“The elephant wouldn’t cooperate and go into the room the right way. I was supposed to be at the elephant’s head but ended up with his tail. Just as they were saying, one, two, three – action, the elephant lifted its tail and farted on me!”

Sadly, he said, that moment was never saved on tape.

Hagman, despite his Ewing persona as an oil tycoon, is in real life a big supporter of solar panels. His Ojai, Calif. home, he dubs “Heaven,” features so many solar panels, he generates $10,000 more in energy than he spends.

After the Gulf oil spill, he decided to become a spokesman for SolarWorld, a German solar panel company. (He visits Germany “to make money,” he said bluntly in Ewing-esque fashion.) For the ad below, he even donned a Ewing hat and reprised J.R.:

Doing that ad, he said, “was kind of fun. We kind of winged it.” He also convinced SolarWorld to donate $100,000 in panels for five medical clinics in Haiti after the earthquake there.

Unfortunately, Hagman’s wife Maj Axelsson of 56 years is suffering from Alzheimer’s, he said. So he has put Heaven up for sale. He’s had to mark it down from $20 million to $9.5 million. Still no takers. “It’s a bit remote,” he said. They stay in a place in Santa Monica much closer to medical facilities.

Check it out below:

Eden, in the meantime, is working on her memoir. She was unwilling (or unable) to spill any details about it yet because obviously, she wants folks to read the book when it comes out next year.

Dragon*Con

10 a.m. Friday, Sept. 3 through 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 6, $25 — $100, Hyatt Regency Atlanta, 265 Peachtree St. N.E.; Atlanta Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Ave.; Hilton Atlanta, 255 Courtland St.; Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, 165 Courtland St., and The Westin Peachtree Plaza, 210 Peachtree St., N.W., 770-909-0115; www.dragoncon.org

5 comments Add your comment

Kar

August 27th, 2010
9:13 am

That’s too bad for the Hangman family. I know that watching a loved one going through that can be so difficult. Especially after fifty some years of memories. I was always struck by his clear devotion to his wife.

Daryl-Atlanta

August 27th, 2010
9:38 am

A great article chocked full of lots of interesting stuff about Eden and Hagman, though not more than a mention for Bill Daily. So Rodney, what’s up these days with the affable Mr. Daily?

observor

August 27th, 2010
10:58 am

Someone should ask that old drunk Hagman how that new liver is working out for him since he literally drank away his first one.

Rodney Ho

August 27th, 2010
12:47 pm

I decided to focus on the two folks I interviewed. I’m not sure what Mr. Daily is up to but he celebrates his 83rd birthday Monday!

Candace

August 27th, 2010
10:14 pm

Bill Daily is doing great. I just met up with him 3 weeks ago. Myself and some other administrators from Wedreamofjeannie.com had lunch with him in Albuquerque, NM where he lives. He is just as funny as ever and ever so sharp witted! He did a website endorsement for our site and was a total cut up. He volunteers at a the local VA Medical Center.

3 of our website administrators also caught up with Barbara the same weekend for an interview in her home and a website greeting. She was awesome as always. A total sweetie as anyone would expect her to be.

Larry is completely sober now and doesn’t drink, so I’m sure his liver is fine. And he is a spokesperson for the National Kidney Foundation and has been at the Transplant Games ever since he had his transplant.