By Nick Thomas
No doubt many a teenage lad, and even a few adults, developed a major crush on Barbara Eden during her 5-season run in the 60s sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” Now 91, fans are delighted to see the actress looking so youthful and healthy.
“I have exercised all my life and now do a mild spin (stationary) bicycle and walking,” Eden said from her home in Los Angeles. “I’ve always been careful about what I eat but I’m not fanatic about it—I’m a carnivore! I try to stay away from sugar, but unfortunately I like it too much.”
As for her skincare, she does adhere to a ritual. “I use sunscreen every day and Estee Lauder line repair that I put underneath the sunscreen and underneath moisturizer before I go to bed.”
But Eden and her husband of over 30 years, Jon Eichholtz, did experience a health scare after contracting COVID. “We caught it early and Jon was very ill,” she recalled. “Our doctor had us infused with the antibodies right away and luckily I wasn’t sick. We did catch the variant later, but it was just like a cold.”
Growing up in San Francisco, young Barbara dreamt of becoming a singer, spending two years at the local Conservatory of Music and taking singing engagements with bands around the Bay Area. But after moving to LA in the early 1950s, her stunning beauty, charm, and talent inevitably led to Hollywood.
Best known for her role as the magical genie in the popular NBC series, Eden has delighted fans for decades with appearances at TV conventions and Hollywood autograph shows. She continues to travel, speaking to audiences and showing clips of her film and TV career, and taking questions. This year, she’s already visited Georgia, Florida, and North Carolina (see www.barbaraeden.com).
And while some actors who became closely associated with one standout role may distance themselves from that character, Eden never resented her connection to “Jeannie.”
“Why would I want to step away from it?” she asked. “I’m lucky to have very polite fans and have loved meeting them over the years in so many cities.”
Beyond her “Jeannie” role, Eden’s entertainment career has been extensive with over 25 film roles, appearances in numerous TV movies and series, and a vast stage career that includes touring major U.S. cities in the beloved play, “Love Letters,” first performing it with “Jeannie” co-star Larry Hagman.
Hagman dealt with alcohol problems while working on “Jeannie” and could be difficult on the set.
“Larry was his own worst enemy but was always wonderful to me,” she said. “He acted out with the crew and would be difficult with male guest stars who came on the show. But we had a good rapport and worked together very well. I toured with him in ‘Love Letters’ and he was just wonderful.”
Eden is also an author, releasing her best-selling autobiography “Jeannie out of the Bottle” in 2012. Two years ago, she also published her first children’s book, “Barbara and the Djinn,” which perhaps not surprisingly features a young girl named Barbara and yes, a genie.
“The little girl magically travels to different places and meets different people learning what is most important in life which is kindness and understanding,” she explained. “I’ve loved to read ever since I was 3 or 4 when my mother and aunt would read to me. I thought how sad that children today just look at their phones and computers, so I wanted to give them a book to hold that can take them on an adventure using their imagination. It’s a great book to give to the grandchildren.”
While she has no plans for more books, Eden may appear on stage again for those still dreaming of seeing “Jeannie” in person.
“I don’t have any dates, but I’d love to do ‘Love Letters’ again,” she says. “It’s gratifying that people still want to see me perform and hear me talk about my career.”
Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery in Alabama and has written features, columns, and interviews for numerous magazines and newspapers. See www.getnickt.org.
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