The sitcom I Dream of Jeannie catapulted Barbara Eden to stardom with her portrayal as a 2,000-year-old genie (aptly named Jeannie). Co-starring with Larry Hagman (Tony Nelson) as her love interest, Eden made her mark on viewers with her blinking powers and pink silk harem pants.
While Hagman portrayed an even-keeled, warm-hearted astronaut, the actor was notorious for his temperamental antics on set which prompted Eden to take refuge in her dressing room.
Larry Hagman had many ‘tantrums’ on set
In her book Jeannie Out of the Bottle, Eden revealed that Hagman was never thrilled with his role on the sitcom.
“For Larry Hagman, the I Dream of Jeannie years were not happy ones,” she wrote. “To this day, I believe he prefers to be remembered for his role as J.R. Ewing in Dallas rather than for his role as Major Tony Nelson.”
Often prone to outbursts on set, Eden compared his bad behavior to that of a child. The sitcom star commented that one particular director on their show triggered Hagman’s mood swings.
“In many ways, Larry was like a very talented, troubled child whose tantrums sometimes got the better of his self-control,” Eden remarked. “But when it came to [director] Gene Nelson… Larry hit hard and often.”
Tensions between Larry Hagman and ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ director worsened
Eden found the contention between Hagman and Nelson stressful and almost impossible to ignore.
“I tried to avoid becoming involved in their clash,” she wrote. “It was patently obvious that there was a lot of nastiness flying back and forth between the two of them.”
Using her dressing room as her sanctuary to stay away from the blowups, Eden would often be missing from the set for long periods of time.
“Whenever a battle between Larry and Gene appeared to be on the horizon, I just hid away in my dressing room,” she wrote. “This was the only way I could survive the storms and conflicts that regularly raged on set. In fact, I retreated to my dressing room so often that many times I honestly didn’t know what was brewing on the set.”
Larry Hagman gives an ultimatum
Eden felt torn between Nelson, who was a good friend of hers, and Hagman whom she respected as a colleague and actor. She soon found out one of the two would be given the boot.
“It was clear that a showdown between Gene and Larry was imminent,” Eden recalled. “Unbeknownst to me, Larry decided to precipitate that showdown by issuing an ultimatum to [show creator] Sidney [Sheldon]: ‘Either Gene goes or I do.’ … Then, without putting it into so many words, [Sheldon] threw the gauntlet at my feet.”
Sheldon asked Eden how she would feel if Hagman was replaced. The I Dream of Jeannie star was compelled to tell the truth.
“I answered Sidney’s question the only way I could,” she revealed. “‘Sidney, I feel it would be a big mistake to replace Larry. He really does his job, once the camera is rolling.’ Before I knew it, Gene Nelson was out the door, without further ado.
Unfortunately, Eden’s two cents cost her Nelson’s friendship. “[Nelson] never forgave me for siding with Larry, which was how he saw it,” Eden wrote. “He never talked to me again. Larry had gotten what he wanted.”
Despite Hagman’s volatile temperament, Eden declared her affection for the actor at the very beginning of her book.
“I’d work with him again any day,” she said of the Dallas star. “Not just because of his talent, but because he is a warm and kind human being.”
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