I just finished reading Barbara Eden’s autobiography titled what else —"Jeannie Out of the Bottle.”
I want to share some of the things I learned about her with you and to do this I want to use an outline I used in an icebreaker speech I made once to introduce myself to the members of the Toastmasters Club I had joined. In it I told the three following things about myself: 1. My greatest hero, 2. My greatest accomplishment, and 3. My greatest heartbreak.
For Barbara I would say her greatest hero was her mother. In the introduction to her book, she tells of a time when she was 4 years old and came home from school crying about these two boys pulling her pigtails over and over again.
She said her mother took one look at her and said, “Rise above it, Barbara Jean! Rise above it!” She said at that tender age, she didn’t know how she was going to be able to do that, but then added, “But I love and trust my mother, so I dry my tears, try to rise above my bullying school mates, and, by some kind of miracle, actually succeed. From that time on, my mother’s early decree to 'rise above it' will become indelibly engraved on my psyche. It will become my own private mantra, the way I live my life and cope with whatever fate will throw at me through the years…”
In the book she refers to her mother as her biggest cheerleader and speaks of her mother’s influence upon her saying, “Right through my childhood and way into my teens, whenever I went out, my mother always reminded me, ‘Always make sure you have your please, your thank you, and your handkerchief in your pocket.’”
Barbara’s mother lived with her during her final years. She had this to say about her passing, “My mother passed away in November 1986, and I continue to miss her today more than I could ever say.”
I think Barbara might say that her greatest professional accomplishment was getting the part of Jeannie in the “I Dream of Jeannie” TV show and helping make the show a great success for five seasons.
Sidney Sheldon was the show’s creator, writer, and producer. Some of the things that played in to Barbara getting the part were that Sheldon had seen her in the movie “Brass Bottle,” a story about a genie played by Burl Ives, and also Barbara and Sheldon had a number of mutual friends who were comedy writers that seemed to like and admire Barbara’s work.
Barbara was chosen first for the show and then Larry Hagman, who played the part of astronaut Tony Nelson, after it was determined that he and Barbara had great chemistry together.
One thing I learned about Barbara was that she won the Miss San Francisco beauty pageant and then was voted Miss Congeniality in the Miss California Pageant in 1951. So, it does not surprise me that we all liked her so much in the part of Jeannie, just as the other contestants had in the Miss California pageant.
Finally, I feel certain that Barbara would say her greatest heartbreak was the death of her son Matthew from a heroin overdose when he was 35
But before I conclude with that, I have to share with you one sweet story she told about him that will give you insight into how much she loved him. She wrote, “One of my funniest memories of Matthew as a child goes back to the times when I was all dressed up and ready to go onstage in Las Vegas. Matthew, then about 11, always clapped his hands and cried, ‘Oh, Mommy, you’re so pretty!’ which naturally warmed my heart. And whenever he saw a glamorous singer or actress on TV, he’d always comment, ‘Oh Mommy, she’s so pretty.’ He’d pause for a second, then without fail he’d add, ‘But not as pretty as you, Mommy.’ Then one day we were watching TV together and Raquel Welch came on. Matthew exclaimed, ‘Oh, Mommy, she’s so pretty.’ I waited and waited, but that was it. So, I asked, ‘Prettier than me?’ And Matthew said, ‘Well…’ I fell down laughing.”
Barbara tried to help Matthew in every way. What may have touched me the most was what she said about how it affected her each time he had gone into rehab. She said, “I’d stand there crying, praying, ‘Dear God, please let this work. He’s a good boy — let him lick this addiction before it destroys him.’”
Barbara ended this chapter with these words, “I can still laugh, I can still go to parties, I can still have fun, but there’s a part of me that is missing and always will be. Matthew is never out of my mind, and the pain of losing him and of missing him doesn’t get less. Not on his birthday, not on Christmas, not on my birthday. Never. But he’s always with me. I talk to him constantly, and I will miss him forever.”
Someone said we read biographies to find out what people are like. I found out that Barbara Eden was both a very real person and a very good one.
Rick Dominy, who always wanted to go to Cocoa Beach thinking he might see Jeannie there, is a resident of Gaston County and can be reached at 704-675-4862 or email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on The Gaston Gazette: Barbara Eden found fame as Jeannie, but she was also very real