I Dream of Jeannie

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I Dream of Jeannie

NBC's I Dream of Jeannie popped onto the NBC airwaves from 1965-1970, debuting with a handsome young Air Force astronaut, forced to abort a mission, parachuting down onto a deserted island. While waiting for the rescue team, he finds a groovy purple bottle and uncorks it. In a puff of smoke, a curvaceous genie in a harem outfit appears, calls him Master and instantly falls in love with him. Coming hot on the heels of Bewitched (and instigating the age-old "Jeannie or Samantha" debate among guys), Jeannie featured another magical blonde who was denied use of her powers by the misguided man in her life. The difference was, Jeannie called her roommate (and the man she loved) "Master," although one could argue that Jeannie was really the one in charge of that relationship.

Barbara Eden, who played Jeannie (and occasionally, her naughty sister) told Entertainment Weekly, "'Master' didn't mean she was a slave. 'Master' was the master because he got the bottle." Nevertheless, Jeannie did stop calling him Master once they got married, which was toward the end of the series run. The long-suffering character's name was actually Anthony Nelson played by Larry Hagman.

The only other character who knew of Jeannie's existence at first was Tony's girl-crazy best friend and fellow astronaut, Roger Healey, played by Bill Daily. The supporting characters included Dr. Bellows, the base psychiatrist and perpetually dour straight man (Hayden Rorke), his overbearing wife Amanda (Emmaline Henry), and an assortment of commanding officers. The first year it was General Stone (Philip Ober), to whose daughter Melissa Tony was engaged, but jealous Jeannie made short work of that. By the second season father and daughter were both gone, the series went to color, and General Peterson (Barton MacLane) came in as the authority figure for most of the series after that, replaced only in the last season by General Schaeffer (Vinton Hayworth). Originally captains, Nelson and Healey became majors during the course of the series.

When Captain Nelson was first rescued, he tried to tell everyone about his magic discovery, but no one believed him, least of all Dr. Bellows who diagnosed him as delusional. Adding to that was the fact that Jeannie would disappear if anyone but Tony and Roger were around, often leaving them holding the bag. And therein lay the rub week after week: well-meaning, mischievous Jeannie would "blink" Tony into trouble, leaving him to find a way to explain it to Dr. Bellows. Sometimes Roger added to the mix, putting Tony into situations that made Jeannie jealous; her favorite punishment was "blinking" someone into the tenuous position of hanging by a rope over a pit of alligators. The show's magical element gave the writers carte blanche with historical figures and situations; Tony was either "blinked" back in time, or they were "blinked" to him. Viewers also got to learn some unsubstantiated history of the Fertile Crescent—after all, Jeannie, like Spock and Data from the Star Trek universe, never, ever used contractions and was originally from Baghdad.

I Dream of Jeannie could only have existed where and when it did, on the cusp of the women's movement. Notwithstanding the whole master-slave issue, the arc of the show from beginning to end could also be interpreted as a metaphor for an old-fashioned view of the "power" that women have over men. She knows she'll land him, she uses her "magic" on him; he tries to deny the power and remain a bachelor, but finally succumbs. It's interesting to note that in subsequent attempts at featuring genies in sitcoms (all of them awful), the genies have been male. (In one especially misguided 1983 attempt called Just Our Luck, the genie was an African American male … with a white "master.")

The show also captured the mid-to-late 1960s fascination with the post-Kennedy space program. After all, the genie could just as well have been found by a tire salesman, but Nelson was an astronaut, frequently sent off on missions. The moon landing seemed as magical as Jeannie's powers back then. It was somehow fitting that the series ended soon after the actual moon landing and as the more jaded 1970s began.

Nineteen seventy-three brought an animated Jeannie to Saturday mornings. This Jeannie wasn't discovered by an astronaut, but by a high school student named Corey Anders. In 1985, the dream heroine returned to television in the unimaginatively titled TV movie I Dream of Jeannie Fifteen Years Later. Barbara Eden and Bill Daily came back with it, but Larry Hagman, by then again a household name as the ruthless J.R. Ewing on Dallas, would have seemed quite out of place and Wayne Rogers (Trapper from TV's M*A*S*H*) signed on as Tony Nelson. This movie had a special significance: viewers were finally treated to the sight of Jeannie's belly button. Although Eden had spent much of the original series in a low-cut harem outfit, the pants were high-waisted enough to cover her navel, by order of NBC (they didn't seem to have a problem with cleavage). Another network rule the series had to follow was that Jeannie's bottle could never be seen in Tony's bedroom.

Eden and Daily reunited again in the TV movie I Still Dream of Jeannie in 1991. The original series, created by bestselling schlock novelist Sidney Sheldon and presumably named after the old Stephen Foster tune, enjoyed rerun success on "Nick at Nite" in the 1990s. "It's timeless," said Barbara Eden in Entertainment Weekly. "A genie is always in a costume, and the guys in the show are in uniform, so it doesn't become dated."

—Karen Lurie

Further Reading:

Baldwin, Kristen. "Dream Team." Entertainment Weekly. January 24, 1997, 11.

Brooks, Tim, and Earle Marsh. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows 1946-present. New York, Ballantine Books, 1995.

McNeil, Alex. Total Television. New York, Penguin, 1996.

Mukherjee, Tiarra. "Still Dreaming of 'Jeannie."' Entertainment Weekly. September 20, 1996, 91.