When Elvis Presley contacted Barbara Eden, he had only one thing in mind.
The singer and the future “I Dream of Jeannie” star were filming a movie together, 1960’s “Flaming Star.”
At the time, Presley was romantically involved with someone overseas, but had some reservations about taking their relationship to the next level.
“Elvis told me about this girl that he loved very much,” Eden, who turned 92 on Aug. 23, told Fox News Digital.
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“He said, ‘I want to know how you and your husband are surviving this case,'” Eden recalled. “‘I’m a little worried about bringing it to the United States.'”
At the time, Eden was married to actor Michael Ansara. Presley was curious how they managed to stay married in Hollywood.
“I told him, ‘It’s our job,'” Eden explained. “‘He’s going there, I’m going there. But we’re still together. That’s how we make money, but we’re a team. And as long as you two are a team, it’ll work. .’ But Elvis was worried, “I just don’t know,” he said.
“He was such a well-behaved gentleman,” Eden added. “It’s just wonderful to work with him. I’d come on set and he’d pull me a chair straight away. Actors don’t do that. But he was so courteous and kind to me. He was a really nice guy. “I remember he had his dad on set and another man he called his cousin, but I found out later that it wasn’t a cousin. But they all sat together, played guitar and sang.
“Well, of course he brought this girl – and it was Priscilla.”
Presley was 24 and stationed in Germany while in the army when he met 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu in 1959. With the blessing of Priscilla’s reluctant parents, the couple spent more and more time together. After Presley returned to the United States, they continued to correspond over long distances. In 1963 Priscilla moved to America to live with Presley.
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Eden said she “had no idea” how young Priscilla was.
“She was very young for me,” Eden said. “I just met her recently and told her the story of Elvis. She’s a lovely woman and I love her very much.”
Presley and Priscilla married in 1967 and they welcomed a daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, in 1968. The couple decided to separate in 1973. Elvis died in 1977 aged 42.
Eden said she still has fond memories of meeting Presley on set.
“What surprised me was how honest he was and just a regular guy,” she explained. “I guess it surprised me because I only knew him for his wonderful singing and his knees swinging together and all that. But I should have known better. … He was a very smart, talented man and sweet. And in (our) movie, “It got top reviews. It didn’t make as much money as his other films, but he was recognized as a very good natural actor. “
Eden then starred in “I Dream of Jeannie” in 1965. The sitcom tells the story of an astronaut (Larry Hagman) who stumbles upon a bottle containing a genie (Eden). Eden was originally a recurring sketch performer on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” before “Jeannie” propelled her to fame.
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“You know, I don’t really know how I got the part,” she laughed. “I had read the specialized newspapers in which I had heard about the show and I saw that they were doing tests. At the time, they were testing very tall, sensual and dark-haired girls. They were looking at beauty pageant winners like Miss Italy, Miss Israel, Miss Greece. I just thought, “That’s not me. I am a short blonde. And I’m not sensual.”
“But one day my agent sent me the script,” she said. “I read it and recognized it immediately. He said, ‘Do you like it?’ I said, ‘I really like him!’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s good because they’re offering you the part. All you have to do is meet (series creator) Sidney Sheldon at the Beverly Hills Hotel and have tea with him, so he can get to know you.” ‘ And that’s how I got the part.”
Eden said she was still surprised that her navel was such a hot issue at the time. For her role, she had to wear a two-piece revealing the belly. NBC executives were adamant about having her navel covered.
“Isn’t it strange?” she laughed. “Mike Connolly, who writes for The Hollywood Reporter, came on set one day and said, ‘Where’s your belly button?’ I said, ‘Oh, there it is.’ And he said, “I don’t believe it. I don’t think you have one.” “And he punched me in the stomach. And then he started talking about it in his column. Then other journalists across the United States picked it up, and then my navel became its own celebrity, which was very strange to me.
“When we started the show, I was raising my arms and, of course, you would see my belly button,” she said. “Some women are known for their legs, their breasts. But a navel? I just couldn’t imagine that. But that’s what started. And studio standards and practices decided that I couldn’t at all show my navel. So we had to have all the costumes made so that they were higher at the waist and there was no navel. And the bottle of the genie couldn’t be in Larry’s room. Now, of course, the bottle was in my room, but he was not there.
“It’s really funny. We wore bikinis in the 60s.”
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Eden said her favorite time bringing the sitcom to life was when she had the opportunity to play with a furry friend.
“I had worked with two lions when I was making movies at Fox Studios,” she explained. “The trainer told us that a male lion is pretty lazy. If he’s well fed, he’s not going to chase you. But, like any animal, he has to get used to you. You have to let him feel your hands , and you scratch it behind the ears. Well, for this episode, I knew a lion was coming. So I went up to Larry and said, “We have to go over there and bond over friendship with the lion.” He said, “I’m not going to befriend a totally virgin lion!” And that was it.
“Now I went there and sure enough it was a big lion,” Eden said. “I scratched his ears and let him sniff my hand. … They put a small plate of raw meat next to me and the lion came and ate his food. We rehearsed and he was fine. But when Larry walked in, The Lion did a double take and let out this huge roar.
“And poor Larry. He ran off the set. But not just him, all the men on set ran. The cameras were knocked over. Pure chaos. Meanwhile, I was just sitting there ready to film this scene. The lion put his (paw) in my lap and I made these huge purrs. Oh, and to top it off? I was pregnant. Oh my God, I had a big belly. I don’t know if the lion could tell, but he gave me a big one arm lick.
“My advice? Always befriend a lion if you get the chance.”
Hagman didn’t take Eden’s advice, but he did make a friend in his co-star.
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“Oh, he could shake things up on set,” Eden said. “Larry was always full of energy. He was great. I loved him. What I really appreciated about Larry was how talented he was. He was a man who could do anything when the camera was rolling. I was having a really good time with Larry.”
Hagman, who went on to star as beloved villain JR Ewing on “Dallas,” died in 2021 at age 81.
Today, Eden remains happily busy. She is slated to appear at the Hazard Fest Autograph Convention Show in October and Rhode Island Comic Con in November. She’s also working on a new children’s book, a follow-up to 2021’s “Barbara and the Djinn.” She also maintains a fitness routine involving cycling and weight lifting.
“I’m very lucky,” she said. “I have a wonderful family and a wonderful husband, and I enjoy my job. I don’t do as much work as I used to, but I still go out. And I really have the nicest fans in the whole world. Meeting them is always a joy.
“‘I Dream of Jeannie’ was a fantasy, safe for all ages,” she reflected. “At the time, I knew it was appreciated, but I was just doing my job. I wasn’t thinking about the future or anything like that. I was just enjoying the moment. I’m very grateful that this always be on the air and people know who I am.”