‘I Dream of Jeannie’ star Barbara Eden recalls on-screen chemistry with Larry Hagman: ‘It was wonderful’

Barbara Eden still has fond memories of her former co-star and friend Larry Hagman.

The 87-year-old actress famously starred in the hit TV series “I Dream of Jeannie,” which told the comical tale of a NASA astronaut (Hagman) who finds his life vastly complicated when he stumbles on a bottle containing a genie (Eden). The sitcom aired from 1965 until 1970.

“I loved working with him,” Eden recently told Australia’s News 10 as she gears up to embark on her tour down under this year.

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“It was not work,” the star shared about their on-screen chemistry. “It was just — our timing was right. I can’t even explain it. It was wonderful.”

However, Eden admitted bringing the series to life had its challenges. While Eden herself enjoyed working alongside Hagman, the cast and crew found him difficult. The actor’s battle with drugs and alcohol was also “an open secret.”

“He was very unhappy in the show,” recalled Eden. “[But] the minute we’d get in front of the camera, he was there. He was awake, he was there and he was doing it.”

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(AP)

However, the situation became so severe that the show’s producers were considering replacing Hagman with actor Darren McGavin. However, Eden wasn’t having it.

“My big brain said, ‘No,’” shared Eden. “He was the best person for that part. He was wonderful in that part. It would have been a huge mistake. I’m sorry for him because he didn’t like doing it. But he thanked me for saving his house. He said, ‘Thank you for saving my house!’”

It wouldn’t be Hagman’s private battles that ended the show. She said it was their characters getting hitched that was to blame. It was their sexual tension that captivated audiences for five seasons, she said, but the executives persisted for Major Nelson and Jeannie to finally say “I do.”

“I personally think when we got married, that was the end of the show,” said Eden.

Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman during 2004 TV Land Awards Airing March 17, 2004 at The Palladium in Hollywood, Calif.

Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman during 2004 TV Land Awards Airing March 17, 2004 at The Palladium in Hollywood, Calif. (Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc)

It wouldn’t be the last time the pair worked together. They reunited in “Dallas,” where Eden played Lee Ann De La Vega, J.R. Ewing’s (Hagman) ex-lover during the final season between 1990 and 1991. Eden said it was Hagman who personally invited her to appear in the wildly successful series about a Texas oil baron who uses manipulation and blackmail to achieve his ambitions.

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“It was fun!” said Eden. “It was a little strange, but it was fun. Yes, it was.”

Hagman passed away in 2012 at age 81 from leukemia.

Back in 2017, Eden told Fox News there was one memory she had of Hagman, in particular, that always made her smile — and it involved a lion.

“I had done two feature films with lions and I’ve been told how to treat them,” said Eden at the time. “They’re male lions, they’re lazy. If they’re well fed, they don’t really want to eat you. But they do want to play with you if you run around! You have to be very quiet with them. So I went over and I told Larry, ‘We have to go make friends with the lion.’ He goes, ‘I’m not going to make any friends with any bleep lion!’ And walks off!

Barbara Eden as Jeannie from "I Dream of Jeannie" circa 1967.

Barbara Eden as Jeannie from "I Dream of Jeannie" circa 1967. (Getty)

“And so, I walked over and I did the usual things I’ve been trained to do. I scratched him behind the ears. Never the ears, just behind the ears. And I rehearsed with the cat. He was 600 pounds, a big male lion. They put a little bowl of raw meat beside me. He put his head down and nom, nom, nom. Oh boy, that was good. He looks around and he’s very happy. Very, very happy. And then Larry came in. They started the scene.

“They put the meat down and he ate his meat. He turned around, looked at Larry, and let out a huge roar! It was the loudest roar you have ever heard in your life. Larry was on the next set. He was gone! But not only was he gone, every single man on that set ran. They broke the camera, one of the pieces fell over and I had a 600-pound lion on my lap purring. He put his head in my lap and started to lick my arm, like a great, big pussycat.”

Eden shared that while she will always be grateful for her time in “I Dream of Jeannie,” she’s still stunned that her bellybutton caused such a sensation.

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Barbara Eden loves meeting fans both young and old.

Barbara Eden loves meeting fans both young and old. (Michael Caulfield)

“I have a big 'thank-you' to the media for that,” said Eden. “I was on the set one day and [a writer] for The Hollywood Reporter walked on the set and right over to me. He said, ‘I don’t believe you have one.’ I said, ‘A what?’ And he goes, ‘A belly button!’ And then he poked me in the middle! He started writing about my belly button... The next thing I knew, the 'Laugh-In' wanted to premiere my navel on NBC. I know a lot of women are known for very glamorous body parts, but my navel? Ha!”