Before taking over America’s TV screens as J.R. Ewing in Dallas, Larry Hagman was Tony Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie.
He and Barbara Eden cast a spell on audiences during an era when magic-themed shows such as Bewitched were turning into hits. Though Hagman had a few prickly moments on set that affected his reputation, he and Eden typically spoke highly of one another. However, there was one experience that he deemed a bit “mortifying.”
Larry Hagman signed on for ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ in 1965
Barbara Eden already landed the role of Jeannie for the sitcom when Larry Hagman and a few other contenders auditioned to be the astronaut Tony Nelson. Hagman snagged the part, shot the pilot, and after several months, he learned I Dream of Jeannie had been picked up by NBC.
According to Hagman’s memoir, Hello Darlin’!: Tall (and Absolutely True) Tales About My Life, he was thrilled but there were a few hiccups in the early stages. He butted heads with the original director and for season 1, NBC wanted to trim costs and shoot solely in black and white.
Further, they had to film the first 10 episodes in a rush due to Eden’s pregnancy. The tight schedule was a challenge for Hagman because his father was ailing from a stroke — and later a coma — all within a span of months. His dad died before the show premiered in September 1965.
However, the series got a replacement director for its second run, helping to set a course for success.
An elephant sparks trouble for Hagman on ‘Jeannie’
Hagman noted how creative the production team had to be in order to pull off special effects for the show. He explained the cast would often have to freeze and stay in position while the object or “power” was set up for the next frame. After that, the cameras would roll again to pick up the scene.
Out of the many memories Hagman possessed about working on set for I Dream of Jeannie, one of them involved an elephant.
“One time Barbara and I were doing a scene in which Jeannie popped in on an elephant,” he wrote. “After the director told us to freeze, they brought in a live elephant, except they brought him in backward, so his a*s was to the camera. We couldn’t turn him around. He wouldn’t budge,” Hagman said.
He recalled how the director gave up trying to reposition the animal and let the cameras roll. Hagman and Eden resumed their characters’ dialogue.
“As I protested the elephant being there — he was right next to me — he lifted his tail and broke wind, literally all over me. Perhaps that’s what the elephant thought of my acting,” wrote Hagman.
It was hilarious and slightly ‘mortifying’ for Hagman
Both Hagman and Eden were fazed but held it together for the rest of the scene. And then the director finally yelled “cut.”
“I burst into laughter and quickly rushed off-stage to shower and change my clothes. It was probably the most mortifying moment of my career,” said Hagman. The actor went on to highlight how much fun he had working on I Dream of Jeannie, including moments with human guest stars such as Chuck Yeager and Sammy Davis Jr.
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