“I Dream of Jeannie” star Barbara Eden needed themed garb last year for the 21st Life Ball HIV/AIDS charity gala in Vienna, Austria.
The theme was “1001 Nights” and she agreed for a costume designer to help, but to make one that covered her up.
“As I was packing, a girlfriend said, do you have your genie costume?”
She did, tried it on, it fit and she packed it.
Upon reaching New York, she tried on the costume designed for her. “I can’t even explain it. It was so awful,” she said. It involved “a helmet and armor.”
She wore the genie crop-top and pantaloons instead.
“I was embarrassed but it was fun,” she said, adding that “President Clinton liked it.”
“He grabbed my hand and said, ‘I have to tell you, Elton John and I were sitting backstage and saying, do you remember when you and I were in college and watching that?’ That was a great awakening,” she said.
Eden spoke Wednesday between rehearsals for her encore appearance in Jacksonville.
This time, Eden will star in “Social Security,” a comedy that opens Wednesday at Alhambra Theatre & Dining.
The last time, she was mistress of ceremonies in January 1996 when Jacksonville celebrated reaching a metro area population of 1 million people.
Eden said Wednesday she didn’t remember a great deal from that event, which was a quick trip.
She’ll have more time this visit. Eden is in town rehearsing for the show, which is at the theater through June 8.
The shows run Tuesday-Sunday, with two on Saturday and Sunday.
“When I work, I generally speaking don’t see a lot of the place,” Eden said during a telephone interview. “I only have one day off, and they usually keep me pretty busy.”
If Eden has time, the California resident wants to visit the beach. Her early second impression of the area so far is good.
“It’s certainly beautiful,” she said, adding: “Your highways are gorgeous. A lot better than California’s.”
Eden, news sites indicate she either is 79 or 82, has been in the business for more than 50 years. The IMDb site, an online source for movie, TV and celebrity information, lists her birthdate as Aug. 23, 1931.
“I am just very happy to be here. Not just in Jacksonville, but I am happy to be alive and I am happy to be working,” she said.
Eden likely is best remembered for “I Dream of Jeannie,” an NBC series that ran from 1965-70.
She starred with actor Larry Hagman, who played a U.S. astronaut who found a bottle, rubbed it and Eden appeared as the helpful genie.
It was a time when showing — rather not showing — her belly button on TV made news. A Hollywood Reporter writer had joked with her that he didn’t believe she had a belly button because NBC kept it covered.
“I said, ‘a nickel a peek’ and he wrote it,” she said. “Suddenly it became a cause celebre.”
The comedy show “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In” wanted to unveil her navel. NBC said no.
The question she is asked most often?
“Do I have a belly button?” Her response: “I do now.” (Photos show she displayed it in Vienna last year.)
Eden remains “Jeannie” in many minds. The show has been airing continuously on cable and in syndication in the United States and abroad for more than 40 years.
She was born in Tucson, Ariz., and studied at San Francisco’s City College, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre. She aspired for a music career, but “I Dream of Jeannie” generated international acclaim.
Eden also starred in more than 20 feature films, many network TV shows, made-for-TV movies and other productions, including “Harper Valley PTA” in 1978.
Her TV roles include a part on the original “Dallas,” which featured Hagman as a greedy Texas oil baron who angered family and associates.
“I played Le Ann De La Vega and I ruined him,” she said. “I came in with all my money and ripped him apart. It was fun.”
Hagman, who also starred in the new “Dallas,” died in November 2012.
Eden also has headlined regularly at major hotel resorts and casinos; has been a musical guest star in TV shows, including many Bob Hope specials; and starred in national touring musicals.
Her memoir, “Jeannie Out of the Bottle,” was published in 2011.
Eden said what she likes most about acting is exploring the characters she plays, “and being able to get out of my own skin, doing something different.”
“Jeannie was a little bit of me. I enjoyed her, and I enjoyed her naughty sister a whole big bunch,” she said.
Eden was named by People Magazine as “One of America’s 200 Greatest Pop Icons of the 20th Century” and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She lives in Beverly Hills with her husband, Jon Eicholtz, an architect and real estate developer, and their dog, Djinn Djinn, an Australian-born Labradoodle.
Eden said she doesn’t have a preference between stage or screen or among musicals, comedy or drama.
“It all depends on the piece and who’s directing it,” she said.
Asked her advice for aspiring actors, she said everyone’s path is different.
“Every single person, especially in this profession, is different and everyone’s gifts are unique. So they have to show them,” she said.
“Be true to yourself. Don’t be a copy of something because that won’t work.”
“Social Security” is a comedy with the subtitle “the family that stays together, pays together.” The story, written by Andrew Bergman, focuses on Manhattan art gallery owners Barbara and David Kahn, whose lives are upended when Barbara’s sister drops off their eccentric mother, Sophie, played by Eden.
Barbara and David introduce her to artist Maurice Koenig, who offers to paint her portrait. The story then unfolds.
Eden’s takeaway? “Don’t underestimate your mother.”
Eden has played the part before and said her sister noted that when Eden came on stage the first time, donning a gray wig and using a walker, “the air comes out of the room.”
“It’s fun, it’s a kick,” Eden said.
She said the characters discount the mother “and take care of her like she’s a child, so when she comes, she is very cranky and very rude, and of course there is a blossoming that happens. It is loads of fun to play.”
Tod Booth is the executive producer and director. For information about the show and the theater, visit alhambrajax.com.
Not bad after 43 years. Not bad at all.