Nov 25, 2012

I Dream of Jeannie

When Larry Hagman died a few days ago, his obituaries praised his conniving Texas oil magnate J.R. Ewing of Dallas (1978-1991, plus a 2012 remake).  But I rarely watched Dallas.  I remembered him from one of the "I've got a secret" sitcoms of the 1960s, I Dream of Jeannie (1967-70).

I didn't watch that a lot, either.  Most gay kids preferred Bewitched.  The premise seemed too much like a Playboy fantasy: astronaut Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) finds a bottle washed up on a beach, opens it, and out pops a genie -- nameless, so he calls her Jeannie (Barbara Eden).  She calls him Master.  She wears a belly-dancing costume that leaves little to the imagination, and is willing to do anything he wants. Anything.

To his credit, Tony doesn't take advantage of the situation.  Like Darren of Bewitched, he wants to take care of himself, and he forbids Jeannie from using her magic (she, of course, disobeys him). His best friend Roger (Bill Daily) is less scrupulous -- he can think of lots of things to wish for.

Neither makes the slightest attempt to compromise the lady's virtue, but no doubt that is exactly what was on the minds of millions of straight male viewers.

Every "I've got a secret" sitcom has a Gladys Kravitz to suspect the secret, peer through windows,  and snoop around.  On Jeannie, it was base psychiatrist Dr. Bellows (Hayden Rorke), who was gay-vague: no wife, and no reason for his obsession with the strange goings-ons in the Nelson household, except for a desire to see more of the hunky astronaut.

According to Barbara Eden's autobiography, Rorke (here with gay icon Judy Garland) was "unashamedly gay" in real life, and "a prince" who often invited cast members to dinner parties at his home.

After Jeannie, Larry Hagman went on to Dallas, of course, and Barbara Eden chose roles involving gutsy, go-getting women to prove that she wasn't just a belly-dancing sex object.

 She reprised her Jeannie character twice:

I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later (1985) substituted Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H for Larry Hagman, who was busy with Dallas.   In order to save Tony's life, Jeannie has to sacrifice her relationship with him -- and he must forget that he ever knew her.

In I Still Dream of Jeannie (1991), the events of the previous movie never occurred, but Tony was absent (Larry Hagman was still busy).  Jeannie has to find a new temporary master, and meanwhile saves her kidnapped son, Anthony Jr. (Christopher Bolton of My Secret Identity).