Have just finished reading Barbara Eden‘s autobiography. Remember her as the genie in the bottle in “I Dream of Jeannie?” A favorite sitcom of mine at the time it aired in the mid-60s, I’m sure she was the fantasy of every young girl who wanted to be like Jeannie, and every man, young and old, who wanted to be her master, aka Captain Tony Nelson. Because I looked nothing like Barbara Eden, blonde, blue-eyed, I don’t think I was as fixated on her as I was on her cute leading man, Larry Hagman. I probably tuned in as often as I could to drool over his good looks. I thought the show was funny, although I liked it a lot better when Tony finally stopped running away from Jeannie’s advances. They made a cute, TV couple; I thought they’d make a great pair in real life too. But I guess I was wrong.
It’s obvious that Eden admired Hagman’s acting, and shared a lasting friendship with him, but according to her, he was like the Tasmanian devil…hell on wheels!
On one unforgettable occasion, when Larry didn’t like a particular script, his answer was to throw up all over the set. Nerves? Method acting? I didn’t stick around long enough to find out, but took refuge in the sanctuary of my dressing room instead.
In many ways, Larry was like a very talented, troubled child whose tantrums sometimes got the better of his self-control. The crew, however, quickly lost patience with him and vented their frustration by cutting him dead as often as possible and tormenting him however and whenever they could. Once when Larry demanded a cup of tea (as opposed to his habitual champagne), the crew, exasperated by his high-handedness and demands that a scene be reshot because he didn’t like that particular segment of the script, put salt in his tea instead of sugar.
When the unsuspecting Larry took a sip and spat the tea out in disgust, the entire set rocked with suppressed laughter from the delighted crew, who probably would have applauded if they could have, they so enjoyed humiliating poor Larry.
In real life, Eden was happily married to fellow actor Michael Ansara. Of Lebanese descent, he was two when his parents moved the family to America. She raved of him…
As far as I–and thousands of fans and love-struck female fans throughout the world–was concerned, Michael Ansara was a magnificent specimen of alpha-male masculinity. Six foot four and darkly handsome, with blazing brown eyes, a deep, resonant voice, and a powerful aura of strength and dependability, Michael was a Hollywood heart-throb with sex appeal to burn.
I think we get the picture. If Ansara had portrayed a genie competing with Tony Nelson for Jeannie’s hand on the TV sitcom, I wonder if Eden could’ve refrained from revealing to the audience which of her two suitors really had her in the palm of his hands?
I’m sure you’ve surmised that Eden and Ansara tied the knot. Seven-and-a-half years after marrying they were delighted to welcome son Matthew, a month before the premiere of “I Dream of Jeannie.” Because her career climbed while her husband’s nose-dived, Eden became the family breadwinner. For the most part the arrangement seemed to work just fine, for as she explained at the conclusion of her book…
The wonderful thing about my business and about my life is that I never know what’s around the corner. I’m very lucky to like what I do and to be able to work at it so happily and for so long. I’ve always considered my career to be a great joy and a great gift. I love it, and long may it continue.
But her career took its toll on her marriage, her son, and another baby boy as yet unborn. It was this chain of events that convinced me to share Eden’s story with you, which I’d intended to do yesterday, Mother’s Day. What she endured is a tragic example of a wife and mother who tries to do everything, to be everything to all people.
… Ten years into our marriage, I gave an achingly honest interview to a newspaper journalist about the problems Michael and I encountered in our marriage.
“My husband, Michael,” I said, “is becoming more and more annoyed watching me go to work every day while he sits home. He hates the thought of it. I don’t blame him. There isn’t a man around who enjoys the feeling that his wife is the breadwinner and brings home the bacon. I know it’s uncomfortable for Michael. What are we going to do about it? I wish I knew…All I’m sure of is that Michael would give anything to see our positions reversed.” …
Difficult or not, Michael and I had no plans to end our marriage, and we still loved each other as much as we ever had. Then in 1971, to our delight, I became pregnant with our second child.
Even their son Matthew was excited at the prospect of a baby brother. Good fortune seemed to bless her with more good news when she was offered the opportunity to tour America for 10 weeks in not one, but two musicals, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” and “The Sound of Music.” She signed on against her better judgment, for she was in her late thirties and was already feeling the effects of already having acted, sung, and danced “nonstop all over the country for so many years.” For once in her life she was “overcome by a burning desire to refuse not just one job but two.”
But Michael was not working, and if I didn’t take this opportunity, our family would go hungry. Although I knew in my heart that this wasn’t the case, against my better judgment, I agreed to star in both musicals and tour the country right up until I was eight months pregnant.
She took precautions, checking in with doctors wherever she toured, who were recommended by her L.A. physician. But upon finally returning home and being examined by her own doctor, she learned what no mother wants to hear.
My baby was dead. His umbilical cord had been crushed, and there was nothing anyone could do to save him. I say him, because the doctor told me that my unborn baby was a boy. The doctor also told me that in all his many years of practice, he had never encountered a case like mine.
Worse yet, Eden says…
I only knew that I had to carry my dead baby inside of me for six more weeks, because were the doctors to deliver his lifeless body before then, my own life could be endangered. In hindsight, this is a barbaric, outmoded medical practice, and thankfully it is no longer done.
Upon reading this, I recollected overhearing adults whisper of such instances when I was growing up. I didn’t know what it all meant, except that a woman had to carry the dead fetus the entire nine months. There’d be no shortcuts. Needless to say the ordeal took its toll on Eden, who unknowingly succumbed to postpartum depression. After 15 years of marriage she divorced Ansara who was bewildered by her decision. And in retrospect, she regrets not having sought counseling to save her marriage. For the consequences took its toll on their son. “But I still regret our divorce, because the repercussions it would one day have on Matthew would turn out to be cataclysmic. Had I been able to look into a crystal ball at that time, I would have stayed in the marriage until Matthew was an adult. but I didn’t.”
In 1974, Michael, Matthew, and I were living in our ranch-style home in the San Fernando Valley, a prosperous community of well-heeled, well-educated people. Little did we know that someone who lived close by, a wealthy hippie, a man with children of his own, was growing pot in his garden and smoking it with the neighborhood kids. I guess that particular person thought that what he was doing was fun, cool, harmless. If I ever came face-to-face with him, I’d happily kill him.
Fate is so strange, and I often ask myself this question: if Michael and I had lived in another neighborhood, not one where our neighbor was growing pot and handing it out to kids like some kind of candy, would Matthew have avoided becoming a drug addict?
But the reality may well be different. Marijuana can be an extremely addictive drug, and the addiction is intensified if a child not only starts smoking when he is extremely young but also has a marked genetic predisposition to addiction. Sadly, Matthew fell into both categories. Michael and I both had alcoholism in our respective families. Michael’s grandfather was an alcoholic, as were both my mother’s older sister and her brother. Matthew’s early addiction to marijuana easily led to an addiction to harder drugs later on.
Another factor, one for which I will blame myself to my dying day, is that Matthew was only nine when I asked Michael for a divorce, and he never really recovered from having his hitherto happy home broken up. …
…on the morning of June 26, (2001) all my worst fears came true. Matthew was dead. …He was just thirty-five years old.
Barbara Eden’s life continued in the same way that all our lives do…with its ups and downs. Although Michael Ansara remains the “love of her life,” she has found happiness with her third husband, Jon Eicholtz, a builder/developer.
a mom who tried to do it all…and in my estimation…remained a classy lady despite her tragic losses…hugmamma.