Jeannie’s “master” dies at 81: Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden - one of TV's greatest couples

For many, he will be remembered as USAF Major Anthony Nelson who discovered a magic bottle on a beach, becoming 'master' of a Barbara Eden's legendary blonde genie.

VIENNA, Va., November 23, 2012  – Larry Hagman may have been most famous for his role as J. R. Ewing in “Dallas,” then the long running TV drama; and it was his last important starring role on television or in the movies for most of the 1980s. But for families growing up between 1965 and 1970, he will always be remembered as Air Force Major Anthony Nelson who discovered a magic bottle on a beach, instantly becoming “master” of Jeannie, its blonde genie, portrayed by Barbara Eden in Hagman’s other hit series, “I Dream of Jeannie.” 

Where J.R. Ewing was a conniving, unfaithful, hard drinking, scoundrel who thrived on the plains and ranches of oil-rich Texas, Tony Nelson was the dedicated astronaut in the U.S. space program, the best friend of Roger Healey, and the man who always came home to find out what havoc Jeannie had wrought in his absence.

Every guy wanted to be Maj. Nelson and every girl wanted to be Jeannie. It seemed like a match made in heaven.

“Jeannie” was a cute program, silly and laughable, and one of those shows that the whole family could sit down and watch. There was Jeannie in her red and pink harem outfit, her navel always discretely hidden courtesy of network and television censors so strict that they would be turning purple in their graves if they could see what passes for good taste and common sense on the tube today. 

Hagman lived hard. He smoked and drank hard; played with drugs, including LSD, to which he was introduced by some of his movie friends; and eventually developed liver cancer, beating it only by means of a transplanted organ. The actor subsequently had additional bouts with the dread disease, and ended up dying of throat cancer in the end. 

But back on the TV ranch in “Dallas,” he was every bit the Texas bigger-than-life character he played on the screen. Millions of fans went through one entire summer hiatus wondering “who shot J.R.?” only to return later and discover him very much alive. As the son of award winning actress Mary Martin, he may have had a hand up in the business at the start, but his acting ability and his ultimate charm were his and his alone.

As a testament to the endearing nature of “I Dream of Jeannie,” Barbara Eden still remains a beloved figure as well in the hearts of the show’s many fans. She is still active online with her own website and Facebook page.

Since the show supposedly was based around the Cape Canaveral area, the town of Cocoa Beach and its people adopted her. For many years, one of the best restaurants in this charming beach town, Ramon’s, boasted numerous pictures of both Eden and Hagman on its walls along with those of all of the real NASA astronauts, until it burned down in a tragic fire several years ago. 

A street bordering one of the lovely Brevard County parks is named “I Dream of Jeannie Lane” in her honor. It used to be a favorite parking spot for young lovers dreaming of romance.  This past August a commemorative historical marker was placed there, at Lori Wilson Park, 1500 North Atlantic Ave. (State Road A1A), in Cocoa Beach.

“Jeannie” was always said to be filmed there, while in actuality only one segment, the wedding scene between Maj. Nelson and Jeannie, was actually shot there. Although the show wrapped decades ago, Barbara Eden remains something of a local heroine even today. 

On her FaceBook page, Eden wrote “I still cannot completely express the shock and impact from the news that Larry Hagman has passed; I can still remember, that first day on Zuma Beach with him, in the frigid cold. From that day for five more years, Larry was the center of so many fun, wild, shocking… and in retrospect, memorable moments that will remain in my heart forever…”

“He was such a key element in my life for so long and even, years after I Dream of Jeannie; our paths crossed many times,” Eden continued. “Throughout various productions I had the pleasure of watching the Texas Tornado that was Larry Hagman. Amidst a whirlwind of big laughs, big smiles and unrestrained personality Larry was always, simply Larry. You couldn’t fault him for it, it was just who he was. I am so thankful that this past year I was able to spend time with him and experience yet again ‘Larry’ in all his Big Texas bravado.”

The actress continues, “I, like many others believed he had beat Cancer and yet we are reminded that life is never guaranteed… I can honestly say that we’ve lost not just a great actor, not just a television icon, but an element of pure Americana. Goodbye Larry, there was no one like you before and there will never be anyone like you again.”

Many of us who grew up with them both wish Eden could rub that magic bottle one more time and bring Maj. Nelson back. They were both one of a kind people, and Larry Hagman will be missed.


Read more of Martha’s columns on The Civil War at the Communities at the Washington Times.

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Martha M. Boltz

Martha Boltz is a frequent contributor  to the long running Civil War features in The Washington Times America At War feature in the print and online editions. She has been a regular contributor to the original Civil War Page and its successor page since 1994, and is a civil war buff, historian, and writer. "Someone said that if we don't learn about the past, we are condemned to repeat it," she said, "and there are lessons of all sorts inherent in this bloody four-year period of our country's history."  She is a member of several heritage and lineage groups, as well as the Montgomery County Civil War Round Table. Her standing invitation is, "come on down - check the blog - send me your comments and let's have fun with its history and maybe learn something at the same time."


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