The Celebrity Collector
Everyone's Favorite "Jeannie," Collects
genie-in-a-bottle has always had a soft spot in her heart for
elephants. She began collecting them around the time the hit show I
Dream of Jeannie was in its five-year run on NBC.
By Ken Hall
There's something about
elephants that has always appealed to Barbara Eden, best known as
the sexy, bubbly wish-granter on TV's smash '60s hit I Dream of
Jeannie. "Elephants exist in a matriarchal society," Eden said from
her home in Beverly Hills. "They look out for each other and care
for each other, even when they die. They have compassion, and
memories. I just love them."
Her collection of elephants
-- most of which is crystal and ceramic, but also includes wood and
even a wind-up elephant -- began around the time she was starring in
Jeannie. "Someone gave me a ceramic elephant as a gift, and I just
began accumulating more of them." Today, the house she shares with
husband Jon Eicholtz (an architect/real estate developer) is
populated with pachyderms.
"I've got them scattered
about, but they all fit into the decor," Eden said. "You wouldn't
even notice them, the way I've got them arranged. They flow, they
fit in." One of her favorite pieces is in the kitchen. "At the
bottom of the breakfast table, there are elephants going around the
pedestal. It's really quite beautiful. I have a herd of little
elephants set up around the plants in the kitchen, too."
Also in the kitchen, above
the stove, there is a tile surface that needed some accenting. The
solution? Elephants, of course! "I consulted with an artist about
what should go there, and how it should be arranged," Eden said. "We
decided on animal figures -- some elephants, but also rhinoceroses
and other wild animal figures -- to go among some tulips. It looks
like an African safari!"
Like many celebrities,
Barbara didn't have to do a whole lot of buying to sustain her
collector habit. "Once the word got out that I like elephants, I
began getting them as gifts," she said. "One of my favorite pieces
is one in the bathroom that was given to me by my hairdresser." Some
are from friends in the industry. "George Hamilton gave me a
wonderful ceramic elephant," she said.
Another gift came from Rita
MacKenzie, a friend who is currently starring in a one-woman show
dedicated to the life and music of Ethel Merman. "But most of the
ones I've been given aren't from actors," she pointed out. "They're
from directors and producers mainly." One she mentioned because of
its unusual look and design is a candle with an elephant figure
sticking out of it.
Don't be misled, though --
Barbara hasn't merely sat back and waited for the next elephant
freebie to be handed to her. When something catches her eye, she
pounces. "About seven years ago, I was at the Furniture Mart in Los
Angeles, and I saw this beautiful, carved elephant chair that had
been hand-made in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. I just had to have it.
It's in my home today."
As Eden moves from room to
room in her house, she can locate an elephant in just about every
one (except the living room, for no particular reason). Beginning in
the entranceway, there's a large elephant under a coffee table; in
another room, there's an elephant on a coffee table; there's a
sculpture figure on the floor, some others in the bar. "I guess you
could say I just love elephants."
Barbara Eden was born
Barbara Jean Huffman in Tucson, Ariz. Her family moved to San
Francisco when she was a little girl, and that's where she was
raised. Her father worked for PacBell (the regional telephone
company), while her mother was the credit manager for Granet
Brothers, a jewelry store in San Francisco. Barbara's dream of
succeeding in show business began early on.
Fortunately, her family
recognized Barbara's talent and drive, and they encouraged her to
pursue her dream. She was able to study drama and technique while
still in high school. She also studied music at the San Francisco
Conservatory, and sang with bands in the Bay Area on weekends.
Performing was one way she was able to pay her way through City
College in San Francisco.
While still in school, she
teamed with a vaudeville comedian named Solly Hoffman, and the two
did a pantomime act under the billing "Hoffman and Huffman." It was
this kind of experience that gave Eden the poise that led to a
scholarship in a theatre group. After that, Barbara felt she was
ready for Hollywood. But was Hollywood ready for her? She remembered
her first interview there: "I met with a studio executive from
Warner Brothers, and he told me, 'You're a nice girl from a nice
family -- go home!'" Undeterred, Eden got a night job working at a
bank and moved into the Hollywood Studio Club for Women, where she
met other aspiring actresses. All of them shared the same dream of
one day achieving movie stardom. Fame would pass most of them by,
but not Eden.
She got her first big break when a producer from
20th Century Fox spotted her onstage in "The Voice of the Turtle" in
Laguna, Calif. He signed her to a contract and cast her in the TV
series "How To Marry a Millionaire," starring in the role made
famous by Marilyn Monroe in the film of the same title. While with
the show, she married her first husband, the actor Michael
While at Fox, Eden appeared
in a string of motion pictures, including Voyage to the Bottom of
the Sea, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, The Seven Faces
of Dr. Lao, and opposite Elvis Presley in Flaming Star. She then
joined Columbia Studios, where she starred in Ride The Wild Surf,
The New Interns and other movies. Her career was launched, with fame
about to call.
In 1965, Eden was asked to
test for a new television show called I Dream of Jeannie. Like other
fantasy concepts from the time -- Bewitched, The Flying Nun, My
Mother The Car -- the show's premise hinged on the supernatural. In
this case, a genie, trapped inside a bottle, was found by an
astronaut and she did his bidding -- while he tried to keep her
existence secret from NASA.
The show ran for five years
on NBC, and is still seen today in syndication (twice daily on
Nickelodeon's "TV Land"). It made superstars out of Eden and her
co-star, Larry Hagman (the son of Mary Martin, she of Peter Pan
fame). Both would find success in their post-Jeannie years, he as
the infamous "JR" on the hit show Dallas and in other roles, she in
numerous plays, shows and films.
In 1979, Barbara starred in
the modestly budgeted independent film Harper Valley PTA, based on
the popular recording by Jeannie C. Riley (another Jeannie!). The
movie went on to gross more than $25 million. The next year, during
February "sweeps week," the film was aired on TV and attracted more
viewers than the Olympic hockey semi-final game between the U.S. and
Based on that unexpected
success, network programming executives from NBC and Universal
Studios began conceptualizing a TV series based on the movie.
Barbara was the natural choice for the lead role, which she played
for the show's two year-run (1980-81). Though rated highly, the
program was cancelled when studio and network executives disagreed
over its direction.
Eden has been a musical
guest star on more than 50 variety TV shows, including 21 Bob Hope
specials. She has also starred in numerous made-for-TV movies. She
has a recurring role in the WB hit series Sabrina The Teen-Age Witch
as the matriarchal Aunt Irma. For her many performing
accomplishments, Barbara has been given her own star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Eden came face to face with
tragedy in 2001 when her son, the 35-year-old actor Michael Ansara,
died from steroid use. He was an avid body-builder and used steroids
to enhance his physique, but he paid the ultimate price. Today, Eden
speaks out about the dangers of steroid use and abuse, appearing on
shows such as Larry King Live. She is also active in other charity
Dream of Jeannie ran from 1965-70 on NBC and is re-run twice
daily on Nickelodeon's
elephant collectors believe the trunk must always be turned up.
That's a sign of good luck.
elephant, zebra and giraffe live in harmony on this safari table
her vivid blue eyes, cute figure and bubbly personality, Eden has
enjoyed fame for 35 years.
Elephants on a round glass end table are supported by an
elephant base, lit by an elephant lamp.
"Bridge of Hope" (Mandarin style) conveys that goals are attainable
when we all pull together.