The Only Major Actors Still Alive From I Dream Of Jeannie

Before he started filling up the nation's drug store book racks with tawdry tales of romance and suspense, Sidney Sheldon was one of Hollywood and Broadway's most prolific writers. He could write comedies, musicals, musical-comedies, mysteries, dramas, thrillers ... just about everything short of slasher flicks (though he probably would've knocked out one of those had they been a thing during his 1940s – '60s heyday). Clearly, he had an ear for what worked, and he wasn't just knocking out quickie programmers. He won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the Cary Grant-Myrna Loy-Shirley Temple screwball hit "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer," and earned a Best Musical Tony for the Gwen Verdon-led Broadway smash "Redhead."

And when television came calling, rather than turn up his nose as many of his established film and theater colleagues did during the medium's early days, he enthusiastically picked up the phone.

Sheldon's crowd-pleasing sensibilities translated remarkably well to the small screen. He scored a ratings hit his first time out in 1963 with "The Patty Duke Show," and launched another long-running success 16 years later with the Robert Wagner-Stefanie Powers mystery series "Hart to Hart." But couch potatoes of a certain age will tell you his finest broadcast hour was when he brought "I Dream of Jeannie" into America's living rooms.

Starring Barbara Eden as a genie who rescues astronaut Tony Nelson (Larry Hagman) from certain death on a desert island, the series obviously owed a debt to the magic-tinged sitcom "Bewitched" (which premiered the previous year). But "I Dream of Jeannie," with its NASA setting and space-age aesthetic, quickly set itself apart. And the primary reason it lasted five seasons on NBC was its splendid cast, only one of whom, alas, is still with us.

An ode to Tony and Roger

Eden was the sitcom's breakout star, but the series also introduced us to two other soon-to-be TV favorites.

Aside from Eden, the biggest name by far to come out of "I Dream of Jeannie" was Larry Hagman, whose good-natured, occasionally flustered Tony could not have possibly prepared us for his unforgettable portrayal of the ruthless oil baron J.R. Ewing in CBS' wildly popular nighttime soap "Dallas." Hagman's ability to play a charming bastard never translated to film stardom (though he was quite good as John Travolta's political opponent in Mike Nichols' "Primary Colors"), but when your character's season finale fate creates the most talked-about cliffhanger in television history, who needs movies (especially when they're as dire as the Hagman-directed "Beware the Blob")?

The other notable actor to emerge from "I Dream of Jeannie" was Bill Daily, who stole his share of scenes as Tony's caddish best friend Roger Healey. Daily got his start in stand-up comedy, and allegedly inspired Bob Newhart to write the classic "Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue" bit. If true, Newhart more than repaid the favor by casting Daily as overly intrusive neighbor Howard Borden in "The Bob Newhart Show." The nosy neighbor was a sitcom staple by the early 1970s, but Howard's shameless freeloading hit differently. Would we have Cosmo Kramer without Howard Borden? Possibly, since Kramer was based on a real guy, but Borden at least gave Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David a proven template from which to operate.

We lost Hagman in 2012 at the age of 81, and Daily in 2018 at 91. The rest of the main cast has also left us. Barbara Eden, however, is still going strong.

Barbara Eden (Jeannie)

Barbara Eden broke into television at the age of 24 on "The Johnny Carson Show" (the King of Late Night's pre-"Tonight Show" variety series). Like many rising small-screen stars, Eden's early career was bolstered by featured appearances on some of the era's biggest hits (e.g. "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show" and "Father Knows Best"). The more TV producers saw of her, the more they fell in love with her.

Sheldon wound up being the creator to hit the jackpot when he cast her in the seemingly tailor-made part of Jeannie. From the start, Eden struck a perfect balance between wide-eyed innocence and irrepressible mischievousness. Though Tony was technically her master, she grew more independent as the sitcom wore on, going so far as to leave him altogether in the final season.

Eden flashed plenty of big-screen potential before "I Dream of Jeannie" (particularly opposite Elvis Presley in "Flaming Star" and Paul Newman in "From the Terrace"), but her biggest movie success, "Harper Valley PTA," only brought her back to television for a sitcom spinoff. She had fun as Joe Namath's love interest in the all-star lark "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" (which inexplicably hit heavy pay-cable rotation during the mid-1980s), but her best post-Jeannie work arrived when she went head-to-head against Hagman's J.R. Ewing as LeeAnn De La Vega during the last season of "Dallas."

Eden turned 92 last August, and, aside from voicing her most famous character on a trio of "I Dream of Jeannie" diary entries for YouTube, has turned her hand to writing. Her "Barbara and the Djinn" hit shelves three years ago, and, while touring in support of the book, Eden seemed wholly content with how her career played out. Not many get to say this, so good on you, Ms. Eden, and thanks for the decades of enchantment.