Search This Blog

Saturday, December 18, 2021

PROTO-BARBARA EDEN, or "I Cream On Jeannie"

Oh, the things one discovers in a roundabout way...

While chatting with my buddy Johnny Braccioli, who's three years my junior, and discussing the Chinese houseboy stereotype in movies and TV of yore, I cited the now-forgotten William Forsythe sitcom BACHELOR FATHER (1957-1962), a show that was pretty much gone from syndication by the time I was an under-10, so Johnny had never even heard heard of it. I went to YouTube to find examples of the show's houseboy, Peter (played by Sammee Tong), and in doing so I stumbled across a 1957 episode entitled "Bentley and the Revolving Housekeepers." It's of note because it features a bit with 26-year-old Barbara Eden, eight years before her iconic role as Jeannie in I DREAM OF JEANNIE, and yes, she was already rocking her thermonuclear sex appeal for all it was worth.

In a one-shot guest role, Eden plays Patricia, protagonist Bentley's hot fiancee who's coning over for a hot date, only for his image of her to be dashed by his newly-hired spinster housekeeper, a presence brought in to provide a supposedly much-needed female influence on Bentley's adopted adolescent niece (much to the chagrin of houseboy Peter). The new housekeeper, who enforces a regime of healthy (bland) meals, no drinking, and no poker for money, knew Patricia when she was a child, and when smokin' hot Patricia arrives, the housekeeper keeps bringing up what a cute child she was, and then derails the Bentley's hot date by monopolizing Patricia's attention and reminiscing with her for hours while our hero falls asleep. When Bentley wakes up and the housekeeper finally — FINALLY — goes to bed, Patricia sexily entices our hero to sit with her on the couch. Unfortunately, the housekeeper's talk of Patricia as a child has cemented that image in Bentley's head, so now he only perceives her as a little girl, complete with curls, sailor dress, and a lollipop, thus killing Bentley's boner utterly.
26-year-old Barbara Eden as "little" Patricia, working that lollipop.

Let me tell you, no one could flash seductive eyes while suggestively licking a lollipop like Barbara Eden, even if she is dressed as a moppet (which lends a disturbing undercurrent to the gag when seen some 64 year later). 
That signature Barbara Eden "come hither" look, disturbingly superimposed with Shirley Temple cosplay. Nowadays, a gag like this would immediately be pilloried for being "problematic." Nonetheless, in context it's pretty damned funny.
Let us not forget that her original take on Jeannie was considerably toned down after  the balck-and-white first season of I DREAM OF JEANNIE, as early Jeannie was unabashedly horny as hell and pretty much a live-action PLAYBOY cartoon. Once that show caught on with kids, especially my generation's little girls, the super-overt sexualization of Jeannie was relegated to the back closet of outmoded Golden Age teevee. 
Though rerun all the time when I was a kid, the black-and-white episodes of I DREAM OF JEANNIE were seldom seen, at least that's how it was for the East Coast's Tri-State area, and the only first season episode that I clearly remember seeing was the one that introduced Jeannie and set up the whole series from there. Myself and the rest of my peers mostly absorbed the subsequent color seasons, and that's what most of us remember. Then came the wave of colorization of many classic TV sitcoms, and I DREAM OF JEANNIE got the treatment fairly late in the game, which worked for its benefit because by that time the colorization process was digital and largely seamless. It was thus that I finally saw several first season episodes and finally got Barbara Eden's appeal as an utter sex bomb. Part of the fun of Eden was that she was acutely aware of her own sexiness, and she worked it to great effect in both comedies and dramatic roles, but it was most effective when she worked her seductive talents for laughs. She was always possessed of a devilish smile that was bolstered by those eyes — good lord, those eyes — so when she was fully unleashed in unexpurgated form during I DREAM OF JEANNIE, strutting around Major Nelson's house in naught but a men's shirt, a classic wank fantasy was born. And now I've unearthed what may have been its (now problematic) genesis.

You may now retire for some quality "alone time."

No comments: