Dreaming of Jeannie

Roughly a month before Anna was born, I Dream of Jeannie premiered on September 18, 1965. The first thing in life that Anna ever memorized was the I Dream of Jeannie schedule from TV Guide. In fact, for each season, the show switched its day and time, and reruns started in 1971 with another schedule. Without a doubt, a woman who gets bottled up every night and calls her sweetheart Master poses a problematic role model. But what little girl in the late 1960s and early 1970s wouldn’t want a kindly gentleman astronaut for a first love—a romance with the Space Age (with real magical powers to boot)? Who doesn’t want to have some magic in her? What little boy doesn’t want to be an astronaut?

I Dream of Jeannie was NBC’s response to ABC’s Bewitched, which had premiered the year before to great success. The first episode of I Dream of Jeannie—“The Lady in the Bottle”—was filmed in black and white, one of two NBC regular shows that weren’t yet in color. The episode opens with astronaut Tony Nelson (played by Larry Hagman) getting suited up for a mission into space, where we learn that Tony is scheduled to marry General Stone’s daughter. Shortly after liftoff, the final stage misfires, the mission is aborted, and Tony ends up on the sandy beach, where he finds a bottle. Out of the bottle emerges smoke and the Jeannie (played by Barbara Eden) we came to know, all decked out in her exotic costume carefully designed to hide her navel. She doesn’t speak English, and impulsively kisses him. His response: “I must have gone further into orbit than I thought.” Tony wishes she could speak English, so then she does. When he realizes that he could never explain a beautiful genie, Tony sets her free, but she’s in love, returns to her bottle, and wheedles her way home with him in his belongings.

The Cape from Space

Home for Jeannie and Tony is Cocoa Beach and its adjacent Cape Canaveral, home to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The first successful rocket launch from the Cape was in 1950, and the Titan missile was first tested there in 1959. All of the Mercury and Gemini missions and Apollo 7 were launched from Cape Canaveral, though the rest of Apollo and current launches occur nearby at Kennedy Space Center. Following President Kennedy’s death, Cape Canaveral had a ten-year run under the name Cape Kennedy, but Floridians didn’t like that so much and restored its original name, which dates back 400 years.

Of course, with a genie at home running around in his button-down white shirt—and apparently little else—with a genie who loves him, has a jealous streak, and has a sad story of imprisonment, it quickly becomes impossible for Tony to appear sane to his fiancée. In fact, in order to keep the magic a secret only the two of them share, Jeannie and Tony must work together over five seasons to make others—namely Dr. Bellows and fellow astronaut Roger Healey—appear to be the bumbling or neurotic ones. Forty-five years ago, that first episode ended with a kiss, a quick (but thwarted) visit to the bedroom, and Jeannie winking to the audience.

Watch all but one I Dream of Jeannie episode on Hulu.

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