In the mid-1960s, the space race was in full swing, and television shows reflected Americans’ fascination with space travel. It seemed magical that humans could escape Earth, and shows with space themes enjoyed high ratings. Family sitcoms were also popular, especially Bewitched, which premiered in 1964. While it wasn’t about space, the magical witch that married unsuspecting ad man Darren Stevens was an instant hit because it was a family show and included a bit of fantasy and magic.
While ABC was producing Bewitched, Sidney Sheldon over at NBC came up with a sitcom about an astronaut who finds and rescues a two-thousand-year-old genie when his rocket ship crash lands. I Dream of Jeannie premiered on September 18, 1965, and became a legend in American television. The original budget for the show was minimal, so the first season was shot in black and white, and it was the last show NBC filmed this way. While the point of the show initially was to piggyback on the success of Bewitched, it became a cult favorite and has spawned collectible merchandise, including toys, children’s clothing, and space-themed items.
BUT FIRST, THE BOTTLE
While the show’s success etched many facets into the pop culture of the mid-1960s, the one thing most people remember is the decorated bottle that was Jeannie’s home. When preparing to shoot the pilot, director Gene Nelson was passing a liquor store and saw a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon in a fancy smoked glass bottle. He felt it would be perfect for the show and purchased it for about $5.99. Prop employees painted the bottle in gold leaf for the first season. However, before season two’s production in color, the prop department repainted additional bottles in pink and purple tones with gold accents so that the bottle showed up well on camera.
In Beverly Hills, California, Julien’s Auctions sold the original bottle purchased by Gene Nelson for $34,375 in April 2017. With it was a hand-written letter from Barbara Eden stating that it was the first bottle used on the set and that the show’s director had purchased it and owned it until he died in 1996. While Nelson found the bottle that became the symbol of a magic genie and her “master,” he left the show after the first season amid rumors of near-constant conflict with star Larry Hagman.
While on the show, Jeannie only ever has one bottle; however, a fan page for the series indicates that the show used approximately five bottles in filming, each with slightly different paint details. There were also “stunt” bottles used for scenes where Jeannie entered or left the bottle in a puff of smoke. Very often, these bottles broke when creating the special effect. Today, there are thousands of reproductions of the Jim Beam Jeannie bottle, but the ones used on the set are the most valuable. On the final day of filming, Barbara Eden took the original purple-and-pink bottle from the stage as a souvenir. She later donated it to the Smithsonian, where it is on exhibit.
The bottle wasn’t the only item to come from the show. Television shows, especially sitcoms, were often partnered with clothing companies, toy manufacturers, and other merch dealers to promote a program by selling an associated item, like a board game, doll, or clothing. So while retro enthusiasts can buy a Major Tony Nelson flight suit badge or a vintage Jeannie costume and mask, some of the most popular items from the show were for children.
Board games, dolls, and other toys flew off the shelves. I was five years old when the show’s last season was on, and I believed that if I just blinked hard enough, I could be Jeannie. Probably to keep me occupied and out her way, my mother took an old pillbox hat, some rick rack trim, and a hunk of blond hair from a wig she had and fixed me up with a Jeannie hat, complete with ponytail and fake braid. I would rush upstairs to my closet to put it on, along with a pink pair of pajamas when the show was on, and while none of my blinks ever worked, I believed in magic for half an hour a week.
A “JEANNIE” IN EVERY HOME
Naturally, dolls were a big part of television show merchandise, and Jeannie was no exception. In 1966, doll manufacturer Libby Majorette Doll Corp. created an official Jeannie doll. Today, these dolls are highly collectible. I remember that an older cousin of mine had one, and I was so jealous, but at least I had a hat that no one else had. Madame Alexander, the doll maker which immortalized hundreds of characters from movies and television, created a Jeannie and Major Nelson pair of dolls for FAO Schwartz in 1996. The set’s original price was $195.00; however, prices vary in online auctions for the sets, depending on the condition of the dolls and whether the original box is included.
No star or show is truly iconic if they haven’t issued a Barbie doll version, including Jeannie. In 2000, a Collector’s Edition Barbie doll in the original box, signed by Barbara Eden, was sold at Julien’s Auctions as part of its Hollywood Legends and Luminaries auction for $1,600.
Long after the show was off the air, it lived on in reruns. The show has stood the test of time, entertaining anyone who views it, from nostalgic baby boomers who watch it because they remember it to new Gen Z fans that appreciate the campiness of an astronaut and a genie in a bottle covertly living together. Collectors still love to hunt down something to remember the adventures of a happy genie and a bumbling astronaut.
Brenda Kelley Kim lives in the Boston area. She is the author of Sink or Swim: Tales From the Deep End of Everywhere and writes a weekly syndicated column for Gannett News/Wicked Local. When not writing or walking her snorty pug Penny, she enjoys yard sales, flea markets, and badminton.
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