Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris, Thanksgiving and Father Knows Best

So I was all set to write another Museum of Comfort TV piece and then Paris happened. Of course, this isn’t the forum to discuss such atrocities, but the impact was such that it didn’t feel right to proceed with my original topic.  

Instead, let’s talk about Thanksgiving, and Father Knows Best. Seems more fitting, I think, since the holiday was inspired by a moment when disparate groups of people came together in peace and friendship. It didn’t last, but it gave us a glimpse of what we can be at our best. We need more of those now.

Several classic TV shows had Thanksgiving episodes, though even 40 years ago the holiday was overshadowed by the more vibrant sacred and family traditions of Christmas and the material-rich spooky fun of Halloween. Both evoke myriad ideas that would work for almost any kind of series.

Thanksgiving is more of a challenge. It’s always tough and time-consuming to shoot a large group of characters seated around a dinner table, and such scenes feature very little movement outside of passing the sweet potatoes and the biscuits.

Unless you unleash a food fight.

There were football games and parades on Thanksgiving in the Comfort TV era, but would you want to watch a television show in which the characters are also watching TV? Not very exciting.

Friends had some great Thanksgiving shows but it’s a bit out of our era, though I did cover the series once before. And Bewitched offered a delightful holiday episode in its fourth season (“Samantha’s Thanksgiving to Remember”) in which Aunt Clara accidentally blinks Sam, Darrin, Tabitha and Mrs. Kravitz (!) to the Pilgrims’ Plymouth settlement. I watch it every year around this time. 

But my topic for today is “Thanksgiving Day,” from Father Knows Best. It was just the eighth show of the series’ first season, so at the time America was still getting to know the Andersons of Springfield (a radio version had aired for five years already, but that series had a much different tone).

In the story, the Andersons decide that Margaret deserves a break from cooking, and instead they’ll all go out to a restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. But then Bud announces he’s going to spend the day with his high school football team, and Betty accepts an invitation to dine with a neighbor’s family. “She didn’t think you’d mind,” Margaret tells Jim, “as long as we were eating out.” “No, of course not,” Jim mutters, though it inspires reflections of the Thanksgiving traditions he cherished as a boy, and how times have changed.  

There’s another plot about Kathy having an emotional meltdown, but these were fairly common occurrences in the Anderson home. So let’s skip past that to Jim having second thoughts about dining out. “I’d just rather eat here,” he tells Margaret, even though all they have in the house is hamburger.

Perhaps, even if you have never watched this episode, you can guess what happens next. Kathy calms down, and Bud and Betty heed an innate call to home and hearth and realize that is where they should be and want to be on this special day.

The episode ends with the family seated around the kitchen table, on which sits a platter stacked with hamburgers. The Andersons join hands, as Jim offers a prayer of gratitude for the blessings they have received. One particular part of that recitation brings us back to Paris and the challenges of the times with live in now:

“We thank thee for the privilege of living as free men in a country which respects our freedom, and our personal rights to worship and think and speak as we choose.”

There are people in this world who want to take that away from us. And not all of them are terrorists. It’s something to think about as we keep Paris in our thoughts and prayers, and look forward to our own family Thanksgivings. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Comfort TV Covers of Dynamite Magazine

I was recently surprised, and very pleasantly so, to find that the Scholastic Reading Club was still in existence. I was certain that by now it had become a relic of the past, like many good ideas we have discarded because they no longer fit the times we live in.

When I was in elementary school and junior high it was called the Arrow Book Club. Every month new catalogs would be distributed by a teacher, and I would peruse titles about sea monsters and old west outlaws, or be tempted by the latest mystery facing Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective.

And of course, there was Dynamite Magazine. For someone already fascinated by television, Dynamite was like a Christmas present delivered every month. It was a seminal pop culture moment in my life that stands out because back then there weren’t a thousand other sources reporting on the shows and stars that I loved. 

My family didn’t get TV Guide, which may be why I enjoy checking out the back issues so much today. People and Us were around, but that was about it except for tabloid rags and gossip sheets like Rona Barrett’s Hollywood. The TV series Entertainment Tonight debuted in 1981, at the tail end of my high school years.

At the time no one could have imagined the instant gratification and over-saturation of pop culture coverage unleashed by the Internet (heck, no one could have imagined the Internet). For those accustomed to that access, I think it's almost impossible to appreciate how exciting it was just to see a favorite star on the cover of a magazine. 

Dynamite was written for kids my age. It not only featured my favorite shows, which were usually dismissed by the serious TV critics of the day, it did so with articles that were as excited about them as I was. It spoke my language to an almost embarrassing degree, as I discovered while going through a cache of back issues.

What a nostalgic rush it was to page through these ancient publications, getting reacquainted with the puzzles of Count Morbida, the comic book serial adventures of Dawnstar and Nightglider, Magic Wanda’s card tricks and the Hot Stuff section featuring practical jokes called “Gotchas.” 

But it’s the cover stories that transported me back to a more innocent era in television and in life. 

Where else could you have “A Special Talk with Greg Evigan,” or spend a “Happy day with Scott Baio”? 

There were a lot of ‘Meet’ and ‘Face to Face’ covers: Meet Rick Springfield; ‘Face to Face with Erik Estrada’; Meet Kristy McNichol; ‘Face to Face with Fonzie.’

Three of Charlie’s six Angels (Farrah Fawcett, Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd) made the cover, an acknowledgement that perhaps that show wasn’t as scandalous as some believed. Lee Majors made the cover three times, which as near as I can tell is the record. 

Remember Shields & Yarnell, two mimes that got their own TV series and that people actually liked? They head the list of now-obscure cover subjects, along with Clark Brandon (from Mr. Merlin) and David McCallum from his 1975 series The Invisible Man, which appropriately vanished after just 13 episodes.

There was also a 1985 feature called “Backstage at The Bill Cosby Show.” I’ll leave that one alone.

The reporting was solid and the interview pieces were authentic, unlike the made-up quotes and stories in teen publications like Tiger Beat. Still, this was clearly the G-rated version of celebrity coverage (“Mr. T – his look is tough, his heart is tender”).  Questions explored what actors liked about their characters, how they got along with their costars, and what they hoped to do next. For most of them, those aspirations never came true. 

Dynamite was published from 1974 to 1992, a pop culture era that spanned from The Waltons to The Simpsons; from Jimmie Walker to Johnny Depp; from Land of the Lost to Beverly Hills 90210. Back issues are plentiful on eBay and not that expensive.

In its heyday, kids all over the country formed Dynamite Clubs to hang out together and talk about the stars in the magazine. I didn’t join one then. I’d kind of like to now. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bigfoot: Big in the 1970s

Monsters and strange creatures are intrinsic to Halloween, so this seems a fitting time to blog about Bigfoot.

The legends date back centuries though few believers remain in our skeptical times. But the name still resonates – Animal Planet is currently airing a series called Finding Bigfoot, and we’ve all seen those “Messin’ with Sasquatch” beef jerky commercials.

Bigfoot was biggest in the 1970s, a time when hairy dudes were everywhere, from Burt Reynolds and Barry Gibb to Billy Preston and Grizzly Adams. The phenomenon was likely launched by what is known as the Patterson/Gimlin film, shot in 1967 in Bluff Creek, California. It purported to be the first footage ever captured of the “real” Bigfoot, and it made frequent rounds on various news shows, talk shows and documentaries for years. 

Having thus captured the public’s imagination, it was inevitable that versions of Bigfoot would start turning up in several TV series, perhaps most memorably in The Six Million Dollar Man. “The Secret of Bigfoot” was a two-part episode from the show’s third season that is probably the most famous story they ever tried. 

The high point was a mano a mano throwdown between Col. Steve Austin, then one of the coolest dudes on the planet, and Bigfoot, played here by wrestler Andre the Giant. It was difficult to find believable opponents for someone with Austin’s bionic upgrades, so this was a rare opportunity for the show to cut loose with a full-out, slow motion slugfest, that ends shockingly when Austin rips the creature’s arm off.

Before the PETA folks could start writing angry letters, it’s revealed that the secret alluded to in the episode’s title is that Bigfoot was a robot, created by an alien race who were living inside a mountain, observing humanity. Fortunately they’re friendly visitors, especially the hottie scientist played by Stefanie Powers who asks Steve, “What makes a woman attractive in your world?”

The episodes were so popular that Bigfoot even got his own action figure.

I'd rather have had one of Stefanie Powers.

Bigfoot was quickly brought back for a crossover story between The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. In “The Return of Bigfoot” the aliens have split into two camps: an evil ring led by John Saxon and the original “we come in peace” group, featuring Powers and Sandy Duncan ("We need someone to play a strange visitor from another world. Quick - get me Sandy Duncan!"). 

Unfortunately the nasty ones control Bigfoot (now played by Ted Cassidy), and it’s up to Steve and Jaime to set things right.

Episodes like these exemplify ‘70s adventure TV: slightly silly but good-natured fun, with unambiguous heroes, action, suspense and a positive message that doesn’t pound you into submission.

It’s probably not surprising that Bigfoot was especially popular among children, hence his appearances in several Saturday morning shows.

Of course, you’d expect the meddling kids at Mystery Inc. to run into him eventually, and it happened in 1972 on The New Scooby Doo Movies. In “The Ghost of Bigfoot,” the Scooby gang find their vacation at the MacKinac Lodge interrupted by the spirit of Bigfoot. They solve the case with help from bellhops Laurel & Hardy. It was not one of the better shows of the run. 

Over on The Krofft Supershow, “Bigfoot and Wildboy” featured a Bigfoot (Ray Young) whose existence was known at the local ranger station. As with many Krofft series the opening theme/narration tells you everything you need to know:

Out of the Great Northwest comes the legendary Bigfoot
who, eight years ago, saved a young child lost in the vast wilderness
and raised that child until he grew up to be Wildboy

Bigfoot – hero and single parent – took on aliens, poachers, vampires, mummies and mad scientists. The series lasted 20 episodes, which is about the average run for a Krofft show. It wasn’t one of my favorites, mainly because I always hated the escalating, cacophonous electronic sound effect that accompanied Bigfoot’s running and leaping. Seemed totally out of place. 

I’ll mention one more ‘70s Bigfoot story here, though I’m sure I’ve missed a few others. Isis was and remains my favorite Comfort TV kids show, and the episode “Bigfoot” is an example of this kindhearted, uplifting series at its best.  

A high school field trip ends after two students spot a huge, shadowy figure in the mountains. One of them, Lee, wonders if it might be Bigfoot, and the next day suggests getting a group together to hunt it down. 

"Why?" asks Dr. Barnes, the principal.

Lee: "Why? Because that thing is dangerous!"

Dr. Barnes: "Why?"

Lee: "Well…it’s big, and we don’t know what it is."

Dr. Barnes: "So it must be dangerous…too many people think that anything they don’t understand is dangerous. That’s wrong. If you don’t know what something is you should be cautious but not afraid, not set out to hunt it down."

There’s a show that laid down some knowledge and lessons in tolerance to go with our Frosted Flakes and Fruity Pebbles. But some of the kids do head back to the mountains, where Lee meets not Bigfoot but a long-bearded hermit named Richard, who turns out to be the gentlest of giants. 

Isis invites him to come back with them, but Richard has been told he’s big and ugly all his life and is still too afraid to return to civilization. 

“Sometimes people are very cruel to those who seem different,” Isis says. “But it’s worth giving them a chance.”

Seems like a graceful note on which to end. Let's all keep that in mind as we head toward an election year. Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Here They Are, America’s Favorite Family: The Nelsons

You may have noticed I like to jump around in my topic choices. Comfort TV covers a wide range of television programming from the 1950s to the early 1980s, and it’s fun to have that big a sandbox to play in.

But if I was ever to devote an entire blog to one specific show, it would be The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet

As much as I may have more personal affection for the ‘70s sitcoms that were part of my childhood, or the superhero shows that fired a young comic book nerd’s imagination, only Ozzie & Harriet would provide enough material for dozens – even hundreds – of posts, because there is so many aspects of this endlessly fascinating series worthy of in-depth exploration.

Start with the most obvious ­– it’s the longest-running live action family situation comedy in U.S. history, and it features a real family – married couple Ozzie and Harriet Nelson and their two sons, David and Ricky.

At a time when millions of viewers (for reasons unfathomable to me) are fascinated by shows about the Kardashians and Duggars and others (and don’t kid yourself, reality TV is as scripted as anything on Ozzie & Harriet), here was a series that was 50 years ahead of its time.

Imagine – going to work with your whole family and acting out everyday situations like sitting around the dinner table or planning a weekend trip, all on a set built to resemble the house you just left. In fact, the exterior series shots of the Nelson residence showed their actual Los Angeles home (at 1822 Camino Palmero St. in case you're ever in the neighborhood and want to drop by).

And when the workday is done you return home and pick up where you left off as an actual family. What must it be like to participate in an idealized version of your life, while simultaneously coping with any less sitcom-friendly aspects of those relationships when the cameras stopped?

The results, to me, are as captivating as they are unique. And this wasn’t some short-lived sociological experiment in entertainment – The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet ran for 14 years, longer if you count the radio show that preceded the television series. The show aired long enough for David and Ricky to grow up and get married, and for their wives to join the show, also playing dramatized versions of their real selves. 

I still wonder who these people really were. On the show Ozzie was a genial, laid-back patriarch who avoided household chores or any kind of labor. But the real Ozzie served as the show’s producer, director and cowriter. Harriet appeared the quintessential 1950s housewife, with her woman’s club meetings and the stack of pancakes she served her family every morning for breakfast. But the real Harriet was a vaudeville performer and band singer who was smoking at age 13 and enjoyed hanging out at the Cotton Club. She had such a way with an acerbic punch line that you knew she was just as feisty when the cameras weren’t on. 

What was it about this one family that millions of Americans found so interesting for so long? Was that window into aspects of real people’s lives a factor? I’m not sure whether that even played into its longevity.

Instead, I think it was a familial affection that compounded in viewers over time, as well as audiences seeing aspects of themselves and their own families in the Nelsons – or at least what they aspired to be. 

This was a time in television when there was a lot more of that – shows about families and doctors and lawyers and police officers that depicted their subjects in a way that would engender affection, admiration and respect from the viewing public. It wasn’t done overtly to send that message; it was, rather, a natural consequence of the way a self-assured and principled nation would portray itself.

Another element that made the show special was its balance of traditional ‘50s and ‘60s stories with elements of surrealism and a style of plot-less meandering that was later hailed as groundbreaking on Seinfeld. From the most basic of incidents – Rick grows a beard; Ozzie decides to stay in bed all day; Harriet gets a new hairstyle – the show devised clever, labyrinthine scripts that are still laugh-out-loud funny.

You never know where the show is going to take you. An episode about Ozzie’s quest for tutti-frutti ice cream features a 1920's-themed musical dream sequence. In “The Manly Arts,” David and Ricky fight a gang of smugglers in a scene out right out of The Untouchables. And they did their own stunts, just as they did in a circus episode where they performed a trapeze act. In several episodes one of the Nelsons will break the fourth wall and comment directly to the viewers, sometimes in character, sometimes as themselves. 

And we’ve come all this way without mentioning Ricky Nelson’s remarkable music career, another trailblazing aspect to the series. He was one of the biggest teen idols of the 1950s, but also one with real talent, as evidenced by his 35 top-40 hits and his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His frequent performances boosted record sales, establishing a pattern of crossover success that would be emulated by everyone from Shelley Fabares to Miley Cyrus. 

But one of the things I love the most about The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet is that I still have so many episodes to look forward to watching. There were 435 shows, and I have seen only about 150 of them.

Despite its quality and historic significance, the series has not fared well on DVD, for reasons too complex to explore here. Ricky’s son Sam Nelson is currently working on an official DVD release, but he chose to go it alone rather than work with an established DVD distributor. That may not have been a wise choice at a time when the market is already in decline, particularly for television shows of this vintage. The project was announced in 2011, but nothing has yet been released.

Hurry up, Sam – the fans that still remember the Nelsons as America’s favorite family aren’t getting any younger. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Time Passages

Here’s a question I present for discussion among my fellow comfort TV fans: Does watching an inordinate amount of television from 30 or 40 years ago alter your perception of how time passes?

I don’t know about you, but for me the 1980s don’t seem that long ago, even though I graduated high school in that decade and I’m 51 now. Is it the same with everyone, or has constant exposure to television from the 1970s and ‘80s kept that era fresher in my mind, and made it seem less far away?

One recent night’s TV viewing included a Charlie’s Angels two-parter, followed by a Harry O episode and two Bob Newhart Shows. The transition from the hours spent in those bygone fictional worlds to the here and now hardly felt distant at all. 

It’s a different experience with shows from the 1950s and early ‘60s, especially those broadcast in black and white. Here, there are numerous and obvious indicators that these are stories from another age. Just observing the way students dress to go to school is enough to realize how life has changed. 

I feel at home among the shows from the 1970s, perhaps because I shared cultural touchpoints with the characters that were growing up in that decade. And watching the shows in 2015 doesn’t feel any different from watching them in 1995 or 1985 or when they were first broadcast. My TV is bigger and I don’t have to worry about fixing the vertical hold, but otherwise it’s the same happy experience.

Maybe that is why I find myself occasionally jolted, almost painfully, into the actuality of passing time.

Earlier this year I saw a photo of the Eight is Enough cast, when they gathered at a memorial service for Dick Van Patten. I hesitate to say they looked older because that sounds like a criticism when it is merely an observation. Laurie Walters and Dianne Kay and Grant Goodeve and Joan Prather have been out of the public eye since the series ended 34 years ago, and time has not stood still for them any more than it has for the rest of us. Of course they looked different. 

But if Eight it Enough is still a part of your regular TV viewing, as it has been for mine, that chasm of years can seem like it’s passed in the blink of an eye. There also isn’t much in the series’ stories or settings that loudly indicates how much time has elapsed. Sure, Tommy has a Fleetwood Mac poster in his room, but the band is still performing.

“What about the fashions and the hairstyles?” I hear some of the most stylish among you enquire. I don’t know - have they really changed that much? On Eight is Enough I see a lot of jeans and t-shirts and Nike athletic shoes, and sweaters and dresses that wouldn’t make anyone do a double-take if you saw someone wearing them now. There are exceptions, but I find most of them more flattering than their present-day counterparts. 

The Bradfords didn’t have computers or cell phones. But phones are phones, really, or at least they should be. I have a cell but I don’t care for it much, and I have never felt the need to carry a portable camera/GPS tracker/videogame/etc. wherever I go. A corded landline does not look to me like a primitive device. 


Of course, someone in their teens or 20s will have a very different perspective. Eight is Enough to them looks how I Love Lucy does to me. But I have driven the Burbank streets where you’ll often glimpse the Bradfords on location, and to me only a few store names and the gas prices have changed.

If my temporal perspective seems altered, I can only imagine what it must be like for the actors, constantly contending with an image of their younger selves still airing on TV every day. They have lived the days and weeks and years between so they are not stuck in that earlier time. But how must it feel to get that look of disappointment from a fan at an autograph show, because they are no longer the cool teenager or the stunning young woman they were back in prime time?

The gap widens a little more with each passing day. But I have a feeling that ten years from now, when I enjoy another trip through the Eight is Enough seasons or any of the shows from that period, it will still seem like a visit to a place that is not so far away, and a time that was here just yesterday.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Bowling for Bradys

How do you separate the hardcore Brady Bunch fans from the casual observers? They are the ones that, like me, actually purchased a DVD called The Bradys Go Bowling.

The DVD features two episodes of Celebrity Bowling, a series produced at KTTV in Los Angeles from 1971 to 1978. The concept was as straightforward as it sounds – two pairs of celebrities bowl one game against each other, each playing to win prizes for a randomly chosen member of the studio audience.

In the first show, Barry Williams and Maureen McCormick take on their younger TV siblings, Christopher Knight and Eve Plumb. 

The second show features Mike Lookinland and Susan Olsen against two of the Waltons kids, Eric Scott (Ben) and Mary McDonough (Erin). The host is actor Jed Allan, best known for multiple stints on daytime dramas, and here wearing suits from the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding Collection.

The competition was best-ball format, meaning both members of one team would roll a first ball. A strike ends the frame; anything else, the bowler with the worst result would then try to pick up the spare left by their teammate. 

Prizes were typical for a low budget syndicated game show – Samsonite luggage, an Amana Radarange and Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco treat!). The higher the teams score, the better the reward. For something really good, like a trip to Mexico, the celebrity bowlers had to bowl 210 or more. If the athletic prowess displayed on The Bradys Go Bowling is any indication, that didn’t happen very often.

I bought the DVD because I am a devoted Brady Bunch fan, and I thought it would be intriguing to see the cast in something else they did at the time the show was still in production. The Brady-Walton match aired September 8, 1973, six days before “Adios, Johnny Bravo,” the memorable first episode of the series’ final season. 

The Brady vs. Brady showdown aired on December 22 of that year, the same week as another spectacular Jan flameout in “Miss Popularity.”

But something was missing. In fact a lot of things were missing, starting with any sense of good-natured competition between the participants. There are no pep talks, no “Come on, Eve!” no, “Good one, Barry!” No ‘70s equivalent of a high-five after a strike, or any affectionate heckling after a gutter ball. They came, they bowled, they left.

One would expect players to be mic’d so their comments could be picked up for viewers. This wasn’t done either, but from what can be seen of their limited interaction between frames, we didn’t miss much. 

The entire undertaking is surprisingly subdued, to the point where I wondered if any of the Bradys really wanted to be there.

For fans this should have been a delightful chance to see the real people behind the familiar characters, and find out how they got along with each other. That cheerful combination of competition and camaraderie is what made the Battle of the Network Stars specials so much fun. Well, that and the lycra swimsuits on Heather Thomas and Lynda Carter. 

But it’s not here. And without that good-natured rivalry, the only potential for entertainment was in getting caught up in the actual matches. Unfortunately, the level of bowling prowess is about what you’d see at a third-grade birthday party.

If you remember the Brady Bunch episode where Bobby was upset over never winning a trophy, now you know why he didn’t get one for bowling. And Peter bowls about as well as he fixed bikes for Mr. Martinelli. Greg is the only participant who could throw a hook, but in a best-ball format Barry Williams and Maureen McCormick could not even break 100.

My one qualifier for purchasing a series or special on DVD is re-watchability. Great shows deserve repeat viewings. But I knew as soon as I removed The Bradys Go Bowling from the DVD player that I wouldn’t need to watch it again. Even with a total running time of just 45 minutes, it would be a chore.

Instead, I’ll pull out my Season 1 set and take another look at “54-40 and Fight.” This was the episode about the trading stamp company that was going out of business, and how the boys and the girls combined their stamp books but couldn’t decide whether to buy a sewing machine or a rowboat. Instead, they have a winner-take-all showdown, boys against the girls, building a house of cards. Now, that was a Brady vs. Brady competition with some gravitas. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Museum of Comfort TV Salutes: Jeannie’s Bottle

Imagine a place where all of the instantly recognizable objects associated with classic television are on display. It doesn’t exist, so we’ll create it here, and pay tribute to many of our favorite Comfort TV things.

Every museum has its must-see exhibits. When you visit the Louvre, you don’t skip the Mona Lisa. If you are at Chicago’s Art Institute, you pay homage as Ferris Bueller did to Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. And when you visit the Comfort TV Museum, you always stop to admire Jeannie’s bottle. 

It’s one of television’s most instantly recognizable props, surpassed perhaps only by vehicles like the Batmobile. It did not exist anywhere in the real world before I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970) but has been an iconic objet d’art now for 50 years.

And, like many TV stars, it had some cosmetic work done between seasons.

As any Jeannie fan knows, the original bottle was smoked glass with leafy gold filigree. It appeared only during the show’s first season, which was broadcast in black and white. It wasn’t until 2006, when a colorized version of season one was released on DVD, that viewers finally got a non-monochromatic glimpse at that first bottle. 

The series’ switch to color coincided (not coincidentally) with the introduction of the classic metallic purple version. It’s a beautiful piece with a pearlescent sheen and highlights in turquoise, orange, brass and pink. If you’d like get as close a look as the series provides, check out the season 3 episode “Genie, Genie, Who’s Got the Genie?” (Part II). 

There was also a third bottle belonging to Jeannie’s sultry sister, featuring a green variation on the familiar purple design.

While the finished versions of these bottles were created by talented artists at Screen Gems, back then the actual bottle used for these makeovers was as close as the local liquor store. It was a 1965 Beam’s Choice bourbon whiskey decanter from Jim Beam, 11 inches tall, just over 14 inches with the stopper in place. 

Whose idea was it to use this particular bottle on the show? According to Steve Cox’s book Dreaming of Jeannie, no one is really sure. Director Gene Nelson may have the best claim, but its discovery has also been attributed to series creator Sidney Sheldon and a still-anonymous employee in the studio’s art department.

Less than ten bottles were made during the show’s five-year run. One of them is still owned by Barbara Eden. Others pop up at memorabilia auctions every so often, but there is almost no way to guarantee their authenticity. That hasn’t stopped them from selling for more than $15,000.

If that is out of your price range, you can pick up a ceramic reproduction for less than $200. If you are a classic TV lover you really should have one. I bought mine several years ago, and it is now the centerpiece of a small collection of Jeannie memorabilia. An eBay search for “Jeannie bottle” will bring plenty of buying options. 

As you might expect, when people spot it they always pull the cork, hoping to see a plume of pink smoke. I’ve always been tempted to rig the bottle to produce one, but the shocked response might result in dropping and breakage.

Next, they peer inside, looking for the round couch and oversized pillows in Jeannie’s harem-esque abode. I’ve always thought that interior set was one of the show’s most visually appealing touches. I did not know until I read Steve’s book that Larry Hagman had the fiberglass dome set shipped to his Santa Monica home. He kept it in his backyard and used it for meditation and listening to music. 

Given how prominent the bottle remains as a symbol of the show and of 1960s TV in general, it’s surprising how few episodes actually revolve around it. 

Major Healey gives the bottle to a visiting Cosmonaut in “Russian Roulette” (season 1), and Dr. Bellows’ bratty nephew steals the bottle in season 5’s “Jeannie and the Curious Kid.” But the series’ most bottle-centric episode was season 3’s “One of Our Bottles is Missing.” When Tony refuses to sell the bottle to Amanda Bellows, she takes it anyway so she can have a replica made. Tony breaks into the Bellows home that night to retrieve it, while claiming to be sleepwalking. Not much of a plot, but then that was pretty standard with this show.

Creative shortcomings aside, I Dream of Jeannie is a charter member of the comfort TV canon, and Jeannie’s bottle denotes the gateway to ultimate wish fulfillment. Replicas are available in the museum gift shop. Jeannie sold separately.