Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Next Time You Watch Jeannie, Watch Tony

 I don’t collect a lot of television memorabilia, but I do have an I Dream of Jeannie bottle. They’re usually available on eBay from very talented artists who hand-paint each one. The guy who did mine seems to have gotten out of the business, or I’d have been pleased to recommend his services.

While it wasn’t planned, the bottle became the first piece in a small collection of Jeannie memorabilia on display in my office.

And what’s odd is that, while I am very fond of the series, I don’t think it’s as polished or classy as Bewitched, its unofficial companion from the 1960s. The comedy was broader, the jokes more obvious, the stories less nuanced. But in Barbara Eden and her pink harem costume, I Dream of Jeannie introduced an iconic character that will forever be part of every classic TV retrospective.

But here’s a challenge, for the next time you happen by a Jeannie rerun or pop in an episode on DVD: avert your glance from Eden’s bare tummy and focus on Larry Hagman as her hapless master, Tony Nelson.

Why? As first pointed out to me by my Charlie’s Angels Casebook coauthor Jack Condon, Hagman is teaching a master class in physical comedy. On some level we see it, as the only genuine laughs in I Dream of Jeannie are the immediate after-effects of a disastrous Jeannie blink, as Tony contends with sudden costume changes, elephants in his living room, and disappearing furniture. But we may not appreciate the remarkable timing and commitment he brings to these moments, complicated by the additional challenges created by the show’s pre-CGI special effects.

Think about it – when Tony is sitting on a chair, and Jeannie makes that chair disappear, Hagman must first sit in the chair, then sit immobile as filming stops while the chair is removed, then squat in the same position until the cameras roll again, and only then react to what appears to be a split-second vanishing in the finished episode. That’s a lot more difficult than just falling down.

Major Nelson’s Air Force uniform also added to the impact of these moments. As the 3 Stooges taught us, it’s always funnier to watch a man of dignity take a pie in the face.

I was going to cite episodes to check out, but as this is I Dream of Jeannie it really isn’t necessary. The series repeatedly recycled about a half-dozen plots over the course of five seasons, all of which included one or two moments of slapstick. When they befall poor Tony, it’s the one time he deserves the accolade of Master.


  1. If your bottle was made by Mario Della Casa, his site for selling them is http://www.jeanniebottles.com.

    I have one of them as well that's signed by Mario, Larry, Barbara and Bill. Love, love, love it!

  2. Couldn't resist commenting on this - as wonderful as his depiction of JR Ewing was, I was always sad that Hagman did not do more comedy work. His stuff on I Dream of Jeannie was wonderful and often had me laughing out loud (I particularly enjoy any scene that has him running).