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. 


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