Two Barbaras are definitely better than one! Two of our favourite stars from the 60s caught up here in Australia for a candid chat life, love and those timeless roles.
Get Smart and I Dream of Jeannie both aired on 18 September 1965, and starred equally beautiful and talented leading ladies. By the time each show graduated from television screens, Barbara Feldon (Agent 99) and Barbara Eden (Jeannie) had become household names.
Initially though, Barbara Eden didn’t believe she was exotic enough to be cast as the titular Jeannie. Speaking to ABC Radio recently, Eden recalled how creator Sidney Sheldon was auditioning “Miss Israel, Miss Italy, Miss Greece and all these gorgeous brunettes.” When Eden was eventually offered the genie role, her first response was, “Are you sure? What would I look like? I know what they’ve been looking at!”
Barbara Feldon experienced a learning curve of her own, starring alongside former stand-up comedian Don Adams, who played Maxwell Smart. “I learnt a great deal from him,” Feldon told the ABC. “He understood how a joke had to build and ‘land.’ Also he had this tremendous energy, so he drove the pace of the scene.”
Maxwell Smart was Agent 86, but Agent 99’s full name was never revealed, even throughout five television seasons.
So what was Feldon’s best guess? “Agent 99 had no name,” she confirmed. “I know this for a fact, because I had lunch with (creator) Buck Henry and he said ‘she had no name.’ Everyone was always asking me if her name was Susan, but it was not. That was a cover.
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Off-screen, both ladies had their fair share of admirers. None other than Tom Jones put the moves on Barbara Eden when the pair performed a duet for his music variety show.
“I treat a song like an act – a beginning, middle and end – a story,” explained Eden. “So when we rehearsed with Tom Jones, I played out A Look of Love. I looked in his eyes, and I meant it when I was singing it. At the end of the first go, he looked at me and said, ‘Let me show you London, Barbara.’” When Eden rebuffed Jones and explained that she was married, he replied, “That’s alright, so am I!”
An equally impressive co-star for Eden was Elvis Presley. The pair headlined the 1960s Western movie Flaming Star. “Elvis was absolutely fabulous in it; he was such a natural actor.”
The movie flopped at the box office though: “Elvis didn’t sing, he didn’t get the girl, he died! The audience hated it, it didn’t make a penny, but it was a good film,” explained Eden.
If she had her pick today, Eden would star in Modern Family. “It’s so well-written and it’s reality based, and I like that,” Eden explained.
Choosing a more theatrical show to feature in, Feldon said “I’d have to pick my latest favourite addition, which is Downtown Abbey. My gosh, the costumes! Plus the dignity of the characters, and the style and elegance of the whole thing.”
Barbara Eden has recently called for actors in an older age bracket to receive greater opportunities. “Friends of mine are no longer acting who should be. There should be more roles created for interesting older women,” she told the Courier Mail.
We’d certainly love to see more of these two television icons. Which leading ladies would you most like to see make a return to screens?