Had Stephen Foster’s 1854 lyric “I dream of Jeanie with the light brown hair” been as literally applied as originally intended by producer Sidney Sheldon, blond Barbara Eden might never have landed the role that secured her spot in television history.
Producer Marc Huestis brings the “I Dream of Jeannie” star to the Castro Theatre on Sunday to share stories of her life and career, which she has chronicled in her recent memoir “Jeannie Out of the Bottle.”
It’s sort of a homecoming for Eden. “Not just sort of,” she says with a smile. “It is coming home. I moved there when I was 3 and my family’s been there since the 1800s. My great-great-grandmother was a small child in a covered wagon when she landed in San Francisco.
“We lived on Bush Street and my mom and dad took me to Sunday School at Grace Cathedral. Afterward they’d put my coveralls on and I’d play in the park across the street. I learned to roller skate on Polk Street.”
Among Eden’s other favorite memories are the foghorns and taking the ferry to visit family in San Leandro.
She studied voice at the Conservatory of Music, began singing with dance bands, and got her Actor’s Equity card at 16 in a show that lasted only one night.
“It was ‘Spring Crazy’ and Mary Hay, ex-wife of the film star Richard Barthelmess, wrote and produced it with her daughter.”
Even though her early work was on stage, Eden — then still Barbara Huffman and Miss San Francisco of 1951 — chose Los Angeles over New York when she kicked herself out of the nest.
“I had no relatives in New York. I was scared to death to even go to L.A.”
An early job was guesting on “I Love Lucy” and Lucille Ball became something of a mentor. “She was wonderful. She was starting a comedy group and wanted to sign me to a contract.” As it happened, a prior test at Fox turned into a contract on her final day at Desilu.
Among her early credits, Eden spent three years in the Marilyn Monroe role of a series based on the film “How to Marry a Millionaire.” Film roles followed, including “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and “7 Faces of Dr. Lao” with Tony Randall, who Eden says cheated at gin rummy during breaks on the set. “Lao” will have a matinee screening at the Castro.
Today, Eden’s life revolves around third husband Jon Eicholtz, whom she married at Grace Cathedral, their labradoodle Djinn Djinn, and, of course, people still dreaming of “Jeannie.” Eden sees the character not as a vamp, “but as a bit of a tomboy and she was totally enthralled with her master. That was her job!”
IF YOU GO
I Dream of Barbara Eden
Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $25 to $45
Contact: (415) 863-0611 or www.castrotheatre.com
7 Faces of Dr. Lao
When: Noon Sunday
Tickets: $6 to $12.50