‘I Dream of Jeannie’s’ Biggest Obstacle Was Barbara Eden’s Belly Button

Today, it seems like any costume and clothing on television is acceptable. However, in 1965 having a leading lady show her belly button was quite scandalous. 

Barbara Eden‘s genie costume on the show I Dream of Jeannie is quite iconic. What you may or may not have noticed is that Eden’s navel is covered.

In a 2005 interview with the Today Show, Barbara Eden explains this was because the NBC executives were afraid to have it showing.

What is ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ about?

RELATED: ‘I Dream of Jeannie’: Barbara Eden Reveals Why Larry Hagman ‘Relieved Himself All Over’ the Set

The show I Dream of Jeannie debuted on NBC in 1965 and only ran for five seasons, ending in 1970. It was not a favorite among viewers during its five-seasons, and the show had to compete with Bewitched.

It was also the last show to be produced in black and white, eventually switching to color. According to Fame 10, the creator of I Dream of Jeannie, Sidney Sheldon, wrote in his autobiography that NBC did not think the show would make it past the first season. 

The show itself is about an astronaut, Major Anthony Nelson, portrayed by Larry Hagman, who crash lands on a deserted island. While on this island, Major Nelson comes across a mysterious, decorative bottle.

When he opens it, out pops a beautiful genie named Jeannie (Barbara Eden), who is now at his command to any of his wishes come true. The Major takes Jeannie and her bottle home with him, and antics ensue.

Who is Barbara Eden?

Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman of 'I Dream of Jeannie'
Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman of ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

Eden had acted quite a bit before her role as Jeannie, with appearances on shows like Gunsmoke and I Love Lucy. However, I Dream of Jeannie made her famous, and it is what she is most known for today.

After playing Jeannie for five years, Eden went on to have a successful career in show business. Her IMDb biography states that Eden initially wanted to have a singing career, and in 1967 she released an album titled “Miss Barbara Eden.”

She was also a musical guest on shows like Bob Hope Specials and The Carol Burnett Show. In addition to this, People Magazine named Eden “One of America’s 200 Greatest Pop Icons of the 20th Century.”

She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. These days, Eden continues to act. In 2019, she portrayed Mrs. Claus in a Christmas movie titled My Adventures with Santa. Eden currently lives with her husband, Jon Eicholtz, in Beverly Hills.

Barbara Eden’s iconic costume and the ‘navel warfare’

Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden of 'I Dream of Jeannie'
Larry Hagman and Barbara Eden of ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ | NBCU Photo Bank

The concept of I Dream of Jeannie, where a single woman moves in with a single man, was risqué for the time, but apparently not as shocking as showing a belly button on the television. In her interview with Today, Eden explained that while her genie costume bared her midriff, it could not expose her navel.

She said this was not a problem initially until producer George Schlatter wanted to “premiere” her navel; this frightened the NBC executives, and they all gathered to discuss Eden’s anatomy. There was also a lot of criticism when her costume shifted, which sometimes happened when she simply lifted her arms.

This would cause her waistband to lower and her belly button to show. Brain Sharper reports that network censors also threatened to give large fines if the belly button policy wasn’t enforced. Eden said the pants had to be shadowed in addition to not showing a navel, so her legs didn’t show as well.

After I Dream of Jeannie ended, Eden held on to her iconic costume for over five decades before donating it to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.