Barbara Eden, the 77-year-old former star of the late-’60s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, was charging $30 per autograph last weekend at Fan Expo, Canada’s annual nerd-culture convention.
In person, Eden didn’t look that different from her character on the show 40 years ago, when she played a sexy genie involved in an ambiguously flirtatious relationship with an air-force major. Seated at her signing table in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, she wore her blonde hair in bangs and a flip that bobbed up and down as she nodded and chatted with 23-year-old fan Penny Fulton. Fulton bought a signed headshot of a young Eden, dressed as Jeannie in a pink halter and harem pants.
“I got this for my dad,” she said. “He likes all the old shows.”
Eden’s business was slow but steady. She, like many of Fan Expo’s other celebrity guests, held autograph sessions three days in a row. A few tables down, Malcolm McDowell (Dr. Soran on Star Trek: Generations) was less busy. He sat alone, staring glumly at the screen of his smartphone.
Michel Gagne, 40, and Denis Desilets, 43, both from Quebec, came to meet Eden with something special for her to sign: twin replicas of the genie-bottle prop used on the show. Desilets had made the replicas himself. “He has painted 13 bottles,” explained Gagne, on behalf of his non-English-speaking friend. “This is our second visit today.”
Desilets said he first watched I Dream of Jeannie at age three, and that he’s felt an attachment to Barbara Eden ever since. The pair also gave a small wooden elephant to the actress (she is known for her collection). “You could tell she really liked the gift,” said Gagne.
“I happen to admire elephants,” said Eden, later. “I think they’re magnificent creatures. Intelligent. And their society is matriarchal.”
How many elephant figurines had she added to her collection so far during Fan Expo? “I would say, three or four,” Eden answered.