‘I Dream of Jeannie' reunion at DragonCon

The annual DragonCon convention draws tens of thousands who wax nostalgic about sci-fi/horror classics such as "Star Trek," "Star Wars" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."

But each year, the organizers throw a few curveballs. One year, they brought back the cast members from "Happy Days." Last year, it was "Dukes of Hazzard." This Labor Day weekend, the most unusual reunion will feature the original three stars from the late 1960s sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie": 76-year-old Barbara Eden (Jeannie), 78-year-old Larry Hagman (Tony Nelson) and 83-year-old Bill Daily (Roger Healey).

The ostensible excuse? The 45th anniversary of the show's debut on NBC in 1965. "I Dream of Jeannie" followed an astronaut (played by Hagman) who discovers a genie (Eden) on a deserted island. She falls in love with him and joins him back home, calling him "Master." The five seasons revolve around her efforts to please him and the trouble he gets into as a result.

Eden, in a recent phone interview, said the trio are seldom in the same room. "But I love them both," she said. "When we get together, it's like a day hasn't gone by."

And while Bob Denver complained he was typecast by Gilligan, Eden at this point in her life isn't resentful.

"I've done a lot of other things," she said. "For a show like this, it will be Jeannie all the way. That's what they want to see. And she's easy to live with!"

She always found the squeamishness of NBC to allow her to show her belly button absurd. "We did a ‘Jeannie' movie a few years later. The belly button was out. Gravity did not reverse itself!"

And feminists who pooh-poohed her use of the word "master"? "This is fantasy," she said. "She's not a real woman. And that's what genies say!"

Hagman, who went on to even greater fame in the 1980s as J.R. Ewing on "Dallas," said "Jeannie" was his first big break. He was paid what he considered a generous paycheck at the time: $1,700 per episode, later upped to $5,000.

"It was a good job," he said in a phone interview. "When I first read it, I just thought it would be a lot of fun. And it was."

He and Eden found excuses to work together over the years. In 1990, she played a former J.R. girlfriend on "Dallas." And they performed in a play a few years ago.

"She still looks absolutely gorgeous," he said. "The girl hasn't changed at all."

Both said executives sullied "Jeannie" in its last season by insisting the characters get married. "It was dead," Hagman said. "Down the tubes. I told them that marrying us would end the ballgame. I started looking for a new job right away." ("They screwed it up," Eden added.)

But in an odd way, he said, " ‘Jeannie' has transcended time whereas ‘Dallas' has not. There's an age group between 15 and 30 who don't know about ‘Dallas' but may know ‘Jeannie.' "

Not that this stops even people from Germany and France from yelling "Who shot J.R.?" at him 30 years after that infamous cliffhanger episode. "It's an opening gambit for any conversation," he said, without a trace of resentment.

His typical answer? "Bing Crosby's daughter."

"Then, I get, ‘Who's Bing Crosby?' "

Event preview

DragonCon. 10 a.m. Sept. 3 through 5 p.m. Sept. 6. $25-$100, Hyatt Regency Atlanta, 265 Peachtree St. N.E.; Atlanta Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Ave.; Hilton Atlanta, 255 Courtland St.; Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, 165 Courtland St.; and the Westin Peachtree Plaza, 210 Peachtree St. N.W. 770-909-0115, www.dragoncon.org.