Published May/June 2012

My First Car: Barbara Eden

The actress reminisces about her favorite vehicles

BYJim Prueter
You could say that Barbara Eden ’s presence on television has been magic. Certainly, her charisma was embraced by viewers, who tuned in to watch her beloved title character in the hit ’60s sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie. And her role continued to charm as reruns were aired throughout the ’90s, securing her place as an American television icon.
Born in Tucson and raised in San Francisco, Eden launched her entertainment career as a pop singer. After moving to Los Angeles, she began acting and made her debut in the 1956 film, Back from Eternity. She proceeded to play supporting roles in such popular shows as I Love Lucy, Perry Mason, and Gunsmoke, and eventually took up a starring role in the series How to Marry a Millionaire, based on a Marilyn Monroe movie of the same name.
While she is best known for her role as Jeannie, she has since appeared in numerous TV shows, movies, and commercials. Now, she is speaking to us about her various modes of transportation, which, unfortunately, never included a magic carpet.
Highroads: Like most teenagers, were you anxious to get your own car and start driving?
Eden: No, because I didn’t have the money for it. Also, I was living in San Francisco, where you don’t really need a car because of the wonderful transit system. I was studying at the Conservatory of Music and used streetcars and buses to get to school on the other side of Golden Gate Park. But, the boys were a different story. All of them either had a car or were trying to get one.
Highroads: How did you first learn to drive?
Eden: My mother started to teach me. She was a good driver and a very patient teacher, but it was my boyfriend at the time who actually taught me.
Highroads: What was your first car?
Eden: I moved to Los Angeles when I was 20 and discovered that I had to have a car to get around. I still had a boyfriend in San Francisco, who found a 1941 Buick two-door coupe that I bought for $100. He completely repainted it, reupholstered it, and drove it down for me.
Highroads: When were you able to get your first new car, and what did you buy?
Eden: It wasn’t really a new car. My uncle had a friend who owned a white 1955 Thunderbird that was two years old. He was going to trade it in and told me I could buy it for $1,000, the same amount the dealership was offering him for a trade. At the time, I was under contract with Twentieth Century Fox for $200 a week. I wanted that car in the worst way but didn’t have the money. So, I sold my Buick and a friend loaned me the rest.
Highroads: Any special memories of the Thunderbird?
Eden: I was doing a show at the time called How to Marry a Millionaire, and coincidently the other two girls in the show also had Thunderbirds — Laurie Nelson’s was yellow and Mary Anders’ was pink.
Highroads: What are you driving now?
Eden: A silver-blue Mercedes-Benz SL. It’s a two-seat sports car with a retractable top.
Highroads: Do you have a dream car?
Eden: Of all the cars I’ve owned, I would love to have my Thunderbird back. It was my first love.
JIM PRUETER, an automotive writer based in Phoenix, has provided reviews and advice about cars for more than 20 years.
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