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'I Dream of Jeannie's' Barbara Eden recalls navel warfare over controversial costume

"I Dream of Jeannie" turns 50 this year, but for Barbara Eden the battles over her exposed belly button are as fresh as ever.
/ Source: TODAY

If you ever need reminding that 1965 was a very different time than 2015, think of this: Back then, Barbara Eden's navel was a real hot button issue on "I Dream of Jeannie"!

As a genie who emerges from a bottle to serve the astronaut who frees her, Eden had to wear a skimpy costume that still satisfied the mores of the period. That meant an exposed midsection, but billowing pants to cover her legs. And, apparently, no exposure of her belly button.

Barbara Eden
Barbara Eden as Jeannie.Getty images file

Fifty years later, Eden just chuckles about the discussions had over her waistline. As she told TODAY's Willie Geist on Thursday, when producer George Schlatter wanted to "premiere my navel ... executives at NBC [the show's network] got very frightened. George said he had never seen so many suits sitting around a table in his life discussing someone's anatomy."

She added, "They became very strict about the navel," so that particular genie went back in the bottle. (Though amusingly, there's at least one episode where Jeannie and astronaut Tony — played by the late Larry Hagman — go to the beach. Eden has on a one-piece while young ladies around her frolic in belly button-exposing bikinis.)

Eden went on to a fruitful career on shows like "Harper Valley P.T.A." and "Dallas," and says for a long time she'd "forgotten" about Jeannie. But then came this anniversary, and she popped out again.

"She got lost, and then all of a sudden, here she is again," smiled Eden. "And I'm very happy."

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