Barbara Eden made her sitcom debut on I Love Lucy wearing a dress bedazzled by Lucy herself
"I don't know many stars that would do that," Eden said of Lucy's costume decorating.
As a teenager, Barbara Eden (then known as Barbara Huffman) sang in both church choirs and nightclubs in her hometown of San Francisco. She attended to Abraham Lincoln High with the elder Vince Guaraldi, the Peanuts pianist, so it's wonderful to think of two young musicians together, even if he was a senior and she a freshman. Two years after her graduation, she was chosen as Miss San Francisco 1951. It seemed only a matter of time before Hollywood would come knocking.
Five years later, in fact, Eden landed her first movie role. The 1956 flick Back from Eternity — in no way a sequel to From Here to Eternity, in case you were wondering — centered around airplane passengers who crash in the South American jungle where they are pestered by headhunters. Anita Ekberg was the star, the pin-up painted on the poster. Eden went uncredited, in a blink-and-miss-it part as "College Girl Journalist."
Months later, Eden earned her first television credit on West Point, a CBS military drama.
The following spring, at last, Eden found herself where she belonged — stealing scenes on a sitcom. But this was still eight years before I Dream of Jeannie came along. Eden turned heads (especially Fred Mertz's) as a beauty on I Love Lucy.
"Country Club Dance" aired late in the classic comedy's run, just weeks before the series finale. The Ricardos were living in Connecticut at this point, which is why the episode perhaps goes somewhat overlooked. No character in the episode overlooked her, certainly. Eden played Diana Jordan, the sexy houseguest of the Munsons.
When Diana swishes her way into the country club, Ricky, Fred and Ralph Ramsey stand slack-jawed. The young actress sports a tight, sparkling dress. You can thank none other than Lucille Ball herself for the look.
"[Lucy] was so kind," Eden said in a 2000 interview with The Archive of American Television. "In fact, she asked me to come over to her dressing room. She said, 'You like that dress?' I said, Oh, yeah! She said, 'Take it off.' So I took it off."
Why would the star ask her rookie guest to disrobe? Ball wanted to make improvements to the dress. The actress and her hair stylist then set about bedazzling the dress.
"They sat in her dressing room and they punched little sparkly things all over that dress, just to make it look prettier," Eden explained. "I don't know many stars that would do that — even if it is their own production."
Lucy had an eye for talent as well as fashion. She saw the potential in Eden and hoped to snatch her up into a contract.
"As a matter of fact, the last day on the set, Lucy had wanted to put me under contract because she thought I had good comedy timing," Eden said.
Unfortunately, Eden had done a screen test at 20th Century Fox. That last day of shooting on I Love Lucy — yes, the very day Lucy offered her a contract — Eden received a call learned Fox had picked up her option. She was obligated to work for Fox instead of Desilu.
This is why, weeks later, Eden ended up cast in How to Marry a Millionaire, a sitcom adapted from a Marilyn Monroe movie. Eden had the Marilyn role, of course. She may not have joined Lucy's world, but she certainly ended up alright in the end.