Barbara Eden exclusive shares her birthday plans with PEOPLE and reflects on why work remains one of her greatest pleasures
The TV and film icon, who turned 92 on Wednesday, shows no signs of slowing down. For her birthday, Eden tells PEOPLE she plans on dining with her husband Jon Eicholtz, whom she married in 1991, and close friends at a Beverly Hills steakhouse. She and Eicholtz will also have family over at her home while her 60-lb. Labradoodle Bentley runs around. (Lemon meringue pie will take the place of the traditional birthday cake, per her request.)
Related: Barbara Eden's Life in Pictures
In the months to come, Eden is scheduled to appear at events like the Hazard Fest Autograph Convention Show in October and Rhode Island Comic Con in November. For the actress, these affairs are precious opportunities to connect with her loyal fans, who travel from far and wide to glimpse and connect with her.
“They’re the best fans in the whole world,” she explains. “They’re very well-read. They’re good, nice people. When I get up on the big stage, I speak, and then I do the Q&A, I’m sometimes surprised. They know more than I do about my work!”
“There’s one young man who comes quite often to the conventions,” Eden continues. “Then a question will come up, and I don’t know the answer, and I say, ‘Well, will you ask Bernard, please? He’ll know.’ And he does. He knows exactly the day, the date, everything.”
In fact, one of Eden’s close friendships came to be entirely because of her connection with viewers.
“I have a dear friend who started out as a fan, but now he and his husband are my dear friends,” she explains. “I was in Germany last fall at one of these conventions, he was there, because I was there. He took us to a Christmas [fair], and we had hot wine and went out to dinner. It was quite beautiful and cold, and they stayed with me the whole weekend. It was just wonderful.”
After starring in more than 25 films, 19 TV movies and 5 TV series spanning nearly 70 years, fans have a lot to ask about. Eden, who spent most of her childhood in San Francisco, got her big break in show business in 1955 when she became a recurring sketch performer on The Johnny Carson Show before eventually landing the role of Jeannie opposite Larry Hagman's Major Tony Nelson on NBC’s I Dream of Jeannie in 1965. The sitcom would catapult Eden to stardom and make her a beloved pop culture fixture for decades to come.
While Eden is continually amazed she’s remembered for playing Jeannie, the actress may be more surprised fans recall her smaller bit parts, too.
“Every time I make a personal appearance, someone comes up and asks me about the manicurist, which I did one episode as on The Andy Griffith Show,” she explains. “I also did one episode of I Love Lucy, and fans remember that, too. When I was doing it, I just didn’t think about it, that it would ever live that long or people would remember it.”
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Longevity and a dedication to her craft have been key to Eden’s success. “All through the years, I’ve noticed that many people don't realize what a joy it is and what a gift it is to be able to work in an arena that you really love. So many people have to work in jobs they hate, and they have to do it just for sustenance, but aren't we lucky when we can study for something, enjoy it and know that other people enjoy it? I think that's a gift that life gives us, if we are willing to work for it.”
Eden penned the 2012 memoir Jeannie Out of the Bottle: A Memoir and the children’s book Barbara and the Djinn, which was released in 2021, but she may not be done with writing just yet.
“I would like to do another children’s book,” she explains. “That would be fun. As a child, I was always encouraged to read, and I find that it is a true gift that you can give to your child or to other children.”
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