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Cocoa Beach Salutes 'I Dream of Jeannie'

(Posted September 15, 2005 by Leah Yoakum)

This city has been linked to "I Dream of Jeannie" ever since a jingle in the opening of the TV show's first season in 1965 told how a genie followed Capt. Tony Nelson "back to Cocoa Beach, a mythical town in a mythical state called Florida."

Now, in an arms-crossed nod and blink to its perpetuity in television reruns, Cocoa Beach's 13,000 residents are marking the 40th anniversary of the show's first episode with a celebration Friday. Although none of the cast members will attend, there will be two Jeannie look-a-like contests, music and the serving of a mixed drink with secret ingredients called Jeannie's magical potion.

All this, despite the fact that the show never was filmed in Florida and that its creators would have given a more accurate portrayal by setting it in Houston, where astronauts actually trained and lived.

"They probably thought that that was the (astronauts') headquarters," joked actor Larry Hagman, who played Nelson, in a telephone interview from California. "I don't think it would have made any difference if it was in Calcutta."

Series creator Sidney Sheldon (yes, the same author of those guilty-pleasure novels) had a relative who lived in Cocoa Beach and decided to set the show there because of the U.S. space program's connection to the area in the public's mind, said Lori Walters, director of the Florida Space Coast History Project at the University of Central Florida.

"Let's face it ... Cocoa Beach conjures up visions of palm trees, surfing and the beach. Houston conjures up petrochemicals," Walters said.

Despite being filmed in a Hollywood studio, the NBC show made regular nods to Cocoa Beach, which is on a narrow peninsula just south of the Kennedy Space Center. Nelson read the fictitious Cocoa Beach Herald newspaper. In one episode, a motorcycle cop with a prominent Cocoa Beach badge on his chest pulled over Jeannie for driving a car from the back seat.

Edwards Air Force Base, close to Los Angeles, was used sometimes as a stand-in for the Kennedy Space Center, and other California locales were used in place of Florida ones, said actor Bill Daily, who played Maj. Roger Healey on the show.

"It's pretty funny if you look at some of those old Jeannies, it's supposed to be shot in Cocoa Beach but in the background you have mountains the Hollywood Hills," Daily said from New Mexico.

The city has been slow to embrace its Jeannie heritage. It didn't rename a city street "I Dream of Jeannie Lane" until 1996, 26 years after the show ended, and only last year began a Jeannie look-a-like contest, which Daily attended. A full festival was delayed because it was in the middle of last year's hurricanes.

The city's business community hopes to make the Jeannie contest an annual event much like Key West has an annual Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest, said Leslie Taylor, event coordinator for the Cocoa Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

During the course of the show's five-season run in the late 1960s, star Barbara Eden visited Cocoa Beach for "Barbara Eden Day" in which she was honored with a parade. During the last season, in 1969, Eden and the rest of the cast came to Cocoa Beach for a publicity stunt meant to spotlight the television wedding between Jeannie and Nelson.

Hagman said he has no recollection of the fake wedding and only remembers taking a tour of the space center. "It was kind of boring," he said.

Jeff Rose, former publicity director of Screen Gems, then the television division of Columbia Pictures Corp., said the publicity stunt helped push the wedding episode to No. 1 in the ratings before its viewership slipped and earned the show cancellation.

But that stunt, along with five seasons of episodes, helped give tiny Cocoa Beach an international name.

"I travel a lot," said local attorney Malcolm Kirschenbaum. 'And when I tell people, in almost every place I go Europe, South America that I'm from Cocoa Beach, they say 'I Dream of Jeannie.'"


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Source: Yahoo! News

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