Eden was born on August 23, 1931, in Tucson, Arizona, the daughter of Alice Mary (née Franklin) and Hubert Henry Morehead, a butcher, who were 17 and 22 years old, respectively, according to Eden's birth certificate. For decades, Eden's year of birth was thought to be 1934. After her parents' divorce, she and her mother moved to San Francisco, where her mother married Harrison Connor Huffman, a telephone lineman, by whom she had a daughter, Eden's half-sister. The Great Depression deeply impacted the family, and as they were unable to afford many luxuries, Barbara's mother entertained the children by singing songs.
Eden's first public performance was singing in the church choir, where she sang the solos. As a teenager, she sang in local bands for $10 a night in night clubs. At age 16, she became a member of Actor's Equity. She studied singing at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and acting with the Elizabeth Holloway School of Theatre. She graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School in San Francisco in the Spring Class of 1949 and studied theater for one year at City College of San Francisco. She was then elected Miss San Francisco, as Barbara Huffman, in 1951. Eden also entered the Miss California pageant.
Eden began her TV career as a semi-regular on The Johnny Carson Show in 1956. She also made featured appearances on shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The West Point Story, Highway Patrol, Private Secretary, I Love Lucy, The Millionaire, Target: The Corruptors!, Crossroads, Perry Mason, Gunsmoke, December Bride, Bachelor Father, Father Knows Best, Adventures in Paradise, The Andy Griffith Show, Cain's Hundred, Saints and Sinners, The Virginian, Slattery's People, The Rogues, and the series finale of Route 66. She guest-starred in four episodes of Burke's Law, playing different roles each time. She was an uncredited extra in the movie The Tarnished Angels with Rock Hudson, in partnership with 20th Century Fox studios. She then starred in the syndicated comedy TV series How to Marry a Millionaire. The series is based on the 1953 film of the same name.
Discovery in the Hollywood sense came when she starred in a play with James Drury. Film director Mark Robson, who later directed her in the movie From the Terrace, had come to the play and wanted her for 20th Century Fox studios. Her screen test was the Joanne Woodward role in No Down Payment (1957). Though she did not get the role, the studio gave her a contract. She did a screen test for the role of Betty Anderson in the 1957 film version of Peyton Place, but Terry Moore got the role. She had minor roles in Bailout at 43,000, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and The Wayward Girl, and then became a leading lady in films and starred opposite Gary Crosby, Barry Coe, and Sal Mineo in A Private's Affair. She had a co-starring role in Flaming Star (1960), with Elvis Presley.
The following year, she played in a supporting role as Lt. Cathy Connors in Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. She starred in The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, a George Pal-directed Cinerama film for MGM, and another Irwin Allen production for 20th Century Fox, Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962). She was the female lead in the 1962 Fox comedy Swingin' Along, starring Tommy Noonan and Peter Marshall, in their final joint screen appearance. She did a screen test with Andy Williams for the 20th Century Fox movie State Fair, but did not get the role.
Her last film for 20th Century Fox was The Yellow Canary (1963). She left Fox and began guest-starring in television shows and acting in films for MGM, Universal, and Columbia. She played supporting roles over the next few years, including The Brass Bottle and 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.
Bewitched was the number two show on television in 1964, and following on its heels, in 1965, producer Sidney Sheldon signed Eden to star in his up-and-coming fantasy sitcom I Dream of Jeannie that would air on NBC. After various brunette starlets and beauty queens unsuccessfully tried out for the role, Eden was approached by Sheldon who had seen her in The Brass Bottle and had been recommended by various colleagues. Eden played Jeannie, a beautiful genie set free from her bottle by astronaut and United States Air Force captain (later major) Anthony "Tony" Nelson, played by Larry Hagman.
Eden played this role for five years and 139 episodes. Additionally, in eight episodes, Eden donned a brunette wig to portray Jeannie's evil sister (also named Jeannie) who lusts after Tony Nelson, and in at least one episode played Jeannie's hapless mother.
After Jeannie, Eden did an unaired pilot, The Barbara Eden Show, as well as another pilot, The Toy Game. Her first TV movie was called The Feminist and the Fuzz. Although she is best known for comedy, most of these films were dramas, as when she starred opposite her "Jeannie" co-star Larry Hagman in A Howling in the Woods (1971).
In The Stranger Within (1974), Eden played housewife Ann Collins, a woman impregnated by extraterrestrials. Later, Eden played Liz Stonestreet, a former policewoman now private detective investigating the disappearance of a missing heiress, in a critically acclaimed TV movie Stonestreet: Who Killed The Centerfold Model? (1977). She starred in and co-produced, with her own production company (MI-Bar Productions), the NBC TV movie romantic comedy The Secret Life of Kathy McCormick (1988). She also starred in and produced the romantic comedy TV movie Opposites Attract (1990), co-starring John Forsythe.
In 1978, she starred in the feature film Harper Valley PTA, based on the popular country song. This led to a namesake television series in 1981. In both the movie and the TV series, Eden played the show's heroine, Stella Johnson. The show won 11 of its 13 time slots during its first season. It was a comedy version of Peyton Place, with Anne Francine playing wealthy villain Flora Simpson Reilly. In one episode, Stella dressed in a blue and gold genie costume and in another she played both Stella and her cousin Della Smith (similar to Jeannie's evil twin-sister character). The TV series Harper Valley PTA began January 16, 1981, and was renamed simply Harper Valley when the show began its second season on October 29, 1981.
From April 3 through September 16, 1984, Eden starred in the Lee Guber and Shelly Gross national production of the John Kander and Fred Ebb Tony Award-winning musical comedy Woman of the Year, playing the role of Tess Harding Craig, alongside Don Chastain (as Sam Craig), and Marilyn Cooper. In 1990, Eden had a recurring role of a billionairess seeking revenge against J. R. Ewing in five episodes of the final season of Dallas, playing the captivating character Lee Ann De La Vega, reuniting her with her I Dream of Jeannie co-star Hagman. In her final episode, the character admits that her maiden name was "Lee Ann Nelson", which was a production gag, as "Nelson" was the surname of Hagman's character, and Eden's character's married name, in I Dream of Jeannie. In 1991, she starred in the stage play Same Time, Next Year with Wayne Rogers, and reprised her role of Jeannie in a television movie of the week. In 1993, she starred in an 11-city national tour of the play Last of the Red Hot Lovers with Don Knotts.
Eden starred in such musical comedies as Nite Club Confidential (playing the role of Kay Goodman, in 1996), The Sound of Music, Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific with Robert Goulet, The Pajama Game with John Raitt, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes playing Lorelei Lee. She has been a musical guest star in many variety television shows, including 21 Bob Hope specials, The Carol Burnett Show, The Jonathan Winters Show, The Jerry Lewis Show, This is Tom Jones show, Tony Orlando and Dawn, and Donny and Marie. She released an album entitled Miss Barbara Eden in 1967, for the record label Dot Records.
From 2000 to 2004, Eden starred in the national touring production of the play The Odd Couple ... The Female Version, playing the role of Florence Unger opposite Rita MacKenzie as Olive Madison. In March 2006, Eden reunited with her former co-star Larry Hagman for a publicity tour in New York City to promote the first-season DVD of I Dream of Jeannie. They appeared together on Good Morning America, The View, Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight, Martha, and Showbiz Tonight, among other shows. In March 2006, Hagman and Eden again reunited, this time onstage, in New York, for Love Letters at the College of Staten Island, and at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. This was Eden's first visit to the United States Military Academy since appearing in The West Point Story
Eden starred in the play Love Letters with Hal Linden, and a guest-starring role on the Lifetime series Army Wives, written and produced by her niece, Katherine Fugate. In December 2008, she began filming the TV movie Always and Forever for the Hallmark Channel, shown in October 2009.
In May 2013, Eden appeared with former American President Bill Clinton, Sir Elton John, and Fergie at the opening ceremony of the 21st Life Ball in Vienna, where Eden wore her famous Jeannie harem costume. In late 2013, Eden was cast in the movie One Song, which was filmed in Excelsior, Minnesota.
Eden wrote a memoir, Jeannie Out of the Bottle, which was released on April 5, 2011, by Crown Archetype, a division of Random House.
Chronicling Eden's personal life and Hollywood career of more than 50 years, the book debuted at #14 on the New York Times Best Seller List.
Jeannie Out of the Bottle includes intimate details about Eden's early childhood, her rise to popularity in her teens and early twenties, her co-stars over the years, and Eden's work leading up to and during I Dream of Jeannie. Also covered are her three marriages (to Michael Ansara from 1958 to 1974, to Charles Fegert from 1977 to 1982, and Jon Eicholtz (1991–present) and her "emotional breakdown" following the death of her only child, Matthew.
On November 17, 1988, Eden received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to television. In 1990, the University of West Los Angeles School of Law granted Eden an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.2011: Jeannie Out of the Bottle, with Wendy Leigh (read by the author), Random House Audio, ISBN 978-0-3079-1434-7