Whether winning acclaim as John Adams, Mr. Feeny, or the voice of KITT, how would accomplished actor William Daniels celebrate his 90th birthday? Not doing much, he says.
March 31st, 2017 may be just any other day to him other than his knowing he’s unable to stop his sons baking a birthday cake. That said, I’m still in awe of a man who was grew up in the spotlight. Not surprising for a man having over 70 years of acting experience, his book, There I Go Again, has the feel of writings from an elder professional who doesn’t get giddy in his most joyous moments.
I had a pleasant time speaking to Mr. Daniels and his wife, Bonnie Bartlett. They addressed my questions no matter how goofy they were. The following clips are edited from this conversation. Apologies for the low quality of my voice:
A Chat with Bill Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett
- About playing Mr. Feeny.
About the ending to St. Elsewhere. (They didn’t like it.)
If you want to know more about the book, please read below. I’d recommend There I Go Again for fans of the actor and maybe other aspiring actors, too. Read an excerpt of There I Go Again.
There Bill Goes Again
Lacking traditional education, Daniels went through various life experiences and learned the finer points of acting from mentors such as Life with Father star Howard Lindsey and acting coach Lee Strasberg.
Having little formal education, he grew up in show business from kid singer to teenager in the leading Broadway play of the time, Life with Father.
From the humble beginnings living in a Brooklyn brownstone, young Billy Daniels knew that showbiz wasn’t flashy. His mother would send him and his sisters to radio shows hoping for superstardom. Daniels also had to manage stressful family drama and occasional bouts of illness. Daniels also shares his seeing “Bojangles” Robinson perform and the VIP treatment he and his accompanying mother received. It’s a rare moment reading Daniels’ perspective as a fan of someone else.
After a stint playing in Life with Father, 18-year-old Daniels was drafted in the Army where he eventually spent time as a radio DJ in Italy. The fortuitous timing of the end of World War II meant he never saw battle. After his service, he went to Northwestern where he met an aspiring actress named Bonnie Bartlett.
While seeking work on Broadway and considering himself a New York man, he was persuased to try Hollywood. There were mixed results; while he was in The Graduate starring Dustin Hoffman, he was also in Captain Nice, Buck Owens’ superhero sitcom which failed to reach the popularity of the Adam West-starred Batman.
Daniels discusses his various acting roles including being John Adams in l776 the play and the movie. He takes many of his roles seriously, but he doesn’t “fall in love” with the characters he portrays. While people become big fans of KITT, Feeny, or even Dr. Craig, Daniels recounts his portrayals as a professional actor instead of a showman.
The recent embrace of fandom contrasts with Daniels’ past decisions such as turning down offers to lecture at med schools because he isn’t a real doctor and declining on-screen credit of voicing KITT. He tells me (I think it’s in the book, too) about a moment when a fan told him he thought that the actor hid in the famous Pontiac itself to do the talking car stuff. To be fair, I’d be befuddled, too.
Bill Daniels has an interesting career in acting. I’ll look for Bonnie Bartlett on Better Call Saul. There I Go Again is out now in bookstores. Visit the official website.