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There I Go Again is a celebrity memoir like no other, revealing the life of a man whose acting career has been so rich that millions of Americans know his face even while they might not recognize his name. William Daniels is an enigma—a rare chameleon who has enjoyed massive success both in Hollywood and on Broadway and been embraced by fans of successive generations. Few of his peers inspire the fervor with which buffs celebrate his most iconic roles, among them George Feeny in Boy Meets World, KITT in Knight Rider, Dr. Mark Craig in St. Elsewhere, and John Adams in the play and film 1776. Daniels guides readers through some of Hollywood’s most cherished productions, offering recollections of entertainment legends including Lauren Bacall, Warren Beatty, Kirk Douglas, Michael Douglas, Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, Mike Nichols, Jason Robards, Barbra Streisand, and many more. Looking back on his seventy-five-plus-year career, Daniels realizes that although he never had the courage to say “no” to being an actor, he backed into stardom. With his wife, actress Bonnie Bartlett, by his side, he came to realize that he wound up exactly where he was supposed to be: on the screen and stage.
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About the Author
William Daniels is an actor and former president of the Screen Actors Guild. He won two Emmy Awards for his role as Dr. Mark Craig in St. Elsewhere and reprises his role as Mr. Feeny in the Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World, the sequel series to Boy Meets World.
Read an Excerpt
There I Go Again
How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, and Many Others
By William Daniels
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESSCopyright © 2017 William Daniels
All rights reserved.
I'd Rather Be Elsewhere
In 1985 I was nominated for a third straight Emmy award for St. Elsewhere, the NBC series I did from 1982 to 1988. Having lost twice, I didn't want to go to the Emmy Awards show and lose a third straight time, but there I was with my wife Bonnie, dressed to the hilt, starting out in the limousine but not getting very far. Halfway between the Coldwater Canyon and Laurel Canyon exits on the freeway the limo conked out. The motor went dead — and there we sat.
Since Bonnie's gown was even less conducive to hiking through the Valley heat than my tuxedo, she stayed in the car with the driver and I walked the half mile to the Laurel Canyon exit. As I trudged under the tunnel of the freeway on my way home, a car stopped and a little old lady leaned out the car window.
"Can we drive you?"
There I was in a tux, collar unbuttoned, tie undone, looking like a short Dean Martin coming home from an all-night binge, and two little old ladies (one driving) wanted to take me home.
"Uh, no thank you," I said and continued walking. They slowly followed in the car. She leaned out the window again.
"We know who you are. Are you sure we can't drive you?"
Well, what the hell.
"Okay," I said and got into the backseat. "Take a right. I live just a couple of blocks down."
They dropped me off in front of my house. Out of the monkey suit and on with the TV to watch a McEnroe tennis match.
Not for long. Bonnie was back with a new limo and was standing over me.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Watching John play — it's the finals." (I was a big McEnroe fan.)
"Bill," she said, "if we don't go, I am going to be so depressed. I've spent so many times buying a dress for an occasion, getting the makeup on, getting the hair done, getting all fixed up for something, and we don't go, or we walk out, because you're in a snit and I have to go out smiling at everybody, missing everything I was prepared to do. We walked out on the opening night party of The Graduate, and we walked out on the film premiere of 1776." She paused, flustered, and then added, "Goddamnit, I just think you should at least be able to go there and sit through this thing. We're going to Pasadena!"
So I did as she asked, but I was still seething. I got back into the monkey suit, climbed into the new limousine with Bonnie and the same driver, and headed off to Pasadena. Don Johnson was going to win. I knew it. I just knew it. I was certain the studio had sent him a limo that wouldn't break down.
I don't know how long the show had been going on when we arrived. We tip-toed down the aisle and into our row of reserved seats. Excuse me, sorry, excuse me.
We had just sat down when I heard, "And the award goes to William Daniels."
Good God! Here we go again back down the row ... excuse me, sorry, excuse me ... bumping into people's knees, getting out of the row. Someone slapped me on the back — "Congratulations!" Lord, I hadn't prepared anything to say. Oh well. Up on the stage someone handed me the award.
"Thank you, thank you very much." I looked out at the crowd. "You know, I almost didn't make it here." Big laugh.
I went on to tell them how the limo broke down and the two little old ladies, who were probably watching now, rescued me. "Thank you again for the ride," I said.
I was getting laughs, so I figured all wasn't lost. Later that night the press wanted to know if I'd made up the story I'd told in my acceptance speech. What a question. Why would I make up a story like that?
By 1987 I had had a total of five nominations and won twice for my work on St. Elsewhere, the famous one-hour series about life in a run-down Boston hospital. You might be confined here, but you'd rather be "elsewhere." It was an ensemble show much in the spirit of the game-changing, Emmy-winning series Hill Street Blues, which was an ensemble cop show (also from MTM, Grant Tinker's company, which was producing St. Elsewhere). And it paved the way for future hit medical dramas such as ER and Grey's Anatomy. When St. Elsewhere was being developed, I received an offer to play the part of Dr. Mark Craig. An unprecedented five one-hour scripts came with the offer. There was a large cast of characters, an ensemble, with only the occasional appearance, often very brief, of Dr. Craig. When the producer, Bruce Paltrow, called to hear my reaction to the offer, I said that I thought the scripts were wonderful and often very funny but that the part of Dr. Craig was rather small.
"Billy, when the writers see what you do with it they will write for you." And that was exactly what happened — the part got bigger and the storylines got deeper.
In my research for the role I trailed a real-life surgeon at UCLA and even watched him operate on the heart of a small child. He was a great doctor during surgery and a real son of a bitch outside the operating room. The Dr. Craig that the TV audience eventually saw was like this surgeon but also a lot like me. Just ask my wife. I can be rather abrupt, very critical, and sometimes judgmental — a real martinet. As the producers and writers got to know me, they poured all my traits, both positive and negative, into Dr. Craig, who was a great surgeon but not always a nice man. Dr. Craig considered himself the smartest man in the operating room, perhaps the smartest in the entire hospital, and he made no attempt to hide his sense of superiority.
The show had a thirteen-episode order, but it also had a rocky start. We were halfway through filming the first episode when Bruce Paltrow returned from finishing a feature film in London. When he saw the dailies, production came to a halt. The cast was told to take a few days off. Days turned into weeks, and when we were called back we found the director was gone, the cinematographer and camera crew were gone, and several of the actors had been replaced. The sets had been repainted a more drab color, ceilings had been put in to cut down the lighting, and the overall look was of a rather run-down hospital in a lower-class neighborhood of Boston, St. Eligius Hospital, whose façade appeared in the opening shot of the show. Paltrow put together a fine cast of actors, including Ed Flanders and Hollywood legend Norman Lloyd (who as of this writing is still working at the age of 102), along with Ed Begley Jr., Denzel Washington, Howie Mandel, Christina Pickles, Mark Harmon, and David Morse, who all became stars in their own right. During the show's six-year run we also had a roster of guest stars that were the envy of any show before or since: Alfre Woodard, Helen Hunt, Kathy Bates, Tim Robbins, Dorothy McGuire, Betty White, Doris Roberts (who won an Emmy for her role), and Eva Le Gallienne. Real-life couple Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows had Emmy-nominated comedic recurring roles as the hippie parents of Ed Begley Jr.'s character.
And of course, my wife, Bonnie Bartlett, joined the cast in the fourth episode of our first season and remained with us for the entire six seasons of our run, garnering two Emmy Awards along the way.
The casting of Bonnie was rather fortuitous. In one episode, while performing a heart operation, Dr. Craig bragged about how he got his wife to stop smoking; he went out on their front lawn and yelled loudly about her smoking for all the neighborhood to hear and that did it — she stopped. In the next episode, at an awards dinner for "Surgeon of the Year," an honor Craig continually assumed he would win but each year went away empty handed, there sat his wife, who proceeded to light up a cigarette when the doctor left the table for the men's room. At the casting session for the episode, after a number of names were thrown around, Eileen Mack Knight, the casting director at MTM, said, "Why not ask his wife, Bonnie, if she might do it, as a favor?"
The part only had a line or two, and under normal circumstances Bonnie would have turned it down. But the scripts were so well written and we both had such high hopes for this show that she agreed to do it. Now came the hard part — Bonnie didn't smoke! I took her out to the pool house, so as not to stink up our home, and we worked on it. It was a pain in the ass because I'd given up smoking about twenty years earlier, but I taught her how to hit the pack and pull out a cigarette, how to tap it on the back of her hand, how to light up — all of which she got down pat. But inhale — no way! She'd hold the smoke in her mouth and then kind of cough it out.
"Don't cough it out — let it out slowly," I said.
With luck she wouldn't have a coughing spell. The whole preparation of lighting up sold it, and she got the laugh, but you shouldn't look too closely at the actual drag on the cigarette.
The producer and writers must have liked the look of the two of us together because Mrs. Craig became a regular on the show, and she had many wonderful scenes with me and without me for the rest of our run.
For me the role of Dr. Craig was a joy to play. There were so many contradictions in his character — top-notch surgeon and strict disciplinarian in the operating room, yet so foolish in the outside world. Playing such a role over a long run offered a wide range of situations: at one end there was the challenge of facing the loss of a son and at the other the inanity of Dr. Craig's desperately wanting to be named "Surgeon of the Year." I enjoyed the freshness each new story offered, a welcome contrast at the time to the theater, where the same lines are said over and over again.
Led by Tom Fontana and John Masius, the writing was extraordinary for television — or anywhere else for that matter. St. Elsewhere succeeded not only because of good writing and a superb ensemble cast but because it always seemed believable to the audience. To capture the frenetic activity of a real hospital the producers relied on a theme song with a throbbing beat that became one of the show's signatures. The music accompanied Dr. Craig and his colleagues in every episode as they strode through the corridors, patient records tucked under their arms, on the way to surgery. St. Elsewhere was one of the first TV shows to adopt that walk-fast-and-talk-fast technique, and it was not always easy to pull off. The cameraman had to hold the camera on his shoulder as he was pulled down the hallway on a dolly, shooting the actors behind him. If one person in the crowd of actors made a mistake, we would have to shoot it all over again, and it might take half a day. I personally liked the walk-and-talk scenes; they involved action and took the burden off the script, which otherwise would have to carry the show.
I became fond of Ed Begley Jr., who to this day remains a friend and lives just around the corner from me. Ed's father, Ed Begley Sr., and I had worked together in the days of live television. Ed Jr. and I were the Mutt and Jeff of prime time: he was tall, I was not; he was young, I was middle-aged; he was a hippie, I was the opposite. We often sparred, onscreen and off. Before the cameras rolled, Ed would sometimes drive me crazy because he never learned his lines in advance. I would be ready to film a scene, and he would be over there, learning his lines. He's more of a film actor — a much more improvisational actor than I — and I'm from the theater, so I always knew my lines in advance and he knew he could learn his during rehearsals. I would lay into him occasionally and say, "Any time you're ready, Ed. Is that the way you're going to say it?" And he'd answer, "I'm learning it, Bill. I'm learning it."
The years of filming St. Elsewhere at the CBS-Radford Studios in Studio City, about two miles from our home, were happy ones for our family. Both Bonnie and I were able to avoid the horrible traffic jams on LA freeways. We never worked five full days a week. Our scenes sometimes took only an hour or two, rarely more than half a day, and then we went home to our two real-life sons.
Learning lines for an hour-long show isn't easy, especially as you age. Bonnie remembers me sitting out at the pool, day after day, memorizing my lines by saying them aloud. I had to have them down pat because so much of the script was highly technical medical jargon. And on camera I had to make every speech seem like second nature while simultaneously performing heart surgery. The scripts were often very difficult. I knew I was going to be handling surgical instruments that were totally unfamiliar to me, all the while ordering around the other "doctors" in the operating room. So I had to know my lines cold.
Was I convincing as a doctor? Maybe. Several times I've been invited to return to Northwestern University, where Bonnie and I went to college, and to other universities to speak at medical school graduations. I turned down the Northwestern invitation and most others because, after all, I was not a doctor. I had absolutely no insights into medicine that would have impressed anyone with a medical degree. But while I was doing the show I did accept one invitation, to speak at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, the headquarters of Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the first polio vaccine. When I got up to speak I said something like, "I think Dr. Salk thinks I am a real doctor." I got a big laugh. I don't remember what else I said other than to make a few remarks about all the good work done by Dr. Salk and the March of Dimes to save children's lives.
It was somewhere between the pilot and the first season pickup of St. Elsewhere that our producer, Bruce Paltrow, invited the cast of the show to his home for dinner. When I arrived I was greeted by his and Blythe Danner's daughter, Gwyneth. Blythe had played Mrs. Jefferson in the movie 1776 with me ten years earlier, but it was the twelve-year-old Gwyneth who was evidently acting as hostess for the evening.
As I entered, Gwyneth's first words were, "What can I get you to drink?" Amusing, coming from a twelve-year-old, especially since we had never met before, so introductions might have been in order.
"How about a vodka and some ice," I said.
"Regular or producer's size?" she asked.
"Producer's, of course," said I.
What a kid! Lively, precocious, and just as lovely that night as she is today. And Gwyneth has turned out to be as talented as her parents, as the rest of the world now knows. In 1998 she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her lead role in Shakespeare in Love.
St. Elsewhere was actually canceled after the first season, so Bonnie and I took a trip to Europe. When we returned, my son Rob casually said to me, "Hey, I think your show got picked up," and that was the first I'd heard of it. Brandon Tartikoff, the head of NBC programming, was a big fan of the show, and he decided that the show would be allowed to try and find an audience in spite of the terrible ratings. The show never ranked higher than forty-ninth place in the Nielsen ratings, which often determine which shows survive and which die. But over the seasons it attracted a following, especially in the eighteen-to-forty-nine age demographic so important to producers. The critics generally loved us, and our TV colleagues admired us enough that the show won thirteen Emmys for writing and directing, as well as for acting. In 2002 TV Guide ranked St. Elsewhere number twenty on its "50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time" list.
I won the Emmy in 1985, and the following year both Bonnie and I were nominated for Emmys for St. Elsewhere, she for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series, I for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series — and both of us won. That's only the second time, as far as I know, that a husband and wife both won acting Emmys in the same year, for the same show. The first couple to do so was the legendary Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who won in 1965 for a made-for-TV movie about Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
In 1987 Bonnie also won an Emmy for the show. There followed the usual publicity pictures of winners holding their awards. When that was finished, Bonnie and I started to leave, but more photographers stopped us to take pictures of Bonnie.
"Mr. Bartlett, would you please step aside?" one of the photographers said. Mr. Bartlett! I stepped aside and the flashbulbs went off. My fifteen minutes of fame were over.
Much to our mutual surprise only writer Tom Fontana offered us congratulations when we won the awards. Not a word from Bruce Paltrow. I think perhaps he had gone into "producer mode," afraid that a compliment would obligate him to give us a raise.
Excerpted from There I Go Again by William Daniels. Copyright © 2017 William Daniels. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations Preface Acknowledgments 1. I’d Rather Be Elsewhere 2. Life with Mother 3. Life with Father 4. Offstage in the Theater of War 5. Go West, Young Man, to Northwestern 6. If I Can Make It There 7. I’ve Been to the Zoo 8. Sing Out, Louise! 9. A Thousand and One Clowns 10. On a Clear Day You Can See Paris 11. Buck and Mike 12. 1776 13. Hooray for Hollywood 14. Home Sweet Homes 15. Boy Oh Boy 16. Mr. President 17. Epilogue? Appendix: The Legacy of 1776: A Conversation with William Daniels and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
William Daniels is not like other actors, he wasn't "discovered" nor was it his dream, he was pretty much thrown into it at a very young age by his mother. Therefore this isn't like other actors stories. As someone who was once a film student and met many people with different aspirations for the field I always say they had stars in their eyes, and I don't think Daniels ever did have those stars. He just did it to do it, maybe to be a part of the creation of something. He never had those "stars" and kept it real, there's no camouflaging the truth to make him look good, it's just an honest story of his life in show business.
I got this book as an early read from netgalley.com. Whether you call him John Adams, Dr. Mark Craig, Kitt, or Mr. Feeney this book will let you see how his early life and career, made him into the actor and person that generations of people have gotten to watch over the years through his presence on stage, tv, and movies.
William Daniels is one of my favorite actors. I was thrilled when I saw that this book was being offered by NetGalley and University of Nebraska Press for my honest review. To read his story from all of the shows that I have seen in him was fantastic. This book was wonderfully written and I loved each page. Thank you for allowing me to become better acquainted with you Mr. Daniels. Also thank you for NetGalley and University of Nebraska Press for allowing me to receive this book in exchange for my honest review.
I received a free electronic copy of this autobiography from Netgalley, Bill Daniels, and University of Nebraska Press, Potomac Books, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you all, for sharing your work with me. William Daniels is one of those actors you 'know' as soon as you see their face, you can do the whole filmography by heart, but the name.... Not fair, is it, but he played an important roll in the lives of us baby boomers. The respect is there, for the memories and life lessons learned, even if the name escapes us. This memoir brought back lots of those memories, and lots of laughs, as well. I managed to skip TV most of the 80's and 90's so I will be catching up on Dr. Craig soon if Netflix carries it. I do remember KITT though I saw few of them, as well. My memories go to films, The Closer and Grey's Anatomy - and he was in a bunch of them. Thank you, KITT - Dr. Craig - John Adams, for the memories....
Such a fantastic book! I loved Mr. Feeny, and the stories William Daniels tells about playing him on Boy Meets World are so, so good--great snapshots into the behind the scenes world of the show. It was also really cool to read about his acting as KITT on Knight Rider, Dr. Craig in St. Elsewhere, John Adams in 1776, plus in The Graduate and Two for the Road. He has played some incredible roles and met a lot of amazing people along the way. He's a great writer too. This is definitely not a book to be missed by any fan!