There are several actors I find delightful; no other word quite fits. So, for the rest of this month, I thought it would be fun to get to know more about a few of them. Today we start with Bill Daily.
Bill was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1928. His childhood was not innocent and carefree. His father was in prison, and Bill only saw him once. He died when Bill was very young. Life with his mother and step-father was not a walk in the park either. He rarely spent time with his mother, and he described his stepfather as a “terrible person.” He spent a lot of time in Kansas City with his aunt and uncle who were great role models for him.
When Bill was 12, his family moved to Chicago and he attended Lane Technical High School. Daily struggled in school because he had dyslexia, but he learned to use humor to make it easier. It started a pattern of using humor to overcome obstacles.
After school he decided to earn his living as a musician. He had learned to play the bass at a young age. He played with jazz bands all over the Midwest. He was drafted into the army and was sent to Korea with an artillery unit, but he later was transferred to an entertainment division. During the war, he met actor/musician Dick Contino, and the two would travel to various units giving shows. Contino would sing and play the accordion and Daily, who was an accomplished musician, would play the stand-up bass. He also developed a stand-up comedy bit.
Returning to the entertainment industry after his military stint, Daily began performing stand-up comedy. In 1949 Daily married his first wife Patricia Anderson. They adopted two children and divorced in 1976.
He enrolled at the Goodman Theatre School and worked for a Chicago NBC station, WMAQ as an announcer and a floor manager. When he was preparing for a Chicago-area Emmy Award broadcast, he asked an acquaintance Bob Newhart to develop a routine about press agents. That routine turned into “Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue.” He described Bob as a shy man and a comic genius. He referred to him as “the nicest man that ever lived. The nicest man I ever met. Great father . . . great kids . . . great wife.”
Daily became a regular guest as a comedian on The Mike Douglas Show which was produced in Chicago. Steve Allen saw him and brought him on his show as a comedian and sidekick.
In the 1960s, Daily began his television career. He appeared on Bewitched, My Mother the Car, and The Farmer’s Daughter. Sidney Sheldon liked his work and offered him a role of Major Roger Healey in the pilot of I Dream of Jeannie.
The role of Major Healey turned into a regular costarring role. The show was on the air for five years from 1965-1970. Daily even got to write one of the episodes: “Jeannie the Matchmaker.”
In 1972 he appeared in Getting Together, a spin-off from The Partridge Family. He also was in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and two episodes of Love American Style. That same year, he got the role of Howard Borden on The Bob Newhart Show. Borden was a pilot, naïve and a bit excitable but a true friend. The show was on the air from 1972-1978. When it ended, he went back to guest starring on television series including The Love Boat, Trapper John MD, and CHiPs.
In the mid-1970s, he became a semi-regular on Match Game, filling in when Richard Dawson left, appearing on 85 episodes. Daily described Charles Nelson Reilly as “brilliant.” He spent summers at Gene Rayburn’s home in Hyannis Port.
In 1977 Daily married for a second time. He met Vivian when they were both traveling and performing in Lover’s Leap. They had a daughter and divorced in 1980.
In 1985, Bill was offered his own show called Small & Frye. Daily played a neurotic doctor; unfortunately, the show only lasted three months before it was canceled. He tried another show of his own in 1988 called Starting from Scratch which lasted one season before getting the axe.
That would be his last regular series although he made four appearances on ALF as Larry the psychiatrist. ALF claimed to have learned about psychiatry from watching the Bob Newhart Show. Jack Riley, Elliot Carlin on Bob’s show, appeared as a patient on the show. Riley and Daily were friends from Chicago days.
I Dream of Jeannie continued to keep Daily busy as well. Two made-for-tv movies were made as sequels: I Dream of Jeannie . . . Fifteen Years Later in 1985 and I Still Dream of Jeannie in 1990.
Daily tried marriage for a third time in 1993. He and Becky were married until her death in 2010. I found it funny that the couple had a dog named Hi Bob, named for the line that he said over and over on the Newhart show.
Daily retired to Albuquerque. He was a weekly guest host on a radio station there from 2006-2009. He has also appeared in plays at Albuquerque Little Theater where several other celebrities have performed over the years.
In 2016 Gary Levine, a writer for the Naples Herald interviewed Daily by phone. Here is part of that interview:
“Daily explained that while he was capable and proficient at reading music, he was hurried to inform me of his inability to read. Bill indicated that he struggled with Dyslexia and was unable to read without assistance.
At this moment, you are likely wondering how an actor, unable to read, can adhere to a script.
“I memorized them, with my daughter.” As he and his wife found themselves unable to have children, the couple adopted two children, Patrick and Kimberley. Kimberley has since passed away, however, Daily credits her with assisting him to read and learn his lines. Patrick and Bill appear to be extremely close and reside near one another. Patrick works in the film industry doing camera work on various films and productions.
“The scripts were brilliant,” he remarked, “but I couldn’t read.” Daily continued, “I was so grateful that I was working.”
Expectedly, the dialogue quickly transitioned to Barbara Eden. Daily’s first adjective: ‘brilliant.’ He indicated that massive lines would form, desperate to see her, wherever they travelled. “It’s her! No one else could have played Jeannie. Don’t bother trying. I’ve tried many times. There’s no one. She had the look, the charm…she was sophisticated. There was no one like her…ever.”
Bill Daily just seems like a great guy who would get along with everybody. He has played two endearing characters in Roger Healey and Howard Borden. He seems to be enjoying retirement and working with a local theater in Albuquerque. His sense of humor is quite apparent in all of his interviews. Most impressive is how kind he seems to be, especially dealing with such an unhappy childhood.