William Daniels looked back on his life in his memoir, There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, and Many Others.
First published by Potomac Books in 2017, the memoir became the 27th book I’ve read during the pandemic. My biggest regret is that I’m a few years late in reading the book. Don’t let my tardiness in picking up the book stop you from getting a copy!
Depending on when you were born, there’s a strong chance that you grew up watching William Daniels in film, TV, or on the stage. It could even be all three. I grew up watching William Daniels in Boy Meets World. Much like the students did in the show, I also learned from Mr. Feeny by watching the series. It was a sad day when Boy Meets World came to an end but any series is lucky to last beyond their initial order.
I was born a few years too late to see him as Dr. Mark Craig in St. Elsewhere or voice KITT in Knight Rider. I also watched Daniels portray John Adams in 1776 back in 2019. Regardless, I enjoyed reading how he came to take on the roles and what they meant to him. The book isn’t without some politics: William Daniels was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild.
In There I Go Again, the actor writes about his entire life. I’m going to warn folks right now: the topic of abuse does come up. I say this so that it doesn’t come as a surprise when you read the book.
One of the things that I always find weird is when actors play parent and child while being about ten years or so apart. And yet, this is certainly what happened with William Daniels and Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. But Daniels almost didn’t even take on the role. In fact, he was offered a different role in the film–a hotel clerk–but ended up playing Benjamin Braddock’s father. Daniels shares an interesting anecdote about turning the role down. Mike Nichols called to ask why he was turning it down and Daniels explained that “it’s a tiny part.” Long story short, Nichols decided to cast him in the role after meeting with him.
There’s a lot here about 1776. Daniels writes of his phone call to the League of New York Theaters in wishing to be removed from Best Supporting or Featured Actor in a Musical. Suffice it to say, the leading role category required above the line billing and the rules were changed the next year. You can probably make the argument that a show like Hamilton could not exist on Broadway without the popularity of 1776. Anyway, the book’s appendix features a conversation between Daniels and Lin-Manuel Miranda.
By the time I reached the chapter about Boy Meets World, I was certain of one thing–tears would fall down my face. I grew up watching the series during its ABC run. And yet, Daniels almost didn’t even take the job. In meeting with Michael Jacobs, Daniels explained that he “didn’t want to play a high school teacher who’s made to look foolish for the sake of some cheap laughs.” His respect for teachers is a big reason why he came in with this perspective. And yet, Jacobs told him of how his high school drama teacher inspired the role. I’m re-reading the chapter while typing this and sure enough, I have tears falling down my face.
My Jewish readers might get a kick out of this part:
Once in New York I felt a little bit like the Beatles as a group of yeshiva boys chased me out of a Broadway theater while shouting “Feeny!” and thus forcing me to abandon my family temporarily and escape by running around the block.
Before “an extensive rewrite,” both Daniels and wife Bonnie Bartlett turned down Empty Nest. Back to Boy Meets World, Daniels was surprised to see the show become so successful but also created an “indelible impression on an entire generation more than half a century younger than me.” The series finale even features a line that went has since gone viral: “Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do Good.”
I certainly can’t imagine my life without the series. In fact, one of my favorite Wizard World Chicago memories was being able to meet Ben Savage, Rider Strong, Danielle Fishel, and Will Friedle.
There I Go Again is short read at 207 pages but it’s also a quick read as a result. You’ll find yourself quickly going through the book like I did. It’s a must-read in my book.