INTERVIEW WITH BILL DAILY, JUNE 2003

This interview is completely paraphrased.

 

 

This interview was first in a series of three. Jeannie Sisters Website will carry the notes from all three interviews: Bill Daily, Larry Hagman, and Barbara Eden.

Bill Daily was interviewed for a television legends show. Here are some of the fine points made on this 2 hour long interview.

 

Bill was born on August 27, 1927 to Fern Ellis and Raymond Daily.  His dad left them when Bill was 2 weeks old, but his mom was around until she died at age 85.  During his elementary school years, his comedic idols were Bob Hope, the Rich Brothers, Jack Benny and Sid Caesar.  He went to Lane Tech High School in Chicago.  His first instrument was the accordion, but he took up the string bass in High school.

 

Bill went on the road with a trio as a bassist, but also did comedy, at age 16.  He played the best place in Miami. The trio was called “Jack and the Beanstalks”. 

 

He went into the Army during the Korean Conflict, starting in combat.  However, he was soon sent to Special Services School, put in Artillery but ended up in the Entertainment division with his bass.

 

After two years, he got back to the states. He and his wife (Patricia) were trying to have children but found it wasn’t going to be possible.  When they tried to adopt, musicians were not considered as good adoptive fathers, so Bill went back to school at Goodman (in Chicago) and majored in directing.  He tried to get into TV all over the place while still playing in the band and doing comedy. He landed his first job as a floor director because he could read music – NBC and also a short stint at WGN in Chicago. 

 

When asked about his first impressions of television, he said the first time he saw TV was the Milton Berle Show – then he did a show himself.

 

At WOR in New York City, 1947, he did a show with comedy and music. When they did an opening, he remembers forgetting his lyrics and having to adlib some new ones. 

 

Behind the camera at WGN at a different time, he had to cue WGN sports commentator Jack Brickhouse, then had to fill in once for Jack when he had to go to the dentist.  But back then, WGN wasn’t doing anything very interesting so he was looking for something else.

 

The first show that he actually did some writing for was Club 60.  He wrote a commercial. Mostly, though, he was doing directing and station managing for Kookla, Fran and Ollie, Dave Garroway’s show Garroway at Large, and The Home Show.  At this point in the interview, he stated that the first thing he wrote on his own for television was “The Typewriter” routine, though later in the interview he mentions another thing he thinks he wrote first.

 

On weekends, he would travel to Cleveland and do the Mike Douglas Show.  While working there, he was discovered by Steve Allen.  Bill states that the things he wrote for Mike Douglas were “mostly terrible” but remembers one of his first skits with Betty White, and “the speechless puppet” skit.  The speechless puppet skit idea came while watching a bad juggler on the Bozo show. (He didn’t say which Bozo show, Chicago or the Cleveland model.) Steve began to use him on his show, and he was hired after two shows. Steve was the person who got him doing a lot, but Bill still wasn’t sure it was a good “fit”. 

 

Sidney Sheldon saw Bill doing an episode of Bewitched, about an adoptive father, and decided to put him in his new show, I Dream of Jeannie.  While doing the pilot for IDOJ, Bill got an offer to do My Mother the Car. But Sidney Sheldon upped his role in IDOJ and he was picked up for the 2nd male lead.  Why wasn’t it Don Dubbins, the interviewer asked?  Sidney Sheldon evidently saw something in Bill that “worked”.   Bill said he emulated Bob Hope a lot for the role of Roger Healey, and wanted Larry Hagman to do Bing Crosby.  Bill commented about Sidney’s penchant for writing the show in an hour, and then leaving him and Larry to do the rewrites.

 

Asked about his costars in IDOJ, Bill stated that Barbara Eden was a pro, but she let Larry and Bill do the crazy routine. She had no temperament.  Larry had so much energy, but Bill didn’t really understand how brilliant Larry was, until years later.  Hayden Rorke was the backbone of them all and had so much charm – he loved Hayden Rorke. 

 

The IDOJ production schedule had him working for three days on the set, and then could spend the other four days with his kids. Those three days were  7 am to 7 pm, where he loved the rehearsing and the physical humor.  His favorite episodes in IDOJ were mostly before he knew Jeannie. He mentioned the wall / yacht episode. (Editor’s Note: “The Yacht Murder Case”, episode #6).  The interviewer asked Bill if he ever told anyone that he didn’t want to know Jeannie on the series? No.  Other favorite episodes included the invisible house episode (Editor’s Note: “Invisible House for Sale”) and the Harold Gould episode. When asked about particular episodes that he hated, Bill stated that he couldn’t recollect any.  He said that marrying Jeannie and Tony off killed the show just like they tried to kill Howard off TBNS in the third season with a marriage to Bob’s sister Ellen. 

 

When asked about finding out that the show had been canceled, he didn’t feel too badly because he was getting other offers. He then brought up finding out about how some of his other shows were canceled. He found out that Small and Frye had been canceled when the Darren McGavin Sandwich was off the menu in the commissary.  He then mentioned that IDOJ doesn’t date itself because it’s a uniform show and it’s fun – he is very proud of IDOJ! 

 

After IDOJ, he did a few one-shots with Steve Allen, the Tonight Show, but nothing jumps out.  He also did the pilot for the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but instead they wanted him for The Bob Newhart Show, to play a 3-hour jetlagged character (Howard).  Lorenzo Music had seen him work, didn’t make him read for the part, but he almost lost the part. 

 

Bill had known Bob Newhart for years. He met him at a party, they wrote a few things together. One story he told was how there was a problem with a broadcast and Bob wrote a piece that he became famous for, “Abe Lincoln”. Bill and Bob break each other up all the time. It happened a lot on the set of TBNS, and they end up on the outtake reels. 

 

Bill stated that some of the best writing of shows that he has ever encountered was on TBNS.  The character of Howard Borden is also credited as brilliant writing.  There were a few episodes that he remembered.  He stated that the most fun he had with his timing was in the episode about Bob’s Fear of Flying Group.  Other favorite episodes included the one where he had to hold up the wall (“Ex Con Job” in season 5), the “moo goo gai pan episode” (“Over the River and Through the Woods” in season 4). Bill made the comment that his wife Becky watches the reruns of these on Nick every morning.  He also stated that nobody ever won an award on that show, because they made it look too easy.

 

Working with Marcia Wallace – she was a great gal, but it was hard to follow her on the road because she was so sweet. She would bring everyone gifts.  Bill said that this cast saw each other socially outside of work, and still does – something that never happened with the cast of IDOJ.   When asked about the “Hi Bob” thing, they didn’t ever intend for it to become a catch-phrase, but it not only became that but a game as well.  The interviewer asked Bill if he felt close to Howard, but no, “freeloading Howard is not me,” he said. 

 

One of the hardest scenes he had to do in TBNS was between Howard and his screen son, Howie.  In the episode, Howie was returning to the custody of his mom.  At that time, Bill was going through the exact same thing at home in the evening, due to a divorce with his then-wife. 

 

Asked about his characters, he stated that he loved Howard, loved Roger Healey, loves his character on Starting from Scratch, but the latter was painful because he was playing a veterinarian and he was allergic to animals! 

 

Asked about his role in Disney’s movie, The Barefoot Executive, Bill told the story about the chimps that liked him, and that’s why he got the role.  As far as his role in the TV pilot for Inside O.U.T., once again there was a chimp involved that liked him. 

 

Back to TBNS, the question was asked, “why did it end?”  Bob wanted it to end after 5 years but the network wanted another year.  To the question, “why don’t we see this show in syndication more?” Bill stated that perhaps it doesn’t work as well in today’s society.  He’s surprised, though, but thinks perhaps it was too low-key. He restated that Becky watches it, but he doesn’t. It usually plays in the wee hours of the morning.  Bill said he doesn’t care as much for today’s sitcoms, and complained politely about the lack of stories in both Friends and Fraser.

 

The interviewer asked him if he wrote anything for these sitcoms. Bill stated that he wrote one for Jeannie but doesn’t remember which one. (Editor’s Note: season 5’s “Jeannie, the Matchmaker”).  

 

Moving on in Bill’s television career, the next show discussed was Alf. Bill commented that this was a Patchett and Tarset show (Editor’s note: men who wrote a lot of TBNS episodes, and produced some).  Alf himself looked like a bad muppet and had to come up from under the floor in a lot of cases.  The writing on this show was average after Newhart, but it was fun to do.  He really had to do some acting in this one!

 

Bill will never forget the double episode of Love Boat that he did.  He did it because of Patsy Kelly. It was a different thing for him, because it was drama and not comedy. He was about 55 or 60 years old when he did the show, and his girlfriend on the show was “really young”.  As far as Aloha Paradise was concerned, it was a lot of old bad stories from Love Boat, but it was dynamite working with Debbie Reynolds for that period of time.  For Valentine Magic on Love Island, it meant spending a month in Hawaii, though he hated the script. He did like working with Chris Knight of Brady Bunch fame. For The Powers of Matthew Starr, it was another bad script that was actually fun to do. 

 

The next segment was about The Match Game. It was great money, working weekends only, Gene Rayburn is so funny and became a good friend, and he loved working with Betty White, Charles Nelson Reilly and Brett Somers.  Other game shows he did included Hollywood Squares, in which he cost the production company a lot of money when they had to retape something he said by accident that had to be blipped out. 

 

Back to IDOJ with the 1985 movie – Bill was so disappointed when he turned a corner and found Wayne Rogers playing Larry Hagman’s role, and the 1991 movie was worse.  Bill told Barbara he wouldn’t do the latter until he heard it was filming in Vancouver.  He said it was stupid on that one that there was little or no mention at all of Tony Nelson.  

 

Bill went on and did three other shows with Bob – an episode of Newhart, one of Bob, and one or two of George and Leo. Tom Poston was in one of those, as well.  He said he would do anything again with Bob. 

 

At this point in the interview, Bill commented that this was his current project, it was being filmed in his condo, that he wasn’t getting paid for the interview and it was great just doing nothing!  Why was he in New Mexico?  He did a play here and fell in love with the place. One of the plays he did here was his own, Lover’s Leap.

 

Later in his career, he did the movie called Alligator II.  Bill described that one as “beyond awful!”

 

When asked about the biggest changes on television, Bill commented that it was when they went from “live” television to “tape”.  He said he thinks it made it worse.  The news is almost too long today and some are even 24 hours of news over and over.  He mentioned The Fox Channel.  Bill stated that his children were not allowed to watch TV, not even IDOJ, when they were growing up. He said that kids today have weight problems because of TV. TV can be wonderful – he loves the movies and the spots.  He stressed that WRITERS make the movies and the shows, not necessarily the actors!

 

The interviewer inquired about the highlights of Bill’s life. Bill stated that one highlight was adopting his children. He was directing a Buick commercial in Chicago when he received a phone call to go pick up his son. His son was 2 weeks old and waiting at the orphanage. Bill and his (then) wife had waited more than 10 years for this. Now Patrick is the best key grip, and even flies his own plane.  Bill stated that he was married to his first wife for 27 years and that it was very different from his current marriage (he said 13 years with Becky).   When asked for his children’s names, he stated, “John Patrick, though he goes professionally by J Patrick, and Kimberley Anne Daily.”  He said that Kimberley is a teacher.  Bill stated how lucky he was that his kids turned out so well, remarking that Barbara Eden hadn’t been so lucky with her son.  He said it was all in who they ran with, and his kids picked good friends to run with. 

 

As of this taping (June 2003, from what this editor can figure), Becky is 46 years old and Bill is 75, “almost 76”. Bill mentioned that IDOJ had just come on TV Land, too. 

 

Bill stated that his biggest problem with his career was the fact that he’s dyslexic. It makes reading scripts very difficult.  He does love to read, and reads every evening for hours, but he has to read and reread sometimes. Reading orally, such as for a part, was next-to-impossible for him.  However, he could use that to be more extraneous and improvisational. 

 

His greatest career achievement, Bill stated when asked, had to be most of his career. He loved TBNS and the character of Howard, loved the play that he wrote, and really does well with theatre. 

Bill commented on some of the things you may catch him doing with his fingers while acting – that’s his bass fingers “playing”, setting his timing – an off-shoot of his days in the trio as the bassist/comedian. As a stand-up comedian, you set your own timing with the audience, but when you work with others, they can mess up your timing.  He commented about a “baby’s first day at home” skit he wrote, right after bringing Patrick home from the orphanage. (Editor’s note: He did part of this on the interview, too; it was phenomenal.)

 

When asked about how fame and celebrity affected him, he said it was a bit scarey. He said it must be far worse for the big stars, though. He loves it when people come up and ask him things about his shows, tell him they love his work. Then he told a story about how Becky needed to use the bathroom one time and they had to stop at a place that had a bunch of Hell’s Angels playing pool and having beer inside.  One of the Hell’s Angels came up to Bill, which made him really nervous, and just said, “I like your work”, and went back to playing pool.  Bill commented that he wouldn’t say that to Becky’s father, who “is a retired full colonel.”

 

“How would you like to be remembered?”  Bill responded, “good father, good husband, funny, sensitive,” and a few other things.

 

Going back to the fame and celebrity topic, Bill said that he wasn’t high enough to fall very hard when his career started to stand still.  He could go back to writing or directing right now if he wanted to, matter of fact he said he still directs locally. Then he stated how Jeannie is always seen and remembered, but TBNS seems to be “just lost”.  His celebrity status got them upgraded once from $500 seats on an airline to $16,000 seats in first class (this editor wondered if he meant $1600).

 

When the interview was coming to an end, Bill said that he’s so Virgo and such a neatnik that he’s hated to see his house messed up with all this equipment!  We then saw some memorabilia that Bill chose to share:

1) The TV Guide cover (1975) with the caricatures of the TBNS cast on it.

2) a picture from Starting from Scratch, Bill with a chimp. He stated that show was filmed in Montreal and that his co-star “secretary” on the show could not get along with the chimp, so all the chimp scenes were his.

3) a picture of Bill on Mike Douglas Show with Sammy Davis, Jr. When Bill did that show, he was on hiatus from IDOJ, and casually mentioned to Sammy that they would love to have him on IDOJ sometime. After IDOJ resumed filming, Sidney Sheldon proudly announced that Sammy Davis Jr would be doing an episode with them, and that it was Bill Daily’s doing! Bill said that Sammy sang a bunch of songs on the episode, too.

4) a picture of a really young Bill Daily with the trio.

5) picture of the TBNS cast at a party.  Bill told the story of trying to find Bob Newhart’s house “a few years ago, wasn’t it, babe?” (he was talking to Becky off-camera, obviously), and how a tourist with a “map of the stars homes” helped him find it!


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