William Daniels has done it all over the course of six decades, from starring in films like The Graduate and 1776 to television shows like St. Elsewhere and voicing KITT on Knight Rider. But, to those of us who came of age in the ‘90s, he’s best known for his iconic role as Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World. Daniels recently chronicled his long career in his memoir, THERE I GO AGAIN: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, and Many Others and stopped by BuzzFeed the day before his 90th (YES, 90th!!!) birthday to answer YOUR most burning questions.
1. How did you originally get the role of Mr. Feeny?
William Daniels: I was sent a script by Michael Jacobs, the producer, and I read it. I went to a table read and then I went to his office and quit. I said, “I don’t want to make fun of a teacher. They need our respect, they’re underpaid, and they’re very important.” And he said, “I don’t intend to do that. In fact, the person in my mind that I am going to be writing is a teacher that I had in high school, that I thought very much of and became a mentor of mine. So I have a great deal of respect for this part.”
I said, “OK, that’s good. All right, I’ll come back.” That’s the way it happened and I am very glad it did.
2. What’s something from the set that you would have liked to take with you?
WD: How about the fence? I did a lot of scenes over the fence. I said to Michael, “How many scenes am I going to be doing over this fence?” He said, “Hopefully a lot!” Talking to my neighbors, because they lived right next door, so that was an obvious place for us to set up scenes. The fence, I’d take the fence and put it in my backyard.
3. Did you ever think your role of Mr. Feeny would have such a strong impact on an entire generation?
WD: Not in my wildest imagination, and I’m still surprised. I remember we were in New York and we were coming out of the theater after a matinee and there was a bus full of kids. They came out of the bus as I passed them going down Eighth Avenue, and they started yelling, “Feeny! Feeny!” Well, the brave one that I am, I ran around the block just to get away from them. There was a whole bus of them yelling “Feeny!” while coming after me — a bus load! I just ran.
4. Do you ever keep in touch with any of the other cast members from Boy Meets World?
WD: Well, you know what happens in these theatrical affairs is that you live together very closely, whether it’s on stage or in film, and then when it’s over, everybody goes. They go to their own lives and they go to their own projects.
I see Rusty [William Russ] — he’s a great guy. I saw Danielle [Fishel] just the other day. She comes in with this big hat and everything, and I look under it and said, “Is that you Danielle?” It was great seeing her — she’s a lovely, lovely lady.
They’re all grown up now. Ben Savage, I saw him because of Girl Meets World. Here that boy, that little Ben, comes driving up in a big truck and here comes this young man out, who I hadn’t seen for so long. But that’s the way it goes, you know? It was lovely. He’s a great, great young man. They’re all grown up now.
5. What were the kids like to work with on the set?
WD: They were very young kids, you know, and I didn’t want to get involved in supervising them or advising them — I wanted them to do their own thing. I didn’t want to give them readings. [laughs] You’re gonna do it that way, huh? And they would have a hard time [pulling pranks] because I stayed in my dressing room until it was time to go on!
I was very fond of them and they were really easy to work with — no problems. Nothing went to their heads or anything like that, which you’ve probably heard happens in some shows.
6. What was your favorite piece of advice or quote that Mr. Feeny ever said?
WD: I spoke to the class and I said to them, “Dream, try, and do good.” Boy, I was close to tears, frankly — it had been seven seasons. But that was it, that is what I’ll always remember, yes.
7. What’s one thing from your new memoir that people may be surprised to find out?
WD: Maybe my background, because I was born in Brooklyn and I should basically have a Brooklyn accent, certainly a New York accent. But as a child, about 15, I got into a play called Life With Father, and the family in the play was from New England. I picked up that New England accent without even thinking about it. I just absorbed it from all these people, so that’s what I wound up with.
8. What advice do you have for the younger generation today?
WD: Pay attention to the politics — I’m worried about where we are right now. These are difficult times and young people have gotta form an opinion and they’ve gotta act on it. And by act on it I mean, they have to vote when there’s a chance to vote, and use their own judgments about what’s going on these days because, I think, these are difficult times, you know? Without getting into it too much.
9. You are celebrating your 90th birthday tomorrow, March 31! Do you have a birthday wish?
WD: Yes, my birthday wish is that I have another birthday after tomorrow!
William’s memoir, THERE I GO AGAIN: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, and Many Others, is in stores now!
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