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Why William Daniels Quit Boy Meets World…Then Came Back

Boy Meets World ran for 7 seasons from 1993 to 2000. As far as sitcoms go, it was fairly standard fare but what made the series so memorable was its stellar cast of characters. There was Cory, Topanga, Shawn, and Eric, and who could forget everyone’s favorite teacher and mentor Mr. Feeny – played by the one and only William Daniels?

When Daniels accepted the role of the beloved middle school teacher, he was already a celebrated thespian and veteran of the big and small screen. He had already won two Emmy-awards for the time he spent portraying Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere and he had starred in some noteworthy films such as The Graduate in 1967 and 1776 in 1972. Knight Rider Fans might remember Daniels as the voice of KITT, the artificially intelligent, self-aware, and indestructible smart car.

Even though Daniels is now 93 years old, the Brooklyn-native still manages to take on the occasional acting role. In 2012, he portrayed Dr. Craig Thomas on 5 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. From 2014 to 2017 he reprised his role as Mr. Feeny in the Boy Meets World reboot series Girl Meets World.

In 2020, he guest-starred in HBO Max’s romantic action comedy film Superintelligence – once again playing the voice of KITT the car.

Mr. Feeny will probably stand the test of time as Daniel’s most memorable character but you might be surprised to find out that he almost never played the iconic character. We’ll touch on that in just a second but make sure you keep watching to find out all about William Daniel’s life and career He was more than just a High School teacher. – far from it in fact.

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Daniels Quit Boy Meets World After The First Rehearsal

With Daniel’s respectable portfolio of high-profile works, signing on to a family sitcom for ABC’s Friday night programming block TGIF might have appeared to outside observers to be an unexpected career move. When Daniels played Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere, his acid-tongued character was never the kind of individual that young people might seek counsel from. Daniels saw the Mr. Feeny character as something initially foreign to him.

Daniels was also pretty dissatisfied with the way teachers were portrayed on most TV shows. At a cast and crew meeting with Michael Jacobs, the shows writer and executive producer, Daniels told him that he refused to play a High School teacher if he were to be made to look foolish just for some kind of ‘cheap laugh’ as he put it.

Daniels wrote in his autobiography There I Go Again in 2017 that he has always had a tremendous amount of respect for teachers – whom he sees as being some of the most underpaid and underappreciated people in our society. He wasn’t about to portray one on TV as some kind of bumbling fool.

Fortunately, Jacobs never intended on Mr. Feeny as being some kind of buffoon. He actually based the character on his high school drama teacher whom he had a great deal of respect and admiration for. Regardless, Daniels was initially dissatisfied with how Mr. Feeny was portrayed in the script at the first table reading that he attended and promptly quit

Jacobs Agreed To Rework The Role With Daniel’s Guidance

Michael Jacobs recognized that Daniel’s was crucial for his new series. He wasn’t about to just let him go so easily. As Daniels was exiting the table read, Jacobs got up and told him to give him another chance. He informed him that he would revise the script and have a new version available to him by the following morning. If he still wanted to quit then, then so be it, but all he wanted was one last opportunity to keep Daniel’s on board.

Lo and behold, Jacobs go to work and had a new script available to Daniels the very next day – just as he and promised. Daniels gave it a read and found it to his liking and decided to stick with the show. Michael Jacobs loved what Daniels brought to the table. Sure his credentials were already impressive, but the ‘prickly rectitude and fatherly concern’, as Jacobs put it, that Daniels delivered onscreen was absolutely irresistible to viewers

All Daniel’s wanted was for Mr. Feeny to be written with a level of respect. He wanted teachers and academics to be presented in a positive light and that was one request that Michael Jacobs and the production team of Boy Meets World were more than happy to accommodate.

Daniels reflected in his autobiography how whenever an actor signs on to do a play, film, or television show that there always a bit of uncertainty about how the audience will react to it. He went on to express gratitude for the fact that the show was met with such a positive response by viewers and critics. It warms his heart when he hears people still talk about Boy Meets World and Mr. Feeny in a positive light to this day.

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And keep watching to find out what Daniel’s favorite scene was in all of Boy Meets World’s seven seasons. Spoiler alert: It’s a heart heart-tugger.

He Got His Start On Broadway And Won Two Emmy’s Before Playing Mr. Feeny

Decades before he was dishing out sagely advice to middle-schoolers on an ABC sitcom, Daniels began his career as a stage performer. In the 1930s, while he was still a child, he was a member of a song-and-dance team with his siblings in Brooklyn. Daniels admits that when he was young, he didn’t have the same kind of appreciation for acting that he has today. At the time, he actually had some resentment towards his mother for making him perform.

The Daniels family made their television debut in 1943 on NBC. That was the same year that Daniels made his Broadway debut in Life With Father. For the next couple of decades, he was very active on Broadway.

In 1969, he earned himself a Tony nod for playing John Adams in 1776 but he ended up turning it down because of a long-standing rule that stipulated that only actors who were credited above the show’s title were considered to be leading actors.

Even though Daniels was very obviously the lead in that play, producer Stuart Ostrow decided to list everyone below the title in an attempt to present the cast as an ensemble. Daniels humbly withdrew himself voluntarily from consideration for the prestigious award.

After 24 years of being on Broadway, Daniels made the jump from stage to screen when he played Mr. Braddock in The Graduate in 1967. He subsequently reprised his role as John Adams in the 1972 film adaptation of 1776.

He continued to earn the respect of his peers and critics when he joined the cast of St. Elsewhere in 1982 as Dr. Mark Craig. For that role, he was nominated for 5 Emmys and won twice. Notably, when he won in 1986, his wife Bonnie Bartlett also took an Emmy home for her portrayal as his on-screen wife.

He’s A Father of Two

Daniel got married to fellow actress and Emmy Award winner Bonnie Bartlett in 1951. A decade later in 1961, Bonnie gave birth to the couple’s first son. Sadly, that child died just 24 hours after she gave birth. That loss proved to be devastating for the Daniels but it didn’t put a stop to the couple’s desire to rear a family.

Bartlett and Daniels later adopted two children. Their oldest adoptive son, Michael Daniels, went on to follow in his parent’s footsteps by pursuing a career in show business. He became an assistant director and stage manager in LA.

Robert Daniels, their youngest, is a graphic designer and artist based out of New York City.

Can you imagine what it must have been like to grow up with Mr. Feeny as your father? That must have been a trip.

Daniel’s Still Receives Mr. Feeny Fan Mail

Daniel’sportrayed Cory and Eric Matthew’s teacher and next-door neighbor Mr. Feeny, with all of his owl-like wisdom, from their tween years until they were of college-age.

Feeny’s audience appeal was a result of the fact that he was a hodge-podge of a friend, mentor, and advisor all crammed into one respectable package. In his autobiography, he acknowledges that he still receives fan mail for that role to this day. Viewers routinely remind him of how the show and his role helped shape them in their younger more formative years.

Even though the show lasted quite a few seasons, he hones in on the series finale as containing one of his favorite Mr. Feeny moments.

Daniels reports that the final scene still brings him tears, even all these years later. When he says his heartfelt goodbye to his former students, he holds off on revealing his true feelings until they all have left the classroom.

Feeny was kind of a hard-nosed borderline authoritarian for so many years but it’s revealed in this one touching moment that he has a lot of affection in his heart for his students. After everyone leaves the room and he sits there alone looking at all of the empty desks, he opens up and says “I love you all”.

Roll credits.

At 93, and still not retired, you got to give it to the guy. William Daniels is somewhat of a marvel and a living legend. And sure, people on the street still regularly address him as Mr. Feeny, but he is far from a one-trick pony. People may not even realize how much of an impact he has had on our culture. Can you imagine anyone else as the voice of KITT on Knight Rider? Go and watch an episode of St. Elsewhere and try to picture that series without Daniel’s contributions. And history buffs will look back on Daniels for years to come as being the quintessential John Quincy Adams.

We’d love to hear from you! Would you have liked having Mr. Feeny as your teacher when you were a kid or do you think he was a little too strict for your liking? Drop your opinions in the comments section below.

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We’re going to wrap this video up with the parting words of wisdom that Mr. Feeny had to offer Cory, Eric, and Topanga in the series finale of Boy Meets World.

Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do Good

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