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Retro : Another World : WILLIAM DANIELS TRADES IN HIS SCALPEL FOR TEXTBOOKS IN ABC'S "BOY MEETS WORLD"

September 26, 1993|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long before he was known as the egotistical Dr. Mark Craig on the beloved series "St. Elsewhere," William Daniels appeared on Broadway in such musicals as "1776" and "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever." TV buffs may even remember the Emmy winner as the star of the short-lived 1967 NBC sitcom "Captain Nice," in which he played a nebbish superhero.

Daniels says even his friends are often surprised at the various projects he's done over the years "People say, 'I didn't know you did that!' To tell you the truth, some of the things I have even forgotten myself.

One movie he's never forgotten doing, though, is the acclaimed 1967 romantic comedy "Two for the Road," which starred the late Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney.

"It's a wonderful movie," Daniels says. "It was such a pleasant experience." Hepburn, he adds, "was very gracious. It was all very nice."

And it's "nice" to have Daniels back on series TV after a five-year absence. He's starring with Ben Savage (Fred's little brother) in the new ABC sitcom "Boy Meets World."

Daniels plays Mr. Feeny, the rather harried teacher and next-door-neighbor of mischievous 11-year-old Corey Matthews (Savage). "Boy Meets World" is Daniels' first sitcom since the 1976 CBS comedy "The Nancy Walker Show."

The actor wasn't in the market for a sitcom. He and wife Bonnie Bartlett, who played his spouse on "St. Elsewhere," had a series of development deals with the networks. None worked out. "What we were developing, the networks were not interested in right now--one-hour dramas," Daniels says.

So in the interim, Daniels says, he would do an occasional feature or TV movie. "I was just happy to stay up in Santa Barbara and fool around in the garden."

But he did put down his gardening shears long enough to read the pilot for "Boy Meets World." He admired the writing. "I liked the literate quality of it," he says. "I also liked the fact it was not a screwball thing. And Feeny is being treated very respectfully as a teacher. I think that's important."

Daniels affectionately recalls one of the great teachers in his life, actor-playwright Howard Lindsay. During the 1940s, then 15-year-old Daniels joined the cast of the long-running Broadway hit "Life With Father." Not only did Lindsay star in the play, he co-wrote the comedy with Russell Crouse.

"He was coming back into the show after taking a year off and I was going into it," Daniels recalls. "So he rehearsed me. He taught me a lot about comedy. Not just by lecturing me, but my showing me. I was just a kid from Brooklyn. He was from the old school in the way he conducted himself. It seemed to me I would like to have modeled myself after him if I could. He was responsible for directing me to college. He was very influential in my life. Still is. He is Mr. Lindsay to me. He will always be."

Daniels has fond memories of his six seasons on "St. Elsewhere." In fact, he says, it was the most pleasant experience he's had on TV. "The writing was tremendously consistent," he says. "The people they would bring on as guest stars.... Of course, Bonnie came on (as a regular). We found to our utter surprise that we worked very well together."

During his years on "St. Elsewhere," Daniels moonlighted as the voice of the super car KITT on "Knight Rider."

"There were so many of my actor friends who wouldn't even speak to me because I was doing two shows at once," Daniels says, laughing. "It was the same network, NBC, so they worked (my schedule) out. I would just go over to Universal and in about 45 minutes or an hour, knock off a whole show."

"Boy Meets World" airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on ABC; repeats of "St. Else where " air weekdays at 2 p.m. on KDOC and repeats of "Knight Rider" air weekdays at 2 p.m on KTTY.

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