It’s kind of hard to imagine him with a Brooklyn accent, but there it is; William Daniels is from Brooklyn. In fact, as a child, he was part of a song-and-dance troupe with his siblings. However, he decided that it would hold him back if he continued to sound like he was from Brooklyn, so he developed a Boston accent deliberately, so he’d sound better. And I guess it worked, inasmuch as he ended up playing one of the most famous Bostonians ever—and then the guy’s son. I’d imagine not many people realize that he’s a bricklayer’s son from Brooklyn instead of old-money Bostonian.
He’s also been working since 1943, the year before my mother was born. On television, even; he and his siblings were on a variety act on NBC. He would’ve been, what, sixteen at the time? He would be drafted two years later and serve as a disc jockey at an army radio station in Italy, presumably entertaining, among others, soldiers who had just liberated the country. He then used the GI Bill to attend Northwestern, because it had a good drama department.
For more than seventy years now, Daniels has been in movies, on TV, and on Broadway. He married fellow performer Bonnie Bartlett (herself still acting) in 1951, and they’re one of the few couples to have won Emmys on the same night. I would imagine he’s one of those people who where you remember him from can tell people a lot about your generation—though people my age probably remember his voicework best, as KITT. In fact, when he visited hospitals in the ’80s, he quickly realized that the kids didn’t care about Dr. Mark Craig of St. Elsewhere and changed his voice accordingly.
Of course, I’m enough of a musical theatre geek that he’s John Adams to me. Obnoxious and disliked? Possibly. I hadn’t heard. But still, it’s a musical of which I’m fond, one that helps people remember that it’s politicians who did the work that day to bring about a new country. And that you don’t have to be liked to be effective, I suppose, which is a lesson we seem incapable of learning in this country. Adams had to use the more popular Franklin and Jefferson to do the work, because no one trusted it from him.
And, of course, he was Benjamin Braddock’s dad despite only being ten years older than Dustin Hoffman. Perhaps not the most memorable character in the movie, but he was there. And I suppose a lot of you wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t mention Mr. Feeny, though I personally am not that show’s demographic. He’s got a pretty standard TV career for a TV actor of his generation, plus an interesting array of movies and some fine Broadway. I don’t blame him for refusing a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for 1776, though; nice as it might have been to have a Tony, he was still definitely the lead.