From On Call: The Official Newsletter of the St. Elsewhere Appreciation Club, July 1997, volume 1, number 2.
"Bill's family all have thick Brooklyn accents. His father says terlet instead of toilet, and things like that. Bill tried very hard not to talk that way.
"Mr. Lindsay worked with Bill. He had a theatrical accent as actors did in those days, so Bill copied that."
But while Daniels learned elocution from his stage father, it was his real life Dad who inspired Bill's most important trait...a serious work ethic.
"He's been in the business since he as four years old, and acting is something Bill does to make money."
"Bill is one of those no-nonsense guys who expected people if they were being paid to do a job, to do it well."
Bonnie Bartlett was born in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin. Soon her family moved to Molene, Illinois where Bonnie and her older brother grew up while her father sold insurance. But underwriting wasn't the elder Bartlett's first love.
"My father went around quoting Shakespeare. He knew all the plays by heart, he could do Lear... that was the way he communicated his emotions. If someone died, he would say, 'Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow'... he was a member of the Masons and was the star of their stage productions."
"I was 20-21. I don't think I would have gotten into Northwestern if i hadn't already been on Broadway because I wasn't much of a student. Also I was on the GI Bill... I never would have gotten to Northwestern without it, after I spent two years in the Army."
College was a turning point for Daniels, but not because of drama... instead, Northwestern provided the setting where he would meet the love of his life.
"She was 18 and a freshman... I met her at a reading of a play called 'Bury the Dead', and everybody was sitting around reading for it. I was a cocky youth and I thought they were all terrible until I heard this girl read. I turned around and there was Bonnie, and I said to myself, 'now there's an actress!' So I waited at the door after the reading and I asked her out for a cup of coffee."
"He had been on Broadway so he was pretty impressive, and I was just a kid from a small town. I knew he had been in New York because he wore a leather jacket (laughs). I admired him."
Admiration or not, their first date almost didn't happen.
"She said, 'You're too short.' I think she had dated a couple of basketball players in Illinois."
"I thought he was too short for me and I promptly told him so. And Bill said, 'Oh for God's sake!' So we went out for coffee and we were pretty much together from that time on."
According to Bonnie, Bill could be intimidating, but he had a softer side too, especially when it came to romance.
"He was very sweet - he sang songs to me. About a month later, I realized that I had never felt this way before."
"He was almost half teacher and half analyst, and could, through the work, help you work out some of your problems."
But Bill's motivation for attending the prestigious Actors Studio was somewhat different than Bonnie's.
"I only worked with Strasberg just to keep an eye on her. I just don't like this business of her doing scenes with some guy and - you know (laughs). I just went in there very skeptical, but as usual, I was wrong and I learned a great deal."
So did Bonnie. And together they would go on to compile a body of quality work on stage, in films, and in television.
In 1967 Bill's career took a dramatic (make that comedic) turn when he landed the role of a bumbling super hero and first caught the eye of a young Mark Tinker.
"We were all big fans of the movies he had done, and he did a silly series for my Dad called "Captain Nice". So that was the first time I had heard of him."
ED BEGLEY, JR.
"I was a huge fan of Bill Daniels. I had seen him in Two for the Road. I had seen him in The Graduate, and in Parallax View. He was an actor I just thought the world of. He played these 'Type A' personalities quite effectively, but (in real life) he is the sweetest guy in the world."
During the 1960s Bonnie had left acting to take on a more important role...that of mother to sons Michael and Robert.
"I had stopped acting for ten years when we adopted the boys. I had forgotten myself as an actress. I was thinking of going to Law School in New York City... I wanted to be a judge in Childrens' Court. I didn't want to move to California, but Bill insisted on coming out here because he was tired of working in the theater and wanted to spend more time with the boys. He said, 'Come on, you'll go back to work... you're Alice Actress'."
Bill continued to get work in films including the musical 1776 co-starring Blythe Danner (or as Tom Fontana calls her, "The Goddess of St. Elsewhere"). His pairing with Danner would be instrumental in teaming him and Bonnie in their most famous roles. But before that would happen, "Alice Actress" was back in demand, just as Bill had predicted.
"One day Bill sent me to his agent and I was then sent to Michael Landon. Mike put me on Little House on the Prairie just like that. So here I was, a lady in her 40s back in the business. I was very lucky to get back in like that."
And the luck continued. Bill's friendship with Blythe Danner gave him and Bonnie an opportunity to work for Blythe's husband Bruce who was casting for St. Elsewhere.
"Bruce called and said 'Bonnie, I'm sending over 4 or 5 scripts and if Billy wants to play this Dr. Craig, he's got the part'. Bill won't audition for anything - so he read the scripts and liked the material, and he took the part."
Unknowingly, Bonnie was on her way to St. Eligius as well, but not, as it turns out, for the role she wanted.
"Originally I had read for the part of the head nurse. My agent said 'They liked you very much, but Bruce had somebody else in mind for that part, and it's pretty definite'."
Thus Christina Pickles became Helen Rosenthal. But not long after Bill signed on, the telephone rang again.
"My agent called and said 'You know, Bonnie, in one of the scripts, Mark has a wife'. I said 'Yes, I saw that, but she didn't have anything to do'. It was practically a non-descript part, so I (turned it down). Meanwhile, the original casting lady didn't like the idea of my playing Bill's wife, so they didn't pursue it. Then, they had a change in casting personnel and the new lady, Eileen, asked me to do it. I said 'It's so small' and she said 'Are you so busy?' Bill said, 'You should do it, it's very funny... (because) I play a heart surgeon and Ellen smokes and Mark doesn't know about it.' And I said to Bill 'But I don't smoke.' So Bill took me out to the garage and taught me to smoke."
So he was still pretty much the resident juvenile even then?
"Yes (laughs) very definitely!"
Bill's encouragement and on-going coaching paid off.
"Pretty soon they liked what was happening between Bill and me, they liked the squabbling, they liked my character, so they wrote for me."
"Bonnie came on the show and she was extraordinary, and obviously part of that was because they (she and Bill) had a shorthand in their working relationship... It also inspired us to write more because the scenes were so fully charged every time they were together Bonnie is a consummate professional - she also gave the show elegance."
MARK TINKER agrees.
"Bonnie brought sort of an artsy sensibility to her character. Bonnie was also very easy going. She had a lot of ideas about what she wanted her character to do, and was willing to try anything, which I always found refreshing because you could say something to her and she would get excited about it. Bonnie was great."
And so Ellen Craig became a fixture on St. Elsewhere, and cast members couldn't have been happier.
"She's a very capable actress and never stops working, never stops. An actress like that is what makes a show go - you need people like Bonnie to give it the proper support and texture. She was very professional."
"I love Bonnie, she is a fine actress and always does an amazing job. I think she's a total pro. She would come on the set and was always prepared - that's how we all should be."
ED BEGLEY, JR.
"A brilliant actress, she was the anchor of the female cast of the show. She was wonderful - she got so much great stuff to do because she would really run with the ball."
"She is a great friend... she is a great listener, she would share her innermost thoughts with you."
And despite his sometimes stern exterior, Bill Daniels was also well liked and respected.
"Bill had this edge to him, but he never really showed it with me. He was always very supportive and nice."
"Any of Bill's silences I just saw as professionalism. When he's playing a role he concentrates, he wants to be in the moment. I think that he is intimidating, but not in a negative way, but in a way where you want to work up to his standards... because his standards are very high. I'm one of those actresses who takes the work very seriously. I respect the actors and writers enough to memorize the lines perfectly and Bill did too, and watching him had an effect on my professionalism. When I would work in other places, they would always talk about how professional I was and I think that was a result of working so many years side by side with Bill Daniels. I love Bill, I respect him very, very much."
"The only time Billy really got testy with us was when we would give him a double entendre - where he foudn the humor smutty at times - and he would fight us on it. You know, the famous 'tulips on the organ' - he hated that line, but God love him, the trooper he is, he said it."
"Bill is a very fine actor, he has always been outstanding. With Billy you knew the scenes were being done as best as they could be done, and that's to be admired. I always found Billy a most pleasant colleague, I really enjoyed being with him and working with him. He's a pro. I found that whenever you were working with him, that you were working at the best level."
"He is an actor I just thought the world of. I had no delusions about how my character came to be. I rode on the coattails of Bill Daniels... the kind of Mutt and Jeff routine of Dr. Craig looking up and berating a 6 foot 4 doctor Victor Ehrlich. So I owe all my success on the show to Bill Daniels.
"I love Bill. He sings beautifully, he can dance, he can probably juggle for all I know" (laughs).
"It depended on what was going on that day - he really could be both, and that's not to say he was schizophrenic it was just that he was very particular about certain things. He was open to other ideas, but if something wasn't working for him, you knew it. He was a pleasure to work with."
"One year I won one and I almost didn't show up because the limo they sent broke down. Don Johnson probably got the good one! I said 'I'm going back home!' I was already undressed and ready to watch John McEnroe play on television and Bonnie said 'Dammit Bill, I'm all dressed up, had my hair done, we'll get another limo.' We did, and I got there about 10 minutes before I received the award for Best Actor. The second time, we both won, and I was very proud of her. Then the third time, she won one by herself and all of a sudden I'm Mr. Bartlett" (laughs).
"Never in a million years old did it ever occur to me that I would be up there accepting any kind of award, but I had told Bruce if I ever get nominated I'll win because I have the best material."
But aside from their individual acclaim and accomplishments, Bill and Bonnie were (and are) first and foremost, a team, and so too were Mark and Ellen. So much so that when ON CALL TOLD Tom Fontana and John Tinker they were "hated for" divorcing the Craigs, TINKER made a startling confession.
"In retrospect I hate me too and I think that's because (a) I think it was a mistake and (b) I just want them to be together - I think they loved each other and they understood each other. They as a couple were so great together."
|The Daniels clan|
"We saw Denzel Washington the other night in a restaurant and he was with his wife and four kids. It was so cute because one of the boys wanted to come up and shake hands with Bill. Bill obliged and Denzel said 'You know it has nothing to do with St. Elsewhere... it's because you are Mr. Feeney!' (laughs).
But despite the Emmys, fame, and adoration, Captain Nice and Alice Actress still have their priorities straight, and at the top of that list is spending time with their family... especially granddaughter Shaina. Meanwhile, their lives together (both on and off screen) are buoyed by mutual respect.
"Bonnie working with me on St. Elsewhere was one of the happiest times of our lives... and since it was husband and wife we could bring all of our training from Strasberg to the relationship, and make it very real, and it was very easy to do."
"He is absolutely marvelous to work with, and I loved it. Sometimes people wouldn't know we were married and they would say 'Why is he talking to you that way, actors aren't supposed to tell other actors how to do anything, that's forbidden.' And I said, 'Well, most of the time he's right!'"
Oh, for Pete's sake Ellen !!!
Originally produced by Longworth Communications.