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Bill Daily (1927)

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Bill Daily is an American comedian and dramatic actor, and a veteran of many television sitcoms. He is best known for playing astronaut Roger Healey on I Dream of Jeannie and commercial airline navigator Howard Borden in The Bob Newhart Show.


Daily's father died when Bill was very young, and he was raised by his mother and various other family members. In 1939, Daily and his family moved to Chicago, where he spent the rest of his youth. Upon leaving Lane Technical High School, Daily left home to try to carve out a life as a musician, playing bass with jazz bands in numerous clubs across the Midwest.

Bill was drafted into the Army and served in Korea with an artillery unit, later being transferred to an entertainment unit.

It was in his traveling-musician days that Daily found his true calling: comedy. He began to do stand-up in the same clubs he had once filled with music, and he soon moved up in the comedy ranks to the point where he was playing some of the bigger clubs in the country.

After graduating from the Goodman Theatre School, Daily worked for the NBC television station in Chicago, WMAQ, as an announcer and floor manager. He eventually became a staff director. Daily recently recalled for PBS how one day, preparing for a Chicago-area Emmy Award telecast, he asked a young local comedian to come up with a routine about press agents. The bit, "Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue," became an early hit for the performer—a young Bob Newhart.

Television executives liked Daily's clean-cut looks and superb comic timing (due to his brief role as Steve Allen's announcer/sidekick on his daily syndicated talk show in 1964), so by the mid-1960s he earned guest spots on sitcoms like My Mother the Car, The Farmer's Daughter, and Bewitched. Veteran sitcom writer Sidney Sheldon noticed Daily in one of his myriad small roles, and decided that he would be perfect for a character in his new sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie. Looking back, it was the moment that made Daily's career.

The part on Jeannie was that of a United States Army Corps of Engineers test pilot and NASA astronaut named Roger Healey, who would be sidekick and best friend to Larry Hagman's main character, Tony Nelson. It was a dream part for Daily, who made playing Healey look effortless; it was said that Daily never won any awards for his portrayals because he made it look too easy—people thought he was simply playing himself. While Daily enjoyed his work on Jeannie, Hagman decidedly did not. Daily was witness to multiple Hagman tantrums on the set, but he and Barbara Eden stood behind Hagman, citing a substance problem and the progressively poorer scripts on Jeannie as the roots of Hagman's fits.

In 1972, two years after Jeannie was canceled, Daily was back at work and back in an aviator's uniform, in what is perhaps his signature role—commercial-airline navigator Howard Borden in The Bob Newhart Show. Borden, who lived across the hall from Bob Newhart's Bob Hartley character, was a divorced father struggling to care for his son while keeping his flying schedule. Daily would also occasionally serve as a panelist on the 1970s CBS game show The Match Game, more often than not giving bizarre answers that seldom matched those of the contestants. After Richard Dawson's departure, Daily was a semi-regular in the lower-tier middle seat for the last three-plus years of the show's CBS and syndicated run. After six years of success, The Bob Newhart Show ended its run.

For the two years that followed The Bob Newhart Show, Daily returned to stand-up, but in 1980, after years of making a living as a second banana, Daily was offered his own show. Called Small and Frye, the show featured Daily as a neurotic doctor; it lasted only three months before being canceled. In 1988, Daily tried his hand again at starring roles, this time as another doctor on the sitcom Starting From Scratch. It fared only mildly better than Frye, and was canceled after one season. Daily's most notable post-Newhart role was another supporting one, that of Larry the Psychiatrist on the cult favorite ALF .

During the 1980s-1990s, Daily reprised his I Dream of Jeannie role of Roger Healey in two made-for-TV reunion movies: I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later and I Still Dream of Jeannie . Also in 1991, he reprised the role of Howard Borden in "The Bob Newhart Show: 19th Anniversary", which aired in February of that year. In 1997 he was a guest star on Caroline in the City.

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