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An effortlessly funny performer with a knack for playing easily confused sidekicks, Bill Daily rose to fame with two perennially popular television series, "I Dream of Jeannie" (NBC, 1965-1970) and "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS, 1972-78). In both cases, Daily regularly stole scenes from his leading men and ladies, a practice he had been perfecting since his early days on the Midwestern nightclub circuit and later in Chicago area TV. Daily's brand of humor never wore thin, and he enjoyed steady work in television until the late 1990s, when he retired from acting. However, his two best roles remained in the public eye thanks to reruns, which ensured him a lasting legacy for many years.
Born Aug. 30, 1927 in Des Moines, IA, Daily lost his father at an early age, and was raised largely by his mother with the aid of extended family members. In 1939, he and his mother moved to Chicago, where he spent his teenage years. Music held a particular fascination for him, and he got his earliest taste of entertaining crowds in Korea, where he and actor-musician Dick Contino entertained troops with a musical act. After his discharge, Daily tried his hand at becoming a professional musician, and played standup bass with a number of groups in the Midwest. He began adding comedy bits between songs and noticed that they were getting a positive response. He soon switched fulltime to comedy, and began working the club circuit.
Daily added stage training to his c.v. through the Goodman Theatre School, and after graduation, took a job at WMAQ, the NBC affiliate in Chicago. There, he worked as an announcer and floor manager before working his way up to writer and director. Daily caught the eye of talk show host Mike Douglas, whose show "The Mike Douglas Show" (syndicated/CBS, 1962-1982) was filmed in Chicago in its early years, and he became a regular guest on the program. This led to a national job with Steve Allen on his syndicated talk show "The New Steve Allen Show" (ABC, 1961-65), which in turn led to guest shots on various sitcoms, starting with "Bewitched" (ABC, 1964-1972). In 1965, he played Roger Healy for the first time in the pilot for "I Dream of Jeannie." The role was initially a minor one, but producer Sidney Sheldon saw Daily's comic skills and elevated him to second banana alongside Larry Hagman. Healy was a classic sitcom sidekick - a harmless goof who made Larry Hagman's Major Nelson look upstanding and handsome, no matter what shenanigans he became involved with. Daily made the role look effortless - which was no small feat, as tensions on the "Jeannie" set ran high due to Hagman's alcohol problems and dissatisfaction with the scripts. Daily, himself, would pen one script for the show during its five-year run.
After "Jeannie" ended, Daily made his first film appearance in the Disney live-action film "The Barefoot Executive" (1971). A year later, he was back on TV as befuddled commercial airline navigator Howard Borden on "The Bob Newhart Show" (CBS, 1972-78). Borden was neighbor to Newhart and Suzanne Pleshette's Bob and Emily Hartley, and more often than not, an intrusive and deeply confused presence in their lives. A constant state of jetlag was the culprit - Borden, a divorced father, juggled an impossible schedule in order to raise his son - but his befuddlement was frequently the source of great hilarity on the show. While enjoying his tenure on "Newhart," Daily was also a popular guest on "Match Game 73" (CBS, 1973-79), and became a regular on the show during its final three years on the network.
When "Newhart" ended its run, Daily turned to guest shots on various series, with occasional stints as a recurring character, including on "Aloha Paradise" (ABC, 1981), a short-lived attempt to recreate the success of "The Love Boat" (ABC, 1977-1986). He was handed two shots at leading his own series; first in 1983 with "Small & Frye" (CBS, 1983), and the second, "Starting from Scratch" (syndicated, 1988). Neither lasted a single season. In 1985, he reprised Roger Healy in a reunion movie, "I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later" (NBC, 1985), which replaced a reluctant Hagman with Wayne Rogers, and returned again six years later for "I Still Dream of Jeannie" (NBC, 1991). In 1999, Daily appeared with Barbara Eden and Larry Hagman for the first time since the original show's final episode for a reunion on the "Donny & Marie" (syndicated, 1998-2000) talk show. His most prominent TV role post-"Newhart" was perhaps that of Dr. Larry Dykstra, who occasionally provided counseling to the alien known as "ALF" (NBC, 1986-1990).
Daily reunited with Newhart three times in the years after "Newhart" - once on a 1990 episode of "Newhart" (CBS, 1982-1990) and later on the short-lived "Bob" (CBS, 1992) and "George and Leo" (CBS, 1997-98). These were among his few television appearances in the late 1990s; by then, Daily was largely retired and living in Albuquerque, NM, where he directed local theater and served as host of a local morning radio program from 2006-09. That same year, he returned to features for the first time in over three decades with a cameo in the Joe Estevez-directed horror-comedy, "Horrorween" (2010).
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