Congenial, unassuming and always ingratiating comic actor Bill Daily came to fame as the bumbling, jittery playboy astronaut Roger Healy, best buddy and sidekick to Larry Hagman’s accident-prone Tony Nelson in the perennial sitcom favourite I Dream of Jeannie (1965). Though his role had initially been earmarked for Don Dubbins, the show’s creator and executive producer Sidney Sheldon (with possible input from Hagman) made the impromptu decision to cast the relatively unknown Iowa native instead.
Daily had started his professional life as a musician playing bass with a local jazz combo called ‘Jack and the Beanstalks’. Having completed compulsory military service during the Korean War he took on acting studies at the Goodman Theater College in Chicago. After graduating, he worked briefly as an announcer and staff director for NBC and subsequently developed his own stand-up comedy act which he took to nightclubs across the mid-west. By 1960, Daily contributed material for comedic sketches to Westinghouse Broadcasting for use in popular variety shows hosted by Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and Steve Allen. Douglas also occasionally featured him in sketches. Daily was well on his way to accumulating the credentials to becoming a top comedy writer when Sheldon noticed him in a small supporting role in Bewitched (1964) (his TV debut). While now happily employed at Columbia/NBC as the affable Major Healy, Daily continued to moonlight as a writer for assorted food commercials. In the wake of ‘Jeanie’, he enjoyed an even longer run (six seasons) as the star’s annoying neighbour and clueless comic foil on The Bob Newhart Show (1972).
During his later career he made numerous guest appearances, frequently as a panellist on TV shows like Match Game (1973) (which inspired the later UK franchise Blankety Blank (1979)). He also tried his hand hosting several youth-oriented specials on magic (‘Bill Daily’s Hocus-Pocus Gang’) and appeared at conventions with his former co-stars for nostalgic reunions.
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