Mr. Feeny from Boy Meets World is one of television's most beloved characters, and we have Shakespeare to thanks for bringing him to fruition. Yes, the legendary scribe is the reason why actor William Daniels joined the series. In his new memoir There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, and Many Others, he reveals the initial Shakespeare references convinced him to say yes to the role.
Michael Jacobs, the show's creator, drafted a fresh script that featured a speech about Romeo and Juliet. Mr. Feeny (based on his high school drama teacher) was meant to recite to a young Cory Matthews. Daniels explains in this excerpt via Vulture:
Over the years you fine-tune your acting ability. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable of giving a lousy performance now and again, but on the whole you reach a point where you’ve increased your level of achievement. And it’s at that point, assuming that you are financially secure, that you have to protect your reputation by choosing carefully the roles you commit to. It was with that in mind that I expressed my doubts about taking on the role of George Feeny in a half-hour sitcom called Boy Meets World.
At a meeting with the show’s author and executive producer, Michael Jacobs, already an established playwright and sitcom creator, as well as a movie producer, I told him I didn’t want to play a high school teacher who’s made to look foolish for the sake of some cheap laughs. I had too much respect for the underpaid, underappreciated teachers of this country to portray one of them as a fool. Michael told me about Bob Stevens, a Shakespeare-loving high school drama teacher he had had back in New Jersey who was his mentor and a man he greatly respected. With this teacher as his inspiration, he created George Feeny. Michael was very persuasive and assured me that he would never have me play an idiot, so I came on board.
"The new script had me deliver to my student, Cory, the facts of life, tying it into the importance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which my student was studying and hated: 'I live on the other side of the fence from you, Cory. It’s impossible not to face in your direction every once in a while and notice the people in the next yard. And through the years as I’ve gotten to know them, it is apparent they are fine individuals. But, their real strength comes from being a family. And do you know why they are a family, Cory? Because at one time a man and a woman realized that they loved each other and pursued the unlimited potential of what may come from that love, and here you are. There is no greater aspiration than to have love in our lives, Mr. Matthews. Romeo knew it and died for it.'"
There were more Shakespeare references tied to Mr. Feeny's character, but most of them landed on the cutting room floor, including the Romeo and Juliet speech. The actor states an ABC executive was fearful the pilot script would be "too intricate" and the audience wouldn't be able to relate. Daniel's memoir also details a darker period of his life, revealing that as an adult he realized he was abused as a child actor. When he was younger, his mother forced him to audition and work for little to no compensation.
"Many decades later, when I started writing this book, I started seeing a psychologist, Dr. Estelle Shane, who suggested that I was an abused child. I was shocked to hear such a description—that I had been robbed of a normal childhood, forced to perform and put into situations that I had no control over,” Daniels writes. “It was unhealthy, my doctor said, that I was unable to express my anger, my fears and my dread of knowing what was expected of me in the future.”
Prior to Boy Meets World, the actor appeared in The Graduate, Two for the Road and St. Elsewhere, which earned him two Emmy Awards. On Jan. 20, Disney's Boy Meets World spinoff Girl Meets World aired its finale that reunited the original show's cast members.
Next up, watch Rider Strong tell us why Boy Meets World remains so beloved to this day: