Although William Daniels played arguably the most beloved character on Boy Meets World, the longtime actor almost didn’t star in the dramedy.
In his new memoir There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, & Many Others, Daniels explains his initial hesitation about taking on the role — and what finally convinced him to portray the iconic high school teacher-turned-principal.
“At a meeting with the show’s author and executive producer, Michael Jacobs, already an established playwright and sitcom creator, as well as 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,” Daniels, 89, pens in the book. “I had too much respect for the underpaid, under-appreciated teachers of this country to portray one of them a fool.”
The inspiration for the role of Mr. George Feeny came from Boy Meets World‘s writer and exec producer Michael Jacobs’ own high school drama teacher, whom he “greatly respected.” According to Daniels, Jacobs was “very persuasive and assured me that he would never have me play an idiot, so I came on board,” he writes.
But directly after the sitcom’s first table read, Daniels wasn’t pleased with his storyline — and promptly went to Jacobs’ office, where he quit the role. It was only after some convincing and an overnight script rewrite that Daniels jumped back on board.
“Michael and I are very close. He likes to tell the story that we had one read-through of the rehearsal and I went to his office and I quit. And he said, ‘Bill, that was just a read-through.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but —.’ He said, ‘Listen to me. I’m going to rework this tonight and you tell me tomorrow. If you want to [quit], okay. But wait until I revise it,’ ” Daniels tells PEOPLE, and adds with a laugh, “So the next day, the whole thing, it was different! He rewrote the damn thing. So, I stayed.”
Daniels went on to star in the seven-season sitcom from 1993-2000 and recently appeared in five episode of the series’ spin-off, Girl Meets World.
“Mr. Feeny’s appeal was due to the fact that he was a friend, a mentor, and an advisor all rolled into one,” Daniels writes in the book about his character, which he began playing at the age of 65.
To this day, Daniels reveals in his memoir that he still gets fan mail “from (now-grown) fans who tell me how important the show and the role I played were to them in their formative years.”
“Mr. Feeny turned out to be rather popular,” Daniels tells PEOPLE. Though he’s now been out of the role for 17 years, he frequently gets recognized by passerby on the sidewalk. “People across the street [say], ‘Hi Mr. Feeny!’ ” he says with a laugh.
There I Go Again: How I Came to Be Mr. Feeny, John Adams, Dr. Craig, KITT, & Many Others is on sale now.