Howard Borden opens the door to his apartment. He walks in, assessing the sunken living room. He sighs and walks in, head hanging just a little. In the middle of the room sits an ironing board, a shirt is draped across it waiting for attention. Howard moves to it, and after a moment, picks up the iron. He moistens his finger with his tongue, then touches the iron to see if it is still warm. Without any initial sensation, he touches his finger a little more firmly onto the base. Another pause. Then he puts his entire palm on the iron. And finally, he presses the iron to the side of his face.
The iron is not on.
This scene, from the Bob Newhart show, succinctly captures the magic of Bill Daily. Brokenhearted after breaking up with Bob's sister, he retreats back across the hall from his married friends' apartment into his single man's lair. The bachelor pad where airline navigator Borden has entertained countless flight attendants without ever truly considering becoming immersed in a relationship. Until he fell hard for Ellen. It is a quiet moment on a par with any silent film comedian, and in just a few beats manages to capture all the ennui of a middle aged single man who has suddenly discovered that he may have missed his chance at love.
Bill Daily was the man who gave that performance. It wasn't the only moment where he was allowed to shine, but for me it was the most touching and human. It was a far cry from the skirt-chasing goof Roger Healy from I Dream of Jeannie. Howard didn't need a spit take to sell the joke. He rarely raised his voice beyond a confused wonder. He was the low-key version of what would become Seinfeld's neighbor, Kramer.
Bill was ninety-one when he died last week. He may not have stomped on the Terra as much as wandered about in an amusing path. He will be missed. Aloha, Bill.