At St. Eligius, wedding vows are all too real

'St. Elsewhere's' Daniels, Bartlett recount Emmy thoughts

William Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett are the only husband and wife in real life to win Emmys, in 1986 on “St. Elsewhere,” for playing a married couple on television, he as a lead, she as supporting actress.

Bartlett and Daniels, who’s president of the Screen Actors Guild, spoke recently about their shared Emmy-related distinction.

“I won the first one the year before,” he says of his initial Emmy for lead actor in a drama series and his third of five total nominations for playing egotistical heart surgeon Dr. Mark Craig at fictional St. Eligius in Boston. “Then we both won the following year, and that kept peace in the family, you see.”

Script met everyone’s satisfaction

Bartlett, who thought up the storyline of Craig’s wife, Ellen, having a son who died, says, “They went with it and wrote it so beautifully, made it into perfect material.” She also believes that the Craigs’ relationship “had a lot of ‘The Honeymooners’ in it.”

“Ed Flanders had won a couple of years before I did, and I had gone in a tuxedo three years in a row, and I don’t find it often to be a pleasurable experience,” Daniels recalls. “That third year where I won the first one, I didn’t want to go. We climb into the limo and get up on the 101 freeway and the limo breaks down. I got out to walk home with my tie all untied. I must have looked like Dean Martin after a bad night.

Finding a lift on the 101 freeway

“Two little old ladies stopped to pick me up. So, I got in the car and they took me home. I took off the tux, turned on the tennis match, because all I wanted to do was watch John McEnroe. Bonnie came home in the fixed limo and said, ‘Well?’ So, I get in the monkey suit again and we drive out to Pasadena, and we walked down the aisle and, just as I sat down, they announced that I won.

“I went up there, told them about the two little old ladies in the car. The press said, ‘Did you make that up?’ I said, ‘How could I ever make up something like that?’ ”

Daniels says he’s wary of awards shows and their purposes, but is thankful for the Emmy Awards and nominations, which brought “St. Elsewhere” prestige and enabled it to stay on the air to the delight of its hard-core fans despite lukewarm ratings.

“I always get a big kick out of the Emmys,” Bartlett says. “I’m pretty outgoing and I enjoy myself. Bill’s not like that. And Bill had already had a long career on Broadway in films and television.

“But the Emmys were certainly helpful to me. To be a winner puts you in a different status section. I’m 71 years old and still working. I’ve never been a star, but I’ve been a good, hard-working actor.”

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