15 Minutes With: Fe- Fe- Fe- FEENY

Alexandra Finkel

How’d you end up at Northwestern?

I was on the GI Bill. I had been in the Army so the government made it possible for me to have a university education. None of my family had ever had that, so the GI Bill got me through. I had been told by a gentleman, an actor who I was working with when I was young, to not go to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts but rather right to the government. I did that when I was in Italy, and they wrote back and told me about five universities. One was Yale, the other was Catholic University (of America), UCLA and Northwestern. When I got out of the Army, my first job was doing a play in Chicago, and I found out that you just take the El up there (to NU), so I applied for admission, and I got in.

You met your wife Bonnie Bartlett at NU.

We were freshmen, and we were auditioning for a play called “Bury the Dead” by Irwin Shaw. I asked her out for coffee, and we started going together. We went all the way through school at Northwestern together.

What was it like playing Mr. Feeny on “Boy Meets World”?

I didn’t want him to be a foolish man in a half-hour sitcom. The producer assured me that it wouldn’t be­-that he was basing my character on a teacher he had in high school who was a mentor of his. When we had that conversation I said, “Well good, because I find the teaching profession a very important profession, underpaid but very important.” I didn’t want to make a foolish man out of this teacher, and he kept to that. I get a lot of mail from you young people who say they liked the character, or they were inspired by the character, and that pleases me.

Do you have any advice for theater students?

You have to work wherever you can. If it’s in class, get up on a stage wherever you can and work with a good teacher if you can find one. Our business is very overcrowded and very competitive and very difficult. You can work one year and then be out of work the next year. I have been fortunate in that respect, but a lot of it is luck too. So I think someone who wants to go into acting has to have a real desire to do it and look carefully at themselves to see if they really have the talent to do it. It can’t be that they just want to be a star or they just want to be a celebrity. That’s not acting-that is another part of show business.