For “Days of our Lives” fans, the character of “Doug Williams” has become part of the heart and soul of the fictional town of Salem. Even before Bill Hayes ever set foot upon a soap opera soundstage, this showman was already captivating audiences with his dancing, singing and acting. To this day, Bill loves entertaining…but if you ask him what life is all about, he will tell you family. And this love is returned through a passion project of David Samuel, Bill’s grandson, who commissioned a film all about Bill’s life – WORLD BY THE TAIL.
This documentary takes us on a journey from Bill’s early years entertaining in the 1940’s, crooning on “Your Show of Shows,” recording the #1 Billboard hit “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” and ultimately becoming beloved throughout daytime on “Days of our Lives”. But this movie is not only about Bill’s career as an entertainer. We also learn about the man behind the performer – his early years during the depression growing up in Illinois, his service in WWII, his highs and lows from a marriage in trouble leading up to his real-life love story with co-star Susan Seaforth Hayes (Julie, “Days of our Lives”). The film is narrated by Bill himself but we also get treated with commentary by delightful film and television legends such as Mel Brooks, Shirley MacLaine, Elliott Gould, Carl Reiner and Shirley Jones…to name a few; and “Days of our Lives” fans will enjoy the input from many of Bill’s co-stars such as Kristian Alfonso, Deidre Hall and Drake Hogestyn.
Enjoy this interview with Bill Hayes telling us about his having the WORLD BY THE TAIL…
How did this documentary of WORLD BY THE TAIL come into fruition?
About four years ago, my grandson David Samuel commissioned movie director/producer Lee Levin to create a documentary of me! Lee and I met over a pancake breakfast at DuPar’s in Los Angeles, talked about my life, he took notes and began having ideas about what and who might be in it. He quickly began to collect photos, home movies and videos, kinescopes of early TV shows, programmes of plays and musicals I’d been in, etc., and he made a list of people he might include in such a movie.
What was the experience like producing the film and putting it together?
It was all very exciting. The most fun–and probably the most difficult part of the process–was chasing down friends that I’d worked with in years past, and actually getting them to sit still long enough to record an interview. Shirley MacLaine (we worked together in ME AND JULIET on Broadway) was always filming a movie someplace! Catching Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner (we did YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS together in the early 50s) was like trying to pick up a drop of mercury–they were here, there, everywhere! Same with Florence Henderson, Peter Marshall, Shirley Jones, Carol Lawrence, and Elliott Gould. I have lunch every Thursday with Robert Clary, so he wasn’t that hard to pin down. My daughter Peggy/Margaret lives here, and daughter Carrie made a trip to California. Wes Kenney was still living in LA. Also, Lee had to watch through many old shows and films; that was time-consuming. It all just took time, that’s all.
Extensive photos and film footage were used for THE BILL HAYES STORY. Was all of that from your own collection?
Yes, I have a lot of copies–though not all–of the shows I’ve been: some on old VHS tapes, some digital, etc. Same with old photos. But you know they’re not sitting here on my desk; they’ve been put away someplace; they’re in a box or a scrap book or on the wall. More time consumption, more looking through piles and tapes to find what might be usable. It was all fun, for both Lee and me, but it all uses up the clock.
How long did it take to make WORLD BY THE TAIL?
Roughly four years. At one point, Lee decided to name the film WORLD BY THE TAIL, so I wrote the song–even performed it with the big band on a telethon for the West Texas Rehabilitation Center in Abilene, TX. As I’ve been intimating in my other answers, putting a documentary together is mostly gathering bits and pieces, and that just takes time. And then Lee Levin had to take the time to look through all he had on his computer and start to make cuts and splices. Those intricate documentaries that Ken Burns does must take forever to do–so many parts to be considered, kept or dropped, integrated into the whole. A fascinating process!
The film has an impressive number of well-known film and television celebrities…from Mel Brooks and Shirley MacLaine to Deidre Hall and Kristian Alfonso. Was it a challenge to get all of these stars on board?
Probably the easiest stars to get were those on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Lee Levin got permission to shoot those interviews one day during the lunch break in the NBC studio where we shoot the episodes. He only had access to the actors who just happened to be working that day, or we probably could have done several more. But, you see how brief those moments were; we didn’t have to time to set up and do an hour’s interview with each one. They were in and out! Some were rehearsing, some were changing costumes, some were in the make-up chair. The DAYS publicity staff would ask to borrow them for five minutes.
You and Susan talk about your previous books, LIKE SANDS THROUGH THE HOURGLASS and TRUMPET. Any plans for more books to come?
The first book, our memoir LIKE SANDS THROUGH THE HOURGLASS, took us one year to write and edit. Our historical fiction, TRUMPET, took a full seven years; we had so much research to do on that one! It was about London, 1803-1821. Yes, and now we are writing a sequel to TRUMPET called JUBILEE, beginning in Charleston, SC, 1821. It also is about Elizabeth Trumpet, and it looks like we may need seven years to complete it, too. Writing is such fun!
Over the years, we love seeing pictures of where you and Susan travel around the world. Where have you been lately?
In recent months, we spent one week in London, one week in Rome, and one week on a cruise in the Mediterranean. We love travel! When we’re home, we go to the opera together; that is our together fun. When we go to distant lands, we go to theatre, we go to museum and we go to old churches. When we were in Rome, we went through the Vatican Museums, the Borghese (in my mind, the best museum ever!), and spent a long time gazing at the Sistine Chapel. How could Michelangelo even come up with the concept of that wonder–let alone paint it (upside-down for four years!)?
There is a wonderful scene of you tap dancing in class. This is still something that you do regularly?
I started going to tap-class at age 65. Here I am at 91, still doing it. I LOVE tap-dancing!
What do you hope people take away from WORLD BY THE TAIL?
As I say at the end of the movie, I am very proud of my career accomplishments. I have worked on Broadway, been in films, have a gold record, have done over two thousand episodes of DAYS OF OUR LIVES, etc. But, the thing that means the most to me is my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Family is where it is! That’s what I hope people take away from WORLD BY THE TAIL.
How can people watch WORLD BY THE TAIL?
Folks can see it for nothing at billhayesmovie.com. It is a gift from my grandson David Samuel. He makes no money off the film. He just had it made for our family and for the public. I am indebted to him and to Lee Levin for doing such a wonderful job. I love it!
Facebook page for Bill Hayes Movie: https://www.facebook.com/Bill-Hayes-Movie-161258527718142/
Bill and Susan on Twitter: https://twitter.com/DaysHayes