Credit: NBC, NBC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection, John Paschal/JPI, Paul Skipper/JPI

“The man you see on screen is very much the man Bill is off screen.”

How do we love Bill Hayes? Let us count the ways. There’s the Days of Our Lives leading man’s acting prowess, which has allowed him to take Doug Williams from opportunistic con artist to altruistic family man. There’s his vocal ability, which over the decades got him cast in musical after music and scored him a Billboard chart-topper with “The Ballad of Davy Crockett.” And then there’s the fact that the showbiz vet, who’ll be 97 in the summer of 2022, radiates the sort of kindness that seems in short supply lately.

It’s not an act, either. “He is just warm and wonderful,” Days of Our Lives executive producer Ken Corday told in 2021. “He pops onto the set and is just affable and friendly and has that same great rhythm and tone we’ve all come to know and love.

“The man you see on screen,” he added, “is very much the man Bill is off screen.”

Funny, then, to think how close Hayes came to never knowing that Salem existed, much less becoming an integral part of it.

days of our lives doug julie bill susan seaforth hayes

His Early Days

After earning a gold record for “Davy Crockett,” Hayes was a hot commodity, touring with musicals and livening up the conversation on talk shows like The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (and, much more recently, Jimmy Fallon). Which was great for his career, not so great for his marriage to Mary Hobbs. “One day she left, and that was a huge, huge disappointment to me,” he told Soap Opera Digest in 2017. “I thought, ‘Surely, we can work it out,’ but it didn’t happen. We had five kids, and it was too much for her.

“Show business is a traveling business,” he continued. “You do theater, you travel. You work on a film, you travel. You work in clubs, you travel. Show business was too much for her and she just left, and suddenly I needed a job where I stayed home. My kids needed me here, and so I’ve been in this house I’m sitting in ever since.”

On and off since February 9, 1970, Hayes has also appeared on Days of Our Lives.

DAYS OF OUR LIVES, (from left): Susan Seaforth Hayes, Bill Hayes, doug julie

Life Imitates Art

Though Hayes has said that he didn’t know diddly about soaps when he was cast as Doug, he learned — and quickly. So by the time lightning struck — and then-headwriter William J. Bell noticed that he had chemistry with Susan Seaforth as Julie Olson — he was ready. The future co-creator of The Young and the Restlessloved so much what was between the two of us that he scrapped my story and he scrapped Julie’s story,” Hayes told Digest, “and he did a long, long, long wonderful arc-ing story for Doug and Julie, and it was the best.”

Making that time even sweeter for Hayes was the fact that he and his leading lady were falling in love for real. They even married two years before their characters followed suit in a 1976 wedding that was a real daytime rarity — in that the actors were allowed to write their own vows (and used the same ones from their own nuptials). The whole thing, Hayes told TVInsider in 2015, “was the epitome of what Days of Our Lives has always done best. We give our audience hope for the future!”

Amen to that. On this joyful occasion, celebrate Hayes’ milestone with a peek at our countdown of daytime’s longest-serving stars. Needless to say, he and his missus are both on it.