Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dick Van Dyke

Richard Wayne Van Dyke was born 83 years ago today in West Plains Missouri and raised in Danville, Illinois with his younger brother (and fellow actor) Jerry Van Dyke. During WWII, he enlisted in the Air Force and served as a radio announcer in the USA. In 1948, he married Marge Willett on a radio show called "Bride and Groom". The show paid for the rings, wedding and other items that the couple was to poor to afford!

Dick Van Dyke was a struggling actor for many years, doing game show hosting, morning television and even briefly worked as a weatherman, before landing a part in "Bye, Bye Birdie" on Broadway. He won a Tony award in 1961 for the role and also starred in the movie of the same name in 1963. His role in Mary Poppins (1964) was widely criticized as a horrid British accent, but it was a huge hit and is still a fan favourite!

Mr. Van Dyke became a household name after he was cast in the lead role of a series created by Carl Reiner. Reiner based the Rob Petrie character on himself and the Allen Brady character on his former boss Sid Caesar (Your Show of Shows).The Dick Van Dyke Show began airing on CBS in October 1961. The cast was an incredible ensemble with: Van Dyke as comedy writer Rob Petrie; Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam portraying his co writers on the "Allen Brady Show" Sally Rogers and Buddy Sorrell; Mary Tyler Moore as Rob's lovable wife Laura: Larry Mathews as their son Richie; Jerry Paris as the dentist/neighbour Jerry Helper; and Ann Morgan Gilbert as Jerry's wife Millie. Richard Deacon appeared as Mel Cooley and Mr. Reiner appeared in many episodes as Allen Brady.

The show was almost cancelled after the first season, but a boost from summer reruns and an Emmy win for the shows writers launched the series into the top ten. Dick Van Dyke and company kept us laughing and smiling for 158 episodes over five seasons. The series has been in syndication on many networks over the years and is also available on DVD.

I wasn't very old, but I can vividly remember sitting on our living room floor, watching the show in the early 1960's. I thought that Rob and Laura were such great parents. Even though most of the humour was over my head at the time, I still wished I was part of that family. There was such a strong bond between all of the characters and they always had such great chemistry and fun together. I loved the party scenes and loved the idea that everyone took turns performing - it was never like that in real life! Picking a favourite episode from the series is impossible - there are just too many gems to choose from. I have about 30 episodes on VHS including the wonderful reunion episode that aired in 2004. How wonderful to see so many of the original cast reunited!

During the 1960's he also starred in several other movies, including: "Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang" (1968) ; "Fitzwilly" (1967)(one of my favourites!); "Divorce American Style" (1967); and "The Comic" (1969). There were many more movies through the 1970's and 1980's. Some of these included: "Cold Turkey" (1971); "The Morning After" (1974) and "Breakfast with Les and Bess" (1985). There were a few short lived series such as 1971-74's "The New Dick Van Dyke Show" and many, many guest starring roles in shows like: "The Carol Burnett Show"; "Columbo"; "Matlock"; "Highway To Heaven" and "Airwolf".

In 1991, he did a guest star as Dr. Mark Sloan on "Jake and the Fat Man". This led to a TV movie and one of my very favourite long running series, "Diagnosis Murder"! The series ran for 178 episodes from 1993-2001. His co-star in the series was his own son Barry Van Dyke. Almost the entire Van Dyke clan has the acting gene and many of the family have appeared on screen at one time or another with their legendary father and grandfather.

He continued to do various guest starring roles on shows like "Coach"; "Becker"; "Sabrina" and "Scrubs" Dick has also done several "Murder 101" movies for The Hallmark Channel. Unfortunately, I have been unable to see any of those as we don't have that channel in my area, but I hope I get to see them someday!

He has also done voice over work in movies and has a role in the upcoming "Night At The Museum 2" which will be released next year. In 2003, he teamed with Mary Tyler Moore for a TV production of "The Gin Game".
Dick also keeps busy musically with the group "Dick Van Dyke and The Vantastix". The quartet was started after a chance meeting with Mike Mendyke in a Malibu coffee shop. Van Dyke, Mendyke, Bryan Chadima and Eric Bradley have a wonderful sound and their love of the music is obvious when you listen to any of their music. You can hear a sample of their harmonies by going to Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix During the holiday season you can also download two marvelous Christmas songs by hitting the Free Christmas mp3s to benefit Feed The Children link then right click the download button and hit save target.

Dick and his wife Marge, divorced in 1984 after a long separation. They raised four children together and have seven grandchildren and a great grandchild. He has been with his long time lady love, Michelle Triola Marvin since the mid 1980's. After the tragic 1987 death of his granddaughter Jessica Van Dyke, Dick did several commercials to raise awareness for Reye's Syndrome

Mr. Van Dyke received a long overdue star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1992. He was made an honorary life member of The Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America (SPEBSQSA), Inc in 1999. Dick has dabbled in computer animation since the 1980's. A segment of his work appeared on the "Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited".

There is so much more that I could write about this incredibly versatile and talented man, but as you may have already guessed by now, I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Van Dyke's!! I have admired his creative talents in comedies, dramas, and music since I was a little girl! There have been very few actors that I have ever really followed the careers of, and enjoyed so many of their roles and endeavors, but Mr. Van Dyke ranks at the top of my list. So much so, that many years ago, I promised myself, that if I ever found an address for him, that I would write him a letter! Well a couple of years ago, I came across an address for a "Richard Van Dyke" in the Malibu area and I wrote a letter. The current resident of the address wrote a short note back to explain that, sadly, it was the wrong Dick Van Dyke! I was disappointed, but not really surprised as the address was too easy to find even for a novice PC user.

Who knows, maybe someday, I'll have the opportunity to say thank you and tell him how much I have loved and admired his work over the years! For now though, I will just raise a glass of sparkling white grape juice and toast to Mr. Van Dyke's continued good health and wish him a very Happy 83rd Birthday!!


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