Working with a Legend — Dick Van Dyke
By Tim Williams
I recently had the pleasure of working on the release of The Dick Van Dyke Show: The Complete Series on Blu-ray. This isn’t a pitch for you to go out and buy the box set, although it’s worth every penny. Nope, it’s a chance to mention the fact I got to meet and spend a little time with a true TV legend, Dick Van Dyke.
Happily, I can report that Dick Van Dyke in person doesn’t disappoint. He’s 100% pure grade, vacuum packed Dick Van Dyke: charming, witty, polite, easygoing and, well, darn it, just plain nice.
Van Dyke started his career in those early days of TV, before reality shows, when being on screen required actual talent. Van Dyke was an all-around entertainer: comic, host, announcer, song and dance man, and actor. While doing a local morning show in Atlanta CBS discovered him and brought him to New York to host the network’s “The Morning Show” in the mid-50s. Although this gig wouldn’t last, CBS did continued to put Van Dyke into different projects, but none seemed to showcase all he could do. A turn as Swifty Bilko on “The Phil Silvers Show” was hilarious, and there was even talk of his taking over the “Tonight Show” over at NBC. It would take the Broadway show Bye-Bye Birdie to bring him fame and a Tony award, it would also give him a series bearing his name “The Dick Van Dyke Show” in 1961. Things would never be the same.
As Rob and Laura Petrie, Van Dyke and co-star Mary Tyler Moore created the perfect couple for JFK’s “New Frontier” generation. The show, created by Carl Reiner, was also unique in its focus on home and work life equally, and was progressive in featuring women in the workplace and dealing with current hot topics such as the British music invasion (with Brit duo Chad and Jeremy as The Redcoats), the change in child rearing of Dr. Spock, and the new African-American middle class.
But it was Van Dyke’s affable nature and unique approach to physical comedy that would lead to starring roles in popular family films like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang, movies that each new generation discovers and falls in love with. His role as Dr. Mark Sloan in the TV series “Diagnosis: Murder” would keep him solving crimes (and occasionally tap dancing) from 1993 to 2001.
Inside Mr. Van Dyke’s house is a large portrait of Stan Laurel of the comedy team Laurel and Hardy. Dick told me how wonderful it was to be able to visit and get to know Stan and his wife in their later years. “He was such a sweet man and I was honored to be with him,” Dick said with a smile. Standing there with Dick Van Dyke….I knew just how he felt.
Dick Van Dyke will receive the 2012 SAG Life Achievement Award this Sunday, January 27th airing live on TBS and TNT.