Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Birthday to You, Dick Van Dyke!

Who was funnier, classier, or more intelligent in 1960s TV than Dick Van Dyke as Rob Petrie in the eponymous The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961 - 1966) on CBS? He made us all want to live in New York, be TV comedy writers, and work with amusing colleagues like Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie). No doubt it was this show that set the bar so high for all of us as we entered the working world, seeking coworkers who were like a really funny family for us. Most of us all spent our working lives searching for that dynamic; some of us actually found it at different times (I hope, for your sake, that you're one of them!).

Dick Van Dyke turns 85 today; he was set to begin a run of his one-man stage show in Los Angeles this week, but injured his leg and had to bow out. 85 years old and still treading the boards, making people laugh -- Dick Van Dyke is a wonder! In addition to the original TDVDS, Dick Van Dyke starred in two other bonafide TV successes, The New Dick Van Dyke Show in the early 1970s, and his detective series Diagnosis: Murder from 1993 - 2001, as well as other short runs and lots of guest appearances.

Van Dyke also enjoyed an interesting movie career at the same time as he was America's favorite suburban husband. In 1963 he reprised his stage role in the movie adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie, and the next year he was tapped to play Bert in Disney's immortal Mary Poppins, with Julie Andrews in the title role. Other interesting roles followed -- more interesting than overtly successful -- including the kid classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (which wasn't a winner when it first came out but has kind of evolved into one), and his brilliant performance in The Comic, writer-director Carl Reiner's 1969 dramedy about a washed-up silent movie comedian, another near-flop which has since gained a great reputation and much critical acclaim. I'm also fond of his ultra-dramatic turn in 1979's The Runner Stumbles (directed by Stanley Kramer), where he plays a priest who becomes involved with a young nun played by Kathleen Quinlan. Complete non-success at the box office, but fascinating and Van Dyke is excellent. Like many funny men, Dick Van Dyke is equally as skilled in straight dramatic parts, though the public wasn't as accepting.

But it was Rob Petrie we all loved, and continue to love up to this very day. Handsome and hilarious, Dick Van Dyke as Rob was our ideal mate, though we girls didn't even resent Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) for nabbing him before we could. All seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show are available on DVD, and they are also available for viewing on Hulu and some are on Netflix InstantView. I've picked one of my favorites out for you here, the second season episode "It May Look Like a Walnut"; it's a really funny science fiction-infused entry, with a special guest appearance by Danny Thomas, also one of 1960s television biggest sitcom stars. We had TDVDS under license when I programmed KTLA in Los Angeles, and near the enf of our term we ran it overnight, where I could put together wonderful evenings of the series, including my two favorites, this one and the 5th season's "Uhny Uftz" (where Rob sees a flying saucer). But "It May Look Like a Walnut" is the one that most people remember loving, and here it is. (If for some reason it doesn't work for you, check out the episode on Hulu here).

There are a couple of great books out there about The Dick Van Dyke Show -- The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book by Vince Waldron, and The Dick Van Dyke Show by Ginny Weissman and Coyne Steven Sanders. You can't know too much about America's classiest and funniest domestic comedy ever. We don't think anything comes close.

Happy Birthday, Dick Van Dyke! The Flaming Nose TV Blog loves you!


Jane said...

I was delighted to read over the weekend that Dick Van Dyke is still performing and has a babershop quartet called The Vantasticks! He has always been one of my favorites, right up there with Andy Griffith for that era of television history. They both sing, but Van Dyke is probably the better hoofer! Happy Birthday Rob Petrie! Great Post Lisa!

Toby O'B said...

I loved that picture of Van Dyke at the top of your post. I've never seen that still before in my Van Dyke image searches. His expression brought to mind that new character from 'SNL Weekend Update' - Stephon.

@Jane - I would have loved to see Rob Petrie meet Sheriff Taylor for some reason. It might not have been that far-fetched - he could have been caught in the Mayberry speed trap like Danny Williams, or maybe he could have come to town to get inspiration for a TV show/movie he was writing, and we've seen that happen before on 'The Andy Griffith Show'.

We've seen Dr. Sloan with Matlock, but it's just not the same......

Lisa said...

Hi Toby! Thanks for stopping by! I grabbed that DVD moment from "It May Look Like a Walnut" -- he looked so hilarious!

And I'm with you guys -- Rob Petrie and Andy Taylor would have been great together. Wow...would that have made TV history!

Long Live Dick Van Dyke!