"It was an impossible dream to think of ever actually going into show business. There was no television, so you had a choice between Vaudeville and movies. I didn't really think that it would ever happen."
About This Interview
Dick Van Dyke was interviewed for two-and-a-half hours in Santa Monica, CA. Van Dyke described starting on Broadway, working into television, and the immediate success of The Dick Van Dyke Show, as well as The New Dick Van Dyke Show, regular appearances on The Carol Burnett Show, and his current hit Diagnosis Murder. The interview was conducted by Lee Goldberg on January 8, 1998.
Dick Van Dyke's entertainment career began during World War II when he participated in variety shows and worked as an announcer while serving in the military. That career has continued with five decades of work as an actor on network and local television, the stage and in motion pictures. The television work started with his role as host of variety programs in Atlanta, Georgia, and his first foray into network television came in 1956 as the emcee of CBS Television's Cartoon Theater.
But it was his role as Rob Petrie on the classic CBS situation comedy The Dick Van Dyke Show that insured his place in television history. He was cast by series creator Carl Reiner and series producer Sheldon Leonard in the role of a television comedy writer (Reiner himself played in the series pilot Head of the Family). He was selected over another television pioneer, Johnny Carson. Plucked from a starring role on the Broadway stage in Bye Bye Birdie, Van Dyke used his unique talent for physical comedy, coupled with his ability to sing and dance, to play Robert Simpson Petrie, the head writer of the Alan Brady Show. Complementing Van Dyke was a veteran cast of talented comedic actors including Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Jerry Paris, Carl Reiner (as Alan Brady), as well as a newcomer to television Mary Tyler Moore, who played Rob's wife Laura Petrie.
In many ways The Dick Van Dyke Show broke new ground in network television. The series created quite a stir when, in the early 1960s, husband and wife, though still sleeping in separate beds, were shown to actually have a physical relationship, and Mary Tyler Moore was even shown wearing Capri pants, unheard of at the time. But the quintessential example of the innovations offered by The Dick Van Dyke Show occurred when, after the network rejected the script, only an appeal from Sheldon Leonard himself secured permission to film the episode "That's My Boy??" In this episode, Rob (Van Dyke) is convinced that the baby he and Laura brought home from the hospital was not theirs, but a baby belonging to another couple, the Peters. Constant mix-ups with flowers and candy at the hospital, caused by the similarity in names (Petrie and Peters), convinced Rob that the babies were somehow switched, and he decided to confront the Peters family. Only when the Peters show up at Rob and Laura's house does Rob learns that the Peters are African American. Some have speculated that the overwhelming positive reaction by audiences to this episode led Sheldon Leonard to eventually cast another future television megastar, Bill Cosby, in I Spy.
Dick Van Dyke won three Emmy Awards for his role in TDVDS, and the series received four Emmy Awards as outstanding comedy series. The series, which began in 1961, ended its network television run in 1966, although audiences have enjoyed the program through its extended life in syndication.
Although Dick Van Dyke went on to star in such feature films as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mary Poppins and The Comic, he has continued to be a staple on network television with The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Van Dyke and Company (for which he received his fourth Emmy) and a critically-acclaimed and Emmy-nominated dramatic performance in the made-for-television movie The Morning After. In his fifth decade in television, Van Dyke has been seen in the 1990s prime time series Diagnosis Murder for CBS, in which he co-starred with his son Barry Van Dyke.
-Thomas A. Birk
DICK VAN DYKE. Born in West Plains, Missouri, U.S.A., 13 December 1925. Married: Marjorie Willett, 1948; three daughters and two sons. Served in U.S. Army Air Corps, during World War II. Founded advertising agency with Wayne Williams, Danville, Illinois, 1946; appeared with Phillip Erickson in pantomime act The Merry Mutes, Eric and Van, 1947-53; television master of ceremonies, The Music Shop, Atlanta; hosted television variety show The Dick Van Dyke Show, New Orleans; master of ceremonies, The Morning Show, CBS, 1955, and The Cartoon Show, 1956; hosted weekly television show Flair, ABC, 1960; performed on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie, 1960-61; starred in weekly television sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, CBS, 1961-66; performed in such films as Mary Poppins, 1965, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 1968; returned to television series format with Diagnosis: Murder, 1994; chair, Nick at Nite, since 1992. Recipient: Theater World Award, 1960; Antoinette Perry Award, 1961; four Emmy Awards.
1955 The Morning Show 1956 Cartoon Show 1958-59 Mother's Day 1959 Laugh Lines 1960 Flair 1961-66 The Dick Van Dyke Show 1971-74 The New Dick Van Dyke Show 1976 Van Dyke and Company 1988 The Van Dyke Show 1994- Diagnosis: Murder
1974 The Morning After 1977 Tubby the Tuba (voice only) 1982 Drop-Out Father 1983 Found Money 1987 Ghost of a Chance
Bye Bye Birdie, 1963; What a Way To Go, 1964; Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN, 1965; Mary Poppins, 1965; Divorce American Style, 1967; Never a Dull Moment, 1967; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, 1968; The Comic, 1969; Some Kind of Nut, 1969; Cold Turkey, 1971; The Runner Stumbles, 1979; Drop-Out Father, 1982; Dick Tracy, 1990; Freddie Goes to Washington (voice only), 1992.
The Girls Against the Boys, 1959; Bye Bye Birdie, 1960-61.
Faith, Hope, and Hilarity. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1970.
Karlen, Neal. "A Familiar Face Introduces himself to a New Generation" (interview). The New York Times, 21 October 1992.