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One Lucky Guy: Dick Van Dyke
by Sandra Siepak
More than 20 years of TV/Print experience covering news and entertainment. Coverage of celebrity interviews, feature films stage productions in Los Angeles, CA.

TV and Film icon Dick Van Dyke loves what he does and it shows. He’s funny, engaging, and has brought a lot of laughter into many lives for the past 60 years. Whether talking about his lucky life in show business at a recent Writers Guild discussion or warmly greeting hundreds of fans at an event at The Grove, Dick Van Dyke indisputably remains one of the most beloved entertainers of the Golden Age of Television. His new book, My Lucky Life In And Out of Show Business, is an engaging memoir and closer look at his fascinating and eventful life.
At 86, the Malibu resident has no plans to quit entertaining audiences. Lucky for all of us! His beaming smile and perfect comedic timing are still evident after all these years. He is charming yet candid about his show business career and frank about some of his personal missteps along the way, including his battle and triumph over alcoholism. Yet, surprisingly he admits show business wasn’t really something he planned on growing up in Danville, Illinois. He acknowledges, “I never thought about singing and dancing, I didn’t know what the heck I was going to do. I thought I’d become an announcer. I guess I really was in the right place at the right time.” His father, Loren once said to him “Honestly, son, we worried about you. We didn’t think you’d amount to anything.”
Dick Van Dyke surprised his dad and everyone else too. After a stint in the Air Force he began work as a part-time announcer at a local CBS radio station where he earned $8.oo a week. He went on to host several game shows at CBS TV including The Price is Right. His break came when he landed an audition with Gower Champion for the famed production of Bye Bye Birdie.
“I sang Once In Love With Amy for my audition. I did a little soft-shoe. Gower Champion walked over and simply said, ‘You’ve got the part.’ Just like that. He gave me the job. I said, ‘But I really can’t dance.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll teach you to dance.’” And sing and dance he did. Bye Bye Birdie was a major hit and so was Van Dyke. Soon after Writer/Producer Carl Reiner came to the show and offered him the role on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” that changed his and so many of our lives with the trailblazing sitcom.
“I literally stumbled into show business. Carl Reiner is a genius. He originally wrote the role for himself and later adapted it to me. Nobody had to act on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’. It wasn’t work at all. Nobody wanted to ever leave. It ran five years and was my biggest break. I loved working on the show, it was the most fun I ever had.” says Van Dyke.
The series also introduced us to his co-star Mary Tyler Moore, who Van Dyke admits had him at her first line, “Oh, Rob!” and he knew then she was perfect for the show.
“Mary and I would giggle and laugh for no reason, all the time! We did have a crush on each other. I mean who didn’t adore Mary?” says Van Dyke.
Van Dyke also went on to star for nine seasons in TV’s drama, Diagnosis: Murder. Of course Dick Van Dyke is also equally known for his many film roles throughout his career. Bye Bye Birdie, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Dick Tracy and more recently, A Night At The Museum, all evoke fond memories of Van Dyke and his memorable character roles. Who could forget Bert, the loveable chimney sweep singing the enchanted, Chim Chim Cher-ee, for which he won a Grammy award for the music soundtrack. Does he have an all-time favorite?
“Well, Mary Poppins is by far my favorite movie. It was always my intention to stick to family movies. As a result, Walt Disney read that comment and took an interest in me. There have been two times in my career I knew I was involved in something special. The first was the ‘Dick Van Dyke Show’ and the second was Mary Poppins. The songs are classics and they didn’t just get under my skin, they became a part of me and never left. One song in particular, Feed the Birds, is still my all time favorite.”
One of his mentors and heroes was comedic legend Stan Laurel. Van Dyke recalls, “I called him one day after he had seen me on TV. I said I’ve copied a good deal from you over the years and he said, ‘I know!’ He invited me to his home and we talked regularly. I grilled him about his work. It was the best lesson in comedy I ever had. He was quite a gentleman. I later did the eulogy at his funeral and was given his hat and tie.”
With all his success Van Dyke has endured tough times too. He smoked a great deal and when his health was in jeopardy he had to quit and he did. Alcohol was next to go. In his book he describes his difficult struggle with his alcoholism and how he awoke to reality. Having to finally admit his problem he states, “I didn’t like the person I became when I drank.” He offers he never drank while working but did finally seek treatment to overcome his addiction.
Just like his popular TV character Rob Petrie, Van Dyke was also a family man. He and his wife Margie were married 35 years and had four children. They later divorced in 1984. He says he’s very proud of his children , seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren today and writes, “My best work was done at home. If I’m known for giving people decent entertainment and raising good kids, that’s all right.”
Van Dyke shared much of his later years in life with companion Michelle Triola. Both loved traveling and sailing. Although never married, they were together more than 25 years and shared their home in Malibu before she succumbed to cancer in 2009. Van Dyke comments, “I was completely unprepared for life without Michelle.”
On February 29, 2012 leap year, Van Dyke took yet another leap of faith. He married Arlene Silver 40, who he had been dating for the past six years. The two met at the Screen Actors Guild awards and have been together since. Van Dyke commented,” I’m not a loner kind of guy. I was bowled over by her beauty and I feel I found the perfect one. I’m very happy.”
Ever the upbeat down to earth guy his positive outlook about life and career has continued on. Today, Van Dyke is enjoying charity work and new avenues including appearing onstage with his younger brother Jerry Van Dyke in The Sunshine Boys and with his singing group, The Vantastix. He’s even been offered TV’s Dancing With The Stars, but says he thinks he’s a little past that stage.
“Maybe I could be a guest star. That could work. I’d get Betty White to dance with me, “said Van Dyke.
Looking back on his career the famous song and dance man has no regrets. “I’m just playing now and having a great time doing what’s good for me and keeping busy. My life has been a magnificent indulgence. I have been able to do what I love and share it. Who would want to quit?”

Published: Mar 11,2012 16:25
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