Which part of Dick Van Dyke’s career do you like best – early TV (The Dick Van Dyke Show), movies (Bye Bye Birdie, Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), or late TV (Diagnosis Murder)?
His eponymous TV show was, like all great programs, brilliantly cast. Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as Buddy and Sally, the wonderfully irascible Richard Deacon as Mel, and of course, Mary Tyler Moore as Laura Petrie. The show earned a total of 15 Emmy Awards, three given to Dick for his performance. Hard to believe the show was only on for five seasons; its influence on TV comedy and on our culture was much greater than its tenure.
Dick took his Broadway role in Bye Bye Birdie to the big screen. He was said to be annoyed that the Ann-Margret character got more prominence in the movie, but it was a big hit regardless. He didn’t quite get the Cockney accent down in Mary Poppins, but the film showcased his versatility. His song “Chim Chim Cher-ee” won the Academy Award as song of the year. A screenplay written in part by Roald Dahl attracted Dick to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but he didn’t look back on the film with great pride.
I have to admit I don’t think I saw a complete episode of Diagnosis Murder. Yet it ran for eight seasons on CBS – three longer than the Dick Van Dyke Show! One of the reasons I avoided it was the “acting” of Barry Van Dyke, Dick’s son. To characterize it as “wooden” is to insult trees.
Dick Van Dyke is 83 now, an elder statesman in entertainment. Take a moment and enjoy this clip from one of the best episodes of the Dick Van Dyke Show: “Alan Brady Presents.”