Phil Erickson, whose comic-mime act the Merry Mutes launched the career of Dick Van Dyke more than 50 years ago, died Aug. 4 of pneumonia in Atlanta. He was 78.

In 1947, Erickson spotted the 21-year old Van Dyke in a local staging of “The Philadelphia Story” in Danville, Ill., their hometown. Erickson, already an established pantomime performer in the Midwest, was seeking a partner for engagements in Los Angeles. Van Dyke joined immediately, and they opened two weeks later at the Georgian Hotel in Santa Monica.

Van Dyke soon left the act and joined CBS in New York. Erickson eventually settled in Atlanta, raised a family and performed in his own nightclub, the Wits End. He and Van Dyke remained close friends.

Erickson is survived by his wife, Nancy and four children.