×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

SAG honors Dick Van Dyke

Screen Actors Guild Awards 2013

Dick Van Dyke was driving to work one morning back in the 1960s when he happened to hear Fred Astaire being interviewed about the current crop of dancers.

“I like the way Dick Van Dyke moves,” said Astaire.

“Well, I almost drove off the freeway, of course,” Van Dyke recalls.

The very excited TV star safely reached the studio where “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was shot. “I ran in and said, ‘Did you hear that? Did you hear that?’ But nobody had heard it. But I had heard it. And it was one of the great thrills of my life.” No surprise that the grace, precision and virtuosity of Astaire impressed Van Dyke, this year’s lifetime-achievement honoree at the SAG Awards. “Anyone who could move well always got to me.”

As a 10-year-old Depression-era kid, Van Dyke would run around the house entertaining his mother and friends with impressions of his other heroes, Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton.

“I had Laurel’s face and chin and I practiced his dialect over and over,” he reminisces. “Then I’d see Buster Keaton matinees and try to do all those pratfalls. I liked to make my friends laugh.

I’ve always said that I was born too late. I would have made a good silent-screen comedian.”

Surprisingly, the leggy young man who loved all those cool moves began his show biz career behind a microphone in a radio booth in Danville, Illinois. It wasn’t until years after he had made his way to Broadway, well into his 30’s, that he considered himself a dancer.

Van Dyke had landed the lead in the 1960’s hit “Bye Bye Birdie” by doing a little impromptu soft-shoe after auditioning for a smaller part. “That singing and dancing broke me out a bit,” he recalls.

Fortunately, Carl Reiner was in the “Birdie” audience one night. “Carl gave me the break that changed my life.”

Reiner was developing a show based on his own life: a writer who lives in New Rochelle with a wife and two kids, and who goes into New York every day to write for a big variety show.

“I always intended to be the star. I wrote 13 episodes and did a pilot,” says Reiner. “The pilot wasn’t very good. And so I put it aside.”

But Reiner’s agent gave it to producer Sheldon Leonard at Danny Thomas productions.

“Sheldon and Danny called me in. I said, “Fellas, I don’t want to fail twice with the same material.” In his best Leonard impersonation, Reiner mimics, ” ‘You won’t fail. We’ll get a better actor to play you!’

“When I saw Dick in “Bye Bye Birdie,” I said, ‘He’s not just a better actor, he’s an actor who can do anything.’ He’s the most graceful human being I’ve ever met. He can take those pratfalls and not hurt himself. He always did some kind of pantomime even when he was going through a normal day. He’d handle props differently than anybody else. He’s juggler,” adds Reiner. “I couldn’t wait to write musical shows for Dick and Mary Tyler Moore. They were so wonderful together.”

Pratfalls, dancing, tripping over that hassock or not, the groundbreaking TV show had a lot of physicality. But it was the writing, the plotlines, often based on things that had happened to someone in the cast, that really anchored the 15-time Emmy award winning sitcom.

“One of the show’s best writers, Billie Perky, says that the secret was to write Yiddish and play British,” says Van Dyke. “And you didn’t have to act with Carl’s writing. He caught the cadence and the nuance of the way everybody talked,”

“God knows, the writing was the core of the show,” concurs Moore. “It was the first time that the husband and wife were written about with intelligence and a sense of humor. We weren’t perfect people. Rob and Laura were a modern husband-wife team solving family problems together.”

And what of today’s sitcoms? What does Van Dyke think of the writing?

“Almost every line is a one liner. A joke with a laugh,” he critiques. “There’s not time to bring character or story along. Very fast cutting and the lines are delivered very quickly with canned laughter. For me, I don’t buy it. It’s not believable.”

However, Van Dyke still has a few favorites, mentioning “All in the Family,” “Seinfeld,” “Frasier” and “M*A*S*H.”

And, “I like Ben Stiller and Ricky Gervais a lot,” says the SAG honoree. “Ricky plays it for real.”

Screen Actors Guild Awards 2013
Casting is a troupe effort | Merger makes for few bumps | SAG honors Dick Van Dyke

More Film

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

  • Denis Villeneuve

    Denis Villeneuve's 'Dune' Gets November 2020 Release Date

    Warner Bros. has scheduled Legendary’s science-fiction tentpole “Dune” for a Nov. 20, 2020, release in 3D and Imax. “Aquaman” star Jason Momoa is in negotiations to join the “Dune” reboot with Timothee Chalamet, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Josh Brolin, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya. Production is expected to launch in the spring [...]

  • James Bond Spectre

    Bond 25 Moved Back Two Months to April 2020

    James Bond will arrive two months later than planned as MGM moved back the release date on the untitled Bond 25 movie from Feb. 14 to April 8, 2020 — a Wednesday before the start of Easter weekend. It’s the second delay for Bond 25. MGM and Eon originally announced in 2017 that the film [...]

  • Fast and Furious 8

    'Fast and Furious 9' Release Date Pushed Back Six Weeks

    Universal Pictures has shifted “Fast and Furious 9” back six weeks from April 10 to May 22, 2020 — the start of the Memorial Day weekend. It’s the second backwards shift for the title. In 2017, Universal moved the film back a year from April 19, 2019, to April 10, 2020. Both dates fall on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content