My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

By Ekta R. Garg

June 1, 2011

Rated: Borrow it

In the late 1980s and early 1990s I experienced a time warp of sorts.  In the evenings, after finishing my homework and chores, I would watch Nick at Nite.  I wished often that I’d been born decades earlier as I relished all the old programs: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “My Three Sons,” “Laugh In,” “Mr. Ed,” “Saturday Night Live” (the really old ones where Bill Murray played the father of the Coneheads,) “Mork and Mindy,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Dragnet”—the stories were safe for kids to watch unsupervised, and the characters were really and truly funny (well, with the exception of the latter two shows; they weren’t funny, but the drama made the same impact on me as the comedy of the others did.)  Some of the plot lines may have been a little cliché, owing to the time period in which they originally aired, but I felt a magnetic draw to them.

One show in particular made me laugh and want more: “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”  I adored Rob and Laura Petrie, thought Richie was sweet and funny, held my breath with everyone else whenever Alan Brady made an appearance, and waited with a grin for the zingers Buddy would direct at Mel Cooley.  Sally Rogers always made me smile, and I knew when Laura’s best friend, Millie, showed up something crazy would probably end up happening.

Although as a child I never took the time to think through the process of making a television program, I always felt the entire cast looked like it had a blast.  Thanks to Dick Van Dyke’s new memoir, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, I know everyone actually did.  Van Dyke discusses in his book how the five years of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-1966) were some of the best years of his career.  He says creativity and fun filled every single day on set with his co-stars, and that enjoyment and appreciation for the job at hand shows.

In a recent appearance on “The Rachael Ray Show” Van Dyke said he actually wrote the memoir himself, contrary to hiring a ghostwriter as most celebrities do.  The lack of polish provided by a professional writer is apparent from the get-go, but it also lends to the authenticity of Van Dyke’s experiences.  Throughout the entire memoir Van Dyke makes clear that his namesake show and his film appearance in Mary Poppins (1964) with Julie Andrews remain two of his favorite career choices, as they are with fans across the world.

His road to success and worldwide fame didn’t come with a snap of the fingers, however.  Van Dyke relates how he worked hard to be the best entertainer possible, whether it was launching a lip synching act with a good friend or being a radio announcer to pay the bills.  When Carl Reiner recruited Van Dyke to star in “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and the decision was made to name the show for him, the cast and crew looked puzzled because no one knew at that time who he was.

In the midst of all this hard work he married his high school sweetheart, Margie, a wonderful woman who wanted nothing to do with show business.  Although Van Dyke and Margie raised four children together eventually Van Dyke realized he was drawn to someone else who understood the business and his drive to be in it.  Van Dyke is candid in the book about his relationship with Michelle Triola, as well as the decision to divorce his wife to be with Michelle.  His second relationship was much more successful, and he stayed with Michelle through the end of her life (she died of cancer.)

If that isn’t enough to surprise Van Dyke fans, most people will probably receive their “shock value” in the comedian’s book about being an alcoholic.  He struggled with alcohol and cigarettes but managed to quit both habits, and he details his successes and failures with both before finally getting sober and staying smoke-free.

But even with these eye-opening details about his private life, the book reads much like the man is himself: fun, easy-going, and like a laid-back regaling of the old days.  Van Dyke is fully aware of the special quality of his hit TV program and movies (along with “Mary Poppins,” he’s well-known for his 1960 Broadway performance in “Bye Bye Birdie” as well as its film adaptation in 1963.)  He doesn’t take any of it for granted but also wonders towards the end of the memoir where all the good writing and good television programs have gone.

I often wonder the same thing myself.  Reading Van Dyke’s memoir brought back many fond memories for me of watching those old programs and despite what the ratings today may say about one show or another, the fact remains that we have a dearth of quality, family-friendly small-screen entertainment.  That’s one reason why I know I would still enjoy “The Dick Van Dyke Show” today and am so glad we are fortunate enough to be able to share in the memories of the star behind it.

***

What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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