Cooperstown Crier - Your Source for Hometown News - Cooperstown, Baseball Hall of Fame

Book Notes

October 20, 2011

Book Notes: Van Dyke autobiography ‘fascinating’

In a way we’re fortunate to have TV Land around to televise classic shows from the past. There are some great ones out there that never lose their appeal. The  most obvious example is ILove Lucy” which still seems funny 60 years later. It may be that the best shows are timeless, always entertaining no matter how many years have past.

Just think of some of the greatest movies of all time; “Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca,” and “The Best Years of our Lives” are perfect examples of movies that are timeless. They are as intense and entertaining today as when they were made three generations ago.

Television is no different. If you had to pick one television show from the 1960s that defined comedy it would have to be “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” The program ran for five years, from 1961 through 1966, before it took itself off the air. The show’s creator, Carl Reiner, felt that a TV show gets stale after five years and pre-determined “Dick Van Dyke” would run no longer than that despite being at the top of the ratings.

Reiner was also astute enough to not make any references to current events or politics so that the show could remain timeless. It is one reason the show today is as hilarious as it was 50 years ago. Funny is funny.

The show comes alive (as well as a lot more) with the publication of Dick Van Dyke’s autobiography, “My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business.”

Van Dyke describes his upbringing in Illinois and how he became an entertainer. Like most successes in life his lucky breaks often had to do with being in the right place at the right time. He was not a nationally known commodity when Reiner chose him as the lead in his hit comedy series. The fact that the show skipped using a clever title and went with “Dick Van Dyke” only added to his celebrity.

As with many successful situation comedies, chemistry between the actors was a must.

Co-stars Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie were already well known but Mary Tyler Moore was a young, relatively unknown 23-year-old actress who absolutely jelled with Van Dyke as husband and wife. Their rapport appeared  so genuine that many viewersassumed they were married in real life.

In fact, in the 1970s when he was appearing in his “originally” named new situation comedy, “The New Dick Van Dyke Show,” one woman viewer apparently didn’t take kindly to his new on-screen wife, Hope Lange. She came storming up to Van Dyke in a grocery store and hit him with her purse screaming, “How dare you leave that sweet Laura!”

Between situation comedies and slaps in the face Van Dyke managed to star in some very successful movies such as “Mary Poppins,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and “Divorce American Style.” Working with Julie Andrews on “Mary Poppins” was clearly one of the highlights of his life.

In real life (and not the make-believe that some lunatic viewers take for real) Van Dyke seemed to have the same success that he had on-screen. He married to his high school sweetheart and eventually had four kids.

But life wasn’t all peaches and cream. He eventually developed alcoholism and his marriage went south. Van Dyke does not shy away from describing these developments in detail.

Most of the book is sprinkled with wonderful stories that include his actor brother Jerry Van Dyke (Luther from the long-running series “Coach”), real-life incidents that inspired many episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, and the time Jerry Lewis managed to deliberately embarrass him in front of Queen Elizabeth.

Other than having the usual celebrity pitfall of namedropping once too often, Van Dyke’s autobiography is a fascinating and fast-paced read. He may have had his share of depressing moments but he has been very lucky in life. We are fortunate he has been able to share much of it with us both on-screen and off.

1
Text Only
Book Notes
  • Libraries provide vital services Some people think that libraries are becoming obsolete due to the Internet and the growing popularity of e-books. Nothing could be further from the truth. Libraries are a repository for more than just the written word and reference materials. They provide a basic need for every community and will for the foreseeable future.

    April 17, 2014

  • WWII collection grows with 'Those Angry Days' The main lesson history teaches us is to learn from our mistakes and not repeat them. There’s also an old saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Perhaps the two notions have something in common because we continually prove that history does indeed repeat itself.

    April 10, 2014

  • 'Blue Jasmine' shows talent of troubled Allen It's a shame that Woody Allen is caught up in controversy in his personal life because it deflects from his talent as a filmmaker. You can see the brilliance in his most recent release, "Blue Jasmine" now available for rental at the Cooperstown Library.

    April 3, 2014

  • 'Nebraska' helps give Dern his due Bruce Dern has been a character actor for over half a century yet hadn't really gotten the acclaim he deserves.

    March 27, 2014

  • Book captures both sides of 'Splended Splinter' Ted Williams is an American icon. As the mainstay of the Boston Red Sox from 1939-1960 he was one of baseball’s all-time greats, a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, and perhaps the greatest hitter the sport has ever known. He was admired for his devotion to the game, his service to his country, and his support for children with cancer. But there was an ugly side to him too. Williams’ life was a set of contradictions where his talent and humanity were offset by fits of rage and cold-heartedness.

    March 20, 2014

  • Wouk has amazing body of epic work One of the problems with eulogies is that they only seem to occur posthumously. I often wonder why people who have produced something noteworthy aren't honored until after they die and don't get to hear the acclaim they deserve. In that vein I want to recognize an aging classic novelist while he is still with us.

    March 13, 2014

  • 'Miracle' shows when Olympics were pure The Winter Olympics ended recently and somehow they seemed to have lost their luster. It wasn’t so much that they were in Sochi where most of the events were on tape delay. It was more due to the new events (many we have never heard of) that have diluted the games. The Winter Olympics have gone from an intimate edition of their summer counterpart to one where it appears medal counts and commercialism is all that matters.

    March 6, 2014

  • Sometimes bad films, books called 'Classic' About 40 years ago a movie was made that set the standard for overhyped and underwhelming films. It was "The Great Gatsby" starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. Redford was the hottest thing in Hollywood at the time and Time Magazine ran a cover story on the film. When it was finally released it completely bombed.

    February 27, 2014

  • British films that will warm your heart With all the snow and sub-zero temperatures this winter there are enough nights where the easiest thing to do is hunker down and enjoy a good movie. I thought I’d offer a few suggestions with a British twist. These are films with Americans that are filmed in England. The one thing they all have in common is that they’ll warm your heart in the end.

    February 20, 2014

  • Giants-Dodgers rivalry entertains One of the fiercest rivalries in all of sports is the Giants and Dodgers. These two proud franchises have been going at it for well over 100 years. First it was New York vs. Brooklyn. Now it's San Francisco vs. Los Angeles. There's no love lost between them. Victories over each other are sweeter than those over any other team. Even when they're not going head-to-head it feels good when their arch-rival loses. If you're a Giants' fan, hating the Dodgers is a way of life (and vice versa).

    February 13, 2014