Written by Kerry at The Film Detective
From Bert the chimney sweep to TV-writer Rob Petrie, actor Dick Van Dyke has kept that special TV/movie magic going since the 1950s. And he’s not slowing down! With credits as recent as a cameo in the 2018 Mary Poppins Returns, it’s clear that this soon-to-be 95 year-old has found the secret to staying young at heart.
As he told The Hollywood Reporter in 2016, “I’ve always been active. I said that my motivations have changed. In my 30s, I exercised to look good...Now in my 90s, I’m just doing it out of pure defiance!”
Whatever he’s doing, it seems we all can take a page from Dick’s zest for life.
A longtime veteran of the stage and screen, Dick’s early life didn't need to be in California for him to start seeing the Hollywood connections. Born in West Plains, Missouri, and raised in Danville, Illinois, Dick’s high school was also attended by none other than musician Bobby Short and Singin’ in the Rain (1952) star Donald O’Connor. It was in high school that Dick found a love of theater that remained with him following service in World War II.
The nightclub circuit proved fruitful enough for Dick in the early 50s until he landed his first Broadway role in 1959 with The Girls Against the Boys. With no dance training but charm to spare, Dick’s career took off with his performance in the hit Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie (1960). The show brought with it four Tony Awards, including one for Dick for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Dick would revive his portrayal of Albert F. Peterson in the twice Oscar nominated film adaptation in 1963, but not before television came knocking.
In what Dick calls “a dream come true,” television writer Carl Reiner came to Dick with the opportunity to lead a sitcom about a comedy TV writer’s family antics, based off of Reiner’s own experiences writing for Sid Caesar.
With a strong supporting cast that included Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Larry Mathews, and Carl Reiner, The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) took home 15 Emmy Awards in its five seasons, including three Emmys for Dick’s portrayal of funny family man Rob Petrie.
Behind the scenes of his hit comedy, Dick was pulling off a more rare move for actors of this time: successfully navigating the balance beam of film and television superstardom.
In 1964, Dick joined actress Julie Andrews for performances “practically perfect in every way” in the movie musical, Mary Poppins (1964). What he may have lacked in a convincing English accent, he certainly made up for in charisma and magnetism as the singing, swinging chimney sweep Bert and bank manager Mr. Dawes Senior.
Time and time again, Dick proved he was no one-hit wonder; Mary Poppins was followed by Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), The Comic (1969), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971-1974), and Diagnosis Murder (1993-2001), the last of which also starring Dick's real-life son Barry. The roots of show biz talent run deep in the Van Dyke family; Dick's late brother Jerry also made a name for himself on television with a starring role on Coach (1989-1997).
In recent years, new generations have gotten to know Dick Van Dyke in Night at the Museum (2006), Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014), and Mary Poppins Returns (2018).
The secret to remaining so young at heart? As he mentions in regards to his recent book Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Living Well Longer, it's all about moving, dancing, singing, and as he quips, "do not start going down the stairs sideways. That's the beginning. It feels good on your knees but it throws the hips out and the back starts to go out. The next thing you know, you've fallen down and broken your hip. So even if it hurts a little, go down the stairs front-ways."
In celebration of Dick Van Dyke's 95th birthday, The Film Detective is featuring a 6-episode mini-marathon of The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966), starting at 12PM ET on Sunday, December 13.
Viewers can also stream The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966) anytime on The Film Detective app: Watch Here