Dick Van Dyke has been in the news recently because the nearly 90-year-old actor and entertainer is apparently remarkably fit for his age and has contributed to a book about staying young. The book, entitled Keep Moving and Other Tips and Truths About Aging, contains Van Dyke’s secret for staying spry – basically to keep moving, stay active, and don’t compromise strength for comfort. Van Dyke appears to live by his advice as well, on the go all the time, still acting and performing on film, television, and stage – and sometimes falling asleep in the ocean and being rescued by porpoises. He basically lives a charmed, Disneyesque type magical life and has had a career to match.
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
I’ve always found this movie to be slightly odd, what with its mid-movie fantasy story sequence and the desperate attempt to make it seem as much like Mary Poppins as possible. What it does have in abundance, however, is fabulous song-and-dance routines starring Dick Van Dyke. Those limbs of his are natural wonders, the rubbery and nimble way in which they can fly in graceful and comedic patterns. Sequences like Me Ol’ Bamboo showcase exactly the kind of technical proficiency and inherent talent of which he is capable.
The classic tale of a magical nanny bringing a father closer to his children is one of the most timeless of Disney films. Julie Andrews, of course, is second to none as the practically perfect Mary Poppins, but right by her side is her multi-talented, life-loving, jack-of-all trades, Bert the chimney sweep. How exactly Bert knows Mary is a question for the ages, but Andrews and van Dyke make a practically perfect pair in every single scene. Once again, Van Dyke found an excellent showcase for his physical agility in numbers like Step in Time. If you can excuse the strange Australian/Cockney accent, his performance is transcendent.
Bye Bye Birdie
Yet another musical that showcases the comedic and musical talents of Dick Van Dyke, but this time as a modern music executive who schemes to make it big with a marketing gimmick so he can marry his girlfriend and break free of his overbearing mother. Conrad Birdie is a big time rock star and heart throb who’s been drafted, so Albert (Van Dyke) comes up with a plan to get him on the Ed Sullivan show to kiss a lucky contest winner goodbye before going off to the army. The musical is a big old coming of age story for children and adults alike, about the relationship between children and parents, and between men and women of all ages. Van Dyke has one of the most cheerful, optimistic singing voices I’ve ever encountered, so when he sings Put on a Happy Face, you kind of can’t help but follow instruction.
This mystery-comedy television series ran for eight seasons and featured Van Dyke as the crime solving, tap dancing Dr. Mark Sloan. The series featured many of Van Dyke’s family, including his real life son Barry Van Dyke as his crime fighting television son Steve. Van Dyke’s daughter also featured as his television daughter in a tragic storyline in which she was murdered – which was a pretty heavy storyline for the mostly light-hearted show. Like Van Dyke, his Diagnosis Murder character was an unusually spry and bright old man, pursuing new interests, learning new things, and always sticking his nose in troubling mysteries.
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Dick Van Dyke didn’t discover song and dance until his thirties and it might come as a surprise that he didn’t land his era defining television show until he was thirty-five. It just goes to show that you’re never too old to learn new things or find your perfect career. The show famously featured Dick Van Dyke as variety show writer Rob Petrie with his homemaker/performer wife Laura as played by Mary Tyler Moore. Jerry Van Dyke, Van Dyke’s brother in real life, obviously played his brother on the show. The legendary opening sequence, in which Van Dyke either trips over or misses the precariously placed ottoman, is a perfect display of his agility and grace.
The Carol Burnett Show
Don’t watch The Carol Burnett Show just for the few episodes on which Dick Van Dyke appeared. While Van Dyke’s talents are perfect for this kind of variety show, there are many other legendary talents on the show that are well worth watching – not least of all Carol Burnett herself. The show is always wonderfully funny just as the sketches are written, but as with many things, it is even more delightful to see the actors break out of character and find their own delight in the absurdity of the sketch or in the performance of their fellow actors. Tim Conway and Harvey Korman are classic examples, as Korman constantly found himself helpless with laughter at Conway’s antics. Van Dyke himself found himself the target of Conway’s improvisations and embellishments.