Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

At 98, Dick Van Dyke still sings with his group, The Vantastix, and still makes it all look easy. When asked how important is it that he’s having fun when he’s doing it, Van Dyke replied, “My whole career has depended on that. If I’m not enjoying myself, I’m really bad, I am. It’s such a blessing to find a way of making a living that you love, that you’d do for nothing. I feel so sorry for people who hate their job. I look forward to going to work every morning!”

Dick Van Dyke and The Vantastix.

CBS News

And some of his work helped define a generation. Take “The Dick Van Dyke Show”; it ran for five years on CBS, and it was such a hit that they’re bringing it back, sort of. This week, CBS will air a two-hour tribute, “Dick Van Dyke, 98 Years of Magic,” and for the occasion, they even re-created the original “Dick Van Dyke Show” set, down to that well-known ottoman.

Watch out for the ottoman! “The Dick Van Dyke Show” set as recreated for “Dick Van Dyke: 98 Years of Magic.” 

CBS News

The famous living room is an example of mid-century modern design, but the scripts had no reference to time period – no pop culture, no slang, no politics. They wanted “The Dick Van Dyke Show” to be like the man himself: timeless.

Early in his career Van Dyke was quoted as saying he only wanted to make films his children could watch.  That got the attention of Walt Disney, who promptly cast him in “Mary Poppins,” bad cockney accent and all. 

Chim Chim Cher-ee: Van Dyke and other chimney sweeps dance in “Mary Poppins.”

Disney

And his next few films were equally family-friendly, like “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” which happened to have been co-written by James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

From then on, Van Dyke was almost always typecast as the good guy, though he claims to have missed out on a choice part: “Yeah, I could have been James Bond. When Sean Connery left, the producer said, ‘Would you like to be the next Bond?’ I said, ‘Have you heard my British accent?’ Click! That’s a true story!”

His career went on, of course. He made more movies (“Dick Tracy,” “Night at the Museum,” and the recent “Mary Poppins Returns”), and more TV shows (“Diagnosis: Murder”). He also survived alcoholism, and built a body of work that has yet to be finished. “I’m on my third generation,” he said. “I’m getting letters from little kids, and that is what I love, that they watch the movies over and over. I’m getting so much more mail today than I did during the heyday of my career.”

“I’ve got a few steps left in me!” Dick Van Dyke as Mr. Dawes Jr., in “Mary Poppins Returns”:


“Mr. Dawes Jr.” Clip | Mary Poppins Returns by
Walt Disney Studios on
YouTube

It seems that in show biz the true legends never stop. Just look at this “Sunday Morning” interview from 2017 with his friends Norman Lear and Carl Reiner, in which Van Dyke described what it was like hitting 90: “People are more afraid of aging than they are of death these days. And we need to tell them that there’s a lot of good living to do.”

Lear was also thankful: “I can get applause just standing up!”


From 2017: TV comedy’s “Golden Boys” by
CBS Sunday Morning on
YouTube

Smith asked, “The last time that I sat down and had a long conversation with you, it was with Norman on one side, and Carl.”

“Yes. My two favorite human beings,” Van Dyke replied. “Both gone, yeah. I can’t believe it.”

“Is it hard to wrap your mind around that?”

“Yes. Well, everybody I knew and worked with, there’s no one left.”

“How do you deal with that?”

“Well, I try not to, by making new friends and, you know, getting involved in a lotta things, try to keep busy,” he replied.

“Do you think about why you’re still around?” Smith asked.

“As I’ve said, if I had known I was gonna live this long, I would’ve taken better care of myself!” Van Dyke said. “Yeah, ’cause I went through that whole period of alcoholism. But my wife, God bless her, makes sure that I go to the gym three days a week and do a full workout.”

And his workouts are pretty legendary, as Anthony Mason saw in 2021, but it’s kept him going and going. 

Two years ago, Dick Van Dyke demonstrated his workout routine for the cameras. 

CBS News

Van Dyke wrote in his 2015 autobiography “Keep Moving,” “Don’t be scared of dying. Be more frightened that you haven’t finished living.”

“That was a good quote I said!” Van Dyke noted. “Get your living done first. And have the nerve to try something. Failure’s okay.”

He even does the New York Times crossword puzzle in pen. What does that say about him? “That I’m very confident!” he laughed.

Dick Van Dyke, who turned 98 this week.

CBS News

Still, the taping of his special last week left him pretty speechless. “This is just mind-blowing,” he said on set. “I haven’t any words … I mean, it’s past my bedtime and I’m not even sleepy!”

With his wife Arlene at his side, it was a tribute to a remarkable life that even he still can’t believe is his.

And he says none of it was planned. “As a businessman, I’m not much good,” he said. “Would do a movie or something and come home, and just sit down, wait for the phone to ring. I wasn’t aggressive. So, I was out of work a lot because I didn’t go out and look for it.”

“And how did that sit with you?” asked Smith.

“Well, I didn’t mind it. I’m pretty lazy, really. When I’m having fun, you know, all right. But I’m a lazy person. I don’t have a lotta drive. I’ve been very lucky. Always somebody picked me up and put me over there.”

“It’s just sort of happened?”

“It did. It just happened!”

And then, right in front of us, it happened again: Joined by The Vantastix, he started singing again … and the weight of nearly a hundred years fell away, and Dick Van Dyke was what he’s always been: a happy kid.

     
For more info:

     
Story produced by John D’Amelio. Editor: Mike Levine. 


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