Dick Van Dyke may feel like a familiar friend, due to his memorable roles and performances throughout the decades in television, film, and on Broadway. Dick and Walt Disney shared a special meeting of the minds that led to starring roles in Mary Poppins, Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N., and Never a Dull Moment. Dick narrated the documentary film Walt: The Man Behind the Myth, and can currently be seen in the permanent exhibit at The Walt Disney Family Museum, explaining the wonders of the Optical Printer in Gallery 9. In this excerpt from his new memoir, My Lucky Life In and Out Of Show Business (Crown Archetype, $25), Dick recalls the beginning of his work with Walt.
I could play many types of characters on camera, but all were, in some way, going to be variations of me, and I was conscious of who I was. I wasn’t a prude or a goody two-shoes, but I was, in many ways, still the boy my mother praised for being good, and though older and more complex, I was content with remaining that good boy.
I wanted to be able to talk about my work at the dinner table and hold my head up on Sundays when my wife and I led our children into the Brentwood Presbyterian Church, where I was an elder. I did have a wild side, and I showed it every time I walked through the front door and my littlest child, Carrie Beth, made me dance to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’s hit song “Tijuana Sauerkraut.” But you were not going to see me acting up at Hollywood parties. For the most part, you weren’t going to see me at any Hollywood parties. I stayed home. That kind of family-oriented, value-driven ethos earned the admiration of another Midwesterner, the Chicago-born Walt Disney.
The visionary studio owner and entrepreneur who had created Mickey Mouse, won an Oscar for Snow White, overseen classics and favorites from Pinocchio to Fantasia to The Absent-Minded Professor and The Parent Trap, as well as opened Disneyland, had read an interview in which I stated my intention to stick to family movies. He liked that. He thought it made me perfect for his type of Disney movies—and specifically for the one he was about to start working on, Mary Poppins.
As a result of the interest he took in me, I was offered the role of Bert the chimney sweep, opposite Julie Andrews, who had been cast as the practically perfect nanny Mary Poppins. It was my dream to be in a Disney picture, and I knew from the outset that this project, based on the beloved P.L. Travers books, was no ordinary one.
There have only been two times in my career when I have known that I had a chance to be involved in something special. The first was The Dick Van Dyke Show, and the second was when I read the script for Poppins. I will never forget putting it down, turning to Margie, and telling her that it was sensational.
It got even better after I signed my contract and met Walt at his studio in Burbank. He impressed me as a nice man, really an old shoe. I later heard that he was a tough taskmaster, but I only saw his easygoing side, the side that led others to refer to him as Uncle Walt.
Reprinted with permission The Crown Publishing Group © 2011 by Point Productions, Inc.
DICK VAN DYKE, indisputably one of the greats of the golden age of television, is admired and beloved by audiences the world over for his beaming smile, his physical dexterity, his impeccable comic timing, his ridiculous stunts, and his unforgettable screen roles.
His trailblazing television program, The Dick Van Dyke Show was one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1960s (and introduced another major television star, Mary Tyler Moore). But Dick Van Dyke was also an enormously engaging movie star whose films, including Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, have been discovered by a new generation of fans and are as beloved today as they were when they first appeared.
A colorful, loving, richly detailed look at the decades of a multilayered life, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, will enthrall every generation of reader, from baby boomers who recall when Rob Petrie became a household name, to all those still enchanted by Bert’s “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” This is a lively, heartwarming memoir of a performer who still thinks of himself as a “simple song-and-dance man,” but who is, in every sense of the word, a classic entertainer.