Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Dick Van Dyke, an Early Happy Birthday...

An early happy birthday goes out to television legend Dick Van Dyke. He reaches 88 on December 13th. His life story can be found on various internet sites so I won't be going over that kind of thing in much detail in this blog entry. Little, though, is talked about the commercials he appeared in. Some commercials occurred in the '60s, in character as Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show.

I came across several commercials from that point in time on You Tube but I also came across some commercials that I no doubt seen as a child of the '80s. There are a couple of specific commercials that he appeared in that I have not yet been able to find but one day they might turn up on video hosting sites.

I came across these commercials for Hunt's that he appeared in during the 1980's...starting off with one from 30 years ago in 1983...



Here's one promoting Hunt's new squeezable, plastic bottle...





A decade earlier he did commercials for Kodak...this aired during the time period The New Dick Van Dyke Show was on the air, 1971-1974...



Another Kodak commercial, this one is from the late '70s according to the one that uploaded it...



You can also find commercials about safety and fire prevention starring Dick Van Dyke...these PSA commercials aired into the 1980's and it's those commercials that introduced me to the actor. I asked my mom one time "who IS that man talking to the gopher?" and she'd say "that's Dick Van Dyke". As a kid I used to think Dick Van Dyke had to be related in some ay to Dick Van Patton (an actor's name I recalled seeing on Eight is Enough). They had similar names and so, as a kid, I insisted that the two were cousins much to the annoyance of my parent's who tried to explain countless times that their similar first and middle names meant nothing more than they had similar names.

One of the earliest fire prevention PSA's that I've come across on You Tube is a 1977 commercial featuring Van Dyke as Santa...



Here is another fire prevention/detection PSA...the upload states it's 1987 but I'd say mid to late '70s...his hair still had some dark in it...as you can see in the above clips from the mid to late '80s his hair had become entirely gray/white by that point in time and so this one is from the '70s.



In 1988 he appeared in the fire safety commercial that I remember the most...he co-starred with a gopher...



Dick Van Dyke's biggest successes came on television but he starred in his share of movies, too. His three biggest movies, as far as box office goes, happen to be Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Bye Bye Birdie.

He starred in The Dick Van Dyke Show from 1961 through 1966 as comedy writer Rob Petrie. The sitcom not only became one of the highest rated but also one of the most awarded. Van Dyke took home 3 Emmy Awards as Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 1964, 1965, and 1966. His co-star, Mary Tyler Moore, played the role of Laura Petrie (Rob's wife). She took home 2 Emmy Awards as Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1964 and 1966. The show itself took home the Emmy for Best Comedy Series in 1963, 1964, 1965, and 1966. When a TV series is nominated, the producer(s) of the winning program gets the Emmy.

Carl Reiner wrote many episodes...he also had a recurring role as Alan Brady, the boss of Rob Petrie. He won and was nominated for several Emmy awards in the writing category in addition to the Emmy wins as the producer of The Dick Van Dyke Show. The sitcom's biggest year at the Emmy gala came in 1964. According to research that's the season (1963-1964) that the sitcom swept most of the comedy categories. Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, as mentioned, took home Lead Actor and Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1964. The show won Best Comedy Series. Rose Marie received an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of comedy writer Sally Rogers. The sitcom took home an Emmy for Best Writing and that went to the team of Carl Reiner, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff. The fifth Emmy win that night was in the Directing category and that went to cast-member Jerry Paris. He directed a lot of episodes...including "It May Look Like a Walnut", the surreal episode featuring Danny Thomas as a thumbless, 4 eyed alien from the planet Twilo. During the 1966 Emmy telecast the "Coast to Coast Big Mouth" episode took home an Emmy for writers Sam Denoff and Bill Persky. That's the episode that featured Laura on a nationally televised game show and accidentally told the entire country that Alan Brady wore a toupee. Other cast members included Morey Amsterdam as Buddy Sorrell, Richard Deacon as Mel Cooley, Jerry Paris as Jerry Helper, Ann Guilbert as Millie Helper, and Larry Matthews as Richie (Rob and Laura's son).

In the early 1990's after the show had basically been discovered all over again on Nickelodeon's classic TV evening line-up, branded Nick-at-Nite, a documentary special on CBS aired. The special was hosted by Charles Kuralt. Ironically, just as the classic sitcom was going through it's revival on cable TV, Dick Van Dyke was just getting started with an all new series...a drama series...more on that later...

After The Dick Van Dyke Show went out of production in 1966 he didn't have another on-going television series until 1971 and the debut of The New Dick Van Dyke Show. This early '70s sitcom, once more produced by Carl Reiner, had a three season stay before being canceled amidst backstage controversies over content/direction of the series. In this series Van Dyke portrayed a television talk show host named Dick Preston and Hope Lange played his wife, Jenny. The premise borrowed elements of the 1960's sitcom in terms of characterization. Van Dyke had gone from playing a comedy writer to being a talk show host. His home life consisted of a wife and a daughter (rather than a wife and a son like the '60s series). The couple did have a son that was rarely seen (being off at college). His work life consisted of his interaction with his boss, played by David Doyle. As in the '60s sitcom there are a couple that live next door in the '70s sitcom. Bernie and Carol Davis can be seen as fill-in's for Jerry and Millie Helper. In the third season (1973-1974) the series is revamped and Dick Preston becomes a soap opera star...and the family moves to Hollywood from Arizona. It is in this season that a lot of supporting players are added. The program consists of 72 episodes broadcast on CBS from September 18, 1971 to March 18, 1974. It's never been reran in any consistent manner even though there are enough episodes for daily syndication. Someone was wise enough to tape a couple of the episodes that aired for a brief time in 2004 on a cable channel called Good Life. This is Part 1 of 4 of an episode called "The Harry Award".



It's my belief that the 1960's sitcom is such a classic and so well loved that the early '70s sitcom never got much of a chance. This has become compounded in the decades since and most sentiments today from classic TV fans largely hold the opinion that the early '70s sitcom is more or less a copy/clone of the '60s sitcom's concept. Also appearing in this series were Fannie Flagg and later on, in the third season Henry Darrow, Dick Van Patten, and Richard Dawson just to name a few. After the third season ended, Van Dyke voluntarily decided not to continue on if Carl Reiner wasn't going to be involved anymore. Research shows that Van Dyke and CBS had signed a "three year deal" in 1971. A controversy had erupted during the third season about script content and Reiner refused to return for a potential 4th season (1974-1975) and so with that, The New Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1974 after a 3 year run.

Not long after the series ended he returned for a variety series titled Van Dyke and Company. The series put a spotlight on his expert physical comedy and pantomime skills, plus clever camera tricks, but strangely enough it didn't last more than a season...but yet it won two notable awards in 1977: An Emmy for Outstanding Music/Variety Series and a People's Choice honor as Favorite Male Performer in a New TV Program. Later on in 1977 he appeared in 11 episodes of Carol Burnett's long running variety/sketch comedy series. After the cancellation of this series he fell into a career of guest appearances on high profile and obscure television programs and continued to do commercials as well as TV movies. In 1984 he won a Daytime Emmy for his work in a children's special "The Wrong Way Kid" that appeared on a CBS anthology series called CBS Library. Other appearances by Van Dyke during the mid '80s included guest appearances on Airwolf, American Playhouse, Highway to Heaven, and Matlock.

In 1988 Van Dyke returned to sitcoms in The Van Dyke Show. The series, because of a writer's strike, didn't debut until late October (instead of September). Dick and his son, Barry, starred in it as a father/son team running a theater. Dick played 'Dick Burgess', a former Broadway star that retires to help his son operate a local musical theater. In what can be considered a complete lack of confidence in the series, CBS pulled it from the air after just 6 episodes! Debuting on October 28, 1988 it left the air after the December 7, 1988 broadcast and obviously it's never been seen on TV since. The network didn't bother to air the remaining four episodes that had already been taped. Apparently 10 episodes had been taped in advance but by the 6th episode it was decided that "nothing can help the ratings" and just like that the series abruptly ended. I have no idea if the remaining episodes ever aired later on as 'special programming' on classic TV channels or if they're included on any DVD as bonus features. There is one episode on You Tube, of medium video quality, but watchable. I seen some things I would've changed based on that single episode. I would've had the focus on Dick Van Dyke, his son, and the son's wife first and foremost, and then Whitman Mayo, and others in and out of the theatrical circle. I would've removed the 'cute kid' if I had been in charge. In 1989 Van Dyke guest starred in an episode of The Golden Girls and his appearance earned him an Emmy nomination.

In 1990 Van Dyke had a small but critical role in the Dick Tracy movie. He portrayed corrupt District Attorney Fletcher. Legend has it, this performance led the producers of the drama series Jake and the Fatman to cast Dick Van Dyke as Dr. Mark Sloane in an episode of the series. The episode titled "It Never Entered My Mind" aired in March 1991 and it introduced the character of Mark Sloane. Soon after a series of made-for-TV movies aired starring Van Dyke as this character: Diagnosis of Murder and The House on Sycamore Street both aired in 1992. In 1993 a third TV movie aired, A Twist of the Knife. In October of 1993 the TV series, Diagnosis: Murder, began. Van Dyke's character became more fleshed out and while in the Jake and the Fatman episode he said he had no children, I think for the sake of this series, Mark Sloane needed a 'buddy' figure and a person with direct involvement in homicides and so they retooled the character for Diagnosis: Murder. In the series Barry Van Dyke co-starred as Mark's son, Steve, a homicide detective for the LAPD and the ultimate source for Mark's amateur sleuthing (Mark was a medical consultant for the LAPD but not an official police officer...but he got involved in his son's cases nevertheless). It was around this point in time that Van Dyke's 1960's sitcom as seeing a revival on classic TV channel, Nick-at-Nite. Diagnosis: Murder would not appear on the 1995-1996 Fall Season schedule but it was brought back in December 1995 to start an abbreviated third season hich ran from December 8, 1995 to May 6, 1996. Once the program returned for it's fourth season, 1996-1997, it remained on the air through the spring of 2001. It's 178th and final episode aired on May 11, 2001.

I didn't intend for this entry to get so technical and long but Dick Van Dyke's had a long and varied career and so I'll blame it on that. Happy early Birthday!

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