Saturday, June 06, 2015

Dick Van Dyke at his very best

When I was a kid growing up the sitcom that influenced me the most was THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. I wanted to be a comedy writer after seeing how much fun they all had on that show. Aw, who am I kidding? I wanted Laura Petrie. But comedy writing did seem like a cool profession.

People think of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW as a sophisticated comedy and it certainly was. But the show also featured plenty of inspired slapstick. For all his many gifts, Dick Van Dyke is a truly brilliant physical comedian. And Mary Tyler Moore ain't bad either.

Here's a montage from "THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW REMEMBERED" that aired in 1994. You'll marvel at this.

30 comments:

LouOCNY said...

Check him out busting moves - at 89! - in this recent video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoPugqYMISM

Terrence Moss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Terrence Moss said...

Best. Sitcom. Ever.

Mike Barer said...

Glad that DVD is still around, we've lost so many of the TV people of that era.

Michael said...

Sophisticated and brilliant, but above all funny. I've read that sometimes Carl Reiner would put in the script, "Dick does five minutes," and let him go to it.

You also can find online the episode where Jay C. Flippen played his onetime boss, who then inspires a routine in which Alan Brady is to give a lecture on why slapstick comedy isn't funny. Dick's work on that is incredible.

Also, the other choice for the role of Rob Petrie was ... Johnny Carson. It's really interesting to ponder how television history and even American history might have been different ....

H Johnson said...

Thanks, that is a great montage. I wonder if you caught the recent episode of 'The Middle' with both Dick and his brother Jerry? Still great timing and Dick is still dancing.

Aloha

blinky said...

A quibble with Terence Moss' comment.
Correctly stated:
BEST. SITCOM. EVER!

Vince said...

I've read that sometimes Carl Reiner would put in the script, "Dick does five minutes," and let him go to it.

Having seen a great many Dick Van Dyke Show scripts, and I can assure you that Van Dyke's physical bits and routines were tightly scripted and very detailed.

ScottyB said...

True. But I find Jerry Van Dyke a bit more interesting, tho.

tb said...

That montage didn't include my favorite one, they show it all the time in promos, he's got the hat and he's practically doing the moonwalk, just so limber, he's like a marionette

Barry Traylor said...

One of my favorite shows, then and now.

Oat Willie said...

Clip doesn't show my favorite moment, when Dick takes a slug of grape soda after a mouthful of cake. "But it's a Milk Cake!"

iconoclast59 said...

I'm surprised the montage didn't include a clip from the episode "The Curious Thing About Women," with the classic scene of Laura wrestling with an inflatable boat.

Apologizing to Rob, Laura says, "I guess I'm just a...pathological 'snoopy-nose'!" Rob replies, "Everybody's a 'snoopy-nose.' We all like to know what's inside things." Then, they gave each other a little kiss. In today's sitcom world, that last sentence would be accompanied by suggestive leering, and Laura would've said something like, "Oh, I have something I'd like you to check out the inside of!" (Yeah, bad grammar and all.)

Gerry said...

Thanks Ken!

Jay said...

Hey Ken!
I'm 34 years old, who JUST discovered the Dick Van Dyke Show maybe about five or six years ago (growing up I didn't have cable and local stations stopped airing the reruns way before my time). I think I've now seen every single episode (thank you, TV Land and MeTV). I have been an aspiring TV comedy writer for waaaaay too long at this point, and yet now I too dream of having Rob Petrie's life, both professional and personal.

Have you heard about this rumor/story...? Back when Leno was still doing his Tonight Show, he and his writing staff were pitching jokes for that night's usual laugh-a-minute monologue. Around the time Van Dyke married his much-younger wife, Leno pitched this topic to his staff to see if they could make any joke out of it. Apparently, one of his junior writers thought Leno was trying to be funny (not unheard of) by saying "Dick Van Dyke", thinking it was a crude sex joke. It took Leno and his entire staff to convince this "comedy writer" that Dick Van Dyke was an actual person, and that was his actual name, and that he has influenced literally generations of comedians since the 1960s.

I think I heard this on some podcast or read about it on some stupid online news site, but you know what? Sounds plausible, considering who's involved. If I were a sitcom or late night showrunner, knowing who Dick Van Dyke is would be a requirement for working for me.

Pat Reeder said...

Just curious: I wrote a comment last night about the DVD show and its huge influence on both my wife (Laura) and me. There was certainly nothing offensive in it (other than maybe the star's name), it wasn't anonymous, and I know it posted. But now, it's gone without a trace. This has happened before. Is this a software glitch, or did I do something to get banned from this site that I'm not aware of?

MikeK.Pa. said...

I remember reading that Morey Amsterdam was a human joke machine and would ad lib constantly with a different joke each take, cracking up the cast.

RCP said...

This was a treat - thanks for posting this, Ken.

Ken Levine said...

Pat,

I have absolutely no idea how that happened. I did not delete it. When I do delete things it's indicated. Please repost if you can. Sorry for the glitch. Trust me it's nothing personal. I love your comments.

Carole said...

Ken,

Today's comments prompted me to ask a question I've been meaning to ask for some time:

How prevalent are ad-libbing and improvisation on sitcoms?

I've read comments, mainly by comedians who have done sitcoms, implying that they just pretty much threw away the script and went out there and ad-libbed their way through the show. And I've heard suggestions before that Dick Van Dyke's scripts never wrote out any of his physical bits. That they just offered the barest suggestion of what he was to do, then let him make it all up once he got out there. Someone has commented more than once on this blog that they have heard that on CHEERS, George Wendt and John Ratzenberger improvised a lot of their Norm and Cliff dialogue. Likewise, I know people who insist that Niles' "silent bit" on the Valentine's episode of FRASIER was all ad-libbed by David Hype Pierce. That they just provided him with a few props and turned him loose to do whatever he wanted with them.

Given how tight production schedules are on sitcoms, it's really hard to imagine that there'd be much room to risk somebody just going out and winging it and hoping whatever they said or did clicked with audiences. Not to mention that it wouldn't seem very fair to the other actors to expect them to go out there and not have a clue what to expect someone else to say or do.

It also seems more than a little bit of a slight to writers. The implication that their contribution is so trivial that anything an actor wants to say or do out there in front of the cameras is bound to be funnier.

I also get the impression that, particularly with physical stuff and slapstick routines, people just have a really hard time conceiving how that kind of thing is written out and detailed in scripts.

But I could be completely wrong here. Totally off-base. Since you're the guy with actual hands-on sitcom experience, both writing and directing them, I'd like to ask you, if you don't mind, how prevalent ad-libbing and improvisation are on sitcoms.

Thanks,

Carole

Michael said...

Vince, thank you. I stand (or sit) corrected.

There is a great joke about Dick Van Dyke's name, but that's another story.

The show also deserves credit for being path-breaking in a lot of ways. It did show both home life and work life when most sitcoms did one or the other. It could be sexist, but it also showed a single (albeit looking) working woman (Sally) and a housewife who had her own set of talents. And the episode "That's My Boy?" about whether Rob and Laura brought home the wrong baby took a lot of guts.

Pat Reeder said...

Thanks, Ken. I don't know what's making my comments disappear. But I'll post this one again. Then watch the original reappear and make me look like one of those guys who tells the same story twice.

What I said was that when my wife Laura and I were both kids, growing up 90 miles apart near Dallas, a local TV show aired reruns of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" every day after school. We each watched it religiously in our separate homes. As with thousands of other guys, it made me want to be a comedy writer married to a hot chick named Laura. I actually accomplished both dreams. Meanwhile, Sally Rogers and Laura Petrie made Laura want to grow up to be a comedy writer and musical performer married to a tall, goofy comedy writer named Rob. So aside from me being named Pat (which is pretty close), we both got what we wanted as kids. Plus we now have the entire DVD Show on DVD. I also just ordered an autographed copy of Carl Reiner's latest memoir and requested that it be inscribed, "To Pat & Laura, the real-life Rob & Laura."

Our obsession with the DVD Show goes so deep that when I once did a free-lance writing job in NYC for a few months, I chose New Rochelle as a home base, just so I could share Rob Petrie's return address. Unfortunately, it turned out I couldn't rent 148 Bonny Meadow Road, so I had to settle for a mailbox.

Johnny Walker said...

Just to add to the discussion about the misconception that Carl Reiner wrote "Dick goes for five minutes" in scripts, Reiner actually talked about this in an interview.

One of his writers DID actually attempt to write such a thing in a script he submitted. Reiner's response was classic: "I could get the guy at the front gate to write this!"

Reiner always carefully scripted all of that stuff, as he saw it as his job to do so.

Johnny Walker said...

(Not that that detracts from Van Dyke's physical comedy talents, of course. He's up there with the greatest -- how he could appear to be so effortlessly flexible and limber is astonishing to me. Sometimes you just have to rewind to take in what he just managed to pull off with apparently no effort whatsoever. How someone so tall could be so capable in that way is beyond me. Possibly my favourite physical comedian of all time.)

Jim, Cheers Fan said...

There is a great joke about Dick Van Dyke's name, but that's another story.
Mary Tyler Moore told that joke (assuming I know what joke you're talking about) on Letterman. Dave was ... surprised.

MikeN said...

In the picture which one is Dick Van Dyke?

Lawrence said...

Garry Marshall told a story similar to Johnny's, about how when he and Jerry Belson wrote their first DICK VAN DYKE SHOW script, at one point they had a stage direction in it that read something like, "Rob puts on his hat funny." Reiner told them that wasn't acceptable. That they had to be very specific about what Rob did in putting on his hat that made it funny.

It's kind of hard to picture how stage directions work for lengthy physical comedy routines. I've seen an early LUCY SHOW episode which has to do with Lucy substituting for someone as percussionist with a symphony orchestra. The orchestra scene takes up pretty much the second half of the show, and there's not one word of dialogue in it. It's all pantomime and physical comedy, which means the second half of the script was page after page of stage directions. It's just hard to get a mental picture of writing out that kind of detailed action. Visualizing in your head how the scene works and then getting that mental visualization down on paper in a way that's specific about what the actors are to do, but still leaving them room to work.

Michael said...

Jim, that's the joke, although that isn't where I heard it the first time.

The point about the physical comedy of Dick Van Dyke and Lucille Ball goes to a point involving someone from Ken's other life, Lindsey Nelson, the great sports broadcaster. He emceed the first Mets old-timers game in 1962 and one of the Hall of Famers, Bill Terry, the old New York Giant, complimented him. Lindsey thanked him but said the press office put together all of the information. Terry said, yes, but you had to DO it. Lindsey said that hit home with him.

Well, Madelyn Pugh (later Martin and Davis) reportedly did a lot of the physical gags first to see if they would work before Lucy did them. Whatever her writers came up with, and whatever Carl Reiner--and Marshall and Belson, and Persky and Denoff, et al.--came up with for Dick Van Dyke, they had to DO it. I mentioned that Johnny Carson had been considered for the role of Rob Petrie; while he was enormously talented, I don't think Reiner would have even thought of writing the physical sequences for him. And, lest we forget, Reiner played the role in the pilot, and Sheldon Leonard told him he was the wrong person to play himself!

Brian Phillips said...

At 89, he can still cut a step.

http://www.mrctv.org/blog/hilarious-89-year-old-man-dances-his-wife-folk-music

Brian Phillips said...

Charles Butterworth, was greatly appreciated for his comedic skills and scriptwriters loved him, too. Occasionally, someone would put something in a script that read, "...and Charlie gives him a look, like only Charlie can do" and he would say, "I can't do this! I need material, just like everyone else!" (according to Max Wilk's book on the Wit and Wisdom of Hollywood)