Dick Van Dyke is one of the most beloved movies and television stars of all time. The Dick Van Dyke Show and movies like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins. He stars in some of the most memorable roles of the last 60-plus years. His famous parts are from decades ago. He continues to sing, act, and dance over the years, providing entertainment for several generations of fans.
There’s much more to Van Dyke’s life than the roles he’s so well-known for though. In this video, we’re going to look at some things you probably never knew about Dick Van Dyke’s life. Make sure you watch until the end to learn the shocking decision he made at the age of 95.
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Dick Van is born on December 13, 1925, in West Plains, Missouri, to a salesman father and a stenographer mother. His family was devoutly Presbyterian and he served as a deacon in his church as a teenager. He considered becoming a minister at one point but eventually decided on a different career path.
Van Dyke leaves high school in 1944. His senior year, to join the Air Force but denies enlistment several times because he is underweight. He enters for service as a radio announcer and then transfers to Special Services. Entertaining troops in the continental United States.
He loved being a radio announcer but didn’t think he had a future in the entertainment industry. His dream was to become a television announcer but he thought his chances were so slim that he didn’t take it seriously.
Instead, he went home to Danville, Illinois after the war and opened his own advertising agency. But the agency shut its doors after a year because he couldn’t find enough business. After the agency failed, he started looking for opportunities to perform again.
His transition to a TV and film star didn’t happen immediately. After leaving the world of advertising, he and a friend joined up to create a pantomime act. They called themselves The Merry Mutes and lip-synced to songs in nightclubs, with comedic elements added to the show. They traveled around the country performing but Van Dyke still didn’t know if he could turn it into a career.
The Merry Mutes performed from 1947 to 1953, when he started working on television, appearing as the host of various game shows.
In the early 1960s, he decided to try his hand at musical theater. He needed to make some money and figured it couldn’t hurt to try out. After landing a small part in The Girls Against the Boys, he decided to go for a part in Bye Bye Birdie. The problem was, he had no dance experience and the audition required him to dance.
He got up and sang a song from Music Man and did a little soft shoe, which was enough to land him the role of Albert Peterson. Fortunately, it turned out he had a knack for dancing. “It was like flying, learning those dance steps,” he said of the experience.
In 1961, he landed the starring role as Rob Petrie in the Dick Van Dyke Show, which continued for five seasons. Van Dyke almost missed out on this role though. The writer of the show, Carl Reiner, originally wrote the part for himself. He plays the role in the series pilot but the crew realizes he isn’t good for it.
As it turned out, Van Dyke saw that pilot and agreed that Reiner wasn’t right for it. Reiner ended up casting Van Dyke in the role and let him play himself. After he received several scripts from Reiner, which he loved, he dropped out of another pilot he was scheduled to shoot and the rest is history.
Van Dyke started his film career in 1963 in the role of Albert Peterson, the same role he had played on stage, in the film adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie. He wasn’t happy with the end result as he felt the film changed the focus of the story to a different character than the stage musical but it was a success nonetheless.
The following year, he appeared in what is probably his most famous role, the chimney sweep Bert in Disney’s Mary Poppins. That film led to Van Dyke being teased about his embarrassing Cockney accent for decades after. He says that people in the UK especially love to rib him about the accent. He doesn’t think he’ll ever live it down.
His vocal trainer for the movie was Irish and his Cockney accent was no better than Van Dyke’s. Unfortunately nobody on the set of the film ever mentioned it to him so he didn’t realize how inauthentic it really was. Van Dyke once formally apologized for it after winning a BAFTA award, telling the audience he appreciated the opportunity to apologize for the most atrocious Cockney accent in the history of film.
In 1968, Van Dyke starred in another popular role in Disney’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. While that film also took place in Britain, he insisted on using his native accent to avoid the same problem occurring a second time.
Van Dyke continued to star in movies and on television throughout the next 50 years, with roles in popular shows such as The Carol Burnett Show, Matlock, Highway to Heaven, and The Golden Girls. He also played the lead role of Dr. Mark Sloan in Diagnosis: Murder from 1993 to 2001.
Interestingly, in 1991 he became interested in computer animation when he bought a Commodore Amiga computer. He was credited with creating the 3D-rendered effects used on Diagnosis: Murder and The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. His computer-generated images have been on display at SIGGRAPH and he continues to work with modern computer animation tools.
While he is now 95 years old, he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. In his memoir “Keep Moving” he says the love of dance has kept him young. If he’s out shopping and hears music playing, he’ll start to dance, he says. He still likes to sing and gets excited about new ideas he reads in books.
Van says he likes to enjoy himself. He doesn’t think about the way he’s supposed to act at his age, or any age for that matter.
Van Dyke is still finding ways to leave his mark on the world but this time he probably didn’t want the world to know. He has recently been seen handing out wads of cash to job seekers at the Malibu Community Labor Exchange in Los Angeles.
According to its website, the Malibu Community Labor Exchange is a community-created nonprofit that provides a supportive and organized place for the people of Malibu to hire and be hired. It created opportunities for the unemployed to build independence and self-sufficiency through work.
Malibu is a very affluent community that’s known as home to many celebrities. Van Dyke surprised the job seekers with his generosity when he pulled up in his car and started passing out cash to the people waiting in line.
The actor’s generosity couldn’t have come at a better time, with many people experiencing tough times because of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know how much money Van Dyke handed out but photos taken at the scene show some pretty happy recipients. Meeting the beloved actor was probably part of the reason they were so happy.
This isn’t the first time Van Dyke has shown his generosity. He’s worked as a volunteer at LA’s century-old shelter, The Midnight Mission, for over 20 years. He’s also been a spokeperson for the National Reye’s Syndrome Foundation and the Cell Therapy Foundation.
Van Dyke continues to work, having recently worked as a consultant on Disney’s Wandavision show, which pays homage to The Dick Van Dyke Show. He also appeared in the recent film Mary Poppins Returns. Despite being well into his 90s, he did a dance number on the desk in the film. He jumped onto the desk himself, without a stunt double.
Van Dyke’s Instagram profile is full of updates showing a very active person full of life and excitement. While in the middle of the COVID pandemic, he shared a post in October showing his love of Halloween. He credits his wife, Arlene Van Dyke, with making it all work. The gated community where they live became a safe drive-through Halloween party.
He’s not only still active physically, he’s all there mentally too. As he regularly assures fans, he’s still got “all his marbles”. His actions are proof of this statement too. Jeanie Cooke, the executive director of the Danville Area Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, recalls Van Dyke’s visit to his hometown of Danville several years ago. During his visit to the Danville High School, students broke out into the Danville High School fight song. Van Dyke surprised everyone by singing along to every word.
While he may not be as prolific as in his younger days, Van Dyke continues to act at 95. His IMDB profile shows that he’s playing the role of James Archer in Capture the Flag, which is currently in pre-production. If all goes well, we’ll have many more years of enjoyment from Van Dyke’s work.
What’s your favorite Dick Van Dyke role? Let us know in the comments below and be sure to like and subscribe to the Facts Verse channel so you don’t miss any of our upcoming videos.