Actor. Born on December 13, 1925, in West Plains, Missouri. The son of a trucking agent, Van Dyke moved with his family to Danville, Illinois, during his childhood. During World War II, he entered the Air Force and served for two years. After his discharge, Van Dyke and a friend opened up an advertising agency in Danville. The business soon went bankrupt, and Van Dyke was forced to look for another line of work.
In 1947, he and another old friend, Philip Erickson, formed a comedy-pantomime act, known first as “The Merry Mutes” and later as “Eric and Van.” They toured the nightclub circuits around the country, meeting with some success, until 1953, when they broke up and Van Dyke began to make solo nightclub appearances. He soon landed a job at a television station in Atlanta, Georgia, where he served as the emcee of two daytime programs, The Merry Mutes Show and The Music Shop.
In 1955, Van Dyke moved to New York City, where he signed a seven-year contract with the CBS TV network. He began by hosting the CBS Morning Show and an evening program, Cartoon Theatre. In the summer of 1958, after the network turned down his repeated requests for his own daytime show, Van Dyke asked to be released from his contract. He became a regular on The Andy Williams Show and Pantomime Quiz, both on ABC, and in 1959 he acted as the emcee of NBC’s Laugh Line.
Van Dyke made his Broadway debut in 1959 in The Girls Against the Boys, but his real break came in 1960, when he co-starred in the Broadway musical Bye, Bye, Birdie. He won a Tony Award for his performance and in 1963 made his feature film debut in the hit movie version of the play. By that time, however, he was already well known to audiences as the star of his very own CBS sitcom, The Dick Van Dyke Show, which began airing in 1961. As the comedy writer and dependable family man Rob Petrie, Van Dyke charmed fans (and exasperated his on-screen wife, Mary Tyler Moore) with his good-natured but bumbling personality. The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran until 1966, was extremely successful and was a fundamental step towards the modern notion of a TV sitcom. For his part, Van Dyke won two Emmy Awards for Best Actor, in 1964 and 1965.
After the success of his sitcom and his second feature film (he appeared as Burt the Chimney Sweep in the classic 1964 Disney musical Mary Poppins, opposite Julie Andrews) Van Dyke had become a beloved, familiar face to legions of fans, young and old alike. In the years following the cancellation of The Dick Van Dyke Show, however, he failed to find the kind of success he had previously enjoyed, either on TV or in the movies. Some of his films, including Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), and Cold Turkey (1971) met with a certain measure of popularity, but others, like 1971’s The Comic, were decided failures. A new version of his sitcom, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, aired from 1971 to 1974, but failed to recapture the magic of its predecessor.
Personal struggles most certainly contributed to the comic’s career downturn. In 1974, Van Dyke shocked fans and friends alike by announcing that he was an alcoholic, and that he had been battling the disease for years. In a rare and moving dramatic performance, Van Dyke played an alcoholic in the 1974 TV movie The Morning After, on ABC. In 1978, he again stunned those close to him by separating from his wife of 30 years, Marjorie.
Van Dyke continued to struggle professionally throughout the late 1970s and 1980s, but made a modest resurgence with dramatic roles in several TV movies: Drop-Out Father (CBS, 1982), and the syndicated Strong Medicine (1986). In 1993, at the age of 68, Van Dyke began his starring turn in his most successful TV venture in years, the CBS drama series Diagnosis Murder. In 2000, at a gala tribute for The Dick Van Dyke Show creator Carl Reiner, Van Dyke announced his retirement from television.
Van Dyke has two sons, Christian and Barry, and two daughters, Stacey and Carrie. Barry has appeared with his father in Diagnosis Murder, as has Van Dyke’s younger brother, Jerry, a former nightclub comedian who appeared on the popular sitcom Coach. Van Dyke lives with his longtime companion, Michelle Triola Marvin, in Malibu.
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