My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke
The perspective of a selfless star
While reading this book, I constantly had people coming up to me (having seen Dick Van Dyke hamming it up on the cover) and exclaiming “Oh, I just love him!” Reading his memoir, only serves to reinforce this perception of Dick Van Dyke as a decent man and a talented entertainer. There is a particularly poignant part of the book where as a young man Dick Van Dyke made a very simple decision that he was absolutely not going to be involved in any projects that he would not be completely comfortable watching with his children. In Hollywood, that’s a daring thing. It is always the risky roles, the envelope pushing projects, that can propel an actor into the celebrity stratosphere. But those sorts of things don’t appeal to Van Dyke. He cares about the quality of his work and the legacy that he will one day leave behind. It’s refreshing to read the perspectives of such a selfless star.
On top of being a talented singer, dancer, actor, and comedian, he also has a knack for writing. The emotional honesty he puts into each chapter helps the reader to invest in the story, to get caught up in the drama of whether The Dick Van Dyke Show was going to get cancelled or not, to say “I knew it!” when he reveals that he did have a secret crush on Mary Tyler Moore, and to remember the magic of Walt Disney and Mary Poppins. He was also involved in a number of flops in his time, and he spends an equal amount of time writing about those projects as well. He does it in such a way that it becomes apparent that it doesn’t seem to bother him. He was happy with each learning experience he received and took it all in stride.
He talks about the day that he received a star on Hollywood Boulevard. As they unveiled it for him, he was shocked to find they had forgotten the space in this last name, and the star read Dick Vandyke. He laughed it off and told them he didn’t mind much. That’s the kind of actor he always was. He has been in a number of successful television shows and movies and reading the book, one is constantly reminded of them. “Oh yeah, he was on ‘Scrubs’ that one time” and “Yeah, ‘Diagnosis Murder’ was kind of an awesome show.” I personally had grown up watching The Dick Van Dyke Show on Nick-at-Nite and after finishing the book quickly looked it up on Netflix. It is streaming, and the show stands the test of time of still being funny decades later.
The whole book isn’t one big pat on the back for being a good guy. One of the most memorable sections of the book is when he talks about how he fell in love with another woman, the painful reality of a divorce, and the guilt that consumed him while beginning the affair. He doesn’t make excuses for any of his faults. He explains his reasoning at the time, and it is obvious that he has always done the best he can in life.
Throughout, he is humble about his amazing career, constantly crediting others for any success that he had, and he is candid about being a recovering alcoholic and leaving his wife for another woman. Dick Van Dyke is not someone who got into show business for fame, for money, for notoriety. He became a performer, because he believed he had a calling to entertain others. Even now, well into his 80’s, he goes around to hospitals with his barbershop quartet and sings to sick children. He seems to be the great guy that all of his roles have portrayed him to be.
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