Created on: November 21, 2011 Last Updated: January 30, 2013
Before he beat out Johnny Carson for the lead role as Rob Petrie in The Dick Van Dyke Show, the lanky baritone was on his way to garnering Broadway's 1961 Tony Award as Best Supporting Actor in a Musical for "Bye, Bye Birdie.”
Richard Wayne Van Dyke was a born on December 13, 1925 in West Plains, Missouri. His father Loren traveled frequently as a salesman for the Sunshine Biscuit Company and his mother Hazel was often alone at home with her two sons, Dick and Jerry, before the family moved to Danville, Illinois. There, the boys grew up under the watchful eye and helpful guidance of their grandfather.
In his autobiography, "My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business," (Crown Publishing NY, 2011) he reflects on his childhood in Danville with appreciation for the good humor and conservative values with which his family approached life. Measuring more than 6 ft at an early age, Van Dyke recalls he felt shy and used his affinity for the funny side to compensate for his awkwardness; that seems a common thread in the biographies of many comedians. He became active in the high school drama club and community theater productions, where his good natured humor helped him to connect with people. At the age of 16, he spun records and announced the news for a Danville, Illinois radio station.
After high school, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1944 and hoped to become a pilot, but did not meet the weight requirements. Instead, he was assigned as an announcer on the U.S. Air Force radio show called “Flight Time.” After two years of service he returned home and opened an advertising agency, but within a year, he was bankrupt. With few resources, he married his first wife Margie Willett in 1948 with whom he had four children in the first ten years of their union, and while he struggled to find work as an actor in their early years together, he supported his growing family by hosting several game shows in the 1950s.
Then along came his big break on Broadway in 1960 as the lanky hero of "Bye-Bye Birdie." It was made into a motion picture in 1963. The Disney studio was impressed with his opinions about what makes good family entertainment. His good fortune continued as he assumed what he considers his most memorable role - that of Bert the Chimney Sweep in the film "Mary Poppins" in 1964 and then starred in the 1968 movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Unfortunately, not all success is sweet, and in 1970 he and his wife Margie separated.
While he was getting
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