On this day in 1925, Dick Van Dyke, the quintessential “nice guy” actor who would become known for his performances in such movie classics as Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as the popular 1960s TV sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, is born in West Plains, Missouri.
Van Dyke, who was raised in Danville, Illinois, served in the military during World War II and in the 1950s took various acting jobs and hosted a series of TV game shows. In 1960, he starred on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie, a role which earned him a Tony Award. The following year, he signed on to play comedy writer Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The show was the brainchild of the writer-director-producer Carl Reiner, who reportedly based the sitcom on his own experiences working as a comedy writer for Sid Caesar. The Dick Van Dyke Show featured a strong ensemble cast that included Mary Tyler Moore as Rob’s wife Laura, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as Rob’s colleagues Buddy and Sally and Larry Matthews as the Petries’ son, Ritchie. In the show’s opening credits, Van Dyke was famously seen tripping over an ottoman in the family’s home in New Rochelle, New York, where, in keeping with the conservative broadcasting standards of the time, Rob and Laura Petrie slept in separate beds. After The Dick Van Dyke Show went off the air in 1966, Mary Tyler Moore starred in her own successful TV sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which originally aired from 1970 to 1977.
In addition to his TV success in the 1960s, Van Dyke appeared in a string of movies, including the 1963 big-screen adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie, which co-starred Ann-Margret and Janet Leigh. The following year, he appeared as the charming chimney sweep Bert in Walt Disney’s movie musical Mary Poppins, which featured Julie Andrews, in her feature film debut, as the umbrella-toting super nanny. The film, now a beloved cinematic classic, earned 13 Academy Award nominations and took home five Oscars, including Best Actress for Andrews. Though Van Dyke received positive reviews for his singing and dancing, critics skewered him for his bad English accent. In 1968, Van Dyke had another hit movie musical with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in which he plays the eccentric inventor Caratacus Potts, who develops a magic car. The film’s screenplay was co-written by Roald Dahl, the best-selling author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
From 1971 to 1974, Van Dyke starred in The New Dick Van Dyke Show, playing a Phoenix TV talk show host. The actor, who in the 1970s went public with his struggle with alcoholism, was featured in a series of made-for-TV movies and did guest appearances on various TV shows before he was cast in another successful series, the medical crime drama Diagnosis Murder. The show, which originally aired from 1993 to 2001, also featured Van Dyke’s son Barry Van Dyke.
After half a century in show business, Van Dyke continues to act. Among his recent movie credits are Curious George (2006) and Night at the Museum (2007).