Monday, May 23, 2011

Dick Van Dyke: My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business" and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang - Book and Movie Review by Robert Steven Mack

I know that I was about four or five years old when I watched and enjoyed those Disney movies down in the basement of our Michigan home in Ann Arbor. Countless times I would switch on that little tv with those box-like VHS's piled up on top and I would sing and dance along with one of my favorite Mary Poppins’ tunes. A lot has changed as we went through that decade. VHS's have left the main home video product line to be replaced first with DVDs, and then with such up-to-date contraptions as the i-pod or the i-pad. Yet, I still have that little tv and still have those VHS's piled up on top of eacher other. Although there are way more than when I started. I still dance and sing along with Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. One of my biggest role models, I thought and still do think of Mr. Van Dyke as one of the greatest actors and dancers who ever came to make me laugh. In fact, it was he that inspired me to become a performer myself. As the years go by I learn more and more about Hollywood and its performers and have allowed myself to acquire and collect ever-more titles from local library sales. For example, I was eight years old when I first saw Mr. Van Dykes classic sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-1966). And it was only a little time later that I saw him in his first film role as Albert Peterson in “Bye Bye Birdie.” In fact I was even lucky enough to see him twice in person. The first was many years ago at Disneyland when he made a speech. I only saw him from afar. The second time was quite recently actually: It was at Barnes and Noble at the L.A. Grove for a book signing and was just in time to walk down the hall with him as he was exiting the signing area. I can say just from watching that he never looked better. He joked with the audience and was very kind to everyone. From that event I got a signed copy of Mr. Van Dyke's memoir “Dick Van Dyke: My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business.” Now that I read his autobiography and I know so much more about his life, I can only assert that his charmingly elegant nimble body and his multi-talented personality will never grow old.
Dick Van Dyke’s CV
Dick Van Dyke was born in 1925 in West Plains, Missouri and reached success when he starred in the Broadway musical “Bye Bye Birdie.” In 1963 he would reprise his role from the original stage production on film with Ann-Margret and Janet Leigh. From 1961 to 1966 he would star in the family sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” while also in 1964 he would play Bert in Walt Disney's Mary Poppins - a signature family classic. When the show ended in 1966 he turned to the role of an eccentric inventor who invents a magical car based on an Ian Fleming children's novel “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” - another family favorite. Other film, stage and tv credits include “What A Way to Go!” (1964), “The Art of Love” (1965), “Lt. Robin Crusoe”, U.S.N., Never A Dull Moment (1968), “The Comic” (1969), “Some Kind of Nut” (1969), “Cold Turkey” (1971) “The New Dick Van Dyke Show” (1971-1974), “Van Dyke & Company” (1976), “The Music Man” (Broadway revival-1980), “The Van Dyke Show” (1988), “Diagnosis: Murder” (1993-2001), “The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited” (2004), “Night at the Museum” (2006), “Curious George” (2006), “Night at the Museum 2: Battle at the Smithonian” (2009), and many more! Throughout his career he has been honored with A World Theater Award, a Tony Award, a Grammy, and four Emmy Awards.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a 1968 family musical starring the impeccable Dick Van Dyke, the lovely Sally Ann Howes, and the comical Lionel Jeffries. Produced by Albert R. Broccoli (James Bond movies) and directed by Ken Hughes the film is about an eccentric widowed inventor Caracicutus Potts (Dick Van Dyke) who invents a magical, flying, floating car that leads him, his children, and his lady companion (Sally Ann Howes) on a magical fun-filled adventure in a far-off land. Despite an arguably poorly-developed plot - perhaps because much of the original plot was changed from the actual Ian Fleming novel-such as their names being Pott instead of Potts, and Caracticuses wife Mimsie Pott. Another was that the original adventure involved gangsters, not pirates and castles, and that Mr. Pott had for much time served in the navy. Yet, this is a fun-filled tuneful merry musical with an excellent score by the Sherman Brothers! I have always enjoyed this happy clean movie whistling its marvelous tunes whilst I bike ride. This includes its energetic title song that was nominated for an Oscar. I shall continue to do so for many years to come!

Dick Van Dyke's Memoir
As I mentioned before, I was at the Grove for a book signing recently. More precisely, my dad was at the actual signing and got the book autographed for me while my mother and I fought through L.A. traffic coming from my rehearsal of one of my plays. Luckily, I arrived just in time to walk down the hall with him and was happy to have acquired Dick Van Dyke's new show business memoir “Dick Van Dyke: My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business.” I started reading it right away in the dimly-lit car as we drove home from the exhilarating event and was up the rest of the night and continued the next morning; I could not easily put that book down. Yet, as my busy school week went by I had no time to continue one of the most fascinating books of my life. Finally I read on and finished the book on Saturday. Immediately after I was done I shared some facts and memories from the book with my mother and father – like, for example, the time an earthquake hit while he was doing his nightclub act, or the time Mr. Van Dyke's car broke down on the highway and a dozen fans, policeman, and auto repair men offered him a lift, or requested an autogragh,or introduced themselves as dancers and had Dick brush up their act. My parents, who also admire Mr. Van Dyke, enjoyed listening to my newly acquired intelligence about this extra-ordinary man. The book gave me a wonderful factual personal insight on Mr. Van Dyke's career, and also on his personal problems such as home life, and his struggle with his addiction to cigarettes and alcohol. Yet, this memoir is one of the cleanest showbiz autobiographies I've ever read. “Cuss” word were few and were placed in exactly the right places.

Upon reading his book, I come away with the impression that Mr. Van Dyke is humble and modest in his writing as he never attributed himself to being famous or talented – despite the fact that he did mention once that he was never very good at handling fame. This book is genuinely insightful with humorous remarks and sorrowful moments. He has given us nothing but the truth and has given credit to those who deserve it. If you want a story on Dick Van Dyke's life, well... he's given it to you!

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Onion John - A Book Review by Robert Steven Mack

I have always maintained the idea that all books can be turned into films. That turned out not to be so.

It was my birthday, and I turned twelve years old. As most birthdays it was an undeniably happy and busy day of action. I got up knowing of the usual festivities but could only hope for an extra good time. It turned out ,however, that during the early morning hours, while my parents were fast asleep, I was to be kept prisoner in my own room - captivated by my wondrous book and movie collection. It may sound dramatic but our tiny tv had been moved into my media room. There were also plenty of books to muse over, and even my tiny little laptop that I am utilizing right at this very second. Sometime later, my aunt dropped by for some breakfast cake and tea in celebration of my birthday. As usual, she decided to spoil me and brought me a whole bag filled with movies plus a picture book on television she got at a library sale. My other presents weren't half bad either. I got puzzles, a DNA set, movies, a book on the art of illusions. My mother, Diana, gave me the book on "Onion John."

"Onion John" is coming-of-age Newbery award winning book about father-son relationships, and is a children's book written in 1959 by Joseph Krumgold. I was unable to read it when I first got it however, (on January 16, 2011) due to my stack of other books impatiently waiting for me to read them: going to my school library and my local library book sale every Saturday and Sunday really has an effect! I later decided to read it for an oral book report that was coming up in my school. What fun! I needed a good captivating book. So at last, sometime in late April I cast my milk and cookies aside (onto the table) and turned to the first page of the book; and this is what I found:

"Onion John" is about Andy Rush, an intelligent seventh grader living in the small town of Serenity. Andy likes living in Serenity. He likes the people, the places, and playing on the Serenity baseball team. His father, Andy Sr., thinks otherwise and already has big career plans for Andy. And this is when Andy meets up with the eccentric town weirdo, Onion John, who speaks in his own mysterious language that no one can understand but Andy Jr.. The two soon become best friends. Andy (and his friends) love to listen to John's stories and hear John play his beat up old fiddle. Andy also enjoys to participate in John's guaranteed Rainmaking ceremony. Most of the parents don't understand Onion John. One grown-up in particular ,Andy Sr., does not like John and is full of prejudices. Andy Sr. does not approve of the kids spending the amount of time with John they have spent. Oddly and rather ironically, Onion John soon befriends Andrew Rush Sr. and that is that. One look at John's shabby dilapidated house and Andy Sr. decides that John needs a complete lifestyle makeover. After getting the whole town involved the first step is to build John a new house, thinking that they are doing good. Have they ever stopped and thought about John's needs, they may have realized that John does not want to be changed...

"Onion John" is an excellent story of friendship, the power of the will, and growing up. The towns people tried to change Onion John's ways (including change his rather peculiar onion only diet) because they thought they were helping him. In fact, they were destroying him. The captivating story is topped of by the brilliant writing and backed-up by the social themes and morals of a loving but controlling father who only wants the outside world to mirror his inside visions.
The book revolves around three characters: Andy, Andy Sr., and Onion John. In the end,I chose not to use this book for my book report for I could not come up with a decent way to incorporate the language into the envisioned art project - a film I was going to present to the class. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book immensely and I hope that you will, too.

Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thank you for the laughs, Mr. Rooney: Mickey Rooney in Pete's Dragon - A Movie Review by Robert Steven Mack

Pete's Dragon is one of Disney's better remembered musicals of the 1970's for one reason: it's fun for both, adults and children. The story plot sounds like it came out of a comic strip: A run-away orphan boy and his dragon named Elliot seek refuge in the peaceful fishing town of Phashumaqudy. Passamaquadi has kind of a ring to it, don't you think? After Pete and Elliot cause a hammock by destroying everything that comes into their way, he meets up with Nora (Helen Reddy), the local light house keeper... and her dragon-seeing pop played by legendary Mickey Rooney. The plot thickens when a tricky quack (Jim Dale) and his assistant team up with Pete's filthy previous owners. In short, "IT" will be mayhem and fun to any one who watches this! Though there are are some unrealistic plot elements, smaller youngsters will surely react positively towards the lively unforgettable songs and the story of friendship between the boy and hisdragon. Those of my own age and above will respond to the clever intellectual comedy and famed names. It's hard to believe that there has never been a sequel to this film, for I know I would have made one. Luckily, the ending seems to leave that possibility open. I would particularly like to recommend Mickey Rooney in a rumbuntious performance. Mickey Rooney is an invaluable member of Hollywood history, and I would not want to loose him. Copyright 2011 by Robert Steven Mack (all rights reserved!)