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!)  

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