Dick Van Dyke can’t stop thanking Carl Reiner. And why should he? Not only did Reiner pen the funniest lines of the dancer-comedian’s career for The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961–1966), but he also named that famous sitcom after its relatively unknown star to “make both Dick and the show a household name.”
In his winningly candid new memoir, My Lucky Life in and out of Show Business, Van Dyke presents his Reinerian tutelage as one of the best moves he made on his zigzag road to comedic mastery. But he doesn’t downplay his missteps either: firings, a home eviction, divorce, alcoholism — and that catastrophic Cockney accent in Mary Poppins.
After toying with “get[ting] serious about my life” by becoming a minister (now we know why he was so convincing as Rev. Clayton Brooks in 1971’s Cold Turkey!), the beloved showman manufactured enough of his own luck to win over a chorus of naysayers. They included his TV co-star Rose Marie, who branded Van Dyke “the Six-Foot Tower of Jell-O” for his on-set aversion to conflict, and his own father, a saxophonist-turned-cookie salesman who once “made a surprising confession: He never thought I would amount to much of anything.”
Now 85 — goofy grin, “limber limbs” and manic energy all still intact — Van Dyke embraces his anecdotage in these pages, savoring his role as the “iron man” of the entertainment industry: Diagnosis Murder, the mystery series he headlined on CBS from 1993 to 2001, ran three years longer than The Dick Van Dyke Show.
“My life has been a magnificent indulgence,” concludes “Dorian Van Dyke” (Ben Stiller’s admiring nickname for his co-star in Night at the Museum, 2006). “I have been able to do what I love and share it. Who would want to quit?”
Allan Fallow is the book editor of AARP The Magazine.