While most people think of Dick Van Dyke as a tv star, we here at Classic Movie Chat vastly prefer to think of him in terms of his big screen output. He did, after all, star in some of the top films of the 1960s.
An argument can easily be made that Van Dyke was at his peak then, a nimble and droll performer whose movies during the decade include some of the most durable titles ever. In other words, there definitely was a classic movie title or two in the mix.
Just to review, Van Dyke, who will be 90 in December, has rolled up more than 70 movie and tv credits over nearly 50 years of performing, most conspicuously on tv where he was one of the mediums most appealing stars. Be that as it may, we still insist on confining our focus today largely to his movie work.
He is, of course, known for his energetic movie performance in 1963’s Bye-By Birdie, repeating the role he originated on Broadway in the musical that established his stardom. Then, there is the 1964 Walt Disney classic Mary Poppins (his fake semi-cockney accent is still cherished by U.K. audiences) and 1968’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Tall from an early age (he was 6-foot-1 before his 10th birthday), Dick’s high-energy performance style includes rubbery facial expressions delivered in almost classic French mime tradition. On the personal side, Van Dyke has been married twice, fought alcoholism in the 1970’s and has retired from show business — several times.
While he partnered smoothly and memorably with Julie Andrews in the wildly popular Mary Poppins, Joe is of the opinion that things did not turn out as well in Birdie.
As mentioned, Van Dyke repeated the role he’d originated on Broadway in the film version of Bye Bye Birdie, although his and Janet Leigh’s superb performances in that venture were overshadowed by the film debut of Ann-Margret. And there was no doubt that director, George Sidney, highlighted the latter in this venture, and gave Van Dyke and Leigh short shrift.
Be that as it may, here are some random bits about Van Dyke:
— What did he and actor Lee Marvin have in common? A woman — Michelle Triola, the former night club singer who famously sued Lee Marvin for “palimony” in the mid-Seventies, and who was Van Dyke’s significant other for three decades until her death in 2009.
— What broke up Van Dyke’s first marriage of over 35 years? Van Dyke’s decision to pay his lover, Michelle Triola, the $104,000 she felt she was due as a result of her “palimony” lawsuit against Lee Marvin. A California Appeals Court had overturned the financial judgement award she had won at Marvin’s expense. Michelle saw the only victory she had won taken away from her. I felt terrible and gave her the money, wrote Van Dyke, who added in his memoirs that this was “the last straw” that ended his first marriage to first wife, Margie Willett.
— Who was the classic movie comedian who most influenced Van Dyke? Stan Laurel. Van Dyke’s memoirs begin with a quote from Laurel and Hardy’s 1938 movie, Block-Heads. Stan: You remember how dumb I used to be? Oliver: Yeah? Stan: Well, I’m better now.