The dust jacket of this genial memoir depicts a high-stepping Dick Van Dyke in his heyday. But the funny thing about this funny man is that he wasn’t a high-stepper at all. He was a family man, a loyal friend, and a hard worker dedicated to his craft, all of which come across in MY LUCKY LIFE IN AND OUT OF SHOW BUSINESS.
"The book’s title refers to Van Dyke’s self-professed situations: good things seemed to just come his way, with no real planning involved."
One of America’s best-loved performers, Van Dyke had a lot of false starts and hard times when he was starting out, working as a radio announcer as he developed his fledgling comedy chops with a little song and dance along the way.
He got his big break with one of television’s most iconic roles, comedy writer Rob Petrie, on the eponymous show. Along with Mary Tyler Moore and the rest of the cast, the program became an institution and still is wherever classic television shows are rerun. (He notes that one reason for the longevity of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” is that the scripts were written without contemporary early-1960s references that would have dated them.)
Van Dyke has nothing but praise for his fellow performers, which may disappoint some readers looking for dirt. He does share a few improbably off-colored situations --- not of his own doing --- with some actors of note, but for the most part he presents his story with the same philosophy in which he chose his movie roles: he wouldn’t want to be associated with anything his kids (and now grandkids) couldn’t read.
The book’s title refers to Van Dyke’s self-professed situations: good things seemed to just come his way, with no real planning involved. “The Dick Van Dyke Show” was followed by a few other key roles, including television (“The New Dick Van Dyke Show” and the popular “Diagnosis: Murder”) and movies (most notably Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and A Night at the Museum).
But fame didn’t come without a price, and books like this wouldn’t sell if there wasn’t something under the surface. In Van Dyke’s case it was alcoholism, which he eventually overcame. It may come as a shock to some of his fans because there were no outward signs: no DUIs, no drunken brawls, or peccadilloes with starlets (although his long-time marriage to his high school sweetheart would crumble later in life).
One shortcoming is the lack of information about his own family. There’s little mention of his childhood, his parents, or his brother, Jerry. He evens skips over a couple of his children; while he sadly reports an early miscarriage and notes his first- and last-born kids, he neglects to mention the two middle children.
Now well into his 80s, Van Dyke is still in the public eye, finding the occasional role, working as a volunteer in the community, and singing with his buddies in an acapella group.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on August 12, 2011