Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Don't Trip Over the Ottoman!

I'm a big fan of classic television. When I was a kid, we didn't have a TV for awhile, and the years that we did, we only got PBS. (This is how I became a reader.) So whenever we went on vacation, it was a big treat to watch TV, and my dad took advantage of this excitement to introduce my sister and me to his favorite shows as a kid. We'd plan our evenings around watching Nick at Nite. Does anyone remember how they used to advertise "Mary Tyler Mondays" "Lucy Tuesdays" and so on through the week? I don't remember what the other nights were, but I know we used to race back to the hotel to watch 4 or 5 episodes in a row. 

My all-time favorite is I Love Lucy, but a close second is The Dick Van Dyke Show. And so when I was at the library this weekend and saw Dick Van Dyke's memoir on the bookshelf, I snatched it up. I ended up reading the entire thing that same afternoon/evening. 

It was such a smooth read, and though there weren't a lot of high drama or plot twists, this being a memoir, the pacing was so good that it kept my attention. Dick Van Dyke has lived a long and interesting life. Several times I wondered how he was able to fit all of these events into what he said was a space of a few years. It wasn't all about the show he's best known for, either. He writes about his early years performing vaudevillian acts in clubs and disc jockeying on the radio. He talks about his experiences working on Broadway, learning to dance, and eventually getting noticed by the great choreographer Gower Champion, who cast him in Bye, Bye, Birdie, and Walt Disney, who cast him in Mary Poppins. He speaks very, very highly of both Carl Reiner, who was the writer/ producer of The Dick Van Dyke Show, and of Mary Tyler Moore, his costar. With a light hand and a unique combination of serious and funny, he writes about his philosophies, religion, and politics. He shares of himself in a way that makes you want to sit down with him over coffee and Laurel and Hardy films.

In case you're wondering, he does write candidly about his struggles with alcoholism and his affair with the woman who turned out to be his partner of 35 years. But he doesn't make either of these the focus of his writing. He says right off in the forward that "if you are looking for dirt, stop reading now. I have had some tough times and battled a few demons, but there is nothing salacious here. I may be a Hollywood anachronism... I have tried to write an honest story, with lightness, insight, hope, and some laughs. I have also woven in bits of wisdom... like this, my favorite: You can spread jelly on the peanut butter but you can't spread peanut butter on the jelly."

That same easygoing, comforting voice keeps you company throughout the book, the voice of Rob Petrie, of Albert Petersen, and maybe even a little Bert, without the Cockney. 

If you're a fan of his show, classic television or Hollywood in its heyday, take a "jolly holiday" with Dick Van Dyke, and don't trip over the ottoman!

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