The summer after Mike and I got married, we lived in a house right next door to my parents. As you might imagine, it was quite convenient to be able to just hop fences anytime we needed or wanted anything, including all five seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show.
During those first four months of newlywed life, we gorged ourselves on the fictional lives of Rob and Laura Petrie. Even though we'd both seen many episodes before, they were so much funnier now that we were married (and had all of three weeks' experience).
Even after we were back at school, we kept a few borrowed DVDs in reserve for those stressful nights when we needed to laugh instead of cry. I can even remember making some of our friends watch a favorite episode or two with us (looking back, I don't know if they enjoyed it or not; I was too busy laughing).
I listened to the audio version of this book, which is narrated by Dick Van Dyke himself. Just even hearing his voice brought a smile to his face. He was 85 when he recorded it, but he still sounded just like he did in The Dick Van Dyke Show.
The book is very much a chronological account of his life. He talks about his growing up years in Danville, Illinois, his marriage to Marjorie, the births of their four children, and his career. He is frank and honest about the less-admirable parts of his life (his alcoholism and affair) without sharing every detail. (When I was in the middle of the book, I happened to look at the article about him on Wikipedia and was surprised to see that they'd listed his children in the wrong order and didn't have their birth years correct. It's something I wouldn't have noticed later on, but since I looked at it right after listening to that part of the book, it seemed like a glaring mistake that someone would catch and fix.)
I was fascinated and interested with the first half of the book. He and Marjorie put in some lean years before he landed the starring role in The Dick Van Dyke Show. Hearing about his time on that set was the highlight of the book for me. I recognized every episode he referred to, and it also made me remember some of my favorites (the night when Laura and Rob eavesdrop on their neighbors; the days leading up to Richie's birth; and the time when Rob goes to a different dentist). I also loved hearing about his work on Mary Poppins (we watched this with our kids when we were in San Diego, and it is still such a classic).
But after that, I began to lose interest. He methodically goes through every show and movie he was ever in, and most of his later work I'd never seen and didn't really care about. Early in his career, he said he really wanted to only be in things he'd feel comfortable with his children seeing. I thought that was so admirable . . . until he started describing some of the things he was in during the late 60's and 70's, which didn't exactly sound all that innocent. However, when he was recounting his role in the television series Matlock, he again mentioned this goal of creating family-friendly entertainment, but it seemed like he was only committed to it at certain times.
At any rate, the book began to fall a little flat for me by the end. I started out telling Mike, "You need to listen to this book! You'd really enjoy it," but then reversing my initial endorsement, "Actually, don't waste your time." It wasn't that I felt like I was wasting my time, but I knew Mike would.
I know that, for some people, learning about a celebrity's faults can be quite upsetting and forever ruin their favorite movies. That didn't happen for me at all. Dick Van Dyke isn't perfect, but I didn't go into his memoir expecting him to be so (and I would have been suspicious if he cast himself as such). He made some big mistakes, but he freely acknowledged them and didn't try to make excuses for himself.
And his youthful vibrancy and sense of humor that is so apparent in The Dick Van Dyke Show and Mary Poppins is real. He has a love of life that is simply infectious, and I think it's amazing that, at 90 years old, he's still acting and doing what he loves.
Any other Dick Van Dyke fans out there? What is your favorite role of his? Any hidden gems that I should see?