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the otto files

where the classics never go out of style

Dear Mr. Van Dyke:

To paraphrase a corny old song, “where do I begin, to tell the story of how much you’ve meant to me?” I just finished reading your memoir entitled “My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business.” As cute as the title is, whatever luck you’ve had would have meant very little, of course, had you not been filled with so much talent. A talent to enjoy yourself and, in so doing, spread joy to literally millions of truly lucky admirers all over the world.

First of all, let me say that the book is fabulous. It is everything a memoir and/or autobiography should be. I’ve just finished reading it for the second time and I feel as though I’ve just had a wonderful visit with a dear old friend. You are, after all, one of my oldest friends. I have known you since I was just a young boy. You’ve always been able to make me feel good whether mugging for the camera, contorting your body into unbelievable pretzel-like shapes or just singing and dancing and making me want to do the same. As I said, as multifaceted a talent as you are, I think your greatest gift is your ability to spread joy. All great performers, of course, do that just by performing at their peak professional level. But you have that quality that can’t be taught.  You have that indefinable charm. Your ability to enjoy what you do and spread that joy through doing was, more than likely, given to you at birth. What a grand gift.

One of the greatest lessons in your book is the example of persistence. So many people think that most performers are “overnight successes.” The current culture with its slew of annoying reality talent shows only perpetuates that myth. Your story is, of course, closer to the truth of how great stars become great stars – they work their tails off! Yours is one of those great stories where you pursued an entertainment career for over 15 years before achieving “overnight success.” I recently wrote an article about the late singer, Frankie Laine, and his story of persistence is quite similar to yours. He, too, worked for over 15 years at his profession before gaining recognition and success in his mid-thirties.

I’m not old enough to have seen you in the Broadway production of “Bye Bye Birdie” but the movie is a favorite. You’re terrific in it, as you are in just about everything you’ve ever done, and the cast is top-notch although I would have loved to have seen Kay Medford recreate her stage role as your mother in the film. While “Bye Bye Birdie” is a terrifically fun Hollywood musical, you won me over when I was very young with “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

I was born in the middle of the show’s original run on CBS but thanks to the brilliance of the writing and the performances, the show went almost immediately went into syndication. I remember very clearly watching the show in our family room when I was about six years old. We had an ottoman like the one in the opening credits of the show and I would constantly trip over the thing to recreate your iconic entrance into the Petrie living room. In fact, over the years I think I wore out about three or four ottomans. Needless to say, my mother was not amused.

I, however, was constantly amused by just about everything I saw on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” The cast was perfect, the setting was fun and, best of all, the show was ALWAYS funny. I think in 158 episodes there are about half a dozen shows that I don’t like. Beyond that, I can watch every other episode to this day and continue to laugh at the antics and adventures of Rob, Laura, Ritchie, Sally, Buddy, Mel, Alan, Millie and Jerry. And believe me, I’ve seen them all multiple times.

I was a TV kid. I’ve always loved television and, thankfully, I’ve always had terrific taste in programming. Besides “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” the other favorite shows of my childhood are “The Andy Griffith Show,” “The Rockford Files,” “Barney Miller” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” Due to the intimacy of the medium, televisions greatest characters tend to become thought of by viewers as “friends.” That’s certainly how I feel about the cast of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” But when a performer sticks around for over 50 years as you have, we begin to think of Dick Van Dyke as our friend as well as Rob Petrie and Dr. Mark Sloan and Bert the Chimney Sweep. When that happens, we share in the joy of their accomplishments and accolades and it’s for that reason I want to congratulate you on your upcoming honor from the Screen Actors Guild. There’s no one more deserving of a Lifetime Achievement honor than you are sir. You have not only worked a lifetime perfecting your craft but have given people like myself a lifetime of happiness and entertainment through your work.

The Italians have a saying, “Cent’anni,” which roughly means may you have a hundred healthy years. In your case, may you have a hundred healthy and happy years and may you continue to entertain us going forward as you have done so brilliantly in our/your past.

Thank you for putting a happy face on all of us who have been enriched by your talent.

P.S. The SAG Awards will be shown on TNT and TBS this coming Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

 

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