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My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir Paperback – May 15, 2012
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A Letter from Author Dick Van Dyke
It was nighttime, February 1943, and I was standing next to my mother, thinking about the war in Europe. I had a very good relationship with my mother, so there's no need for any psychoanalysis about why I was thinking of the war. The fact was, we had finished dinner and she was washing the dishes and I was drying them, as was our routine. My father, a traveling salesman, was on the road, and my younger brother, Jerry, had run off to play.
“In my opinion, ‘Luck’ has little to do with Dick Van Dyke’s life. It is, rather, his innate kindness and talent that have had an extraordinary effect in shaping the man. And what a fascinating self-portrait he’s given us in this book.”
—Mary Tyler Moore
“From the time I worked with Dick on the movie Bye Bye Birdie, I have admired his many talents, not the least of which is the joy and enthusiasm he shares with audiences. I’m a big fan of his……and his book.”—Ann-Margret
“Van Dyke tells a wonderful story about himself and his times. And—in an often surprsingly relevant manner—our times. We’ve always liked the performer—it’s hard not to like Dick Van Dyke—but this will will make you admire him.”--Playbill
From the Hardcover edition.
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I've never seen any of his movies and never watched any of his subsequent TV shows, but I loved "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and I agree with him that it was a rare combination of writing talent and brilliant casting. It's part of American social history and deservedly so.
I was interested in his stories of his life in the entertainment industry. Although he avoids overt criticism, he's a shrewd observer of what goes into the making of television and movies. He tends to focus on those whom he can praise, but he says a lot with what he doesn't say. Entertainment is a tough business and it's impossible to say why some people "make it" and others don't. I suspect it's less talent than persistence, but that's true of everything, isn't it?
If he's guarded in talking about his professional life, he's a clam when he talks about his personal life. Of course, even a celebrity has a right to privacy, but a memoir is supposed to be about the person who writes it. He starts out with a frank discussion of the fact that he was conceived out of wedlock, but that's one of the few times I felt he was leveling with his reader. And, let's face it, premarital sex isn't likely to raise many eyebrows now.
His sole comment about his wife's miscarriage of her first pregnancy is an off-hand remark that everything happens for a reason. On the other hand, his story of the show-biz chimp who was abused by his trainer and then abandoned in a zoo when he was no longer a meal ticket is one of the most poignant, heart-felt things I've ever read. I found it fascinating that he was willing to show his emotional side when discussing an animal, but not when talking about his loved ones.
I don't think his caginess is a conscious effort to protect himself. He's blunt about his struggle with alcoholism and it makes for absorbing reading. Every alcoholic's story is unique, but the same. He's open about the tragedy of his 14-year-old granddaughter's death and it's inevitable effects on him and his family. His deep conviction that he has a responsibility to "go public" with matters that might help others is note-worthy and commendable.
Although he maintained a squeaky-clean public image, his long-term marriage to his childhood sweetheart ended in a Hollywood cliche - the successful husband leaving his ageing wife for a younger, more glamorous woman. He stresses that he provided for his first wife financially and that he remained close to his children and grandchildren from that marriage. I think he's right to be proud of those things.
I was interested in his relationship with Michelle Triola of the famous "palimony" law suit. He paints a much more nuanced picture of a woman whom the press portrayed as a greedy, vindictive bitch. Even there, the story has some strange gaps and inconsistencies. Michelle lost her $3.6 million community property suit against Lee Marvin, but was awarded a $104,000 judgement which was later reversed. He claims she was devastated because she saw herself as representing women who've been used and tossed aside. He says that the money itself was never an issue, but he gave her $104,000 of his money (a move to which his wife understandably objected.) Seems an odd way to show support if the money wasn't really an object for her.
I got this book as a Daily Deal and was thrilled to be able to buy it for $2. It's a fun read and chock fill of entertaining stories. Van Dyke himself comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful, likable man, although not perfect. However, as a memoir it falls short because of his unwillingness to dig deep and reveal himself. That's not dirt, Dick. It's an autobiography.
Based on the conversational tone, I'm assuming he dictated much, if not all, of the book. There are places where, as an editor, I would have trimmed and snipped a bit...and other places I would have had him go further in-depth. For instance, while I came away feeling he was proud of the work he did with Mary Tyler Moore on 39 episodes a year for five or six years, and in spite of the fact they shared an on-screen chemistry unlike any TV show before or since, he seemed more passionate about his relationships with Carl Reiner, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie. Even Jerry Paris got more props than Mary.
I'm not a Hollywood gossip hound. Perhaps there is/was some animosity between them unknown to me...perhaps he was being diplomatic. I came away feeling he had tossed her from his Christmas card list many years ago. And unfortunately, this book reveals little.
Dick comes off as a really nice guy who is pretty darn honest about his human faults and weaknesses. He is fairly honest about his alcoholism, but like most addicts, I felt he probably took some liberties with the truth. (This is a memoir, not a confessional.) And when I say he is a nice guy, he seems deeply devoted to family and friends...and appears to go out of his way not to say a bad thing about anybody in a town famous for eating its young. You'd think after almost 70 years in show biz, he'd want to get in one last shot at somebody!
Now into his 90s, sounding hale and hearty, I began to wonder if Dick Van Dyke will live forever. After watching a few episodes of his classic show on Hulu last weekend, I'm convinced he will.
Dick...if you're reading this...thank you for helping the world put on a happy face. You are a treasure!