Dick Van Dyke at 98: ‘I’d Love to Play a Few More Crotchety Old Guys’

For Dick Van Dyke, the CBS special “Dick Van Dyke: 98 Years of Magic” was a delightful surprise and also a moment for melancholy. The variety special, which aired in December 2023 around the time of Van Dyke’s 98th birthday, feted its star with recreations of dance numbers from “Mary Poppins” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” It also brought fond reminiscence of the groundbreaking “Dick Van Dyke Show,” which introduced the world to Mary Tyler Moore and set a new standard for sitcoms in the 1960s, winning 15 Emmys over its five-year run.

“I was certainly thrilled with the recreation of some of the dance numbers and song numbers,” Van Dyke told TheWrap of the special. “The whole experience was kind of bittersweet because it made me miss everybody. Everybody that I loved that was gone: Mary and Morey (Amsterdam) and Carl (Reiner) and all that gang — everybody’s gone. I kind of teared up in the middle, and as much as I enjoyed the tribute, it made me think of all of my friends.” A pause. “You can’t replace old friends, unfortunately.”

Even two years shy of his 100th birthday, the legendary actor and comedian has continued to work. He appeared on “The Masked Singer” in 2023 and was nominated this year for a Daytime Emmy Award for a role on “Days of Our Lives.” “Wouldn’t it be funny if I won an Emmy for a soap opera?” Van Dyke said in an interview on May 29, nine days before the ceremony. And sure enough, he did win, giving him a Daytime Emmy to go with his four Primetime Emmys.

Dick Van Dyke: 98 years of Magic
“Dick Van Dyke: 98 years of Magic” (CBS)

Just don’t call him retired. “I’m only retired because nobody hires me,” he said with a laugh. “I’d still love to do something, because I love to keep active. The fact that I’m 98 cuts down on the kind of roles I get offered, but I’d love to play a few more crotchety old guys.”

Here, Van Dyke offers a tour of his 70-plus year career:

Bye Bye Birdie
Janet Leigh and Dick Van Dyke in “Bye Bye Birdie” (Getty Images)

The 1960 Broadway musical won Van Dyke a Tony Award and brought him to the attention of Reiner, who cast him in what became “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” The musical also spawned a 1963 film in which Van Dyke appeared. “I told (director-choreographer) Gower Champion that I didn’t dance,” he recalled. “He said, ‘I’ll teach you,’ and he did. But what kind of disappointed me was the movie version of ‘Birdie.’ They added some songs that I didn’t think were right. They took a really good Broadway musical and Hollywoodized it.”

The Dick Van Dyke Show
Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke and Larry Matthews, “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The sitcom created by Reiner starred Van Dyke as comedy writer Rob Petrie (a character based on and played by Reiner in a pilot that didn’t sell) and Moore as his wife Laura, as well as Amsterdam and Rose Marie as writers Buddy Sorrell and Sally Rogers. “The five years with Mary Tyler Moore and Rose Marie and Morey and Carl Reiner was the best five years ever,” he shared. “Everybody looked forward to coming to work every morning. It was a party because everybody got to contribute. We rewrote every day, kept changing things and making ourselves laugh. I never wanted it to end, but Carl wanted to get into movies.”

Dick Van Dyke Emmys
“The Dick Van Dyke Show” winners at the Emmys, 1964 (Getty Images)

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” won for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Humor, with Van Dyke, Moore, director Jerry Paris and writers Reiner, Sam Denoff and Bill Persky all taking awards as well. “The show won and everybody won,” he said. “It was just great. I have videos of all that, where all of us are jumping up in the air.”

Mary Poppins
Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews in “Mary Poppins” (Getty Images)

Van Dyke played Bert the chimney sweep in the hit Disney musical, with sparkling dance moves and a cockney accent that would become infamous. “We did ‘Mary Poppins’ in between two seasons of ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show,’” he said. And yes, he was worried about the accent. “I knew (the criticism) was coming,” he admitted. “The British are pretty good at letting me off the hook, but Americans still tease me about it.”

Dick Van Dyke in “The Comic” (Getty Images)
Dick Van Dyke in “The Comic” (Getty Images)

Three years after the end of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” Van Dyke and Reiner got back together for a serious film about a silent film comedian fighting depression and alcoholism. “I’ve done a couple of serious movies, but people don’t want to see me be serious,” he said. “I was especially proud of ‘The Comic.’ Carl and I thought it had an authenticity. It’s great to know I had a well-rounded career, even if the public didn’t.”

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” (Getty Images)

Another musical, this 1968 hit was based on a book by James Bond creator Ian Fleming and produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli, who also oversaw the Bond franchise. “It took over a year to shoot, because you can’t find a lot of sun in England,” Van Dyke said. “When I finished, Cubby Broccoli asked me if I wanted to be Bond. I said, ‘Have you heard my British accent?’ And he hung up on me.”

The Morning After
Dick Van Dyke in “The Morning After” (ABC)

Another serious work was this 1974 TV movie about an alcoholic writer on a downward spiral. “To this day, I still have people telling me that it helped them get sober,” said Van Dyke, who talked about his own struggles with alcoholism while promoting the film. “I think opening up about that subject turned out to be a good idea. Other people thought it was wrong, but I think it helped people face it a little more.”

Diagnosis Murder
The “Diagnosis Murder” cast: left to right, Charlie Schlatter, Barry Van Dyke, Dick Van Dyke, Michael Tucci, Victoria Rowell (CBS)

One of Van Dyke’s longest-running jobs was his role as a doctor-turned-detective in this series that ran for 178 episodes between 1993 and 2001 and featured his boy Barry Van Dyke playing the character’s son. “My buddies in comedy said, ‘You don’t wanna do ‘Diagnosis’ — people are not gonna watch you be a detective,’” he said with a laugh. “But I did that for 12 years with my son. At one point, I think I had everybody in my family and all Barry’s kids on that show.”

Mary Poppins Returns
Lin-Manuel Miranda and Dick Van Dyke at the “Mary Poppins Returns” premiere (Getty Images)

Lin-Manuel Miranda took over the chimney sweep role in this 2018 sequel, but Van Dyke got to dance on a desk as a retired bank chairman. “It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It didn’t feel as good as the original, quality-wise. But it was fun doing the work.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews
Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews

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