On October 3, 1961, a brand-new CBS comedy debuted on television. The Dick Van Dyke Show was about a comedy writer named Rob Petrie, who was played by Van Dyke. His beautiful wife, Laura, was played by a young actress named Mary Tyler Moore. Rob’s two comedy co-writers, Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) and Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam), were also on the show.
The sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show was one of the groundbreaking things to come to 1960s television. Although nowadays it may be dated in some angles, much of the show’s humor has remained fresh even to the minds of the current generation of viewers lucky enough to see its reruns. Here are the few fun facts about The Dick Van Dyke Show that you ought to know!
Actor/writer Carl Reiner, who had worked on Caesar’s Hour and Your Show of Shows during the 1950s, wrote a pilot script as well as new episodes which were based on his own experiences as a TV writer. It was called Head of the Family which recounted the life of a TV comedy writer Rob Petrie (Reiner) and his family in a New York suburb.
But Head of the Family flopped, so Reiner went to tweak the series a bit, and began to work with actor Dick Van Dyke who would play the central character. Although the name of the new sitcom was The Dick Van Dyke Show, the lead character was still named Rob Petrie.
Future talk show king Johnny Carson almost got the part of Rob Petrie. But it was just the right timing for Dick Van Dyke, who was enjoying a great deal of Broadway recognition at the time due to the success of the play Bye, Bye Birdie. Aside from that, veteran producer Sheldon Leonard also wanted an all-American guy to play Rob Petrie, so in the end he chose Van Dyke.
The Dick Van Dyke Show was among the first TV series to feature African-American actors in non-criminal or non-servant roles. One episode, titled “That’s My Boy?”, Rob Petrie became convinced that he and his wife had taken home the wrong baby from the hospital. When the parents of the other baby were revealed, they turned out to be a middle-class African-American couple, played by Greg Morris and Mimi Dillard. That episode garnered a positive response from the audience. It convinced producer Sheldon Leonard to cast Bill Cosby as one of the lead characters in the new series he also produced, I Spy.
The program was a flop in its first season and was eventually canceled by CBS. Danny Thomas, the program’s producer, had to personally approach network executives and persuade them to keep the show on the air. The next year, during summer reruns, the series gained popularity, was renewed for another season, and eventually became the “classic” sitcom we all know today.
Carl Reiner would often ask cast and crew members about amusing incidents that had occurred to them, and then compose whole episodes based on these experiences. As a result, the majority of the episodes in the show’s five-season run were based on true occurrences.
Throughout the course of its five-year, 158-episode run, the program was nominated for 25 Emmys and won 15.
Behind his cheery public image, Dick Van Dyke was an alcoholic. His drinking problem became so severe that he finally checked himself into a facility for alcohol treatment. His on-screen partner Mary Tyler Moore began to complain of dizziness and blurred vision on the set, which turned out to be symptoms of Type 1 diabetes (she assumed they were just signs of overworking). Their co-star Rose Marie became grief-stricken when her husband of 18 years passed away. She almost quit the show, but was later convinced to stay.
When Mary Tyler Moore was hired to play Rob Petrie’s wife Laura, Dick Van Dyke initially didn’t like the idea since he was 11 years older than she was. However, their onscreen chemistry effectively removed all his doubts. Like her on-screen role, Moore was a young mother in real life.
After her stint on The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, Moore was given her own show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It became a success, running on seven seasons and winning a total of 29 Emmys.
Actress Rose Marie (born Rose Marie Mazetta in 1923) played Sally Rogers, another comedy writer who was also one of Rob Petrie’s colleagues. The role garnered Rose Marie three Emmy nominations for Best Supporting Actress.
The Dick Van Dyke was the last TV series to be shot entirely on a black-and-white format. The program was scheduled to be filmed in color after the fifth season (since the 1966-67 television season marked the mandated color filming/recording of network prime-time series). However, the cast and producers decided to end the show after five seasons, so this never happened.
The Dick Van Dyke show left the airways on a high note when it concluded in 1966. Yet the show’s primary stars, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, continued to enjoy tremendous popularity.
Larry Matthews, who played as the Petries’ son and only child Richie, later left acting to have a more normal life. He graduated from the University of California and is now a successful businessman.
He reprised his role as Richie for the 2004 reunion film The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited.
Amsterdam played as Buddy Sorrell, another one of Rob Petrie’s colleagues. After The Dick Van Dyke Show, Amsterdam went on to occasionally appear in films and on stage. He died of a heart attack in 1996, aged 87.
The man behind The Dick Van Dyke Show went on to work with other great comedians such as Mel Brooks and Steve Martin. As of this writing, Reiner is in his 90s and is currently one of the oldest celebrities active on Twitter.