Now happily retired, 78-year-old Dick Van Dyke says he had the time of his life working on The Dick Van Dyke Show. To the undoubted delight of TV-nostalgia fans, the surviving cast of his self-titled '60s sitcom reunites in The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited (May 11 at 9 pm/ET on CBS). Here, he recalls his fondest memories of the landmark comedy, which still lives on in TV Land reruns.
TV Guide Online: How did the reunion show go?
Dick Van Dyke: It was like a high-school reunion. We all said they should have taped the rehearsals, because it was hysterical. [Rose Marie's] hearing aid kept going out, people forgot their lines and we were all just rolling on the floor, laughing at each other.
TVGO: You weren't that well-known, having hosted a game show and done Broadway. How'd you get a sitcom named after you?
Van Dyke: We couldn't come up with a name. They tried Double Trouble because it's about a guy whose work life and home life were both part of the show. I do believe that the reason we [almost] got canceled the first year was nobody ever heard of me. Who was going to tune in?
TVGO: What was your first impression of Mary Tyler Moore?
Van Dyke: She was [several] years younger than I. I said, "Boy, she's beautiful and she's good, but isn't she a little young for me?" She was a good actress. I thought she was kind of a young Katherine Hepburn. The only doubt I had was she had never done anything with humor. Well, she turned out to be not only a great straight person, but a great comedienne in her own right. I would say within a few weeks, she got the hang of it.
TVGO: Who was Rob Petrie in your head?
Van Dyke: Rob Petrie was me, a guy who meant well but who was full of every kind of anxiety and phobia that you can think of, was very unsure of himself but who tried very hard. That's what made him funny.
TVGO: You're known for your physical comedy, of course. Rob was always tripping, taking pratfalls.
Van Dyke: I just had a knack for it. I knew Stan Laurel, and I used to call him up and ask him, "What do you think of this?" I always liked to hear what he thought. I called Buster Keaton, too. They were both retired here in L.A., so I got to know them. Buster said, "You should have been in silents. You were born 20 years too late."
TVGO: In 1972, you admitted you were an alcoholic. Was that a problem on the Dick Van Dyke Show?
Van Dyke: No. At that time, I was a social drinker. That's something that crept up on me after the show, during the late '60s. I finally woke up to the fact that I had a problem.
TVGO: Series creator Carl Reiner ended the show after five years. Could it have lasted a few more?
Van Dyke: Oh sure, yeah. But Mary came up with a winner [in The Mary Tyler Moore Show].
TVGO: It took a while, but you had another hit with Diagnosis: Murder.
Van Dyke: I kept trying to retire! Didn't make it.
TVGO: You were very smart to get a piece of ownership in The Dick Van Dyke Show. It's been on the air continuously for decades.
Van Dyke: Who knew? I couldn't have been living on the Riviera, but it's certainly been an annuity for me and my family.
TVGO: Why does it have such an enduring appeal?
Van Dyke: Carl just made a timeless kind of comedy. There's nothing mean-spirited about it. That and the fact the cast worked as a team so well. It was really almost an improv outfit that we had. We could read each other's minds.
TVGO: Are you finally retired?
Van Dyke: I'm the busiest retired man alive. I do lots of benefits and I'm the fund-raiser chairman on a couple of projects, including the Midnight Mission [homeless shelter in Los Angeles]. And I'm a computer nerd. As a matter of fact, there is an animation on the reunion show that I did. I did a little cartoon of myself dancing with myself!
For more about The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited, pick up the current issue of TV Guide magazine.