Question: Help! I thought I once heard that there were three different openings for The Dick Van Dyke Show — one where star Dick Van Dyke falls over the ottoman, a second where he jumps over it, and a third where he goes around. I told my 11-year-old son this and I think he is starting to think I made the whole thing up as we only see Dick go around the ottoman. I can picture all three scenarios in my head but, is it only in my head? Thanks. PS: Love your column. — Jacqui
Televisionary: Why, thank you kindly for sharing the love, Jacqui — now let's see if I'm worthy of it.
My unearthly Televisionary abilities indicate there were actually four openings to the legendary show, which ran on CBS from October 1961 to September 1966. The first showed two hands holding a folder of photos which spill out to reveal a flattering head shot of the star before a follow-up montage of Van Dyke and co-star Mary Tyler Moore smooching plus a few other key stills from the show.
The other three are, as you say, variations on the pratfall. In the version most people remember, Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) enters his New Rochelle home and, as he tries to kiss wife Laura (Tyler Moore) hello, sees that co-workers Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) are sitting in the couple's living room. The physically awkward Rob then takes a tumble over the ottoman on his way to greet them. In the other two openings, Van Dyke either dances around the ottoman or, after bumping into it, neatly side-steps the obstacle and then stumbles a few times while saying hello to his pals, his wife and son Richie (Larry Mathews).
Awkwardness was a defining trait for Rob, a hopelessly high-strung worrier who toiled for TV host Alan Brady (series creator Carl Reiner) as a writer. Physical comedy was but one of Van Dyke's talents, though he was loathe to sing his own praises. ("You gotta keep tellin' the guy he's a star!" Amsterdam said at the time. "He don't know it yet.")
Van Dyke could sing and dance and was handy with a pencil or paintbrush — a total entertainment package, which, Reiner told TV Guide "has made me the happiest bald-headed producer in Hollywood." (High praise considering Reiner, who loosely based the series on his own experiences writing for Your Show of Shows, initially planned to play Petrie himself and did so in the show's pilot.)
The typical Van Dyke response to such praise? "I do a lot of things just passably," he said in 1962. "I hate that. I smoke too much and I drink too much [he would later go public with — and recover from — an alcohol problem]. Also, I'm lazy."
But maybe that kind of humility is what kept the series's creator and performers on top of their game and putting out a solid show that left the air while still pulling down healthy ratings because its star wanted to try new things. A lack of Hollywood ego started at the top with Reiner, who resisted any golden-boy status, even after winning two Emmys for his work with Sid Caesar. "When I won my first writing award, I couldn't get to sleep. I kept saying to myself, 'You're not the best writer,'" he recalled. "My wife kept trying to reassure me. I guess those are the doubts we must have about ourselves, or we become fat cats — and fat cats don't catch rats."
Perhaps it's just me, but I say many of today's cats could use a little of that ego diet.