Dick Van Dyke, who took on the dual role of Bert and Mr. Dawes Senior in the partly animated 1964 Disney musical Mary Poppins, will receive SAG-AFTRA’s highest honor — the SAG Life Achievement Award for career achievement and humanitarian accomplishment.
The beloved actor, singer, dancer, writer and comedian will be presented the performers union’s most prestigious accolade, given annually to an actor who fosters the “finest ideals of the acting profession,” at the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, which premieres live on TNT and TBS next January 27.
Van Dyke voiced the title role in the 1975 cartoon movie Tubby the Tuba, and was Mr. Bloomsberry in the 2006 animated film Curious George. He was Commissioner Gordon in the 2005 direct-to-video short Batman: New Times.
In TV-movies, he voiced narrator Old Jeremy Creek in The Town Santa Forgot (1993) and Webb in The Alan Brady Show (2003). He guested on “Scooby-Doo Meets Dick Van Dyke,” a 1973 episode of The New Scooby-Doo Movies.
His voiceover talents were also employed the 2010 short The Caretaker 3D, a tribute to the Hollywood Sign.
Van Dyke appeared in live action on the TV specials Donald Duck’s 50th Birthday (1984) and The Best of Disney: 50 Years of Magic (1991).
In making Tuesday’s announcement, SAG-AFTRA co-president Ken Howard said, “Dick is the consummate entertainer — an enormously talented performer whose work has crossed nearly every major category of entertainment. From his career-changing Broadway turn in Bye Bye Birdie and his deadpan humor in the Emmy-winning Dick Van Dyke Show, to his unforgettable performance as Bert in Mary Poppins, he sets a high bar for actors. Stage, big screen, small screen, literally everywhere he has worked, he has inspired millions of fans and has had a tremendously positive impact on the industry and the world. He is so deserving of this honor and I congratulate him.”
SAG-AFTRA co-president Roberta Reardon said: “With Dick, it’s so much more than the proverbial ‘triple threat.’ He started his career as a radio announcer, game show host and comedian, and was a spokesman for Kodak, among numerous other roles over his nearly 60-year career. His contributions to the success of the business and to his fellow performers is legendary, as is his work with a number of the leading ladies of our times, including Julie Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore — both previous Life Achievement Award recipients. His infectious laugh has warmed audiences for decades and is an unforgettable facet of his fabulous personality.”
Holder of five Emmys, a Tony Award and a Grammy, Van Dyke at 86 still possesses the zest for life that first propelled him into the limelight more than a half-century ago with the film classic Mary Poppins, the Broadway and film versions of Bye Bye Birdie, and the seminal 1960s situation comedy The Dick Van Dyke Show.
He was born Richard Wayne Van Dyke in West Plains, Missouri on December 13, 1925, and raised in Danville, Illinois, hometown as well to Donald O’Connor, Gene Hackman and Bobby Short. As a youngster, he taught himself music, magic and pantomime. By 16, he was appearing in school plays, running track, serving as junior class president and working part-time as an announcer on a local radio station.
Enlisting in the Air Force at 18, he soon was performing for the troops and hosting a radio show called Flight Time. After one year of duty, he was back in Danville, giving advertising a try, but it was not a fit. With another Danville local, Phil Erickson, he hit the road in a record-pantomime act called “The Merry Mutes,” a perfect showcase for his physical comedy gifts.
While appearing in Los Angeles, he sent for his high school sweetheart, Marjorie Willet. The two were married on Bride and Groom, a network radio program offering gifts and a honeymoon to newlyweds.
After a run hosting a daytime talk show in Atlanta and a morning show in New Orleans, CBS put him under contract. Van Dyke moved to New York where, in 1954, he began hosting The Morning Show (which featured up-and-coming newscaster Walter Cronkite). Other hosting jobs preceded his 1957 television-acting debut on an episode of The Phil Silvers Show and his Broadway debut in 1959 with Bert Lahr in the comedy revue The Boys Against the Girls.
The following year, his career soared when he was cast by director/choreographer Gower Champion opposite Chita Rivera in Bye Bye Birdie. His performance as rock star Conrad Birdie’s songwriter/manager Albert Peterson earned Van Dyke a Tony Award and brought him to the attention of Sheldon Leonard and Carl Reiner, who signed him for a pilot opposite newcomer Mary Tyler Moore.
The now eponymous The Dick Van Dyke Show, starring Van Dyke and Moore as Rob and Laura Petrie, premiered in 1961 and ran for five seasons. With a perfect ensemble cast including Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam, the wittily written series was a showcase for Van Dyke’s genius for physical comedy, earning him three lead actor Emmy Awards.
The tireless Van Dyke spent his series’ hiatus shooting the film version of Bye Bye Birdie in 1963, followed by What a Way to Go and Disney’s musical classic Mary Poppins. It won five Academy Awards, including one for star Julie Andrews (SAG’s 2006 Life Achievement Award recipient), and earned Van Dyke a Golden Globe nomination and, with Andrews, a Grammy.
A run of films followed, including Lt. Robin Crusoe, USN (1966), Divorce American Style and Fitzwilly (both 1967), the musical Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang (1968), Garson Kanin’s satire on conformity Some Kind of a Nut (1969) and Norman Lear’s anti-smoking Cold Turkey (1970). Van Dyke, who had delivered the eulogies for his comedy idols Stan Laurel and Buster Keaton, explored the role of a fictional silent movie star in 1969’s The Comic.
He would return to the big screen again in Stanley Kramer’s The Runner Stumbles (1978), Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990) and, more recently, the Ben Stiller comedy Night at the Museum (2006).
After a year of filming Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang in England, Van Dyke moved with his family to their ranch in Carefree, Arizona, where The New Dick Van Dyke Show was produced for CBS for three seasons. In 1974, his stunning portrayal of an alcoholic family man in David Wolper’s ground-breaking ABC Television movie The Morning After earned Van Dyke an Emmy nomination. A guest-star turn as a homicidal photographer opposite Peter Falk’s Columbo followed.
It was back to song, dance and comedy in NBC’s variety series Van Dyke and Company, earning him a fourth Emmy (this time shared with his fellow producers), followed by a national tour in The Music Man, which brought Van Dyke back to Broadway, and a national tour in Damn Yankees. The 1980s brought a run of television movies, including the Showtime production of The Country Girl opposite Faye Dunaway, Drop-Out Father opposite Mariette Hartley, Found Money opposite Sid Caesar, Breakfast with Les and Bess opposite Cloris Leachman for PBS’s American Playhouse, and the miniseries Strong Medicine.
In 1982, Van Dyke earned his fifth Emmy for his vocal performance as the Father in the CBS Library special Wrong Way Kid.
Van Dyke’s crime-solving physician, Dr. Mark Sloan, was introduced in a 1991 episode of Jake and the Fat Man and became the central character in three TV-movies before evolving into the CBS series Diagnosis: Murder. It ran from 1993 to 2001, followed by two Dr. Sloan television movies in 2002. Diagnosis: Murder co-starred Van Dyke’s son Barry as a police detective and, during its run, provided guest-star opportunities for Van Dyke’s daughter Stacy, grandchildren Carey, Shane, Wes and Taryn, and brother Jerry Van Dyke. From 2006 to 2008, the father-son team reunited for a series of four Hallmark Channel Murder 101 movies, casting Barry as a private investigator opposite Dick’s absent-minded but brilliant criminology professor, Dr. Jonathan Maxwell.
In 2003, Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore re-teamed to portray lonely seniors in D.L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama The Gin Game on PBS Hollywood Presents and, the following year, recreated husband and wife Rob and Laura Petrie for Carl Reiner’s CBS telefilm The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. They were notably reunited this past January, when Van Dyke presented Moore with SAG’s 48th Life Achievement Award on the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Van Dyke, whose 2011 memoir My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business made the New York Times Best Sellers list, admits that his retirement plans have yet to work out. In 2006, he returned to Broadway, receiving standing ovations in his Bye Bye Birdie leading lady’s Chita Rivera: The Dancers Life. In addition to his memoir, Van Dyke is the author of Faith, Hope and Hilarity: The Child’s Eye View of Religion (1970) and Those Funny Kids (1975), a collection of classroom humor.
Music, Van Dyke’s spiritual nourishment, became richer when he teamed 12 years ago with Eric Bradley, Bryan Chadima and Mike Mendyke to form The Vantastix. Their first major public appearance was at the Society of Singers Ella Awards honoring his Mary Poppins leading lady, Julie Andrews. They’ve since performed the National Anthem at L.A. Lakers playoffs, mounted a musical memoir at L.A.’s Geffen Theatre, and appeared at the Hollywood Bowl, Disney Hall and at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., with the President and First Lady in the front row, and released an album of children’s songs: Put on A Happy Face.
For nearly 20 years Van Dyke has been tirelessly committed to his volunteer work at The Midnight Mission, Los Angeles’ century-old downtown shelter for the troubled and homeless. He helped raise millions for their new building program and is there without fail every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter and times in between, offering comfort and cheer, often with the Vantastix and members of his own family. He is passionate about raising funds for music and art programs for public schools, and has performed at countless fundraisers. He became a spokesperson for the National Reye’s Syndrome Foundation in 1967 after losing a granddaughter to that disease and, in 2010, was named the first spokesperson for the Cell Therapy Foundation.
Van Dyke has four children from his marriage to the late Marjorie Willet Van Dyke — sons Christian and Barry, and daughters Stacey and Carrie Beth — and seven grandchildren.
On February 29 this year, he married makeup artist Arlene Silver (whom he met at the 2006 SAG Awards), whose vocal talents now occasionally blend with those of Dick and The Vantastix. They live in Malibu, California.