Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran from 1961 to 1966 on the CBS network,
ushered in the golden age of the situation comedy (even more than
I Love Lucy or The Honeymooners), poised as it was
on the threshold between the comedy-variety star vehicles of the
1950s (frequently still grounded in vaudeville) and the neorealist
socio-comedies of the early 1970s (whose mainstay Mary Tyler Moore
carried its pedigree). It was among the first network series to
electively bring itself to closure, in the manner of M*A*S*H,
The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or Cheers, and has proven one of
the most resilient in syndication. And more than any other social
document, it managed to operate largely contemporaneously with the
New Frontier and the thousand days of the Kennedy presidency.
show was largely the autobiographical exegesis of Carl Reiner, whose
previous tenure in workaday television had been with the legendary
stable of writers surrounding Your Show of Shows and the
Sid Caesar sketch vehicles of the mid-1950s. This same group went
on to literally redefine American humor: on the Broadway stage (Neil
Simon); dominating the high and low roads of screen comedy (Woody
Allen and Mel Brooks, respectively); and in television, both early
and late (Larry Gelbart, M*A*S*H). But first and foremost
was Dick Van Dyke, based loosely on Reiner's 1958 novel Enter
Laughing (he directed a tepid screen version in 1967), in which
his Alan Brady is a thinly veiled Caesar--a comic monster, sporadically
seen but ubiquitously felt.
writing staff comprises the college-educated Rob Petrie (the eponymous
Dick Van Dyke), assigned to interject new blood into his team of
more experienced subordinates, Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) and
Sally Rogers (Rose Marie), loosely patterned after Show of Shows
writers Mel Brooks and Selma Diamond. This sense of autobiography
even stretched to the Petries' New Rochelle address (Reiner's own,
save for a single digit), as well as his immediate family (son Rob
Reiner in turn became the archetypal early-1970s post-adolescent
as Michael Stivic on All in the Family, raising certain intriguing
Freudian possibilities in the evolution of the sitcom.) Rounding
out the domestic American Century optimism is Rob's wife Laura (Mary
author David Marc has noted, for all intents and purposes, the movies
destroyed vaudeville once and for all, and as a form of penance,
made it into a kind of "biblical era of modern mass culture." This
impulse was inherited wholesale by television of the 1950s (a quick
survey of I Love Lucy reruns should suffice), and in turn
carried forward rather elegiacally in the many blackouts built into
this show within a show. Van Dyke, a gifted physical performer,
never missed an opportunity to reprise his mewling Stan Laurel,
or engage in a bit of Catskills schtick (invariably veiled in nostalgia).
Entire episodes were given over to aging radio scribes or vaudeville
fixtures who had been brushed aside by the space-age wonder of broadcast
TV. Even sidekicks Buddy and Sally, real-life vaudeville veterans
often seemed little more than human repositories of the history
of formalist comedy ("Baby Rose" Marie was a child singer on radio;
Amsterdam, a cello prodigy whose act recalled Henny Youngman or
Jack Benny, co-hosted the Tonight Show forerunner Broadway
Open House in 1950, and--in a bit of New Frontier prescience--wrote
the paean to U.S. imperialism "Rum and Coca-Cola" for the Andrews
perhaps to counterbalance these misted reveries, the show just as
often displayed an aggressive Kennedy-era sophistication and leisure-class
awareness. Initially competing for the central role were Van Dyke
and that other Brubeck hipster grounded squarely in Midwestern guilelessness,
Johnny Carson (and if truth be known, another prominent casualty
of afterhours blackout drinking). Meanwhile, all the hallmarks of
the Kennedy zeitgeist are somewhere in attendance: Laura as the
Jackie surrogate, attired in capris pants and designer tops; the
Mafia, via the imposing Big Max Calvada (executive producer Sheldon
Leonard); Marilyn Monroe, represented by the occasional Alan
Brady guest starlet or lupine voluptuary; intelligence operatives
who commandeer the Petries' suburban home on stakeout. Camelot references
abound, with a Robert Frost-like poet, a Hugh Hefner surrogate,
Reiner as a Jackson Pollack-modeled abstract painter, or Laura's
praise for baby guru Dr. Spock.
film homages appear throughout: Vertigo's "Portrait of Carlotta"
becomes "the Empress Carlotta brooch"; Citizen Kane's "Rosebud"
turns up as son Richie's middle name. (According to confidante Peter
Bogdanovich, Orson Welles reportedly took a break every afternoon
to watch the show in reruns.) Civil rights are often squarely front
and center as well, with Leonard claiming that one racially themed
episode, "The Hospital," specifically allowed him to cast I Spy
with Bill Cosby, in turn the medium's first superstar of color.
Even Van Dyke's own little brother, Jerry Van Dyke, is afforded
a brief nepotistic berth from which to triumph-- in his case, over
painful shyness, social ineptitude, and a somewhat pesky somnambulism,
rather than innate ruthlessness and the reputation as White House
hatchet man. And for purists, there's even a working conspiracy
of sorts--the name "Calvada," scattered portentously throughout
(Big Max "Calvada," "Drink Calvada" scrawled on a billboard, the
name of their production company)--which is, in fact, a modified
acronym for the show's partners: CA-rl Reiner, Sheldon L-eonard,
Dick VA-n Dyke, and DA-nny Thomas.
more than vague inspiration, the Kennedys provided direct participation
as well. In 1960, Reiner wrote a pilot titled Head of the Family,
virtually identical in every way, save for casting himself in the
lead role. The package made its way to Rat Pack stalwart Peter Lawford,
a burgeoning producer and brother-in-law of the future president.
Family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy, seeking to oversee family business
during the campaign, read the pilot personally, and in turn volunteered
production money. Although the pilot was unsuccessful, its recasting
led directly to the later series.
Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966 with a final episode surveying
Rob's "novel"--a collection of favorite moments from the five-year
run--which Alan Brady dutifully agrees to adapt as a TV series,
thus reupping the autobiographical subtext one more level and providing
Reiner the last laugh. This was perhaps in light of CBS's decision
to enforce a full-color lineup the following season. As such, the
series' cool, streamlined black-and-white mirrors perfectly the
news images of the day, and functions as one of the few de facto
time capsules on a finite and much-celebrated age.
The Dick Van Dyke Show
Rob Petrie.......................................... Dick Van
Dyke Laura Petrie..................................... Mary
Tyler Moore Sally Rogers.............................................
Rose Marie Maurice "Buddy" Sorrell................... Morey
Amsterdam Ritchie Petrie .......................................Larry
Mathews Melvin Cooley.....................................
Richard Deacon Jerry Helper...............................................
Jerry Paris Millie Helper................................
Ann Morgan Guilbert Alan Brady ................................................Carl
Reiner Stacey Petrie......................................
Jerry Van Dyke
Reiner, Sheldon Leonard, Ronald Jacobs
October 1961-December 1961 Tuesday
8:00-8:30 January 1962-September 1964 Wednesday 9:30-10:00
September 1964-September 1965
Wednesday 9:00-9:30 September 1965-September 1966
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Domestic Settings; Moore,
Mary Tyler; Van