Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Profile : My, How Rob Petrie's Changed

March 17, 1991|SHERRY STERN | TV TIMES EDITOR

Silver haired, Clark Gable-mustachioed, patriarchal ... this sure isn't the Dick Van Dyke who lives on in reruns as genial Rob Petrie.

Neither is it cheery Bert of "Mary Poppins" nor the lanky songwriter from "Bye Bye Birdie."

This new Dick Van Dyke, who stars in NBC's Sunday night movie "Daughters of Privilege," may not look like the old one. But one thing remains. Luck is on his side. Or so he would have you think.

"It seems like my whole life I've always been pushed into doing something I didn't know how to do," Van Dyke said one day not far from his Malibu home, after filming wrapped last fall.

"I didn't study acting. I didn't study anything, simply because I never thought I would be anything. ... I totally underestimated myself."

But when young Dick Van Dyke only wanted to be a television announcer, other people had grander plans.

"You know, I met Gower Champion, then I met Carl Reiner, then I met Walt Disney," he said smiling. "At the right moment the right opportunity makes all the difference in the world."

Van Dyke met Champion, the Broadway producer/choreographer, while auditioning for a musical called "Bye Bye Birdie."

"I got up and sang 'Once in Love With Amy' and did a little soft-shoe and he hired me right there on the spot. He came up on the stage and said, 'You've got the part.' I thought, ' My God, this is really the way it happens! ' He saw something."

The 1958 Broadway part was not only Van Dyke's breakthrough role. It led to the next bit of kismet in his career.

One evening near the end of Van Dyke's yearlong run in "Bye Bye Birdie," among those in the audience was Carl Reiner.

The comedy writer was looking for someone to play a comedy writer. It was for a new series based on Reiner's life. CBS already had told Reiner he was wrong for the part. Reiner sent eight scripts to Van Dyke, who was on the verge of taking another television role.

"I read the writing and that was it," Van Dyke said. He gave up the other role to star in what became "The Dick Van Dyke Show." The CBS comedy aired for five years and is universally considered one of television's wittiest sitcoms.

During the show's run, in 1963, Van Dyke re-created his Broadway role for the film version of "Bye Bye Birdie." A year later, Walt Disney decided Rob Petrie would be right for his musical version of "Mary Poppins" and he asked Van Dyke to play the chimney sweep Bert.

But after each movie break, Van Dyke happily headed back to work on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."

"It is the most fun I ever had, the most hotly creative time I had," he said. "I just enjoyed it so. It wasn't work. It spoiled me. It was the first series I'd ever done and I've never had those working conditions ever again."

It was Reiner's scripts that drew Van Dyke to the series, and scripts continue to draw him to roles.

"Good writing is so hard to find. Every week people are sending me scripts and most of them are special effects. Nothing else--no plot, no acting, just special effects."

Enter "Daughters of Privilege."

Van Dyke described it as "a very, very well-written soap opera."

"It really is that form. But it's so well-written that it doesn't appear to be, which is why I took it: best dialogue, easy to say and easy to act, which you don't run across in television much these days."

Written by Michele Gallery, who has worked mostly on "L.A. Law," "Daughters of Privilege" follows the life of Buddy Keys (Van Dyke), a powerful Miami newspaper publisher (thus the power facial hair) with three grown daughters.

Less about newspapers, the story centers on the relationships between the father and daughters.

"I manipulate their lives without their knowing it, thinking that I'm absolutely justified and right," Van Dyke said. "And they hate me for it."

Though Keys isn't villainous, the part is a far cry from Rob Petrie, who Van Dyke admits "was on the wimp side."

"It was something that I haven't really done, playing a very powerful agressive man--which runs against my nature," he said laughing, "so it really took some acting for me."

And again the part just fell to him.

Brandon Tartikoff, then president of NBC, phoned Van Dyke and asked him to take the part.

"I swear it's because my hair turned white," said Van Dyke, who is now 65. "You cannot play the patriarch without the white hair."

"Daughters of Privilege" tonight at 9 on NBC.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|