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Actor Dick Van Dyke has been charming audiences for generations. His characters in “Mary Poppins,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and the TV series “The Dick Van Dyke Show” are endearing, optimistic and energetic. In a new memoir, the actor explains how he stays in touch with his inner child and why life gets better the longer you live it.
Introduction to KEEP MOVING, AND OTHER TIPS AND TRUTHS ABOUT AGING, Copyright © 2015 by Dick Van Dyke. Reprinted by arrangement with Weinstein Books. All rights reserved.
The musical group The Dustbowl Revival asked Dick Van Dyke to appear in its video for the song “Never Had To Go.”
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Dick Van Dyke says he didn't train for it. He didn't plan on it, but through a series of coincidence and some good luck, he became one of America's most beloved actors. In a new memoir, he reflects on his career, his starring roles in "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "Mary Poppins," and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and why he believes we need to rewrite the rules about what it means to be old.
MS. DIANE REHMThe book is titled, "Keep Moving." He joins us from a studio at KTLA in Los Angeles. And throughout the hour, you are, of course, welcome to join the conversation. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Dick Van Dyke, it's great to have you with us.
MR. DICK VAN DYKEDiane, it's nice to meet you.
REHMWell, I'm delighted and perhaps a little later one, we'll actually have you on Skype and I'll...
REHM...be able to see you. But first, I want to talk with you about being old versus feeling old. Your 90th birthday is in December.
DYKEYes. Well, strangely enough, the book was not my idea, originally. The publisher apparently noticed that I was a little spryer than some of my contemporaries, but the dead ones particularly, and asked me to write a book about how to be successfully old and I said in the beginning, well, that's a rather short book. Keep moving.
REHMYeah, exactly, which is what you've done.
DYKEYeah, and I really kind of resisted it, but once I started writing, I realized there was a lot more to say than I really thought ahead of time. And it occurred to me there's probably some old codgers out there who could use some help. I'm very much against giving unsolicited advice, but I guess if you open the book, it's not unsolicited. So I began to write and there's a lot more to it than keep moving.
DYKEAttitude toward life, I think, and not -- as you said, not feeling old or acting old and a whole book came out of it. I was quite surprised.
REHMBut, you know, I was surprised to learn that at age 40, you were told by your doctor that you had arthritis all over your body and that you would never dance again. How can that be?
DYKEI don't know. I went in for another exam and he said, good Lord, you're riddled with arthritis. And he predicted I'd probably be on a walker or wheelchair within, I think he said, five to seven years, which started me, of course, exercising and today, I'm certainly no Jack Lalanne. I have all the infirmatives that go along with my age, arthritis and all those things, but I've found that movement, also mental movement, is important. And I don't feel anything like 90 years old.
REHMWell, tell us a little about your life now. You live in Southern California with your wonderful wife, Arlene, who happens to be 46 years younger than you. You have not stopped singing or dancing. So talk about what life is like for you on a daily basis.
DYKEWell, I must say my beautiful, young wife has been one of the factors in my feeling young every day. I get up at 6:00 in the morning and go to a gym and work out. And as I try to tell, you know, my contemporaries, it isn't a matter of going in and doing a whole hour of exercise. The idea is to get there. Don’t talk yourself out of it. If you can do 10 minutes, 12 minutes, whatever you do, quit and come home, but just do it every day and you'll be amazed at how much better you'll get and how much better you'll feel in a very, very short period of time.
REHMWell, that physical...
DYKEPeople feel they're too old.
REHMThat physical exercise certainly can affect your outlook, your brain function.
DYKEExactly. You're so right, Diane. The mind/body connection, you get some oxygen and some blood running through your brain and it kind of wakes you up. What was I going to say? Oh, it's a matter of doing some resistance training and...
DYKE...and walking, if all you can do is walk for 10 minutes do it.
REHMAbsolutely, absolutely. But, you know, I think most of us know you as an actor, a singer, a dancer, but you write in this book that early on, you decided to become a minister. Talk about that.
DYKEWell, I was thinking about -- I was raised in the Presbyterian Church and always thought, well, that's a good life to have if you want to be of some use to somebody. But I don't know, the stage called and I never -- I would not have made a good clergyman, I don't think. I'm way to young at heart and emotionally unstable. Emotionally, I'm about 13 so I don’t think I would've been very good at it.
REHMBut, you know, if being a minister means reaching out and helping other people in your own way, you've done precisely that.
DYKEThat's true. I have my own -- I talk a bit in the book about spirituality and the fact that I think that religion ought to be a little more intuitive for everyone. There are -- I can tell you there are so many people out there who have doubts about their religious faith and should be able to say so and address it. I'd love to hear more people say I have doubts. I know clergymen who have doubts.
REHMOf course. Of course.
DYKEAnd it's almost taboo to admit that. I think it would clear the air and a lot of people would be freed up to follow their faith if the -- almost the tyranny of the church didn't come down on them.
REHMYou know what? You mention in the book that there was a three to four month period in your life when you felt old. Why?
DYKEI'm trying -- refresh my memory. When did I say...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALEOh, collapsed lung?
DYKEWhat? Oh. Yes, what was it, two years ago? All of a sudden, I had a lung collapse as a result of -- I got a little pneumonia and a lung collapsed and then it collapsed two times more. And I thought it was really over for me. They told me, you know, don't go sit in the corner. But strangely enough, my wind and my breathing and everything is fine and I'm still dancing every day and going to the gym.
DYKEIt's a matter of not being defeated by it, I think.
REHMCertainly not being defeated by it, but recognizing that at some point in your life you had to give up volleyball, tennis and sailing.
DYKEOf course. There are certain things you do have to adjust to, but you have to replace it with something. I think -- people tell me, well, I can't sing or I can't dance. Everyone can sing and dance. You may not do it well, but, you know, my god, there are primitive tribes all over the world singing and dancing is part of their daily routine. So, as they say, sing like no one can hear you and dance like no one can see you and love like you've never been hurt.
REHMTwo things that can make a huge difference in someone's life, drinking and smoking.
REHMWhat did you do about that?
DYKEDrinking was, for me, was not that bad. I was a kind of a shy kid and in my 20s, I found that if I had a drink, I became a little more relaxed and sociable. And that's what started me on that. Smoking was another thing, very, very difficult, but I finally made that. The only bad habit I have left is procrastination. And that is -- I don't care, you cannot overcome it. It's a daily fight to say, oh, I'll do it later. I don't know what there is about it.
REHMHow long -- tell me how long you smoked?
DYKEOh, my gosh, since -- I started in my teens. It must've been close to 50 years.
REHMOh, my gosh.
DYKEI'm very, very lucky that I didn't suffer more from -- I think it's because I was always moving. I was always dancing and moving.
DYKEAnd I think that saved me.
REHMYeah, yeah. Well, that can make a huge difference. They tell us that the minute you stop smoking, your lungs improve. So I think you are clearly one of the lucky ones. Your mother actually lived until she was 96, correct?
DYKEThat's right. Yes.
REHMSo there you go. I mean, Dick Van Dyke, you've got a big birthday coming up and we've got a short break to take and when we come back, we'll talk more, start taking calls and hear some of your music.
REHMI want to know if you're dancing yet.
DYKEYes, I'm still dancing. My wife and I do a lot of dancing. I walked in the kitchen the other day. She was -- had on her tap shoes and was doing the dishes while tap dancing in the kitchen. That's my kind of wife.
REHMAnd hearing "Chim Chim Cher-ee," how does that make you feel?
DYKEOh, wonderful, wonderful memories. I think it's the only project I ever worked on that everybody felt there was some magic going on every day.
REHMAnd there was. There was.
DYKEOh, it just was a -- we knew that something very special was happening. We couldn't wait to get to work every day.
REHMOh, that's wonderful to know.
DYKEAnd Julie was just a -- such a wonderful gal.
REHMYou know, she's been in this studio now three times and, each time, I come to love her that much more.
REHMShe's just that kind of a person. So working with her, I'm sure you loved every minute.
DYKEOh, I sure did. Her daughter Emma had just been born. And when she -- had Em on the set a lot during the day. But we just, I don't know, there was such a spirit to that thing. We couldn't wait to get started at it. A lot of hard work, too. Had a lot of hard dancing. Nobody ever got hurt, fortunately. But I just -- it was the presence, partly, of Walt Disney, who -- there's an aura about him. Walt and I used to say that we were both children searching for a inner adult.
REHMSo you really enjoyed working with him. He had that gift of creative energy.
DYKEYes. I don't -- there'll never be another one. Someone told me that they're going to do a sequel to "Mary Poppins," which, I don't know, without Walt and without those two Sherman Brothers who wrote that great music, I just don't know. Sequels have a way of not being as good.
REHMYou know, it's interesting, because you say music was what gave you a relationship with your father. How so?
DYKEYeah. Well, my father had been a musician before I was born -- a jazz musician. And he was -- my father never quite understood that I was kind of an imagining, creative kid. And he liked to hunt and play golf. And so there wasn't a lot in common between us. But music -- we loved music. We loved good jazz. And that was my relationship with my dad, who had a -- one of those great ears. He was one of the first persons, when he heard a CD of some popular music, he said, Something is missing. And certainly it was proven that there are certain overtones in digital music that you don't hear as you would on an LP record. And he's the one who taught me that.
DYKEAnd that's been confirmed by almost everybody.
REHMYou say in your book, "Keep Moving," that the five years you did "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in the '60s were fantastic. Talk about that program and how it got started.
DYKEWell everyone, including Carl and whole cast said...
DYKE...that was the happiest -- yes, who's now 93 and still sharp as a tack.
REHMYeah, three years older than you.
DYKEYeah. He was a mentor. He's one of the wisest, nicest human beings I've ever known. And everybody said that was the best five years of their life. It was fun. It was creative, every moment. Morey Amsterdam said it was like coming to a party every morning. We're all -- I'd still be doing it if they would let me. It was such fun.
REHMAll right. I'm going to give you a tiny memory from that program.
MARY TYLER MOORENo, Rob. At the very end of the show, I didn't handle myself too well with that Patrick Rat.
DYKEOh. He got you to say something embarrassing, didn't he? What was it?
MOOREThat Alan Brady is bald.
DYKEYou -- you -- you say, he had no hair -- on television? Honey. Oh, sweetheart, you -- you knew that was a secret, didn't you?
DYKEYeah, that's right. What's the fun of telling if it's not a secret?
MOOREBut, Rob, he tricked me.
DYKEOh, he tricked you. All right. He tricked you. Oh, he's very, very tricky. But telling the whole world about Alan's wig. Oh, are we in trouble.
MOOREWell, Rob, you saw the way he asks those questions. I mean, you just hardly know how to answer them.
DYKEI am surprised you didn't blab about his nose being fixed.
MOOREI didn't know Alan had a nose job.
DYKEOh, (word?) . Up to now it was a secret.
REHMI'm sure you enjoy that, you know?
DYKEOh, my God.
REHMIsn't that fun?
DYKEMary, I think that was -- that was probably the funniest Mary ever was on that show. Oh, my God, I couldn't hold my own laughter back, it was so very...
REHMAnd tell us...
DYKE...Carl was speaking...
REHMTell us how she got the part on that show, which is really an interesting story.
DYKEWell, Carl had auditioned a number of girls and you just couldn't figure out -- he said, when she read for him, he used the word ping -- there was a ping in her voice that he liked. And he just grabbed her by the head and took her in to Danny Thomas and he said, This is the one. The strange thing was, Mary had never done any kind of comedy and was thinking of herself as a serious actress. And it was amazing how quickly her timing and her sense of what was funny developed -- within weeks. I just -- to watch her grow during that five years was something to see.
REHMShe really didn't even want the part to begin with, did she?
DYKEI -- I'm sorry?
REHMDid she really want the part or not?
DYKEWell, I think she did. She didn't want to come to the audition, Carl said, because I think she had had a couple of rejections that same day. So she didn't have much hope for winning this part. I just couldn't believe how good she got so fast. Gosh.
REHMNow, how did she get so good so fast?
DYKEFirst of all, excellent writing and she was in the presence of Morey Amsterdam and Rosie, both of who, you know, had backgrounds in comedy and both who had razor-like senses of timing. And I was pretty good myself.
DYKEAnd she just picks it up. She just picked it up so fast. It was in her all the time.
REHMNow, tell us about the world you live in now. You said that you wake up at six o'clock each morning. You go to the gym. You begin to exercise for however long you feel like it.
REHMWhat happens during the rest of the day?
DYKEI have a hobby. I do computer animations -- 3-D computer animation. It's one of those great hobbies for the passage of time. Sometimes it's 3:00 in the morning and I realize, I'm still there playing. And that's the kind of thing I think you find to replace whatever it was you did, you can't do anymore, like play tennis or run marathons. It's very engrossing. We sing and dance a lot. My wife and I, we are always rehearsing a number. I have a quartet, three young men and myself. We've been together about 15 years. We sing all over town at fundraisers particularly. But we have been to Washington, sang for the president. And we do concerts around town. Singing, I think, is one of the greatest -- the greatest outlets you can have.
REHMAnd that group is called The Vantastix.
DYKEYes. With an X.
REHMLet's hear -- let's hear.
VANTASTIXSo you think that you've got trouble? Well, trouble's a bubble. So tell old mister trouble to get lost. Why not hold your head up high and, stop crying, start trying, and don't forget to keep your fingers crossed. When you find the joy of living, is loving and giving, you'll be there when the winning dice are tossed. A smile is just a frown that's turned upside down, so smile and that frown will defrost. And don't forget to keep your fingers crossed. Yeah.
REHMI love that sound.
DYKEMorey Amsterdam wrote those words.
DYKEHe -- and I thought they were so sweet. They have never been published. But we are keeping them alive by singing that song a lot. I just love -- it's such an upbeat and it fits the song so well.
REHMIt sure does. You mentioned Carl Reiner.
REHMDid I hear you say he's had a heart attack?
DYKENo. No, he...
DYKEHe is pretty healthy.
DYKEHe doesn't get around like he used to. But at 93, you'd be amazed, he's just as sharp, intelligently creative as ever. And he's one of the wisest human beings I've ever known. I just love him.
REHMAnd, you know, you do a chapter in the book where you have a conversation with him. And one of the things he talks about is being in therapy. You were surprised.
DYKENo I -- I knew that he had been during his lifetime. I was surprised to find that he still was in therapy.
REHMAnd you say, After all these years, what are you still working on? And Carl says, Anxiety. And you say, What's causing your anxiety? And Carl says, Dying.
DYKEYes. I -- we have -- we both have a different feeling about that. It's strange. I don't think about it, even though I know it's coming and probably sooner than later. I don't seem to be bothered by that. I think it's the dying, it's not being dead, you know, that bothers him -- the experience of dying. But I think he's one of those guys who go in their sleep anyway. But he is writing almost daily. He sits at that computer and writes and writes and writes. That's his outlet. And that's what I think keeps him young mentally.
REHMDick Van Dyke, what are your own thoughts about dying? Or do you think about it?
DYKEI don't think about it, strangely enough. I think it's because I have a young wife that keeps me quite busy. And of course the book now. And we're singing everywhere. I'm just so busy and active, I'm lucky in that, unlike my contemporaries, I can still run. I tell people that I go around the house like Edith Bunker. You remember how she used to trot around the house?
DYKEI recommend that for everybody. Just trot around the house like Edith Bunker. It's good exercise.
REHMBut you know there's another form of exercise I watched you engage in. Your wife was belly dancing and you got up on the stage and began belly dancing as well.
DYKEIsn't that -- I'm such a ham. I had to get up and share the -- but I did pretty well.
REHMI thought so.
DYKEI'm the only living male belly dancer.
REHMOf course, you did not have quite the attire that your wife did. But you looked pretty darn good.
DYKEShe is an excellent belly dancer. And if -- she has the moves, but she understands the spirit of it...
REHMI love it.
DYKE...and the meaning behind it.
DYKEAnd she conveys it very well.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We've got lots of callers. I want to go first to Patrick. He's in Sunset Beach, N.C. Patrick, you're on the air.
PATRICKThank you, Diane. It's so great to be in a conversation with two of my favorite people.
PATRICKI have -- well, I just want to say, faith, hope and hilarity. And Dick should respond to that. One of the marvelous books that he wrote -- I was a Presbyterian minister, now retired, for 30 years -- and I swear I have stolen every story he ever wrote in that book. So, you're -- Dick, your Presbyterian ministry has been fulfilled through my pulpit.
DYKEOh, good. You know, that was -- I didn't actually write that. It was a compilation. We asked for Sunday School teachers to send in things that kids have said in Sunday School.
REHMOh, what a great idea.
DYKEAnd it became -- oh, there are some hysterical things in -- the one that comes to mind, the little boy comes home from Sunday School and his mother said, What did you do? He said, We sang about this cross-eyed bear, named Gladly. It was Hymn, Gladly the cross I would bear. Yeah.
REHMOh, my God.
DYKEIsn't that great?
REHMYeah, that's terrific.
DYKEAnd we also -- we put out another one about schools. I had teachers send me remarks that kids made in grade school -- in third grade. And it was a -- my favorite one of that was: The parents heard that the third grade was doing sex education classes. And they were somewhat worried about it. And when the little boy came home, they said, How did it go? And he said, It was fine. Said, Well what did you learn? He said, I learned that if you laugh, you get thrown out.
REHMThere you go. Let's take a caller in Danville, Ill. Dan, you're on the air.
DANWell, it is such a pleasure to speak with a couple of icons, let me tell you. I am Dan and I am from Danville. My parents weren't real creative, obviously. But, I've got to say, Mr. Van Dyke, you are one of a kind. And I so miss the old days of the variety shows like yours. You know, the comedy has just changed so much or -- I'm 55, am I getting old? I...
REHMWhat do you think, Dick Van Dyke? Has the family show, the comedy show, changed very much?
DYKEWell, I think, I have to say that I don't get it -- the humor. You know, one thing that's happened is they only have 20 minutes now to do a sitcom. We used to have 28. So they have to kind of speed it up. The thing that bothers me the most these days is canned laughter...
DYKE...which we never used on the old show. And there's uproarious laughter at a door slam, in order -- trying to get us to laugh. And it bothers me a little bit.
REHMWhat about the sex?
DYKEWell, sex and violence is -- they're pretty -- they pander now to the audience. And I think it's too bad.
REHMI think you're right. And we are...
DYKEPeople are so concerned...
REHM...take another break here. When we come back, we've got calls from Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, all to talk with Dick Van Dyke. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. If you've just joined us, Dick Van Dyke is my guest. I'm just delighted to talk with him about his brand new book. It's titled "Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging." Dick Van Dyke will be 90 years old in December, and boy, I'll bet that's going to be a big blast of a birthday, Dick.
DYKEYes, I can't quite get my mind around being 90. I don't feel anything like it. I keep saying where did the time go. I'm sure everyone my age says the same thing.
DYKEWhere did the time go?
REHMYou know, even when you were much, much younger, you were 65 when they came to you and asked you to be the lead in "Diagnosis: Murder."
REHMAnd the first thing you said was, wait a minute, guys, I'm 65 years old. And you went on to do that show for 10 years. Did you enjoy it?
DYKEOh, I certainly did. It was -- somebody called it a 1950s show because we didn't have a lot of violence, and we didn't have a lot of sex and that kind of thing, but I think, I think people enjoyed it. We had a great time. We injected, excuse me, as much humor about human behavior as we could. I'm so sorry. And I, of course, I took nepotism to its ultimate extreme and had my entire family on.
REHMWell, speaking of your entire family, an awful lot of people are tweeting and wanting to know about your brother.
DYKEWell, my brother had an unfortunate accident. He had an experimental spinal treatment that didn't quite work. He spent the winter, last winter, at my home, trying to recover. He was on a walker. A few months they were in Arkansas driving down the highway, and the person coming the other way was texting and crossed over the line, and they had a head-on, and oh, God, broke his pelvis and his leg. And he is currently in the hospital in a great deal of pain. And we're hoping that he will recover, but Jerry's 84, and it's just tragic that it had to happen to him. He's such a...
REHMOh, I'm so sorry.
DYKEHe's my favorite comedian, the only guy that can make me laugh onstage.
REHMOh, that's (unintelligible) .
DYKESo we're all praying for him.
REHMIndeed, well, you know our prayers are with him, as well. Let's go to Flushing, Michigan. Sandra, you're on the air.
SANDRAHi Diane, thanks for taking my call.
SANDRAMr. Van Dyke, I grew up in Marion, Indiana, and my family was friends with your Uncle Earl and Aunt Betty. And your Uncle Earl was just like you. He could make us all laugh, and we loved him to pieces. In fact I visited him yesterday because he's in the same mausoleum as my parents, and I was passing through town, and I always stop and say hello to Uncle Earl and Aunt Betty.
SANDRABut I'd like to know, your Uncle Earl lived to be a very elderly gentleman, and he was always quite spry, and I'd like to know what you learned from Uncle Earl about being old and about dying.
DYKEWell, my Uncle Earl was stretched out on the sofa watching a basketball game when he quietly passed away, which I think is the way he would've wanted it.
DYKEHe was -- he was a lighthearted man, as you probably know. He saw the humor in almost everything. I never saw him worry. He was just, I took a lot from him. I visited Marion a couple of times, on his 90th birthday, and we went walking down by the river. He -- what am I trying to say? He says -- he kept saying when are you going to come and visit me? I said, Uncle Earl, why don't you come out here and see me? He said, I don't allow airplanes to fly over my house.
REHMMuch less get into one.
DYKEHe -- you know, he was a shoe salesman, and everybody in Marion knew my uncle.
REHMAll right, let's go now to Al, he's in Princeton, Illinois. You're on the air.
ALGood morning, Dick.
ALI watched -- it was -- I had the pleasure of meeting you in Denver when I was working for United Airlines as an agent, and you were flying to Los Angeles. But the real reason for my call today, I heard on the news here locally that the Jerry and Dick Foundation in Danville are working to restore your family home and make it into a museum. I don't know if you are aware of that.
ALBut I'd love it if you would comment on it, please. Thank you.
DYKEYes, that house was old when I was a kid. And it was going to be demolished, and somebody said they ought to, they ought to, you know, put it back together as a memory to me. And I'm -- you know, it's one nice thing to maybe win something like an Emmy, but when the people, your folks back at your roots, remember you and honor you like that, it was very important. Yeah, they did a tribute to me last week. I was there on Skype. And the whole thing just excites me.
DYKEThe thing -- back to my life as a child and that place, who would have thought this would happen?
REHMWho would've thought?
DYKEThey're going to put it back up like it was.
REHMHow about that?
DYKEI'm so excited.
REHMThat's terrific. And to Peter in Carmel, Indiana. Hi there.
PETERHi Diane. Love your show. And Mr. Van Dyke, it's a real honor. I'm wondering, living, growing up in the Midwest and the severe winters, if you think living in Southern California this many years has contributed to your being younger as you get older, the more pleasant weather, as opposed to the shoveling ice off your windshield every morning from, like, December through April.
PETERAnd my follow-up question, and I'll take it off air, is I'm sorry to say, were you really disappointed about your not winning the Academy Award for your excellent portrayal of Bert in "Mary Poppins" because you were so good. Thank you, sir. It's an honor to speak with you.
DYKEOh, thank you so much. Oh, you know, the crew of "Mary Poppins" made me an award after Julie got her award, which I prize. It's made out of nuts and bolts, and it's a little gold chimney sweep. It's a one of a kind, and I like it even better than getting an Oscar.
REHMOh, I love that. All right, let's go to Timothy, he's in Detroit, Michigan. You're on the air.
TIMOTHYGood morning, Mr. Van Dyke.
TIMOTHYI just wanted to say you meant a lot to me. When I was growing up, my brother and I, we used to eat our TV dinners and watch you every day. And my comment, that was my comment, and you matter a lot to me, and you will always matter to a lot of people. But my question would be, regarding today's entertainment, if there would be anything you could change, what would that be. And I'll hang up and listen to your answer.
REHMAll right, thanks, sir.
DYKEWell, it seems to me like it has changed. I remember they wouldn't let us say the word pregnant on "The Van Dyke Show."
DYKEAnd Mary and I had to sleep in separate beds, which I think was a little bit too strict. But today it seems to me that the whole, you know, acceptance of sex and the violence, every movie, every television show, every television game, video game, is nothing but the worst kind of violence. And we've exported it to the world. And it just seems to me that someone should take some responsibility for that.
DYKEI remember who -- who was the guy who had...
DYKE"Mr. Roger's Neighborhood," made a plea...
DYKETo the producers, and it was met with dead silence. And I got up afterwards. I said, I would like to add to what he has just said. And we -- we were met with total silence from all those executive producers. They don't want to hear it. There is a pandering to get people to watch. I understand that competition is tough today, but to me they've gone way too far, and no one's taking any responsibility.
DYKESo many people are worried about protecting their children from what's out there, and you cannot. You've got to -- the world's going to get to them. You've got to find a way to tell them how to deal with it, what's acceptable and what's not.
REHMYou know, the characters you played were always somehow upbeat and filled with optimism. Did you ever consider taking on any darker roles?
DYKEActually I played a murderer twice, once on the Peter Falk show and once for Andy Griffith. And I got a lot of mail from people who were mad at me. Once in a while it's fun to play a villain, but nobody wanted me to do it. I don't do that anymore.
REHMI mean, how did you feel playing a villain?
DYKEWell, I had fun doing it because it's a whole different attitude that you take.
DYKEAnd I had a lot of laughs and everything, but I realize that that's not expected of me. There -- the number of movies I turned down, you know, which were just not my kind of thing. My kind of movie is -- you don't see much anymore.
DYKEI turned down "The Omen," which was -- as I look back, I probably was crazy. It was a little too violent for me.
REHMA little too dark, yeah.
DYKEBut it was a very good movie. It was awfully dark, and I don't mind, you know, Walt Disney said children love to be scared. He liked to give them goosebumps.
REHMYeah, but scared in a certain way. I mean, I can remember growing up, watching the Frankenstein and werewolf and Dracula movies.
DYKEOh my God, I had nightmares.
REHMOh my gosh, yeah. But somehow you could separate those from what you were, but the -- it seems to me the scary part today is that real people can do such horrific things.
DYKEYeah, we're seeing things we've never seen before.
DYKEAnd I don't know what it is. I don't think it's mentally unbalanced people. I think so many people are desperate, just they see nothing ahead in their lives. And I just think the -- people in terrible desperation. It's so sad.
REHMNow you're talking about...
DYKESpeaking of scaring kids, what surprised me was so many people tell me that the child-catcher in "Chitty Bang Bang" just scared them to death, and that didn't occur to me when we were making the movies, that he was a spooky guy.
REHMA spooky guy. Let's hear just a little bit of that.
DYKEWhat makes the battle worth the fighting? What makes the mountain worth the climb? What makes the questions worth the asking? The reason worth the rhyme? To me the answer is clear, it's having someone near, someone dear. (singing) Someone to care for, to be there for, I have you two. Someone to do for, muddle through for, I have you two. Someone to share...
REHMI'll be you're singing right along.
REHMAre you singing right along?
DYKEOf course. I always do. I think it's just a miracle that the two Sherman brothers wrote all those wonderful songs for "Mary Poppins" and then wrote songs like that for "Chitty Bang Bang." It happens to be one of my favorites.
REHMRight, and here's a caller from Cincinnati, Ohio. Susan, you're on the air.
SUSANHi, thank you for taking my call.
SUSANHappy early birthday, Mr. Van Dyke. I have a seven-year-old daughter, and we have really been enjoying "Mary Poppins" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" in the last couple years, and I hadn't watched them since I -- in a long time, and really saw for the first time with new eyes your dancing and how incredible your dancing is. And I just wanted to ask you about that, as far as, were you involved in the choreography? Were you -- what were your influences because you really - your own style was very apparent. And it brought us so much joy. So thank you so much.
DYKEOh, thank you. Well, I can't tell you the joy I had learning to dance. I was in my 30s before I was required to, and it was like flying. I couldn't believe the fun. And I had choreographers, Mark and Deedee, who both did "Poppins" and "Chitty Bang Bang." They -- the fact that I was untrained, they would take what I did well and build dances around it. So I look a lot better than I really am. But I love to dance.
REHMAre you serious that you never learned to dance until you were 30?
DYKEYeah, I never had any training.
DYKEAnd anything else, I didn't have any acting training or singing training. It just, it just all happened. I think that made it more fun for me than going through all the preparation.
REHMI mean, the kind of dancing that you do in both "Mary Poppins" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" seems to me would have required years of training, the sort that perhaps Fred Astaire had.
DYKEOh, you know, I once asked him, when he was close to my age, I said, can you still dance? And he says, yes, but it hurts now. I understood what he was saying.
REHMYou understood, and today I hope you are in good health and about to enjoy a huge birthday and that everyone around you will be enjoying that and singing so loudly to wish you many, many more years.
DYKEOh thank you so much, Diane. I'm looking forward to it.
REHMThank you. Dick Van Dyke, his newest book is titled "Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging." Thanks again, and thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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