June 5th, 2014

new romantic.

Review: My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke

My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business
by Dick Van Dyke

Reflecting back on his long and memorable career, actor Dick Van Dyke takes readers back to his childhood in Danville, IL and takes them behind the scenes of many of his most popular movies and TV shows. He also discusses his private life, including his alcoholism, his affair and divorce, and how his faith shaped his career and public persona.

I’m usually not much of a fan of celebrity memoirs, but I make an exception for Mr. Van Dyke. He was delightful in Mary Poppins (never mind the atrocious accent) and The Dick Van Dyke Show, and I can’t help but respect an actor who, in his seventies, managed to star in a long-running show (Diagnosis: Murder) in a terribly youth-obsessed medium. If nothing else, I thought his life would be interesting.

As written here, it both is and isn’t.

I enjoyed Van Dyke’s candid discussion of many of his projects – no doubt possible because many of his collaborators are long dead. He admits that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was an attempt to recreate the charm (and box office success) of Mary Poppins and that it was an inferior film, and recognizes that beyond sentimental nostalgia there isn’t much to enjoy in The Dick Van Dyke Show’s reunion episode. He also had a lot of praise for many of his co-stars.

The trivia and the behind-the-scenes stories are often fun. Did you know that Dick Van Dyke is a huge fan of computer animation, and he created the graphics that appear in Diagnosis: Murder? The thought of this white-haired grandfather gleefully messing around on his computer to create little 3D cartoons delights me. I just wish that there were more little stories like this from his personal life. It sometimes feels like Van Dyke is doing little more than listing off his resume and name-dropping other celebrities he worked with during his many years in showbiz, especially when he mentions his TV specials or other minor projects.

I don’t mean to be nosy. I respect his privacy about his family and home life. But it’s a little disappointing that he blitzes through the first quarter of his life in about twenty pages! It would have been nice to hear more about his childhood, which he describes as a more or less normal Middle America upbringing. So what is that, Mr. Van Dyke? I was born in the 1980s in a big city, and I would love to know more about a Depression era childhood. Then there’s the alcoholism. Since Van Dyke repeatedly mentions that alcohol was a problem for him, I expected more examples of how it was affecting his life. Although he describes his treatment of it, and some of his struggles with alcohol, it comes off as more of an annoyance than a problem that threatened to derail his career. Maybe it never did.

At any rate, Van Dyke comes off as a nice guy (but rather egotistical) who tried to be as wholesome and family friendly as the characters he played on TV, but didn’t always manage it. He admits that other people have found him “difficult to know” but brushes it off as a result of his habit of thinking deep thoughts all the time. A bit self-absorbed, no? But then again, after fifty-plus years maintaining a persona as a cheerful family man, perhaps it’s difficult to shed that disguise, even for the sake of a tell-all memoir.

2.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: Dover Bargain Bin: Books Up to 70% off
2012: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus until June 9th
2011: Fashionista Piranha on hiatus for a while…
2010: Video: Why Indie Bookstores Are Better
2009: Love’s Pursuit by Siri Mitchell