It was an emotional, nostalgic moment at the Screen Actors Guild Awards last year when Dick Van Dyke gave Mary Tyler Moore the guild’s 48th Life Achievement Award. The two veterans, who had come to TV fame playing Rob and Laura Petrie on the landmark 1961-66 CBS sitcom “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” reunited on stage.
Sunday evening it was Van Dyke’s turn. The sprightly 87-year-old Van Dyke was the richly deserved recipient of the 49th achievement award. And SAG brought out a big comedy gun to present Van Dyke with his honor: Alec Baldwin of “30 Rock.” “Dick Van Dyke Show” creator Carl Reiner -- who also played Petrie’s boss Alan Brady on the series -- had been scheduled to be a presenter but was unable to attend.
Following a standing ovation, Van Dyke told the SAG crowd that “the years have been full of surprises and a lot of fun.” He also called this “the greatest generation of actors ... you’ve all lifted the art to another place now.”
But in a comic vein he also told the actors, “Aren’t we lucky to have found a line of work that doesn’t require growing up? I love that.”
Van Dyke has been making people laugh for more than 60 years. He got his first big break pantomiming records, which was quite the rage then, as a member of the Merry Mutes in Los Angeles. He landed a seven-year contract with CBS in in the 1950s after he auditioned for the network in New York City. Soon the lanky comic actor was appearing as a guest on such series as “The Phil Silvers Show.”
He quickly conquered Broadway, winning a Tony for his role as a songwriter in the musical “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1960; he would also star in the 1963 film version. Reiner saw him in “Birdie” on Broadway and “offered me the role of Rob Petrie,” Van Dyke told The Times in last month.
“I took a week off from ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and did the pilot of ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ in Los Angeles, and it sold. So then I knew I’d made it because, my God, the comedy writing! Carl was a genius at that. From then on it was just a lot of fun.”
While making “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” he appeared with Oscar winner Julie Andrews in the 1964 Disney musical “Mary Poppins,” in which he introduced the Academy Award-winning song “Chim Chim Cher-ee.”
Three years later, he starred in the popular movie musical “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."
Van Dyke and Reiner teamed up again for the 1971-74 CBS sitcom “The New Dick Van Dyke Show." He had far more success in the lighthearted 1993-2001 CBS mystery drama “Diagnosis Murder.” Van Dyke played Dr. Mark Sloan, a doctor who also worked with his police detective son (Van Dyke’s own son, Barry) solving murder cases.
The actor said that he wanted the series to be “warm, and we kept it a loose ship. If anybody had a funny idea and we could work humor in, we did. I think that’s why it lasted so long.”
Van Dyke continues to work in such films as in 2006’s “Night at the Museum,” in which he had a rare villain role. “Playing the villain is fun sometimes. You can bring out your evil side. Although every time I play a murderer, somebody will write me -- they don’t like to see me do it.”