Monday, December 3, 2012

Between Books - My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business

Dick Van Dyke in a suit tipping his cap and doing a leg kick on book cover.

Dick Van Dyke in My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business reminisces on his life and career as an entertainer.  Van Dyke chronicles his early years as a boy growing up in Illinois, a boy who showed an aptitude for performing.  Van Dyke recounts childhood, years as a young man serving in the military, early jobs in entertainment on radio and as a television host.  Van Dyke’s big break came with his role of Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie.  This play led to his introduction with Carl Reiner and his breakout role as Rob Petrie on the Dick Van Dyke Show from 1961 to 1966.  This role led to other opportunities including as Bert in Mary Poppins.  Constantly threatening retirement, Van Dyke continued a prolific acting career on television and the big screen that continues after the 2011 publication date of My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business.  Along with his professional career, Van Dyke details his family life including his alcoholism, divorce from his first wife, relationship with long time partner Michelle Triola, and the death of his oldest grandchild due to Reye’s Syndrome. 
This review is of the audio version of the book.  And honestly the format probably increased my enjoyment.  As an audio book read by Van Dyke you both feel like you are engaged in an actual conversation with a joyful man.   And Van Dyke is able to not only read but perform for you his book.  And Van Dyke is truly a delight!  The content itself is an easy listen, and would likely be an easy read.  But I think in the print form I would find myself more critical of his mistakes, such as calling the U.S. Army Air Corps the Air Force, and I did not seek out glaring omissions.  In the audio format it is truly Van Dyke’s story as told by Van Dyke.  And you simply don’t have the heart to interrupt or correct him as he tells you of his life. 
I was overall surprised by the content.  You discover that Van Dyke at one time planned to become a pastor.  This reveals an unexpected spiritual side of Van Dyke.  He paints himself as a man who puts a large value in the power of love.  And I was not aware of his battles with alcohol, including how he used his work to help battle this demon.  The text also reminded me of a time when television network movies had a greater impact on society than I believe occurs today.  But I was also disappointed, Van Dyke has led a full life so the sections I wanted to hear the most about run past at a fast pace.  His discussion on Mary Poppins is too short for my liking.  Of course that is me the Disney fan wanting an entire disc, or maybe two, to cover this seminal movie.  I did enjoy him recounting his experience having to audition for the role of Mr. Dawes Senior for Walt Disney.  And he clearly hated working on wires!   
Van Dyke clearly has a viewpoint where he sees things in only the most positive way.  He jokes as he opens that the fact that he was born out of wedlock is the only real controversy in his life.  To others that may seem as a strange statement.  Van Dyke as an adult struggled with addiction.  In  the 1970’s the family friendly Van Dyke both separated from his wife, who he did not divorce until the 1980s, but also started a long-term relationship with Triola.  Triola had recently completed a long term relationship with actor Lee Marvin, who she was suing for palimony a completely new concept at the time.  And some of his professional choices caused a stir, such as controversy  in the 1970s on The New Dick Van Dyke Show that hinted his on-screen son accidentally witnessed his television parents being intimate.  But for events some may see as controversy, Van Dyke just seems to view as life.    
Overall, I am glad I listened to this book instead of reading it.  As an audio book it was both a performance and a conversation.  But as a book it lacked the Disney specific content I would want to add to my personal Between Books library.  Still, Van Dyke is a treasure and his spirit of joy is infectious especially when one can hear it in his voice. 


  1. Along the same lines, I really enjoyed Julie Andrews' book HOME. I read it, didn't listen to it and it contained some very interesting stories. Not very Disney focused but something nice to maybe supplement this book for you. (A book, let me say, that has been on my list FOR TOO LONG NOW.) Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Home! I tried the same because the Van Dyke book was delightful hearing him tell the story. But for some reason I can't get last disc 3 of Home.