by Vince Waldron

Chicago Review Press


403pp/$18.95/October 2011

The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The image of a tall, thin, well-dressed man entering his home and walking to greet friends before tripping over an ottoman is indelibly etched into the collective consciousness of the American television viewing public, but as Vince Waldron points out in The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book, that opening, not used until the second season of the show, was only occasionally shown in rotation with two other openings.  This sort of trivia appears throughout this entertaining history of the television show which ran from 158 episodes from October 3, 1961 through June 1, 1966.  

Carl Reiner began writing a show called Head of the Family a few years before The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Reiner starred in the pilot, which aired, but the show was never picked up.  Eventually, he would take the thirteen scripts he had written and retool them into The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Integral to the revision of the show was producer Sheldon Leonard, who informed Reiner that as an actor, Reiner was the weak link in Head of the Family and convinced Reiner to step back and simply be a producer for the show. Waldron provides this background before discussing the casting of actors and the way the show was put together.  Focusing not just on the talent, but the directors and other people who worked behind the scenes, Waldron includes numerous anecdotes and trivia which add to the complexity, texture, and enjoyment of the show.

Waldron originally published the book in 1994 and the book quickly garnered the praise of all those who were affiliated with the show:  Van Dyke, Carl Reiner, Morey Amsterdam, Rose Marie, and Sheldon Leonard. Waldron has managed to expand that original volume for the fiftieth anniversary of the show, including details of the 2004 reunion show, Amsterdam and Rose Marie's guest appearance as husband and wife on Caroline in the City in 1996, as well as Reiner's reprisal of his role as Alan Brady on Mad About You and the short-lived animated Alan Brady Show. The continuation of the characters and linking of the actors so long after The Dick Van Dyke Show went off the air demonstrates how much of a touchstone the show was, much more succinctly than the excellent book that precedes the telling of its longevity.

Waldron ends the book with a show-by-show listing, not just of titles and guest stars, but with brief notes about the shows, listings of songs used in the shows, and often trivia about the specific episodes.  This listing takes up a substantial part of the volume, but once the main text is read (and enjoyed), it is these listings that offer a quick look into the episodes and make the book worth keeping on the shelf next to a collection of The Dick Van Dyke Show DVDs.

The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book is almost as entertaining as an episode of the series and although Waldron is not able to include the episodes themselves, and he rightfully only provides a few synopses and rarely quotes from the shows, he manages to present the flavor of the show to the reader.  The actors, from Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore to Amsterdam and Reiner, had such distinctive speaking styles that when Waldron quotes them, whether in character or as actors talking about the show, the timbre of their voices and their speech patterns jump off the page, making the reader want to find The Dick Van Dyke Show on television or pop in a DVD. 

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