By Carl Reiner

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Why & When The Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The Dick van Dyke Show debuted on CBS on October 3, 1961 and earned abysmal ratings in its first year. Facing cancellation, the show went into summer reruns and found its audience, running for five seasons, earning fifteen Emmy Awards, and eventually being run in syndicated re-runs and released on DVD. The show’s creator, Carl Reiner, has written many memoirs that have touched on the show, but in Why & When The Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born, he focuses on the show.

Fans of the show who have watched all 158 episodes and the commentaries and special features on the DVD will find that much of this book is familiar. Reiner and van Dyke have told many of the stories included in its pages before. However, Reiner does cover some new ground so there are some surprises. In addition, the book is liberally illustrated with stills from Reiner’s life and from the show and the selection of some of the pictures clearly show Reiner’s sense of playfulness.

Many of the photos are production stills from the show, but others are related in interesting ways. When he discusses the episode “The Attempted Marriage,” in which Rob proposes to Laura and which is based on his own proposal, he includes a picture of himself in uniform with his wife, Estelle at Camp Crowder. In his discussion of Everett Sloane, who appeared as the title character in the episode “I’m No Henry Walden,” Reiner includes five pictures of Sloane from various roles as well as one of an historical figure Sloane portrayed.

While the main character in the book is Reiner, who based the series on his life, he also spends time talking about those the show was based on, like Mel Brooks and Syd Caesar, those who played the characters, like van Dyke, Mary Tyler Moore, Rose Marie, and Morey Amsterdam, and those behind the scenes, such as Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas. Reiner rightfully is proud of what he achieved, but also does a good job of sharing the credit with those who supported him and helped him achieve his goals.

For the most part, the book is a study in positivity, with Reiner expressing the joy he had in the creation of the show and with his team. That doesn’t mean he ignores issues that cropped up, just that dealing with Rose Marie’s disappointment that the show wasn’t what she expected is something Reiner sees as helping the two build a stronger relationship. About the only negative thing Reiner has to say about the period was when he was trying to find a spot for an actor who wound up going on to do a different show. Reiner’s negativity on that issue is not about losing the actor, but rather anger at himself for playing a role in the actor’s success.

The second half of the book consists of two scripts, the first for Reiner’s failed pilot, Head of the Family, in which he starred as Robert Petrie, and the second for the third episode of the second season, “The Attempted Marriage.” The scripts are presented straight and without annotations, although Reiner discusses both of them earlier in the volume. They are a nice added touch, but work best if read in conjunction with a viewing of the episodes.

Why & When The Dick Van Dyke Show Was Born is refreshing because it allows Reiner to share his experiences in a way that serves as a wonderful advertisement for The Dick van Dyke Show. Fans of the show want everything backstage to be as friendly and enjoyable as the time in front of the cameras and Reiner validates that expectation with almost everything he says. The worst that can be said of the book is that it will make the reader want to re-watch the series.

As a note, if the book is purchased directly from the publisher’s website (link above), the purchaser can request that it be autographed at no extra charge, by Carl Reiner.

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