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My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business

4.1 140
by Dick Van Dyke

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Dick Van Dyke, indisputably one of the greats of the golden age of television, is admired and beloved by audiences the world over for his beaming smile, his physical dexterity, his impeccable comic timing, his ridiculous stunts, and his unforgettable screen roles.
His trailblazing television


Dick Van Dyke, indisputably one of the greats of the golden age of television, is admired and beloved by audiences the world over for his beaming smile, his physical dexterity, his impeccable comic timing, his ridiculous stunts, and his unforgettable screen roles.
His trailblazing television program, The Dick Van Dyke Show (produced by Carl Reiner, who has written the foreword to this memoir), was one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1960s and introduced another major television star, Mary Tyler Moore. But Dick Van Dyke was also an enormously engaging movie star whose films, including Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, have been discovered by a new generation of fans and are as beloved today as they were when they first appeared. Who doesn’t know the word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?
A colorful, loving, richly detailed look at the decades of a multilayered life, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, will enthrall every generation of reader, from baby-boomers who recall when Rob Petrie became a household name, to all those still enchanted by Bert’s “Chim Chim Cher-ee.” This is a lively, heartwarming memoir of a performer who still thinks of himself as a “simple song-and-dance man,” but who is, in every sense of the word, a classic entertainer.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

James Rosen
Comprehensive and spare, My Lucky Life deals forthrightly with Van Dyke's ups and downs, demons and misdeeds, yet still conveys the decency—and deft humor…of the legendary performer.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
“In my opinion, ‘Luck’ has little to do with Dick Van Dyke’s life. It is, rather, his innate kindness and talent that have had an extraordinary effect in shaping the man. And what a fascinating self-portrait he’s given us in this book.”
—Mary Tyler Moore

“From the time I worked with Dick on the movie Bye Bye Birdie, I have admired his many talents, not the least of which is the joy and enthusiasm he shares with audiences.  I’m a big fan of his……and his book.”—Ann-Margret

“Van Dyke tells a wonderful story about himself and his times.  And—in an often surprsingly relevant manner—our times. We’ve always liked the performer—it’s hard not to like Dick Van Dyke—but this will will make you admire him.”--Playbill

From the Hardcover edition.

Library Journal
Fans who like Van Dyke's affable, self-deprecating characters will enjoy this first memoir, because his prose is as easygoing and comical as he appears on-screen. At the outset, Van Dyke warns readers that he is not going to dish the dirt, and he doesn't, but he will still engage celebrity watchers with inside stories of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Poppins, and other parts of his career. From the Midwest, he describes his parents and childhood as pretty unspectacular. He began in local radio, but a pairing with a friend to form a novelty act was his entry into show business. He moved from variety show to variety show and finally landed the lead in Bye Bye Birdie. He includes lots of anecdotes about Carl Reiner (his idol), Julie Andrews (a lady, first and foremost), Mary Tyler Moore (he had a crush on her), and Cloris Leachman (even more of a character offscreen), among others. VERDICT Celebrity watchers will not be disappointed by this matter-of-fact but heartwarming, long-awaited memoir by a beloved entertainer. [See Prepub Alert, 11/15/10.]—Rosellen Brewer, Sno-Isle Libs., Marysville, WA
Kirkus Reviews

A song and dance man of the first order looks back.

Van Dyke breezily recounts his adventures as a straight-down-the-middle "square" and family man navigating the vicissitudes of show business in this slight memoir, which highlights the strengths and pitfalls of the performer's signature amiability. The author is unfailingly pleasant company on the page, and his low-stakes anecdotes and fond remembrances go down easily. But his unwillingness or inability to confront the uglier aspects of life (and particularly life in Hollywood) ultimately makes for a rather bland repast. It's not as if Van Dyke lacked material; his well-publicized battle with alcoholism and the dissolution of his longtime marriage would seem ripe for serious introspection, but this is not the author's style. He addresses the issues forthrightly but with a scrupulous lack of salaciousness or soul-searching or anything approaching a strong emotional response. Van Dyke is clearly happiest relating amusing anecdotes about his Midwestern boyhood, struggling early days in show business and his successes in such classic examples of all-American family entertainment asBye Bye Birdie,Mary Poppins and the deathlessDick Van Dyke Show, still a high-water mark in the history of TV comedy. Van Dyke heaps love and praise on collaborators like Carl Reiner and Mary Tyler Moore, who surely deserve it, but the unremitting niceness becomes numbing, to the extent that a couple of bawdy incidents involving actress Maureen Stapleton stand out as Caligula-like descents into depravity by comparison. The author's earnest, boyish persona anchored his astounding gifts as a physical performer—his rubber-limbed pratfalls, fleet dancing and instinctive genius with bits of comedy "business" are justly revered—but absent this physical dimension, Van Dyke here is earnestly, boyishly...dull.

Perfectly pleasant, mildly diverting and forgettable—kind of like an episode ofDiagnosis: Murder.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


It was nighttime, February 1943, and I was standing next to my mother, thinking about the war in Europe. I had a very good relationship with my mother, so there's no need for any psychoanalysis about why I was thinking of the war. The fact was, we had finished dinner and she was washing the dishes and I was drying them, as was our routine. My father, a traveling salesman, was on the road, and my younger brother, Jerry, had run off to play.

We lived in Danville, Illinois, which was about as far away from the war as you could get. Danville was a small town in the heartland of America, and it felt very much like the heartland. It was quiet and neighborly, a place where there was a rich side of town and a poor side, but not a bad side. The streets were brick. The homes were built in the early 1900s. Everybody had a backyard; most were small but none had fences.

People left their doors open and their lights on, even when they went out. Occasionally someone down on their luck would knock on the back door and my mother would give him something to eat. Sometimes she would give him an odd job to do, too.

I had things on my mind that night. You could tell from the way I looked out the kitchen window as I did my part of the dishes. I stood six feet one inch and weighed 130 pounds, if that. I was a tall drink of water, as my grandmother said.

"I'm going to be eighteen in March," I said. "That means I'll be up for the draft. I really don't want to go-and I really don't want to be in the infantry. So I'm thinking that I ought to join now and try to get in the Air Force."

My mother let the dish she was washing slide back into the soapy water and dried her hands. She turned to me, a serious look on her face.

"I have something to tell you," she said.


"You're already eighteen," she said.

My jaw dropped. I was shocked.

"But how-"

"You were born a little premature," she explained. "You didn't have any fingernails. And there were a few other complications."

"Complications?" I said.

"Don't worry, you're fine now," she said, smiling. "But we just put your birth date forward to what would have been full term."

I wanted to know more than she was willing to reveal, so I turned to another source, my Grandmother Van Dyke. My grandparents on both sides lived nearby, but Grandmother Van Dyke was the most straightforward of the bunch. I stopped by her house one day after school and asked what she remembered about the complications that resulted from my premature birth.

She looked like she wanted to say "bullshit." She asked who had sold me a bill of goods.

"My mother," I replied.

"You weren't premature," she said.

"I wasn't?"

"You were conceived out of wedlock," she said, and then she went on to explain that my mother had gotten pregnant before she and my father married. Though it was never stated, I was probably the reason they got married. Eventually my mother confirmed the story, adding that after finding out, she and my father went to Missouri, where I was born. Then, following a certain amount of time, they returned to Danville.

It may not sound like such a big deal today, but back in 1925 it was the stuff of scandal. And eighteen years later, as I uncovered the facts, it was still pretty shocking to discover that I was a "love child."

I am still surprised the secret was kept from me for such a long time when others knew the truth. Danville was a town of thirty thousand people, and it felt as if most of them were relatives. I had a giant extended family. My great-grandparents on both sides were still alive, and I had first, second, and third cousins nearby. I could walk out of my house in any direction and hit a relative before I got tired.

There were good, industrious, upstanding, and attractive people in our family. There were no horse thieves or embezzlers. I was once given a family tree that showed the Van Dyke side was pretty unspectacular. My great-great-grandfather John Van Dyke went out west via the Donner Pass during the gold rush. After failing to find gold, he resettled in Green County, Pennsylvania.

The same family tree showed that Mother's side of the family, the McCords, could be traced back to Captain John Smith, who established the first English colony in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Maybe it is true, but I never heard any talk about that when I was growing up. Nor have I fact-checked.

The part beyond dispute begins when my father, Loren, or L. W. Van Dyke, met my mother, Hazel McCord. She was a stenographer, and he was a minor-league baseball player: handsome, athletic, charming, the life of the party. And his talent did not end there. During the off-season, he played saxophone and clarinet in a jazz band. Although unable to read a note of music, he could play anything he heard.

He was enjoying the life of a carefree bon vivant until my mother informed him that she was in a family way. All of a sudden the good life as he knew it vanished. He accepted the responsibility, though, marrying my mom and getting a job as a salesman for the Sunshine Cookie Company.

He hated the work, but he always had a shine on his shoes and a smile on his face. Years later, when I saw Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman, I was depressed for a month. It was my dad's story.

He was saved by his sense of humor. Customers enjoyed his company when he dropped by. Known as Cookie, he was a good time wherever he went. Unfortunately for us, he was usually on the road all week and then spent weekends unwinding on the golf course or hunting with friends. At home, he would have a drink at night and smoke unfiltered Fatima cigarettes while talking to my mother.

He was more reserved around my brother and me, but we knew he loved us. We never questioned it. He was one of those men who did not know how to say the words. A joke was easy. At a party, everyone left talking about what a great guy he was. But a heart-to-heart talk with us boys was not in his repertoire. Years later, after I was married, Jerry and my dad drove to Atlanta to visit us. I asked Jerry what he and Dad had talked about on the drive. He shrugged his shoulders.

"You know Dad," he said. "Not much of anything."

My mother was the opposite. She was funny like my dad, but much more talkative. If she had a deficiency, it was a tendency toward absentmindedness. She once cooked a ham and later found it in my father's shirt drawer. I am not kidding. And when I was in my thirties, she confessed that when I was little she and my father would go to the movies and leave me at home by myself in the crib. I would be a mess when they returned.

"I don't know how I could've done that," she said.

"Me neither," I replied.

"But we were young," she said, smiling. "We didn't mean any harm. We just didn't know any better."

I was five and a half years old when my brother, Jerry, was born. It was not long before my parents moved him from a little bassinet in their room to a crib in my room and made it my job to go upstairs after dinner and gently shake the crib until he went to sleep. Within a year or two, I was given the job of babysitting. It wasn't a problem during the daytime when my mom ran errands and was gone a short time, but there were longer stretches at night when my parents went out and our old house filled with strange noises and eerie creaks, and I turned into a wreck.

Convinced that the place was haunted, I would pull a crate into the middle of the house and sit on it with an ax in my lap, ever vigilant and ready to protect my baby brother-and myself!

At six years old, I was sent to kindergarten. There was only one kindergarten in town, and it was located in the well-to-do section. The school was quite hoity-toity. Every morning my mother dressed me up and gave me two nickels. I used one for the six-mile trolley ride to Edison Elementary, and in the afternoon I used my other nickel to get back home.

For first grade, I switched to Franklin Elementary, which was on the other side of town, the side that was struggling even more than we were through the Great Depression. We didn't have much, but the families in this area did not have anything. All the boys at school wore overalls and work shoes-all of them except for me. I arrived on the first day in a Lord Fauntleroy suit, blue with a Peter Pan collar and a beret.

Since I was the only one in class with any schooling, the teacher made me the class monitor and assigned me to escort kids to the bathroom and back. It was a rough job. Some of the kids were crying. Others wanted to go home. I had my hands full all morning. Between my outfit and my job as helper, I was teased for being the teacher's pet.

At recess, I walked outside and a tough kid in overalls-his name was Al-punched me in the chest while another boy kneeled down behind me. Then Al pushed me backward, and I lost my balance and fell down. I ended up with a bloody nose and a few scratches. They also threw my beret on the roof, and for all I know, it is still there.

I was a mess when I got home after school.

"What in God's name happened to you?" my mother said.

I was too much of a little man to rat out the other kids.

I spared her the details and simply said, "Mom, I need some overalls."

As for the Depression, I remember my parents having some heated arguments about unpaid bills, and which bills to pay. They went in and out of debt and periodically got a second mortgage on the furniture. I wasn't aware of any hardship and never felt the stigma of having to watch every nickel. Everybody was poor.

Actually, we had it better than most. My maternal grandfather owned a grocery store that also sold kosher meat. He did well. He also owned our house, so we had free rent and food. My other grandfather worked in the shop at the East Illinois Railroad. The train yard was his life. He never took a vacation. If he had time off, he put up storm windows for one of us or fixed a broken door for someone. He was always busy.

On Christmas, we came downstairs in the morning and found him waiting for us, after having lit the tree, started a fire in the fireplace, and gotten everything ready. I looked up to him and, with my father on the road more often than not, he became a role model. He was a seemingly simple, industrious man, but he did a lot of thinking about things, too, and that rubbed off on me.

Thanks to my mother and her mother, there was a good measure of talk about religion in our house when I was growing up. Every summer, I went to Bible school. A bus picked me up across the street from our house early in the morning and brought me back in the afternoon. I hated it. I would rather have played and run around with friends.

Nonetheless, at age eleven, I took it upon myself to read the Bible from front to back. I struggled through the various books, asked questions, and when I reached the end I had no idea what any of it meant. But it pleased my mother and grandmother, who were proud of me and boasted to friends of my accomplishment.

As for my studies in school, I was a solid student. I was strong in English and Latin, but I got lost anytime the subject included math. I wish I had paid more attention to biology and science in general, subjects that came to interest me as an adult. I could have gotten better marks, but I never took a book home, never did homework. Come to think of it, neither of my parents ever looked at any of my report cards. They thought I was a good kid-and looking back, I guess I was.

Chapter 2


Just before I started ninth grade, my father was transferred to Indiana and we spent a year in Crawfordsville. We took an apartment there. I came into my own. It was not a personality change as much as it was the realization that I had a personality. I also found out that I could run and jump pretty well, and I got on the freshman track team. Success on the track added to my self-confidence, including one particular day that still stands out as the most exciting of my life.

We lived across the street from Wabash College, a beautiful little school that gave the town a youthful feel. On Saturdays they hosted collegiate track meets, which our high-school coach helped officiate. I watched all the competitions. This one particular day, Wabash was running against Purdue University and I was in the stands when my coach came up to me and said that the anchorman on the Wabash team had turned his ankle and was unable to run in the race

"Do you want to run anchor?" he said.

"Are you kidding?" I replied.

"They need a man," he said.

What an offer! I was only fifteen years old, but heck, the chance to compete against college boys was one I did not want to pass up. Even though I didn't have track shoes, which were considered essential to running a good race, since in those days the tracks were layered with cinders, I jumped to my feet. Yes, I told my coach, I was ready to fill in for the Wabash team-and as anchor no less.

When I took the baton, Purdue's anchor was slightly ahead of me. I was not intimidated. We had one hundred yards ahead of us and he did not look that fast to me. I ran hard, gained ground every few steps, and passed him on the outside, with about twenty yards to go.

I heard the crowd roar and held on to the lead, crossing the tape before all the other college boys.

I won.

A high-school freshman.


They gave me a blue ribbon, which I took home and showed my father. He didn't believe me when I said I beat a college boy from Purdue. He thought I was lying. It was, I agreed, pretty far-fetched. The kid I beat was older and could really run. But I was faster-at least that day.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

was born in West Plains, Missouri, in 1925. He is an internationally recognized and accomplished performer, and has been a recipient of the Theatre World Award, a Tony, a Grammy, and four Emmy awards. He lives in California.

From the Hardcover edition.

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My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 139 reviews.
EllenR54 More than 1 year ago
You won't be disappointed. I was so glad to read that Dick Van Dyke is as nice as I always thought he was. What a decent and kind human being. I couldn't stop reading it and wish it was longer.
Reisman More than 1 year ago
Dick Van Dyke's autobiography is a pleasure to read! It's one of the few celebrity books that isn't boring and is a real page turner! I didn't want it to end! He is so humble and considers all of his success just "luck". Also, besides telling great stories about his remarkable career, he also shares his personal life, including his fears and insecurities! I really enjoyed reading his struggle with the mysteries of life as I often think the very same things! I really identified with him. He is a really likeable person and this is a really fun book to read!!
Strutzie More than 1 year ago
I grew watching reruns of the Dick Van Dyke show. I rarely have read pop culture bios as usually I stick to history and such. But I have always admired Dick Van Dyke and thought this sounded interesting. I couldn't stop reading it. What a delightful person who lived a rich life. Highly recommend this well written auto biography. If you like Rob Petry you'll like this book!
Mshall More than 1 year ago
I love this book and wish there were 200 more pages.Mr Van Dyke is as talented a writer as he is a performer.
mary beth pilcher More than 1 year ago
I have always been a fan of Dick Van Dyke ever since i was younger. He always made me laugh. As soon as I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. The way his life and career were described made me realize how lucky we are that someone took a chance with an unknown funny man. This is a tale of honest struggles that many people can relate to on many levels. Congratulations Dick Van Dyke on a wonderful career and on many more things to come.
Mitci More than 1 year ago
I found Dick Van Dyke's book to be a wonderful, truthful, and highly entertaining book. I loved hearing all the inside stories from his career in show business. Mary Poppins was a favorite and is timeless. I will admit to being disappointed to learn the reasons behind the break up of his marriage. His battles with alcohol and cigarettes were dealt with honestly and I admire his courage in telling it like was. Anyone who has enjoyed Dick Van Dyke's tv series, movies, and stage performances will find this a great read!
Heidi_G More than 1 year ago
Oh, how I love Dick Van Dyke! This audio version of his book is superb, as it is narrated by the man himself. It is an honest look at the ups and downs (and there were more than a couple downs) of his life, from growing up in the rural Midwest and learning he was born out of wedlock to his rise as a performer. He tells of his struggles iwth alcohol and his attraction to a woman other than his wife, which ultimately led to a divorce from the mother of his four children. The sneaking around aspect of the affair was not in keeping with the numerous occasions that DVD mentions he only did shows which his children could watch--a bit hypocritical but then by the time of the affair, his youngest child was in high school. This 85-year-old performer has lots of stories to tell about the hard times tyring to get (and keep) jobs. The joys of fatherhood and the loss of the two women in his adult life are also chronicled. Next up for Dick Van Dyke--more performing. Next up for me--wathing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang again!
SarasFoxy More than 1 year ago
I absolutely cherished every page of this book! I have loved Dick van Dyke all through my childhood and just as much now that I'm grown. He was brilliant as Rob Petrie, and I adored Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins (How could you not?), so it was awe inspiring to hear, in his own words, his background, and how he went through such hard times and such great times, and what went on behind the scenes. He kept such a bright outlook through it all- and never gave up on his dreams. Great book by a brilliant actor!
CagedBirdSings More than 1 year ago
Mr. Van Dyke's insight on life was refreshing and comforting. I like how he started off the book by saying, if you're looking for scandal you won't find it here. Although I didn't know most of the people he mentioned in his book (primarily because of my age), his story was very insightful. I like his views on equality, life, and love.
Anthony See More than 1 year ago
Quite enjoyable and entertaining. LOVED all of the show business stories! Van Dyke seems like someone you'd want to be friends with - just an all-around, funny nice guy.
LucySkyDiamonds More than 1 year ago
I've loved Dick Van Dyke since I was a little thing watching Mary Poppins for the first time. He is truly a remarkable person and a man to be admired. I greatly enjoyed reading his book. It is fun, funny, and very touching. Van Dyke's voice comes through and it's like he's sitting in the room with you telling the story. I can't wait to see what Dick Van Dyke does next!
SL69 More than 1 year ago
This book is great. I can not put it down. When i went to read the sample it only took about 5 pages in and I bought the book. Of course I have always like Dick Van Dyke so it was an easy choice.
TiredofGarbage More than 1 year ago
Excellent, really captures Mr. Van Dyke's voice. You learn that he does amazing charity work, including singing at hospitals and benefits. A real treat to read too. Do yourself a super favor and buy this book - if you loved Mary Poppins, Chitty and of course the TV show, then you just cannot miss this book. Thank you sir, you are a real treasure.
nookreaderCH More than 1 year ago
I have always liked Dick Van Dyke on tv and in the movies. I couldn't put this story down. He comes across as very humble. He wanted to play characters that he could be proud of to watch with his family and he stuck with that desire in spite of being encouraged to try more adult roles. I am lucky that he has shared his story. I loved his quote about growing older being a precious gift given only to some lucky human beings.
Adolphine More than 1 year ago
The simplicity and unpretentious tone of the book, makes it an easy read and also make the accounts written in its pages believable. The stories demonstrate how one can be true to oneself by embracing frailities and pursuing what one loves.
pfmdesigner More than 1 year ago
I've always loved Dick Van Dyke so I approached this book with both fear and anticipation. Too often autobiographies introduce a person who does not stand up to the fantasy created by movie and televisioin roles and careful publicists. Yes there were things that were hard to reconcile with the happy-go-lucky Bert, or unfailingly "right" Caractacus Potts. But these very human struggles and triumphs are what make Dick Van Dyke exactly the same as, and profoundly more than, all of his most famous roles. I have no complaints about this book, but I will allow myself a small whine. It was too short. Every chapter could have been expanded into a full book of its own, as far as I am concerned. Do not read this if you're hoping for backstage scandal or biting tattles on co-stars. Mr. Van Dyke is a gentleman who opens his own life to the reader but leaves other people to tell their own stories.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
As a young adult reader, all I really knew of Van Dyke before this book were his roles in Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I am so pleased to read accounts from such an honest and genuine man who has seen all aspects of show biz, and still continues to stay true to himself. As an aspiring performer myself, I look up to his outlook on upholding integrity as an artist. He is truly inspirational. Worth every penny and every hour spent reading!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I grew up adoring Dick Van Dyke for his numerous roles, especially Bert in Mary Poppins. He is bursting with talent and it was always so aparent in anything he did. He always seemed to be so genuine, down to earth and likeable. After reading this book, all of that is true 10 fold. He truly is a delightful American treasure. This book was written in a very personal and heartwarming manner. Worth the purchase!
Briona Nichols More than 1 year ago
I love him
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved watching his old re-runs as a kid and thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.
Heather1027 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed reading this book. Dick Van Dyke has been a favorite of mine for a long time. He truly comes across as a nice, down to earth man who never compromised his ideals and values for the sake of making money. His honesty is refreshing and it was an all around great read. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took me about six hour to read this book on my nook. I could not put it down. I absolutely loved the book. It brought back so many memories from when I was growing up and watched The Dick Van Dyke show. He was and is a very talented man.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Such a pleasure to read about the life of this dear American performing legend. Dick Van Dyke is surely the same delightful man which shines through all of his best roles. Recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved....i mean just LOVED this book. I've always loved Dick Van Dyke, and I enjoyed reading his history from his own perspective. He doesn't take all day telling a story and his timing is as spot on on print as it is in person. He is a unique and wonderful American Icon, and one we can be proud of. I appreciate that he wrote this.
The-Badger More than 1 year ago
A pleasant memoir, which promised not to be a tell-all book. Unfortunately, Dick Van Dyke could have told us a little more without airing dirty laundry. Telling the reader he and the rest of the crew and cast cracked each other up is not as substantive as telling the reader what it is that got everyone to crack up. Overall readable and enjoyable. It shows Dick was not so much lucky as he was a hard working craftsman.