Monday, October 3, 2011

The Dick Van Dyke Show Blogathon: Wandering Down Memory Lane


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of The Dick Van Dyke Show and this post is my contribution to the tribute blogathon hosted by Thrilling Days of Yesteryear. Click here for more on participating blogs...


In 1991, Nick at Night acquired and began airing The Dick Van Dyke Show, that sitcom ├╝ber-classic originally shown on CBS from 1961 -1966. Thrilled to be able to once again watch a favorite series I hadn’t seen in 25 years, I was ready to celebrate "our television heritage” with Nick at Nite...


To hear that tune and see those faces again was uplifting. The Dick Van Dyke Show lost none of its charm over the years. It sparkled still with that trademark mix of sophistication and slapstick ingeniously created by Carl Reiner, written by Bill Persky and Sam Denoff and performed by an unparalleled cast comprised of old pros and newcomers.

TV's first lady
America's first lady
Of course, I noticed a thing or two about the show that I hadn't long, long ago. One thing that caught my eye was that Rob and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) resembled nothing so much as a loosened-up, middle-class (and very funny) rendition of John F. and Jackie Kennedy, who were in the White House when Dick Van Dyke premiered and through its early years. Later I learned that on the day JFK delivered his famous inaugural address ("...ask not what your country can do for you..."),  the cast and crew of The Dick Van Dyke Show were filming the show's first episode. Who knew that two New Frontiers would open on the same day...

Laura Petrie was a perkier sort of of Jackie Kennedy. She was a cooking, cleaning, singing, dancing, housebound helpmate whereas the first lady masterminded state dinners, kept up with the arts, treasured all things French and spent weekends riding horses. But both ladies were fashion trendsetters. Beautiful Jackie popularized not just pillbox hats but an overall look of elegant simplicity. Meanwhile, New Rochelle's lovely Laura Petrie started a fashion craze of her own when she wore Capri pants...


CBS at first objected when Mary Tyler Moore began wearing pants on the show. For the most part TV housewives of that time were usually seen puttering about their homes in dresses (and, in June Cleaver's case, pearls and heels), and Laura-in-pants made the network nervous. Moore and producer Carl Reiner had agreed that since her character spent so much time at home, it made sense for her to dress casually. Within a few short years Time Magazine was proclaiming that Moore had "helped make Capri pants the biggest trend in US casual attire."

In the early '90s, as I watched Laura whip up a cake (or was she frying liver?) on Nick at Nite, I felt a sudden wave of nostalgia for the age of single-income families and stay-at-home moms.  Laura's life seemed so simple. She had most of her day to herself. While Rob was at work and Ritchie in school, all she had to do was keep the house and clothes clean, make sure there were groceries in the kitchen and food on the table. Rob probably even handled the bills! I didn't take this line of forbidden thinking very seriously for very long - but it gave me pause as I recalled my youthful scorn for the world of the housewife. A few years after The Dick Van Dyke Show ended, Mary Tyler Moore moved on to her own show. No longer a housewife on the New Frontier, she resurfaced as that beyond-iconic single working woman, Mary Richards of WJM-TV, Minneapolis. As I write this it occurs that, like Mary, I (eventually) became a single woman working for a local TV station - hadn't really thought about it before! Time to toss my hat in the air...

The first episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show aired 50 years ago tonight (2600 weeks ago tomorrow night at 8:00) - here's what viewers saw when they tuned in:

20 comments:

  1. I try not to do this -- but I always want to associate the Petrie's marriage with my parents, and I always seem to associate how, as you say, Laura "had most of the day to herself" with my Mom...she was stay-at-home until my youngest sister started school and then she ventured out into the work world into various occupations (working at a library, florist and finally savings and loan).

    I watched The Dick Van Dyke Show, of course, long before it became a staple of Nick at Nite but I can't help but become nostalgic for that time when it was on every evening and available for us helpless couch potatoes. I wish things were like that now, though TV Land's re-acquisition of the series is a step in the right direction. Thanks so much, your Eveship, for contributing to my 'umble little blogathon...your entry was marvelous!

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  2. "The Dick Van Dyke Show" gave us a moment in the lives of the Petries when all was as it should be - happy times when the kid was young, when the job was going well, friends abounded - life was good and appreciated. That moment can never grow stale.

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  3. Eve, love your comparison between Laura and Jackie! A quick detour: When I played trumpet in 7th grade, our band teacher tried to teach us THE THEME FROM THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. It's a surprising difficult piece of music...or was for us. It never really sounded very good!

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  4. Yes, I so agree with Caftan Woman. The Dick Van Dyke Show actually made us feel as if the world was a good place and life was worth living. AND that fun was to be had even if you were married. :)

    Though everyone had their place in Petrie World, I always thought Laura chafed a bit at having nothing to do to contribute to the fun Rob and his pals at the studio were having.

    I know I would have felt left out. I wonder if she was ever jealous of Sally.

    Thanks for a great post and for reminding me of the Camelot years and how different it all was.

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  5. Eve, my Mom and Dad had the same lifestyle as the Petries -- Mom working at home with 7 kids, and Dad out in the workplace. We used to laugh at some of the episodes where Laura said she was exhausted after taking care of Richie all day, especially my Mom who had been taking care of 7. We LOVED the DVD show, and never missed it. My Dad was funny like that.

    I think Laura's life looks great. Mom's life was like that (more kids of course), and Dad was funny and smart. Beats the hell out of working 8 to 5 while your kids are at a babysitter's and you miss being with them! I'm sure a lot of women disagree, but that's my opinion.

    Right at this moment, I am watching the scene where Rob picks up Laura, just as in your picture! TvLand just started a marathon with this first episode! Kudos for a really article!

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  6. I wish that I could remember The Dick Van Dyke shows, better than I do. Although.. I'm enjoying everyone's awesome posts. Ohmygosh...Laura and Jackie, do look alike.

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  7. This remains one of my favorite all-time TV shows!

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  8. Laura as Jackie of the suburbs! Only the brilliant Lady Eve could come up with that observation! The suburbs were the American Dream and Rob and Laura were the Prince and Princess of Camelot/New Rochelle. Only 45 minutes from Broadway, but oh how safe and secure. Sigh.....

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  9. Eve, I was a young kid but I remember the big deal about Laura wearing pants instead the pearls and ear rings of June Cleaver (like what Mom dressed like that at home unless they were rich and had maids to do all the work). The network also thought Moore was too young for Van Dyke. There was a time back then, I wish I had the Petries for parents. Not that my parents were bad, just that we lived in a small apartment and they had this nice house out in the suburbs and Rob had a great job and Laura was pretty.

    John

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  10. The Petrie's were young and energetic and had a lot more chemistry going than the Cleavers or the Anderson's or any of the earlier t.v. married couples that I remember watching. The Dick Van Dyke Show was overflowing with talent, in front of and behind the camera. I think this show was an excellent transition out of the
    50's and into the swinging 60's (the Camelot years and beyond) and this was one of the reasons it was so memorable. It's amazing to me how well Mary Tyler Moore's portrayal of Laura Petrie holds up. Laura was really an important aspect of the show's success and she cut quite a figure in those classic capris, probably inspiring a sexual revolution in a lot of young male viewers. I still remember the sequence with her and the cast joined by Chubby Checker, doing "The Twist" - I could never have imagined Barbara Billingsley doing that.

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  11. Thank you all for stopping by, and special thanks to Ivan for hosting a wonderful blogathon for a most deserving TV series, one of the greatest ever.

    This post nearly became an opus-ish reflection on DVD and the early '60s (a subject most fascinating to me but perhaps a little overly serious for the occasion). Realizing DVD speaks for itself better than anyone, I decided to go light on me and heavy on the DVD video clips. Hope you enjoyed them...

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  12. Eve, excellent post. I was 11 when the show started and 16 when it ended, so I was impressed on your 60's insight. BTW I watched the last show (The Gunslinger) yesterday and it still holds up, great writing, direction, and above all casting always does.

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  13. Hi, Paul - As I delved into the the '60s, it was obvious that the early part of the decade was a 'new frontier' in so many ways - Americans in space, the early days of social change, the beginnings of the 'youth movement' (it might be called that, the baby boom being as enormous as it was). Do you remember Vaughan Meader, the comedian who did a routine and had a Grammy-winning LP imitating JFK? His act influenced every presidential impressionist since. There was Jack Paar who made The Tonight Show a must-see late-night show. A high-energy age - and The Dick Van Dyke Show reflected the era so well - and so hilariously. And yet the show is also timeless and does, as you say, still hold up.

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  14. Eve, The LP was called The First Family and I had a copy, wish I still had it , it went MIA some time in the 70's. Vaughn Meader, Allan Sherman, Bob Newhart, Bill Dana, Stan Freberg, and of course Bill Cosby, a giant time for comedy Lp's,all of them classics.reraowil

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  15. I remember the Vaughn Meader LP, too, and the stand-up comedy and LPs of those you mention - plus Shelly Berman and Mort Sahl and Jonathan Winters - and Phyllis Diller (not to leave out a funny lady of the era). My brother and I, too young at the time - but determined, used to sneak into the TV room late at night and watch Jack Paar - to see guests like Judy Garland, Oscar Levant and writer Jack Douglas and his wife Reiko...

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  16. I still have my copy of the Vaughn Meader LP. Thanks for fun trip down memory lane. It's true, we cannot think of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" without thinking of the era as well. Another in the list of stand-up comic LPs - remember Nichols and May? Improvisational and brilliant.

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  17. Nichols and May, oh yes! There have been great comedians since, but the early '60s was literally teeming with talent. Does anyone make comedy LPs (or CDs or MP3 downloads) anymore? Seems it's stand-up to TV to movies...

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  18. Eve, your post and this DICK VAN DYKE episode put a big smile on my face! Not to put the whammy on it, but my husband Vinnie and I have always thought that fun was to be had even if you were married! :-) Since I happen to work from home, I suppose I could make a case for my life having certain parallels to Laura Petrie's -- funny hubby with a good job, romantic yet hilarious relationship, and we used to live a short drive from New Rochelle, as Vinnie mentioned in his FORTY-YEAR-OLD FANBOY blog about the show! :-)

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  19. And before this evaporates from my tiny little forgetful brain, Eve, many hearty congratulations to you for your four richly-deserved CiMBA Award nominations! We're rooting for you, Eve -- let us wish each other luck!

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  20. Hi Dorian - I'm guessing that most young girls of my generation viewed Rob and Laura Petrie's marriage as a model for what we'd like to have someday ourselves. Sounds like you and your husband Vinnie have come pretty close...lucky lady (and guy). And congratulations + good luck on your CiMBA noms, you are most deserving!

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