Miscellaneous Dick Van Dyke Show Vantastix The 10th Decade Kennedy Center Honors

As a teenager, Dick appeared in community theatre and school plays, ran track, served as junior class president, and held down a part-time radio job at WDAN.  His program, “The Yawn Patrol,” aired from 10 p.m. to midnight.  He also ran around his hometown with a close knit group of friends, known as the Burfords.  At 18, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps, joining Special Services and performing in variety shows for the troops.  Thanks to Byron Paul, Dick also became a radio announcer for a show called “Flight Time.”  When the war ended, he was back in Danville attempting a job in advertising and returning to a full-time position at WDAN.

In 1947, he teamed with Danville local Phil Erickson to form “The Merry Mutes,” touring the West Coast nightclub circuit, the pair performing a pantomime act and lip-synching to old 78 records.  Dick’s penchant for mime and physical humor came from his deep admiration for early movie comics like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and, especially, Stan Laurel, his idol. Eventually, he moved to Atlanta, hosting a daytime talk show, and then to New Orleans. Soon the Big Apple came calling.

Dick’s first network TV appearance was on Dennis James’ Chance of a Lifetime in 1954.  Thanks to army buddy Byron Paul, now a TV director, Dick landed a 7-year contract with CBS, resulting in a move to New York City and a stint as anchor for the CBS Morning Show (with Walter Cronkite as newsman).  Other hosting jobs, for the game show Mother’s Day and Laugh Line, and appearances with Phil Silvers, Pat Boone, and Polly Bergen soon followed.   

Fans of The Dick Van Dyke Show will realize just how much of Rob Petrie’s life reflected Dick’s early career.  From radio work in Danville to entertaining the troops (while sustaining much-valued friendships), Dick was slowly but persistently headed toward Broadway.

The Early Years

Dick with Dotty Mack

on Mother’s Day

With the Laugh Line panelists

Dick with Allen Ludden

and Betsy Palmer on Password

Dick with idol, Stan Laurel

Dick with Phil Silvers

Dick with Phil Erickson

Dick with Walter Cronkite

High School days

High School days

Dick in an early TV comedy sketch

Hosting Laugh Line