Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Dick Van Dyke Show Blogathon - Two from the Heart

Light the candles and let the streamers fly. Ivan G. Shreve Jr. at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is the host for a blogathon party celebrating 50 years of The Dick Van Dyke Show aka "Rob" as in "Are we watching Rob?", "Is Rob on?", and "Which Rob is it today?" Link to the blogathon contributions here.

When a series is full of so many highlights as The Dick Van Dyke Show, how do you choose one episode to write about? I couldn't so I chose two, two episodes written by series creator Carl Reiner. Two episodes that say a lot about the respect and affection Mr. Reiner has for his profession, its history and performers, and also for comedy fans.

Season 1, episode 30
Directed by John Rich

The friendly, wise-cracking tie salesman Laura ran into while shopping just happens to be Happy Spangler, the radio show writer who gave Rob his start in the business and who pushed him toward his eventual success. "Hap" left the business 15 years ago due to personal problems and Rob, feeling a debt of gratitude, hires his old boss for The Alan Brady Show.

Morey Amsterdam, Dick Van Dyke, Jay C. Flippen, Richard Deacon

Pleased with the opportunity, but afraid of failure, Hap spends the working hours reminiscing about the good old days. We also get a funny routine on his first day on the job from Rob who impersonates Alan Brady's reaction to a script. After all, if there is one thing at which writers excel, it is at not writing.

Eventually, Rob is placed in the position of having to let Hap go. His old mentor is more than understanding while admitting that "like an old ballplayer, he doesn't want to play every day, but would like to know he can still hit one out of the park." Putting on his boss hat, Rob picks Hap's brain and together they come up with a sketch for a four-minute script hole. It is the classic Lecturer on Comedy explaining why slapstick doesn't work, all the while paralyzing us with slapstick gag after gag.

Guest star character actor Jay C. Flippin (1899-1971) as Happy Spangler not only had the friendly face and persona of how you would imagine an admired mentor, he had a background in Vaudeville as a monologist, musician, and master of ceremonies. His years of experience gave weight to the role. A familiar face from movies such as Winchester '73, Down to the Sea in Ships, and Bend of the River, he usually played gruff, but friendly fellows. Of course, if your first experience with Mr. Flippen was They Live by Night or It's Always Fair Weather, you can be forgiven for not thinking he's the greatest guy ever. 

Later in the decade, Mr. Flippen lost a leg due to a diabetes-related amputation. It didn't put an end to his career as he appeared in movies with old friends John Wayne in Hellfighters and James Stewart in Firecreek. We hear a lot about the cutthroat side of show business, but friendships are still important as evidenced by Flippen's career and Carl Reiner's script for The Return of Happy Spangler.

Season 3, episode 27
Directed by Howard Morris

Alan Brady is on vacation, but does his writing staff take a well-deserved rest? No. Rob has committed them to a replacement hour of television and they are stumped until inspiration strikes.

Rob: "What's the one thing that's never been done on television?"
Buddy: "You can't do that on television."
Rob: "No. Radio!"

That's right, it is the middle of the 1960s and Rob wants to revive old time radio. He's sure audiences would love to see favourite old stars and a younger audience would appreciate it as well. Buddy, Sally, and even Laura aren't as convinced, but what else do they have?

Bert Gordon, Arlene Harris, Mary Tyler Moore
Dick Van Dyke, Richard Haydn, Rose Marie

The line-up starts to come together with Arlene Harris (1896-1976). The Canadian born comedic actress and her Chatterbox character were very popular on Al Pierce's program where she appeared with Morey Amsterdam. Bert Gordon (1895-1974) aka The Mad Russian who performed with Eddie Cantor is eager for the television gig. No, he's not a wrestler, he's a dialect comic with priceless delivery. 

The crown jewel in Rob's mind will be to get Edwin Carp, the fish expert, and deadpan philosopher. Carp was a character created by the great Richard Haydn (1905-1985) in the 1930s. It was a character with legs. In 1954 Haydn wrote The Journal of Edwin Carp, illustrated by Ronald Searle, and in this 1964 episode, Carp won fans all over again.

Richard Haydn

Richard Haydn, of course, is the usually nasal character star of memorable roles in Alice in Wonderland, And Then There Were None, Ball of Fire, and The Sound of Music. In our story, Haydn portrays Carp with a domineering mother and a drinking problem. You see, He gave up the show business because of stage fright. He can't perform publicly unless he is smashed on elderberry wine. Edwin Carp is a naughty wino! Some tough love from Rob puts things to rights and all three guest stars have their moment to shine in a winningly funny episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show.

In these days of fragmented entertainment options and declining quality on network television, we are lucky to find ourselves in the position of being our own programmers. How it might surprise the pioneers of radio to know that in the 21st century, people are turning to old-time radio through the internet to enjoy their leisure time. Also, in 2000 animator Richard Balzy (The Iron Giant, Pocahontas) produced and directed a short film based on material from The Journal of Edwin Carp with Hugh Laurie voicing our intrepid hero.

Carl Reiner

An appreciation for quality never goes out of style and that is why we celebrate 50 years of Carl Reiner's The Dick Van Dyke Show with the happy thought that it will always be a part of our lives.


  1. Great post, CW. These were, indeed, treasures from our past. One of the great things about TV shows of yore was that the honored the greats of show biz for us. I don't know about you, but I learned a ton about radio performers and stage performers and even movie stars by asking my mom "who's that?" The fact that Rob and company were in show biz made it even more fun! Thanks for a great take on a very great show!

  2. Thanks, FlickChick.

    The reverence for the greats of the past is at the heart of the classic movie blogger.

    Thanks to commercials or the pause button I'm always mentioning little bits of trivia to my daughter when we watch an old show. Sometimes she even remembers what I've said!

  3. Terrific. I remember the first episode with Hap, but I can't recall the second.

    "How it might surprise the pioneers of radio to know that in the 21st century, people are turning to old time radio through the internet to enjoy their leisure time."

    Amen, sister.

    Such a great show, that, as FlickChick said, "honored the greats".

  4. I remember watching a few of the Dick Van Dyke shows. I had forgotten how wonderful they were. Thanks for a look back on such a wonderful show.

  5. C.W. Wonderful post. I hate to admit it but I'm old enough(don't ask) to remember this on CBS in the 60's. And thanks for the Shot out to JC.. I first remember seeing him on the old NBC series Ensign O'Toole with Dean Jones as the star. Told you I was old.

  6. P.S. I can't type worth a darn At The CFU I was the typo king. I wanted Shout Out. Duh. Shot out kind of works..... NOT

  7. An appreciation for style, too, C.W. That's why I loved this post. :)

    Two episodes I'll make sure to re-watch. Luckily for me, Netflix has 'em all on 'streaming'.

    I loved Richard Haydn. He always reminded me of a second banana Clifton Webb.

    Loved him in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, too.

  8. "The Return of Edwin Carp" is a longtime DVD favorite of mine...and you can probably guess why, because of its focus on old-time radio. The sad thing about this particular show is that even at the time it originally aired the guest stars were becoming mists in the memory; I think Haydn was the only one still recognized (as Yvette has mentioned, from The Sound of Music) and if you were to ask people today who he was they would probably guess he was "that composer guy."

    Around Rancho Yesteryear, Jay C. Flippen is one of my character actor films like The Killing, Run of the Arrow, Wild River and of course, the ones you named in your post. That's the main reason why enjoy "Happy Spangler" so much--Flippen was superb in the part, convincingly playing an old-timer but avoiding both the schmaltz and the temptation to be overbearing with a finely modulated performance.

    Really first-rate post, C.W. -- I particularly like how you wisely chose two episodes with a similar theme, and I'm proud that you agreed to become a part of the blogathon.

  9. Jacqueline, "The Return of Edwin Carp" is worth seeking out. Richard Haydn is a hoot - and he knows it!

  10. Dawn, "The Dick Van Dyke Show" is a renewable treasure. It doesn't matter if we haven't seen it in years or just watched it yesterday.

  11. Paul, I knew what you meant. It's the language of the Boomer.

  12. Thanks, Yvette.

    A movie of Haydn's I forgot to mention was "Sitting Pretty" wherein RH is such a fusspot that he makes Clifton Webb look like Robert Mitchum.

  13. Thanks, Ivan. It was a pleasure to be part of this special day and I wanted to do you proud.

    If Flippen were a lesser actor, I don't know that "The Return of Happy Spangler" would work as well as it does. The casting on "The Dick Van Dyke Show" did not take a back seat to the writing, they complimented each other.

  14. CW, I just wrote yesterday that the domestic scenes were my favorite part of The DVD Show. But after reading your review of two show biz-themed episodes, I'm on the verge of rewriting my post! Jay C. Flippen was a memorable supporting player in so many movies. I just watched SITTING PRETTY again and "fusspot" is such a great description for many of Richard Haydn's characters.

  15. CW, what a wonderful post! I loved both of these episodes, and it was because of the great character actors from classic movies. You must have been inspired to pick these two episodes with these two wonderful guys - Richard Hadyn and Jay C. Flippen. Just seeing their faces makes me hear their one-of-a-kind voices, and reminds me of favorite movies.

    Great episodes to pick, and you did a great job!

  16. I've always had a special liking for Richard Haydn and smile remembering his DVD episode. I remember the Hap episode only vaguely, but remember Jay C. Flippen well. Excellent write-up on both episodes, CW.

    You make a fine point about Reiner's love for his own profession. DVD seemed to reference just about every popular entertainment of the 20th century up to the 60s - from vaudeville, radio and silents to the TV variety show. We viewers were learning show biz history as we laughed (yet another reason DVD was uncommonly great TV).

  17. Rick, thanks a lot. You made my day.

    I can't think of two more different types than Flippen vs. Haydn, but I wouldn't want movies without either.

  18. Well, Becky, after you snatched up "Coast to Coast Big Mouth" (great article), I feel like the episodes chose me instead of the other way around.

  19. It's true, Lady Eve, Carl Reiner's enthusiasms reached out to all of us.

  20. Caftan Woman, being a fellow lover of Hollywood history and the folks who made that history, the DICK VAN DYKE episodes you chose tickled both my ribs and my heart! In particular, Richard Haydn has long been a Team Bartilucci favorite in both live-action movies and as animated voice artists. LOL over your remark that in SITTING PRETTY, Haydn was such a fusspot (a much-loved word in our family, bu the way :-)) that "he makes Clifton Webb look like Robert Mitchum"!

    And while I have your attention, C.W., beaucoup congratulations on your two CiMBA Award Nominations! It couldn't happen to a niftier gal! Best of luck, my friend!

  21. Dorian, I think one of the reasons we all love "The Dick Van Dyke Show" so much is that we feel like kindred spirits with Carl Reiner.

    Thanks so much for the congratulations. I'm over the moon.

  22. Oh, and Dorian, you know the congratulations bounces right back at you!

  23. C.W., I never doubted that your kind congratulations "bounce(d) right back at (me)!" :-) Thanks a million! Let us wish each other (and our fellow nominees) luck! :-)



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