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.
THE RETURN OF HAPPY SPANGLER
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.
THE RETURN OF EDWIN CARP
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, 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.
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.