On October 3, 1961, a new CBS sitcom hit the airwaves. The Dick Van Dyke Show centered around the adventures of an easygoing comedy writer named Rob Petrie (played by Van Dyke), his beautiful wife Laura (a young, then-unknown actress named Mary Tyler Moore), and his two comedy co-writers Sally Rogers (Rose Marie) and Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam). Let's take a look at a few things you may not have known about The Dick Van Dyke Show.
1. The series was originally called Head of the Family and starred Carl Reiner. The executives at CBS thought Reiner was "too Jewish, too intellectual, and too New York" and cast Van Dyke instead, in a new version. Van Dyke actually was taking a bit of a risk in signing on to do the show. He was then starring in a hit broadway show (Bye Bye Birdie) and had to quit to do the series. If The Dick Van Dyke Show had flopped, he would have been an out-of-work actor.
2. The original opening credits for the show were just a packet of photos of the cast spilling onto a table and being individually shown on screen. These credits were used only during the show's first season. For the show's remaining four seasons, the classic two openings were used, i.e. the famous shot of Rob entering the room, greeting his wife and friends, and tripping over the ottoman. Another version has him entering exactly the same way, walking towards the group, and expertly sidestepping the ottoman. These two versions were used randomly in the opening credits. (During season three, another similar opening has Rob entering the room, sidestepping the ottoman, then stumbling anyway, was also occasionally used.)
3. According to Van Dyke, viewers used to bet on which opening would be used before each episode.
4. The show was not successful in its first season and was actually cancelled by CBS. Producer Danny Thomas had to personally go to the network execs and convince (beg) them to leave the show on the air. The show picked up steam during summer reruns that year, remained on the air and became the "classic" series we all know. Ironically, after star Van Dyke decided to end the series after it's five-year run in 1966, it was the CBS executives who begged him to stay on.
5. Johnny Carson was also in the running to play Rob Petrie.
6. The pilot show was actually shot on the same day President John F. Kennedy was inaugurated. Van Dyke was so nervous doing the episode he developed a cold sore on his upper lip. Extra makeup had to be used on him to hide it. To this day, Van Dyke says he cannot remember J.F.K. being inaugurated.
7. Buddy Sorrel, the wise-cracking joke writer played by Morey Amsterdam, was actually based on Mel Brooks, who was originally a comedy writer and worked with the show's producer Carl Reiner on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows in the 1950s.
8. Although bitter enemies on the show, in real life Morey Amsterdam and Richard Deacon (who played Mel Cooley) were actually very close friends. Many of the best insults Buddy hurled at Mel were worked out when the two of them went out for drinks after work.
9. The show was usually filmed before a studio audience, but was not on at least three occasions. One was on the day of JFK's assassination- November 22, 1963. On that day, in the middle of rehearsals, the cast heard about the president's assassination and decided to go ahead and film the episode "Happy Birthday and Too Many More" anyway. However, it was decided that they would do the episode with no studio audience, figuring no one would be in the mood to laugh at such a time.
10. Kent cigarettes sponsored the show and would often give the cast and crew free cartons of Kent cigarettes. Mary Tyler Moore, then a heavy smoker (she has since quit), would routinely take her cartons of Kent and the cartons of non-smokers on set and trade them in at a local store for her preferred brand.
11. A small controversy occurred when Mary Tyler Moore started wearing Capri pants on the show. The executives at CBS objected because at the time all TV housewives wore dresses (June Cleaver, Alice Kramden, Wilma Flintstone). But Mary insisted all the housewives she knew wore pants. She was allowed to keep on wearing them and Capri pants actually became a big fashion fad for women across America. Ironically, the most famous sitcom wife of all-time, Lucy Ricardo (played by Lucille Ball), often wore pants on episodes of I Love Lucy.
12. The Dick Van Dyke Show was chosen by First Lady Michelle Obama as her all-time favorite TV show.
13. The famous Dick Van Dyke Show theme song actually had lyrics. They were composed by Morey Amsterdam and were never used on the show. They were first revealed by Van Dyke in a 2010 interview in NPR. Here they are:
So you think that you've got troubles?
Well there's a bubble
So tell old mister trouble to get lost.
Why not hold your head up high and
Stop cryin', start tryin'
And don't forget to keep your fingers crossed.
When you find the joy of livin'
Is lovin' and givin'
You'll be there when the winning dice are tossed.
A smile is just a frown that’s turned upside down,
So smile, and that frown will defrost.
And don’t forget to keep your fingers crossed!
[ed. note: This post was planned before we learned of the death of Mary Tyler Moore. It is only fitting that we finish it off with a tribute to the incredible chemistry she had with Van Dyke in this montage featuring Rob and Laura Petrie.]