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This story first appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The Hollywood Reporter: Carl, how did you and Dick first meet?
Carl Reiner: I had done a pilot for what became The Dick Van Dyke Show called Head of the Family, but it wasn’t very good. But I was invited to meet with Sheldon Leonard and Danny Thomas. I said to Sheldon, “I don’t want to fail with the same material twice,” but Sheldon said: “You won’t fail. We’ll get a better actor to play you. There’s a guy in New York called Dick Van Dyke.” So I went to New York to see him on Broadway in Bye, Bye Birdie, and he not only could sing and dance, but he was funny. A better package I could have never found in the world.
Dick Van Dyke: And I was already a big fan of Carl’s since I knew him from The Sid Caesar Show. I’ve got a Sheldon Leonard story, too. He gave me the only acting lesson I ever had. He said: “Dick, you’re talking in a monotone. Make your voice go up and down more.” And so I did, and everything was fine.
THR: The Dick Van Dyke Show ran from 1961 to 1966 and in retrospect seemed to capture much of the Kennedy era. Is that something you were aware of at the time?
Van Dyke: I don’t think the Kennedy era had any effect on it. We didn’t refer to any current news.
Reiner: Dick and Mary Tyler Moore did look like the president and Mrs. Kennedy. But what the show was really about was the relationship between a husband and wife who liked each other — that was something that I knew something about. Most situation comedies in those days were about men against women. But I knew we had something that was a lasting theme, and I remember saying, “We’re going to use no slang of the day.” I knew it was going to last.
THR: Carl, Dick’s character was based on your experiences writing for Sid Caesar, but how did you write for Dick as a performer?
Reiner: Dick loved to do physical stuff, so we put it in whenever we could. In the episode about the birth of the baby, we wrote a line like, “He gets all his clothes ready so he can go to the hospital.” Well, Dick laid all the clothes out on the bed and then went through a routine that was hilarious. It was like something Buster Keaton would do, and that was all Dick.
Van Dyke: Our rehearsals were like a daily rewrite. Everybody had ideas. And Morey Amsterdam [Buddy on Dick Van Dyke] and Rose Marie [Sally] had such razor-sharp timing. I learned quickly from those two.
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