One of Hollywood’s most beloved stars is Dick Van Dyke, whom Disney fans best remember as Bert, the chimney sweep, in the Academy Award®-winning feature Mary Poppins. Many would agree with former Disney vice chairman Roy E. Disney, who once said, “Every time I see Mary Poppins, I’m amazed at how Dick’s brilliant performance effortlessly ties this film together. After all, it is Dick who first welcomes us to number 17 Cherry Tree Lane. It is his chalk pavement picture that provides entry into one of the great fantasy sequences of all time. And, it is Dick who bids Mary Poppins goodbye at the end of the movie.”
Born on December 13, 1925, in West Plains, Missouri, Dick was inspired to become an actor by the hilarious performances of Stan Laurel in the Laurel and Hardy comedies. Years later, after serving in the Air Force during World War II, he and a friend formed a pantomime act, “The Merry Mutes,” and performed in nightclubs across the country. When he landed in Atlanta, Georgia, Dick broke into local television, which soon led to guest appearances on variety shows, such as those starring Ed Sullivan, Dinah Shore, and Jack Paar.
Even though he had never taken a singing or dancing lesson, he won his first Broadway role in 1959’s The Boys Against the Girls, starring Bert Lahr. The following year, he landed the lead role in the musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie, for which he won a Tony Award®. He later repeated this successful stage role in the Hollywood film adaptation.
In 1961, Dick was cast as comedy writer Rob Petrie in the hit series The Dick Van Dyke Show, for which he won the Emmy Award® three consecutive years (1964-66). About this same time, Walt Disney approached him about playing Bert in Mary Poppins. After reading the script, however, Dick not only wanted to play Bert but also the fearsome chairman of the bank who eventually dies laughing.
He once recalled, “I saw the part of the old banker and thought, ‘Oh, I’d love to be that character, too!’”
Dick went on to make Disney’s Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N. and Never A Dull Moment, co-starring Edward G. Robinson. He also played Ken in the Studio’s hit television series, The Golden Girls, and D.A. Fletcher in its 1990 feature Dick Tracy, starring Warren Beatty. Dick has appeared in a number of television specials commemorating various aspects of the Disney legacy; these include 1981’s Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, where Dick provided a sneak peek at the work then underway on Epcot Center.
Among his numerous non-Disney film credits are The Comic and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 1993, Dick Van Dyke returned to television to star as Dr. Mark Sloan in the long-running television series Diagnosis Murder.
In 2001, Dick narrated a feature-length documentary about the life of Walt Disney, Walt: The Man Behind the Myth. Since 2000 he has performed in “The Vantastix,” an a capella quartet that has made a number of public performances including Disney’s own D23 Expo.