Monday, July 4, 2011

Happiness is...a good book. (Summer Reading edition #8)

My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business
Author: Dick Van Dyke
Pages: 381 (large print version, which is all that was available at my library)
Age Range: Adult
Published: 2011
Genre: Autobiography/Memoir
Cover Score: ***
Overall Grade: ***
Rating: PG

Who doesn’t love Dick Van Dyke? Whether you grew up watching him trip over the ottoman in his iconic television show or singing and dancing with penguins and on London rooftops in Mary Poppins, or discovered him more recently in his comeback show in his 70s for Diagnosis Murder or as the surprising bad guy in the family hit Night at the Museum, the man has a magnetic personality and classic charm that seems to appeal to just about everyone who sees him.  Unfortunately that charm doesn’t quite transfer to the printed page.

 He gives us a great overview of his personal life starting with his youth, his upbringing and his discovery of the entertainment industry and his true calling.  There are a few anecdotes about his family and his neighborhood, the people he knew and who helped him get jobs on the stage and in radio while the bulk of the book revolves around his life in and out of Hollywood, the ups and downs of the industry and his place in it, his opportunities and regrets.

He’s a bit of an enigma in Hollywood, funny and personable and well-liked but also a recluse in many ways. He decided early on while watching the shift in morality of the programs and the people involved that he wanted to only participate in projects that he would be comfortable having his children view.  And while that made him the object of ridicule and caused him to pass up lucrative roles he never wavered and made that a cornerstone of his life. (Though he was also a boundary pusher in his own way fighting for civil rights and standing up to the networks for things he believed in.) When he was younger he had toyed with the idea of becoming a minister and he’s never given up his belief in a God and the idea that people should love each other and work hard to serve each other and leave the world better than you found it.  But that’s not to say that he is without flaws.  He’s dealt with his own demons; alcoholism, addiction to smoking and an extramarital affair.  But come through stronger and wiser on the other side.

I really appreciated getting to know him better. He’s an entertainer I’ve always admired and enjoyed and one I assumed played characters very much like himself. It was nice to find out that was true. It was also heartening to read about his commitment to provide quality, clean entertainment (it’s too bad there aren’t more like him) and his efforts to be a down-to-earth, genuinely decent person. And while the text was conversational and informal, as if the reader were having a sit down conversation with the man in his living room, somehow it still felt a little flat. It didn’t have the wit and sparkle I’d expected it to. It remained a consistently good book but failed to lift itself to a great book. Still, a worthwhile read for any fan.


I also wanted to put in my two-cents about this great day, one of my favorite holidays. I have such a soft spot for anything patriotic. I tear up every time I hear the National Anthem or see a veteran salute the flag. We would do well to remember our humble beginnings as well as those who keep us safe and protected a little more often.

Here are two of my favorite songs for today, the incomparable Kate Smith singing 'God Bless America' circa the 1930s.

And my favorite song from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (those of you who know me know that that's saying something!), their stirring rendition of 'The Battle Hymn of the Republic.'

Enjoy your holiday and God bless us (everyone!)

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