A song and dance man of the first order looks back.
Van Dyke breezily recounts his adventures as a straight-down-the-middle “square” and family man navigating the vicissitudes of show business in this slight memoir, which highlights the strengths and pitfalls of the performer’s signature amiability. The author is unfailingly pleasant company on the page, and his low-stakes anecdotes and fond remembrances go down easily. But his unwillingness or inability to confront the uglier aspects of life (and particularly life in Hollywood) ultimately makes for a rather bland repast. It’s not as if Van Dyke lacked material; his well-publicized battle with alcoholism and the dissolution of his longtime marriage would seem ripe for serious introspection, but this is not the author’s style. He addresses the issues forthrightly but with a scrupulous lack of salaciousness or soul-searching or anything approaching a strong emotional response. Van Dyke is clearly happiest relating amusing anecdotes about his Midwestern boyhood, struggling early days in show business and his successes in such classic examples of all-American family entertainment as Bye Bye Birdie, Mary Poppins and the deathless Dick Van Dyke Show, still a high-water mark in the history of TV comedy. Van Dyke heaps love and praise on collaborators like Carl Reiner and Mary Tyler Moore, who surely deserve it, but the unremitting niceness becomes numbing, to the extent that a couple of bawdy incidents involving actress Maureen Stapleton stand out as Caligula-like descents into depravity by comparison. The author’s earnest, boyish persona anchored his astounding gifts as a physical performer—his rubber-limbed pratfalls, fleet dancing and instinctive genius with bits of comedy “business” are justly revered—but absent this physical dimension, Van Dyke here is earnestly, boyishly…dull.
Perfectly pleasant, mildly diverting and forgettable—kind of like an episode of Diagnosis: Murder.