Among Van Dyke's high school classmates in Danville were Donald O'Connor and Bobby Short, both of whom would go on to successful careers as entertainers.[10] One of his closest friends was a cousin of Gene Hackman, the future actor, who also lived in Danville in those years.[10] Van Dyke's mother's family was very religious, and for a brief period in his youth, he considered a career in ministry, although a drama class in high school convinced him that his true calling was as a professional entertainer.[10] In his autobiography, he wrote, "I suppose that I never completely gave up my childhood idea of being a minister. Only the medium and the message changed. I have still endeavored to touch people's souls, to raise their spirits and put smiles on their faces."[10] Even after the launch of his career as an entertainer, he taught Sunday school in the Presbyterian Church, where he was an elder, and he continued to read such theologians as Buber, Tillich, and Bonhoeffer, who helped explain in practical terms the relevance of religion in everyday life.[10]
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Alongside Angela Lansbury, Norman Lloyd, William Daniels, Christopher Lee, Mickey Rooney, Ernest Borgnine, Betty White, Edward Asner, Adam West, Marla Gibbs, William Shatner, Larry Hagman, Florence Henderson, Shirley Jones, Hal Linden and Alan Alda, Van Dyke is one of the few actors in Hollywood who lives into their 80s and/or 90s without ever either retiring from acting or having stopped getting work.

I asked Fred Astaire once when he was about my age if he still danced and he said 'Yes, but it hurts now.' That's exactly it. I can still dance too but it hurts now! I've always kept moving. I was at the gym at six this morning. Of course marrying a beautiful young woman has been a big help. There are so many years between us and we don't feel it. I'm emotionally immature and she's very wise for her age so we kind of meet in the middle.
In November 1959, Van Dyke made his Broadway debut in The Girls Against the Boys. He then played the lead role of Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie, which ran from April 14, 1960, to October 7, 1961. In a May 2011 interview with Rachael Ray, Van Dyke said that when he auditioned for a smaller part in the show he had no experience as a dancer, and that after he sang his audition song he did an impromptu soft-shoe out of sheer nervousness. Gower Champion, the show's director and choreographer, was watching, and promptly went up on stage to inform Van Dyke he had the lead. An astonished Van Dyke protested that he could not dance, to which Champion replied: "We'll teach you". That musical won four Tony awards including Van Dyke's Best Featured Actor Tony, in 1961.[16] In 1980, Van Dyke appeared as the title role in the first Broadway revival of The Music Man.[17]
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