Dick and Mary. A better team of actors? You would have to go back to Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, or William Powell and Myrna Loy to find that kind of chemistry.
For five years, Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore played Rob and Laura Petrie. Rob and Laura were like JFK and Jackie – young, fashionable and setting a direction for the 1960s. Rob and Laura were funny and charismatic, they expressed their love and adoration for each other, and they started breaking down cultural barriers. Yes, they slept in twin beds, but you believed there was something going on in that bedroom. They also liked each other and talked to one another as equals, even with the 1960s male/female role models in evidence.
When The Dick Van Dyke Show ended in 1966, both stars went on to films. Van Dyke had already established a screen persona in Bye Bye Birdie and a few Disney films, including Mary Poppins. He carved out a decent, but unspectacular film career. Moore, starred on Broadway in Breakfast at Tiffiny’s a show that bombed, and then turned her attention to films, co-starred with Julie Andrews in Thoroughly Modern Millie, then What’s So Bad About Feeling Good, and co-starred with Elvis in Change of Habit. All of these films tanked.
In 1969, Van Dyke and Moore reteamed on CBS in a musical-comedy special, Dick Van Dyke and the Other Woman, a reference to Moore having played his wife on television, and often being mistaken for his real wife. The special was a huge success featuring Van Dyke and Moore in several musical/dance numbers, and comedy sketches playing husband and wife, and showing clips from the old Dick Van Dyke Show.
This special, led to both Van Dyke and Moore getting deals from CBS to star in their own series. We all remember the Mary Tyler Moor Show (1970-1977), but lesser known is The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1971-1974), again created by Carl Reiner. Van Dyke’s show failed to capture the magic of his old series, despite tackling some very timely and controversial topics. Van Dyke continued making films. Moore went on to try several television projects and star in a few films, the most notable was Ordinary People.
You might wonder why Van Dyke and Moore did not work together again. Well, they actually did.
They appeared in the televison films The Gin Game (2003) and The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited (2004), the later written by Carl Reiner as an update of the characters forty years later.
The real joy was in seeing them appear on various talk shows together through the years. From Larry King to The Tonight Show, Van Dyke and Moore charmed their hosts with stories from the old Van Dyke Show and explanations of the magic that exists between them. Van Dyke and Moore are television royalty and on those shows you feel the love and respect from both the hosts and audiences.
Watching together you see the great respect they had for each other, and they recognized the unique chemistry between them. That was no act, they had tremendous admiration for the other. Moore was quick to give Van Dyke credit for launching her career and being generous in helping in her first big role. Her credits were slight and it was unknown whether she could play comedy, and hold her own with Van Dyke, Rose Marie, Morey Amsterdam, Richard Deacon and Reiner. She quickly proved she could. Van Dyke would say that he saw the potential and while she was labeled as eye candy, she proved everyone who underestimated her, very wrong. In interviews, Van Dyke was proud to have played a role in her development, but gave her full credit for her success.
My favorite Dick Van Dyke Show episodes involving Rob and Laura.
“My Blonde Haired Brunette” Laura dyes her hair thinking it will rekindle Rob’s attnetion, the dye job turns out badly.
“The Curious Thing About Women” Rob grows to resent Laura’s habit of opening his mail, so he uses it the basis of a television show, and naturally Laura’s curiosity gets the best of her in opening one of Rob’s packages.
“The Attempted Marriage” Rob and Laura reflect on their numerous efforts to get married.
“It May Look Like a Walnut” Rob has a dream where Danny Thomas is a space alien and Laura tumbles from the close full of walnuts.
“Don’t Trip Over the Mountain” Rob does not listen to Laura and goes on a skiing trip where he is injured, and then tries to hide it from her.
“Teacher’s Petrie” Laura takes a writing class and Rob imagines the teacher is really after Laura, which proves to be true.
“Never Bathe on a Saturday” The one where Laura gets her toe stuck in the bathtub faucet.
“Coast to Coast Big Mouth” On a game show, Laura accidentally spills the beans that Alan Brady is bald.