Actor Dick Van Patten, who appeared on the TV shows Mama, Young Dr. Malone, When Things Were Rotten, and Eight is Enough and movies from Charly (1968) to Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993), died yesterday, June 23 2015 at the age of 86.
Dick Van Patten was born on December 9 1928 in Kew Gardens, New York. His younger sister Joyce would also go into acting. His career in show business began when he was still a child. He made his debut on Broadway in 1937 in The Eternal Road when he was only 8 years old. In the late Thirties he also appeared on Broadway in the productions On Borrowed Time, Run Sheep Run, The American Way, and The Woman Brown. He also made his debut on radio when he was only 8 years old. Over the years he would appear in over 600 different radio programmes. Among the radio shows on which he appeared were Young Widder Brown, Duffy's Tavern, The Aldrich Family, Let's Pretend, Coast to Coast on a Bus, The Theatre Guild on the Air, and Reg'lar Fellers.
In the Forties young Mr. Van Patten continued to appear regularly on Broadway, appearing in the productions The Lady Who Came to Stay, The Land Is Bright, The Skin of Our Teeth, The Snark Was a Boojum, Decision, Too Hot for Manoeuvres, The Wind Is Ninety, O Mistress Mine, and Mister Roberts. He continued to regularly appear on radio. In 1949 he made his television debut on the show Mama in the regular role of Nels Hansen. It was a role he would play well into the Fifties.
In the Fifties he guest starred on Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, The Silent Service, Rawhide, and The DuPont Show of the Month. In the Sixties Dick Van Patten was a regular on the soap opera Young Dr. Malone. He guest starred on the shows Naked City, I Dream of Jeannie, The Governor & J.J., and Arnie. He appeared in the films Violent Midnight (1963), The Secret Dream Models of Oliver Nibble (1967) , and Charly (1968). He appeared on Broadway in Have I Got a Girl for You!, A Very Rich Woman, Lovers and Other Strangers, and But Seriously.
In the Seventies Dick Van Patten played Sgt. Nelson Higgenbottom on the short lived TV show The Partners, Max Mathias on The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Friar Tuck on When Things Were Rotten, and patriarch Tom Bradford on Eight is Enough. He guest starred on such shows as That Girl, Sanford and Son, Hec Ramsey, The Doris Day Show, McMillan & Wife, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Ellery Queen, Emergency!, Wonder Woman, and The Streets of San Francisco. He appeared on Broadway in Thieves. He appeared in such films as Beware! The Blob (1972), Joe Kidd (1972), Soylent Green (1973), Westworld (1973), Superdad (1973), The Strongest Man in the World (1975), Treasure of Matecumbe (1976), The Shaggy D.A. (1976), and Freaky Friday (1976).
In the Eighties Dick Van Patten was a regular on the short lived show WIOU. He guest starred on such shows as Too Close for Comfort; Insight; The Love Boat; Mike Hammer; Murder, She Wrote; and Crazy Like a Fox. He appeared in the films Lunch Wagon (1981), Spaceballs (1987), and Going to the Chapel (1988).
In the Nineties he appeared on such shows as Diagnosis: Murder, Baywatch, Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, Boy Meets World, and Touched by an Angel. In the Naughts he appeared in the films Groom Lake (2002), Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003), The Sure Hand of God (2004), Quiet Kill (2004), and Opposite Day (2009). He guest starred on the shows 7th Heaven, Arrested Development, and That 70s Show. In 2011 he made his last appearance, guest starring on Hot in Cleveland.
Dick Van Patten was an animal rights activist who particularly loved dogs. In 1989 he founded Natural Balance Pet Foods. In 2009 he started National Guide Dog Month to help raise awareness for non-profit guide dog schools in the United States.
Dick Van Patten had an incredibly long career. Starting in childhood, his career spanned over seventy years. What is more he was exceedingly prolific. He appeared often on radio in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, and he appeared frequently on the Broadway stage from the Thirties to the Fifties. From the Seventies to the Teens he was regularly seen on television and in films. Generally Mr. Van Patten played roles that were not too far removed from what he was in real life, that of the perpetual nice guy.
Dick Van Patten's characters were friendly, kind hearted, and sometimes (like Friar Tuck on When Things Were Rotten) a bit absent minded. As far as films go, Mr. Van Patten's best roles might have come courtesy of Mel Brooks. He was the guilt ridden, fearful Dr. Wentworth in High Anxiety. He was doting father King Roland in Spaceballs. He was the flustered abbot in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Mel Brooks and Dick Van Patten made a good team, perhaps because they were both men who enjoyed making people laugh. Indeed, it is perhaps for the sheer enjoyment Dick Van Patten brought people that he will be best remembered. From Mama to his guest appearance on Hot in Cleveland, it was hard not to look on Dick Van Patten and smile.