Monday, January 8, 2018

The Late Great Jerry Van Dyke

For much of his life Jerry Van Dyke was best known as Dick Van Dyke's brother. That having been said, he was was very much a remarkable performer in and of himself. He played Matt Douglas Jr. in the John Wayne movie McLintock!  (1963). He was the star of the much maligned sitcom My Mother the Car. He played Assistant Coach Luther Horatio Van Dam in the classic show Coach. Jerry Van Dyke was a hilarious stand-up comedian with a great act, a highlight of which was his "Mule Train" routine. Jerry Van Dyke was an enormous talent for whom success came later in life. Sadly, Mr. Van Dyke died on January 5 2018 at the age of 86. He had been in declining health since a car accident in 2015.

Jerry Van Dyke was born on July 27 1931 in Danville, Illinois. His elder brother was legendary actor and comedian Dick Van Dyke. Jerry Van Dyke decided he wanted to go into comedy when he was only eight years old, and started pursuing a stand-up comedy career while he was still in high school. He served in the United States Air Force and was one of the Tops in Blue, a performance ensemble that toured Air Force bases around the world. He won the All Air Force Talent Show twice.

Jerry Van Dyke made his debut on The Dick Van Dyke Show, playing Stacey Petrie, the shy, banjo playing brother of Rob Petrie (played by Dick Van Dyke). He would appear three more times on the show. Mr. Van Dyke appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, The Andy Williams Show, The Gary Moore Show, and Picture This. He guest starred on the shows G.E. True and Perry Mason.

During the 1963-1964 season Jerry Van Dyke was a regular on the ill-fated Judy Garland Show. He was offered the lead role of Gilligan in the show Gilligan's Island, but he turned it down because he thought the pilot script was not very good. When Jerry Van Dyke accepted a lead role on a TV show, it would prove to be short-lived. Mr. Van Dyke played lawyer David Crabtree, whose mother was reincarnated as a 1929 Porter automobile (whose voice was provided by Ann Sothern) on the sitcom My Mother the Car. Critics savaged the show, and it tops lists of the worst shows of all time to this day (a reputation it certainly does not deserve). Worse yet, it also received poor ratings. My Mother the Car lasted only one season and thirty episodes.

Jerry Van Dyke's next show would prove even less successful than his first, even if the reviews were better. Accidental Family centred on widowed comedian Jerry Webster, who buys a farm on which to raise his son. As it turns out, the farm already has a tenant, divorcée Sue Kramer (played by Lois Nettleton), with a young daughter. Jerry hires Sue as a the farm's manager and she cares for his son when he is on the road. Accidental Family was historic as the first sitcom to feature a divorced person as a regular character. Sadly, it would not last long. Accidental Family left the air after only 16 episodes.

In the Sixties Mr. Van Dyke also appeared on The Hollywood Palace, House Party, Today, Kraft Music Hall, The Joey Bishop Show, The Tonight Show, The Jim Nabors Hour, and Della. He was a guest on his brother's special Dick Van Dyke. He guest starred on The Cara Williams Show; The Andy Griffith Show; That Girl; Good Morning, World; Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.; and Love, American Style. He was a regular on the short lived show Headmaster. Jerry Van Dyke also had a healthy movie career in the Sixties, appearing in the films The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963), Palm Springs Weekend (1963), McLintock! (1963), Love and Kisses (1965), and Angel in My Pocket (1969).

In the Seventies Jerry Van Dyke starred on the short-lived sitcom 13 Queens Boulevard. He guest starred on Love, American Style; The Mary Tyler Moore Show; The New Dick Van Dyke Show; Fantasy Island; and House Calls. He appeared on The Tonight Show, The Bob Braun Show, Van Dyke and Company, The Alan Hamel Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Merv Griffin Show.

It was in the late Eighties that Jerry Van Dyke was cast as Luther on Coach. The show proved to be a success, running from 1989 to 1997. For his part on Coach. Mr. Van Dyke received four consecutive Emmy nominations Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. He also guest starred on The Love Boat, Newhart, Coming of Age, and Charles in Charge. He was one of the cast of the mini-series Fresno. He appeared in the films W.A.R.: Women Against Rape (1987) and Run If You Can (1988).

In the Nineties Jerry Van Dyke continued to star as Luther on Coach. He also guest starred as Luther Van Dam on The Drew Carey Show and Grace Under Fire. He was a regular on the shows Teen Angel and You Wish. He guest starred on The New Addams Family and Diagnosis Murder.  He starred in the TV movie To Grandmother's House We Go.

In the Naughts Jerry Van Dyke had a recurring role on the sitcom Yes, Dear. He made his first appearance in a recurring role on The Middle. He guest starred on The District, Committed, and My Name is Earl. He reprised his role as Stacey Petrie in the reunion special The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited. He appeared in the film Moon Ring (2010). In the Teens he continued to appear on The Middle, appearing alongside his brother Dick Van Dyke in the 2015 episode "Two of a Kind". Sadly, it would be both his last appearance and the last time the Van Dyke brothers appeared on screen together. He guest starred on Raising Hope and The Millers.

Even before his acclaimed stint on Coach, I always thought Jerry Van Dyke was underrated. He may have been Dick Van Dyke's brother, but he was entirely his own man. Quite simply, there was no other performer quite like him. Most of his characters carried something of Danville, Illinois with them. They were down-to-earth, charming, and could even be cantankerous at times. If you lived in the Midwest, Jerry Webster or Luther Van Dam were the sort of people you might run into at the local hardware store or the local grocery store.

Of course, most of all, Jerry Van Dyke was very funny. This was most evident in his comedy routines, which he got to display from time to time on various shows (younger viewers might remember his famous "Mule Train" routine from Yes, Dear). Even when a particular show was not a success, Mr. Van Dyke was always appealing and funny. This is true of My Mother the Car, unfairly labelled "the worst show of all time" (it was nothing of the kind--I always found it entertaining). It was true of Accidental Family. It was true of his performances in movies from The Courtship of Eddie's Father to Angel in My Pocket. Long before Coach, Jerry Van Dyke was giving solid, comic performances in shows that, for whatever reason, failed to win an audience. Jerry Van Dyke might not have achieved the success of his brother, but ultimately he was every bit as talented.

No comments: