“I have endeavored to write the kind of book I think people want from me,” Dick Van Dyke says in the introduction of his new memoir. “It’s also the kind of book that I want from me.” That’s too bad. It’s hard not to like Van Dyke. He’s used his celebrity to help further social justice and civil rights, paid heavy showbiz dues before falling into the lifelong role of all-ages entertainer (he explicitly stipulated that he’d only appear in family-oriented projects at exactly the ’60s moment that Hollywood began aiming at mature audiences), and starred in The Dick Van Dyke Show, the sitcom that may well be the greatest TV series of its kind. For his part, Van Dyke gives all the credit for the series’ success and timeless quality to its creator and writer, Carl Reiner. That’s fine—credit where due—except that in the pages of his new autobiography, Van Dyke keeps restating it long past the point where readers have caught on. The rest of My Lucky Life In And Out Of Show Business follows suit. These are the half-hearted musings of a famous man unwilling or unable to dig very deeply into his life.
Naturally, he had help. Van Dyke’s collaborator on My Lucky Life (credited in the acknowledgements) is Todd Gold, who specializes in celebrity mulch, and his leaden touch is particularly apparent in the book’s second half. There, the score of TV spots and family movies that largely make up Van Dyke’s career after the 1960s are lifelessly trotted past, complete with cast lists that read as if Gold got busy cutting and pasting from the IMDB. It doesn’t help much that Van Dyke’s projects after the ’60s have been less than memorable: one two-page chain of guest-starring spots, each less distinguished than the last, includes Matlock, Highway To Heaven, the TV movie Ghost Of A Chance, and Airwolf. There are also several TV programs that Van Dyke green-lit specifically to give work to his actor offspring; reading about them is about as scintillating as it sounds.
Occasionally, the book pops to life when Van Dyke remembers a sharp on-set or backstage anecdote. Ghost Of A Chance is one example; its costar was a drunken, coked-up Redd Foxx, whom Van Dyke had to physically restrain when Foxx misheard something the director said as a racial slur: “It was… the first physical altercation I’d been involved in since kindergarten.” But for the most part, this is a typical Hollywood-peer backslapping snooze.