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My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir

June 6, 2011

Trevin Wax:

Dick Van Dyke is one of only a handful of performers who excels at expressing profound joyfulness in art. Just think of how brilliantly he infused the lowly occupation of a chimney sweep with dignity and joy in Mary Poppins. (Watch the clip “Step in Time” and you’ll what I mean.)

Now 85 years old, Van Dyke has just released his autobiography, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business: A Memoir, which humorously chronicles his illustrious career. The book is an interesting read at a number of levels, but I was most intrigued by Van Dyke’s willingness to open up about his desire to know God and the meaning of life:

“Throughout my whole life I have pondered the big questions… I would read the great thinkers and try to figure out what it all meant – my life and life in general. What was the point? What was I supposed to do? Was I getting it right?” (270)

The beginning of Van Dyke’s search for God goes back to his modest upbringing in the cultural Christianity of the Midwest. After attending a summer Bible school one year, Van Dyke (who was only eleven at the time) decided to read through the entire Bible. “I struggled through the various books, asked questions, and when I reached the end I had no idea what any of it meant,” he recalls (14).

Van Dyke’s desire to find answers to life’s big questions almost led him into the ministry. “The subject intrigued me intellectually,” he confesses. “But pretty soon I lost the fervor that inspired me to carry around a Bible and think deep thoughts. I joined the drama club instead – and found my true calling” (17). Though he pursued acting rather than ministry, Van Dyke’s curiosity about spiritual matters never went away, which is evident in the way he peppers his reflections with phrases like ”I planned nothing”, “I felt blessed”, and “Something greater than me was happening.”

The road to earthly success was not easy for Van Dyke or his family. But his persistence and work ethic opened the door to bigger and better opportunities. He was already married with four children when he became a television star. Interestingly enough, Van Dyke doesn’t credit himself for his success. Throughout the narrative, he constantly deflects praise, mentioning unsung heroes like writers, editors, and producers behind the scenes. He appears to be a genuinely humble man who marvels at his popularity.

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