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Dick Van Dyke got his first job on Broadway right on the spot.
“I got up and did ‘Once in Love with Amy’ and a little soft shoe,” he recalled.
Afterward, director Gower Champion walked onto the stage and informed Van Dyke that he would be in the Broadway debut of Bye Bye Birdie.
“From day one, the show had a special feel,” Dick wrote in his memoir.
Despite his insecurities and lack of experience, Van Dyke worked hard to accomplish the singing and dancing necessary for the part.
“I’m not a good singer to this day,” he said, despite starring in other beloved musicals like Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Given his lack of confidence at the time, it’s probably best he didn’t know what was going on behind the scenes.
“I only found out many, many years later that [when the show was in] Philadelphia, the producers wanted to replace me,” he said. “If I’d known that I would have jumped out the window.”
Little did they all know that Dick Van Dyke would win a Tony for his performance.
“It meant everything to me.”
Given his success on the Great White Way, many recommended that he continue working on Broadway, but he worried that the potentially unsteady income wouldn’t be enough to support his family. So he started looking for more television parts – despite friends’ advice that he shouldn’t go to Hollywood.
“After Sheldon saw Dick in Bye Bye Birdie, he walked into my office with a huge smile on his face and said, ‘I've found Rob Petrie!’” said Grant Tinker, who helped develop The Dick Van Dyke Show. The TV series (first called "Head of the Family) was originally meant to star Carl Reiner.
Leonard suggested Reiner check out Van Dyke’s performance, and the two met backstage.
“He gave me about eight scripts that he did, and that did it. I read those things and said, ‘Oh, I’ve got to do this,’” Van Dyke said.
“We need the kind of receding kind of guy, shy kind of guy and Dick is that. It was a perfect piece of casting,” Carl Reiner said.
A year and a day after he opened Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway, Dick Van Dyke left the show. His television show would debut that same year in October 1961.
While the first season of The Dick Van Dyke Show struggled to find its audience (and was almost canceled), the subsequent two seasons took off and were the ninth and third rated series on television.
It should be no surprise then that when Bye Bye Birdie was being adapted for film, Hollywood wanted the original Albert, who was now a big TV star.