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PODCAST EPISODE 38 – Jerry Van Dyke

Jerry McCord Van Dyke born July 27, 1931, was an American actor, musician and comedian. He was the younger brother of Dick Van Dyke.

Van Dyke made his television acting debut on The Dick Van Dyke Show with several guest appearances as Rob Petrie’s brother Stacey. While his infrequent starring roles were typically in poorly received sitcoms (My Mother the Car, one of the shows where he was the lead actor, is considered one of the worst sitcoms of all time), he enjoyed a long and successful career as a character actor in supporting and guest roles. 

From 1989 to 1997 he portrayed Luther Van Dam in tv’s Coach.

Early life

Van Dyke was born in Danville, Illinois on July 27, 1931, to Hazel Victoria, 

a stenographer, and Loren Wayne Van Dyke, a salesman. He was of Dutch, English, and Scottish descent. His mother was a Mayflower descendant.

Van Dyke pursued his stand-up comedy career while still in Danville High School and was already a veteran of strip joints and nightclubs when he joined the United States Air Force Tops In Blue in 1954 and 1955. During the mid-1950s, Van Dyke worked at WTHI-TV in Terre Haute, Indiana.

The Jerry Van Dyke Show, which included future CBS News Early Show news anchor Joseph Benti, Nancee South and Ben Falber, was popular fare. In the service, he performed at military bases around the world, twice winning the All Air Force Talent Show.

Following his first guest appearances on The Dick Van Dyke Show and two others on CBS’s The Ed Sullivan Show, CBS made him a regular on The Judy Garland Show. He was also given hosting chores on the 1963 game show Picture This. 

In that same year, movie audiences saw him in supporting roles in McLintock!, Palm Springs Weekend and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

Television career

In 1963 Van Dyke was cast on an episode of GE True, hosted by Jack Webb. When The Judy Garland Show was unsuccessfully revamped, Van Dyke left the program. He turned down the offer to play Gilligan on Gilligan’s Island, a role which instead went to Bob Denver. He rejected as well an offer to replace Don Knotts as Sheriff Andy Taylor’s deputy on The Andy Griffith Show. Van Dyke finally accepted the lead role of attorney David Crabtree in My Mother the Car (1965), the misadventures of a man whose deceased mother Gladys (voiced by Ann Sothern) is reincarnated as a restored antique car.[5] Though the series was a commercial failure, Van Dyke continued to work steadily in supporting television and film roles through the rest of the decade. He starred in another short-lived situation comedy Accidental Family (1967) as widowed comedian Jerry Webster who buys a farm to raise his son while he is not away on professional tours.

He was also featured in Love and Kisses (1965) and as Andy Griffith’s co-star in Angel in My Pocket (1969).

During the 1970s Van Dyke returned to stand-up comedy. He spent much of the decade touring Playboy Clubs around the country and headlining venues in Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada, Summerfest in Milwaukee, and in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He returned to television for guest appearances on Love, American Style and Fantasy Island. In 1973 he portrayed Wes Callison, News Writer, on the season four episode “Son of ‘But Seriously, Folks'” on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. He also had roles in The Amazing Cosmic Awareness of Duffy Moon (1976) and 13 Queens Boulevard (1979). Also in 1989 he appeared as a panelist in the pilot for the revival of Match Game, hosted by Bert Convy, but due to his brain tumor, he was later replaced by Ross Shafer when it was turned into a series in 1990.

In 1988 he made a guest appearance on Scott Baio’s sitcom Charles in Charge as Jamie Powell’s health teacher Mr. Merkin. In 1989 Van Dyke began portraying beloved, yet befuddled, assistant coach Luther Van Dam on the long-running series Coach. For this role, he received four consecutive Emmy Award nominations (1990 through 1993) for “Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series”.

Later career

In his final television role in April 2015 he reprised his role as Frankie’s father on The Middle, along with real-life brother Dick Van Dyke playing his character’s brother.

Personal life

Van Dyke was married twice and had three children with first wife Carol, daughters Jerri Lynn and Kelly Jean and son Ronald.[5] Kelly Jean Van Dyke committed suicide in 1991, following struggles with substance abuse.

Jerry and wife Shirley resided together on their 800-acre ranch near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Van Dyke was an avid poker player and announced a number of poker tournaments for ESPN in the late 1990s and early 2000s.[2] He was also a four-string banjo player with several performances on The Dick Van Dyke Show to his credit.

Death

On January 5, 2018, Van Dyke died at his Arkansas ranch, of heart failure at the age of 86. He was in declining health since being involved in a car accident two years earlier.

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