On Sunday night, Dick Van Dyke will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild. It reminds us just how fragile the familiar order of things is, how easily things could be different.
What do I mean? Well, back in the 1950s, a young Van Dyke hosted the CBS Morning Show along with a rising Walter Cronkite. That show, like the morning shows of today, was a mixture of news and entertainment and even had its own troupe of puppets, with whom Cronkite reportedly worked beautifully. How easy would it have been for a talent scout, instead of responding to Van Dyke's' glistening proto-Camelot-era physicality, to instead have chosen Cronkite as the bright comedic hope of America's future? One mistimed trip to the toilet or single press of the snooze button and the scout would have seen a different part of the program altogether. America's broadcast history would be permanently changed.
Now, Cronkite, by all accounts, was a fine dancer and would no doubt have performed a credible "Put on a Happy Face." But could you imagine Dick tripping over the anchor desk while reporting the death of a president? The era's number one morale builder would instead have been its number one morale killer. A universe very much like our own, but...
Well, guess what. There is a universe like the one I've just described. On the planet with us, today. It is a place where, unbelievably, Dick Van Dyke is seen not as a hero but a clod.
That place is England.
See, in England, they think of Van Dyke as the guy who mangled a Cockney accent in Mary Poppins. His very name is synonymous with bad English accents. 'Cause England is a land where the accent changes every quarter of a mile and woe be unto you if you do not have the accent of your district. Accent imperfection is a crime there. And Van Dyke must have heard about the derision because in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, he did not attempt an accent at all.
Whoa. Isn't accent tyranny the reason we overthrew the English? Did we not fight a war so that we could speak in whatever manner we choose? The English would probably have preferred Cronkite as Rob Petrie. As proof, I offer their fondness for Diagnosis: Murder, which features the Cronkitiest Van Dyke of Dick's career.
So, I say, God Bless America and the happy accidents that gave us our Dick Van Dyke.
A Dick Van Dyke so wonderful that he deserves the honor to be bestowed upon him this weekend.
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