Van Dyke Redux

April 5, 2012

Originally published in 1994, Vince Waldron’s The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book is one of the classic television series companions.  Waldron’s book stands alongside Marc Scott Zicree’s Twilight Zone book, David J. Schow and Jeffrey Frentzen’s Outer Limits tome, Scott Skelton and Jim Benson’s Night Gallery companion, and maybe one or two others at the peak of a narrow little genre.  All of them chronicle the birth and death of a major television series in a way that’s thorough but also inviting and readable, even for someone who hasn’t seen the show (or hasn’t seen it in a while.)  They’ve all been an inspiration to me in how I approach my own research, and I always pull them down off the shelf if I’m writing about one of those shows (or one of the creative people behind them).

When Waldron wrote The Dick Van Dyke Show book, all of the major creative personnel were still alive (save for supporting player and director Jerry Paris).  Waldron was able not only to document the genesis of The Dick Van Dyke Show, but also the development of a number of the show’s famously high-concept episodes, many of which spun out actual incidents in the writers’ or actors’ real lives.  No other sixties situation comedy has received such loving scrutiny.  All you have to do to understand the value of Waldron’s work is to think of all the unrecorded (or at least uncollected) stories that went into the making of The Andy Griffith Show.

Last year was the fiftieth anniversary of The Dick Van Dyke Show and it made sense for Waldron to commemorate the occasion by reprinting the book, this time through the independent Chicago Review Press.  (The original version was published by Hyperion, but the days of big corporate publishers doing this kind of book are long gone.)  Vince was kind enough to send me a review copy, so it is with some reluctance that I suggest the proclamation on the cover – “Revised and Updated Edition” – is something of an overstatement.

This is still a great book, but it’s not a very different one.  The text in both editions is essentially the same.  Waldron has made a number of cosmetic changes to his own prose (which was fine in the first place), and there’s an unnecessary new foreword by Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson).  But if you were hoping for a new trove of updated interviews or an expanded episode guide, you won’t find it.

The primary difference between the two editions is in the illustrations.  The second edition includes a lot of new photos, but there’s a catch – a lot of the stills from the first edition have been removed.  In Chapter Sixteen, for instance, we lose a mustachioed Van Dyke in “The Bad Old Days” and a shot of Jay C. Flippen in “The Return of Happy Spangler,” but gain a backstage shot of Carl Reiner and Danny Thomas on the “Twizzle” set, along with their wives (who don’t look a whole lot like Laura Petrie).

The quality of the photographic reproduction is better in the new edition, and on the whole I think its images are better chosen; they tend to be a bit more episode-specific.  On the other hand, because the page size is smaller, some of the photos that have been carried over are badly cropped.  (In both books, Chapter Ten has a photo of Sheldon Leonard on the phone.  In the second edition, it’s just a head shot; in the first, you get a glimpse of what’s on Leonard’s desk.)

It’s a shame that Waldron didn’t have the space or the finances to make the new Dick Van Dyke Show book a compendium of all the photos he’s collected over the years.  That’s my major complaint about the second edition, although it’s still a flaw that will matter only to completists (and anybody who’s that much of a completist is probably buying up the old stills on Ebay anyhow).  In short, if you already have the first edition, you don’t need to upgrade to the new one, and if you don’t – wait, what’s wrong with you?  Get this book, already!

You’d think that a historian, reviving his pet topic and most important work after almost twenty years, wouldn’t be able to resist a major overhaul.  Waldron had the whole story in his first version, and there’s nothing that needed to be changed . . . but still, after two decades as the “Dick Van Dyke Show Guy,” wouldn’t new anecdotes, articles, archival documents, and bits of trivia come to him, even if Waldron wasn’t actively seeking them?  Maybe, maybe not.

I can’t speak for Vince Waldron.  But in my own case, I published an account of East Side / West Side in 1997, and then revised and expanded substantially before I reprinted it on this site ten years later.  Since since then, there are still more new interviews, new archival research, and new corrections that have landed in my lap; at some point I’ll need to do another pass at it, or at least a few appendices on the blog.  I have some enthusiasm for that, because East Side / West Side remains an underappreciated and underreported show.  On the other hand, since I first wrote about The Invaders in 2000, I’ve also become “the Invaders guy,” and I wear that mantle a bit more uneasily.  There are other historians who know and love that show more than I do, and I feel like I said all I have to say on the subject in that piece.  When people come calling about The Invaders, I’m always afraid I can’t deliver whatever they’re asking for.  Being the keeper of the flame can be a pleasure or a chore.


5 Responses to “Van Dyke Redux”

  1. Neville Ross Says:

    Great to see that there’a a book on this show, even if it’s severely truncated in its current edition.. This was one of the most intelligent sitcoms of the 60’s, and it’s a tragedy that CBS didn’t make more like this, but settled for making caca like Gilligan’s Island, The Beverley Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres.

    Any possibility that you can do a book on East Side/West Side and get it published?

  2. Stephen Bowie Says:

    I’d say “severely truncated” would be a vast overstatement, Neville. I’m not sure why Vince had to, or chose to, pull a switcheroo on some the photos, but it’s certainly still as good a book as it was the first time around. Just a little different.

    I’m chuckling at the “get it published” part of your post. I wouldn’t mind returning to ES/WS at some point, but if I’d really wanted to expand it into a book, I should have done it before some of the key players I didn’t interview the first time around (Dan Melnick, Millard Lampell, John Berry) passed away.

  3. Larry Granberry Says:

    I just wish someone would PLEASE publish a book/blog/whatever on “Naked City” – one show I want to not only see (why not a complete series on DVD – but then I could get started on “The Fugitive” and that is apparently a blind alley), but would love to read more about. Stirling Silliphant is one of the unsung geniuses of classic TV, and it’s a shame the Great Unwashed is not more familiar with his work.

  4. Larry Granberry Says:

    Wow. Now I wIsh I’d asked for more – like a new job, new car, winning Mega Millions ticket, yada, yada, yada. But thanks – I’ll check it out.

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