Thursday, June 25, 2015

When 86 Isn't Enough

The sad news of Dick Van Patten's death earlier this week, at the age of 86, was for me accompanied by a pleasant memory of making his acquaintance some years ago. When I was working on my biography of Shirley Booth, I was lucky enough to get an interview with actress Joyce Van Patten, who supported Miss Booth in two Broadway shows. After we had chatted for a little while, Miss Van Patten abruptly said, "You should talk to my brother Dickie." She promptly rattled off his phone number, and with some hesitation I called it later that day. That was how I met Dick Van Patten, who in our conversation seemed to me as nice as the dad he played on TV's Eight is Enough. Both Van Pattens willingly gave me terrific anecdotes about working with Shirley Booth, dating back to their years as child actors, substantially enriching my book.

One thing I remember clearly about Mr. Van Patten is the greeting on his answering machine. If you didn't succeed in reaching him immediately, you could at least listen to a joke he had recorded for his callers' entertainment. I wouldn't be surprised if people called him back from time to time just to hear the latest one, as recounted by a talented actor whose flair for comedy won him multiple roles with Mel Brooks.

By all indications, Dick Van Patten lived a rich, full life, both personally and professionally. I'm just one of many people who will remember him with respect and affection.

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