Though it seems impossible to believe at this point, apparently I still have a friend or two who has not heard about The Time I Met Dick Van Dyke. The following is a faithful and complete record of my momentous brush with the most amazing song and dance man of all time—funnier than Danny Kaye, lighter on his feet than Gene Kelly, and warmer than Bing Crosby, he remains the only Hollywood star who has heard me sing. Lucky him.
The year was 1998. There I was, in a strip mall in Malibu, baking in the dry heat and trying to cool off with a double scoop of pralines and cream ice cream in a waffle cone. I was with my husband Paul and my best friend Tracy, and the three of us were playing hooky from the Pepperdine Lectureships. We were just standing in front of the ice cream shop, trying to decide where to go next, when who should walk into the grocery store a few yards down the sidewalk but the world’s most famous chimney sweep, DICK VAN DYKE!
Before I knew what I was about, my feet were carrying me into the grocery store in hot pursuit. If Mr. Van Dyke had been accompanied by a bodyguard, I would definitely have been setting off his professional alarm bells as I searched frantically up and down the aisles, hoping to catch another glimpse of my hero. Finally, I managed to corner him in the produce section.
And there, right in front of the fresh cabbages, I lost my everloving mind.
The next few minutes are something of a blur in my memory. I always thought I would be cool in the face of celebrity. How very wrong I was. “Cool” as a concept could not describe any part of my person in that moment. I babbled. My fangirl gushing was an uncontrollable torrent of words. I’m not sure for how long I shook his hand, but the imaginary bodyguard would certainly have had me in a headlock by that point. I mentioned Mary Poppins, The Dick Van Dyke Show, everything except the show he was actually working on, Diagnosis: Murder. At one point, I somehow found myself singing “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”. Yeah, singing. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. TO DICK VAN DYKE.
Off key, naturally.
Y’all, he could not have been kinder. He thanked me for my support and for coming over to speak to him. He generously said nothing about the fact that the forgotten ice cream cone clutched in my hand was, by now, dripping melted pralines & cream on his tennis shoes.
Now perhaps he was only trying to safely extricate himself from what was beginning to feel like a hostage situation, but I choose to believe that he really is just that nice.
Because of course he is. He’s Dick Van Dyke.