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Essay
Dick Van Dyke
Mary Tyler Moore
Carl Reiner
Garry Marshall
Garry Marshall (far right)

A Ground-Breaking Comedy

Funny In a Different Form 


The show was ground-breaking in the sense that it started to perfect a form of writing that was opposite to the writing on I Love Lucy. (Jerry Belsen and I also wrote for Lucy in those days.) With I Love Lucy, you always started with the last scene, to see what big funny scene you could do, and then you spent all your time getting to that last scene. You wrote everything so that the last scene was honest and feasible and palatable. The Dick Van Dyke Show went the other way. They took a little incident on page one and then followed it along until it blossomed into a whole show.
 

Interview with Garry Marshall
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Interview with Garry Marshall
 


Making Sense 


Many sitcoms at the time didn't care about structure or story, they only cared about jokes. But Carl Reiner was a bug on making sense. Carl said that audiences at home like to follow a story. If you don't give them one, they'll laugh, but they may never tune in again. If they follow a story, then they'll like the people and tune in again. That helped me on Happy Days and Laverne And Shirley and Mork And Mindy. As crazy as Mork And Mindy was, I would always say to the writers, where's the structure? It can't be a man just jumping around, there has to be a story to follow.
 


 

Writers' Paradise

The Drill 


Six of us wrote most of the shows. We would sit around, just tell embarrassing moments, terrible experiences we had, and that's what became shows. Jerry Belsen had worked in many shoe stores, and the shoe episode was mostly about his crazy life in a shoe store.

In a script where Rob and Laura were going to a wedding, we wrote, "Rob Petrie puts on his cummerbund funny." Carl said, "What is that? Write it. You've got to write the physical comedy." And it was really bit stuff. But to write the little nuances of physical comedy is what Carl taught me, and what Dick taught us.
 


 


Garry and Jerry 


We were odd, Jerry Belsen and I. We liked to go for the weird way around. We wrote a whole show that took place in an elevator. We wrote 17 pages of Dick Van Dyke on the stage all alone. He was home alone, he made phone calls, he was lonely, he wanted to go out, he couldn't get ahold of anybody. Carl let us experiment. If it was too crazy, he'd bring it back to reality.

Carl always felt that Jerry and I had started a type of show called "stuck-in-a..." I said once, "Let's do a stuck-in-a... show. You know, stuck in an elevator, stuck in a basement. Your finger's stuck in the bowling ball is the classic." So Carl started to write stuck-in-a... shows, and he wrote the one where Laura stuck her toe stuck in the bathtub faucet. 

Video clip from The Dick Van Dyke Show
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Laura's toe gets stuck in a hotel bathtub faucet in the episode "Never Bathe on Saturday"*
 
Photo courtesy of Calvada Productions and Clear Productions, Inc.
 


The Comedy Dream Team

Carl Reiner 


One of Carl's favorite shows started out as a dull script about a writer coming to talk to Rob and Alan Brady. Carl said, "It's too cerebral." We rewrote it so that the guy had a vicious dog that he brought to every writers' meeting. The dog hated all the other writers, and he hated Alan Brady. So suddenly the same dialogue we had written originally became alive because we had put the dog in the show. Carl loved stuff like that.
 


 


Dick Van Dyke 


Dick Van Dyke was ideal to play Rob Petrie because he was everyman, and everybody could relate to him. He wasn't such a big star and he wasn't so handsome, or not handsome. He was a pleasant guy that you would hope could be your neighbor.

Dick was a great mime. He loved the Marcel Marceau type of comedian, and he loved clowns from the circus. And he was a dancer, so he loved the physical. Dick was a forerunner in doing visual, physical comedy. He fell down, but he moved like a dancer, so he looked choreographed. I stole it all for Laverne And Shirley, where they fell down. I used to use a lot of that in Laverne And Shirley because the girls could move, too.
 

Garry Marshall guest stars as a boxing 
referee.  From the episode
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Garry Marshall guest stars as a boxing referee. From the episode "Body and Sol"*
 


Mary Tyler Moore 


Mary could do the big joke, although she said, "I get nervous sometimes doing physical comedy in front of everybody." So just to make her crazy, we wrote a special episode where she took the wrong pills. It was a wonderful scene. She was at a dinner party, and she went under the table to pick the napkin up and never came up. They just went on with the dinner.

Although he was a great improviser of physical and visual comedy, Dick was not a great improviser of dialogue. He could improvise the physical, but he would say it pretty much word for word. Mary could do both.
 


 

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*Video clip courtesy of The Dick Van Dyke Show DVD (www.dickvandyke.com), © Calvada Productions

 

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