By Ira Seidenstein

January 25, 2024

Rose Marie; Mary Tyler Moore; Morey Amsterdam; Dick Van Dyke the quartet within the cast of The Dick Van Dyke Show


Here are a few paragraphs about two 98 year old clowns and their involvement in “The Quartet Secret” that I have written about elsewhere in blogs and the book Clown Secret.

I.S.A.A.C. Associate – Marijana Matoković  – alerted me recently to the documentary/musical show in tribute to Dick Van Dyke for his 98th Birthday. The video is below.

The Dick Van Dyke Show was semi-autobiographical story of the actor/comedian/writer Carl Reiner (Father of Director Rob Reiner). Carl passed away recently at age 98. Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks were lifetime friends for more than 70 years. In recent decades Reiner and Brooks watched a film every night at one of their homes.


They were part of perhaps the single greatest team of comedy/clown writers ever. That was working for and with the Clown Sid Caesar for about 10 years of his weekly TV clown shows. The shows’ genre of Clown was Sketch Comedy.  The Sid Caesar shows were like many great USA clown shows were focused around a quartet. There were other actors too and in some shows there was a second row of main actors although the quartet was central.

The quartet is a ‘universal principle’ which is not uncommon in Music. Also Shakespeare often used quartets in many of his plays. There were also quartets within Comedies of Antiquity. I Love Lucy; and, The Carol Burnett Show were two well-known quartet based clown shows. The quartet structure means that those clowns must be Actors and must know how to work in an ensemble i.e. must be cooperative team players, and necessarily generous. The Marx Brothers were primarily a quartet. They had an infamous iconoclast way of being ‘cooperative’.  In their films their comedy focused on two quartets actually. One was the 4 Brothers including the ingénue/straight man Zeppo. The other quartet was the 3 main clown brothers with Margaret Dumont.  It has been noted and written that Zeppo in real life was the single funniest of the brothers. He was after all the youngest and it is not uncommon for the youngest sibling to be treated quite differently and to respond comically.


“…Zeppo replaced brother Gummo in the Marx Brothers’ stage act when Gummo was drafted into the army in 1918. Zeppo had been employed as a mechanic for the Ford Motor Company. He had no desire for a showbusiness career, but Minnie Marx insisted that he replace Gummo because she wanted to maintain the act as a foursome. Zeppo remained with the team in vaudeville, Broadway and the first five Marx Brothers films as the straight man and romantic lead until leaving the act following Duck Soup in 1933. He also appeared without his brothers in the Adolphe Menjou comedy A Kiss in the Dark (1925), billed as Herbert Marx. Although it had been a minor role, his performance was praised by the New York Sun.

In her book Lady Blue Eyes: My Life with Frank, Zeppo’s second wife Barbara Sinatra reported that he was considered too young to perform with his brothers, but when Gummo joined the army, Zeppo was asked to join the act as a last-minute replacement at a show in Texas. He and a Jewish friend were supposed to have a date with two Irish girls, but Zeppo canceled in order to board the train to Texas. His friend was shot several hours later by a gang that disapproved of Jews dating Irish girls. Having watched his brothers for many years, Zeppo could imitate and replace any of the others when illness kept them from performing… “


“…When Reiner was 16, working as a machinist repairing sewing machines, Charles read about a free drama workshop sponsored by the Works Progress Administration and told him about it. Carl later credited Charles with his decision to change careers. His uncle Harry Mathias was the first entertainer in his family.

Military service. Reiner was drafted into the United States Army Air Forces on October 27, 1942, and served during World War II, eventually achieving the rank of corporal by the end of the war. He initially trained to be a radio operator. After spending three months in the hospital recovering from pneumonia, he was sent to Georgetown University for ten months of training as a French interpreter. There, he had his first experience as a director, putting on a Molière play entirely in French. After completing language training in 1944, he was sent to Hawaii to work as a teleprinter operator. The night before he was scheduled to ship out for an unknown assignment, he attended a production of Hamlet by the Special Services entertainment unit. Following an audition before actor Major Maurice Evans and Captain Allen Ludden, he was transferred to Special Services.  Over the following two years, Reiner performed around the Pacific theater, entertaining troops in Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima until he was honorably discharged in 1946.

1950s. Reiner performed in several Broadway musicals (including Inside U.S.A. and Alive and Kicking) and had the lead role in Call Me Mister.  In 1950, he was cast by Max Leibman as a comic actor on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows, appearing on air in skits while also contributing ideas to such writers as Mel Brooks and Neil Simon. He did not receive credit for his sketch material, but won Emmy Awards in 1955 and 1956 as a supporting actor.[18] Reiner also wrote for Caesar’s Hour with Brooks, Simon, Woody Allen, Larry Gelbart, Mel Tolkin, Mike Stewart, Aaron Ruben, Sheldon Keller, and Gary Belkin. He assumed the role of head writer and semi-regular on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show during the 1959–60 television season… ‘


Dick Van Dyke is still working. Famously he exercises every morning.

“…Many of the characters in The Dick Van Dyke Show were based on real people, as Carl Reiner created the show based on his time spent as head writer for the Sid Caesar vehicle Your Show of Shows. Carl Reiner portrayed Alan Brady who is a combination of the abrasive Milton Berle and Jackie Gleason, according to Reiner, refuting rumors that Alan Brady was based on Caesar.[6] Van Dyke’s character was based on Reiner himself. (Mary Tyler) Moore’s character’s “look” was influenced to some extent by that of Jackie Kennedy, who was at the time First Lady of the United States…”

Dick Van Dyke comedy skit of a 97 year old magician

“During the late 1940s, Van Dyke was a radio DJ on WDAN in Danville, Illinois. In 1947, Van Dyke was persuaded by pantomime performer Phil Erickson[19] to form a comedy duo called “Eric and Van—the Merry Mutes.” The team toured the West Coast nightclub circuit, performing a mime act and lip synching to 78 rpm records. They moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in the early 1950s and performed a local television show featuring original skits and music called “The Merry Mutes”.

Here he tells about The Merry Mutes and more


“Van Dyke’s start in television was with WDSU-TV New Orleans Channel 6 (NBC), first as a single comedian and later as emcee of a comedy program. Van Dyke’s first network TV appearance was with Dennis James on James’ Chance of a Lifetime in 1954. He later appeared in two episodes of The Phil Silvers Show during its 1957–58 season. He also appeared early in his career on ABC’s The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom and NBC’s The Polly Bergen Show. During this time a friend from the Army was working as an executive for CBS television and recommended Van Dyke to that network. Out of this came a seven-year contract with the network. During an interview on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! program, Van Dyke said he was the anchorman for the CBS Morning Show during this period with Walter Cronkite as his newsman.

In November 1959, Van Dyke made his Broadway debut in The Girls Against the Boys which ran at the Alvin Theatre. The production was a revue in two acts and featured performances from Van Dyke, Shelley Berman, Bert Lahr, Nancy Walker among many others. The production ran on Broadway for sixteen performances from November 2 to November 14, 1959.”

Dick Van Dyke comedy skit learning to do popular dances

Dick Van Dyke’s 98th Birthday TV Special. Introduced by Director Rob Reiner son of Carl Reiner

Writer/Blogger Ira Seidenstein www.iraseid.com

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Ira Seidenstein