Of Dick Van Dyke's many talents, the most remarkable may be the moment you think about him, you smile.
The affable actor, singer and dancer has that effect on audiences. His colleagues think highly of him, too. They're bestowing upon him the Life Achievement Award at the 19th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, airing on TNT and TBS at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Although his former co-star Mary Tyler Moore took this honor last year, Van Dyke says, “It never occurred to me I might be next. It was a total surprise to me. I found out a couple of months ago. They told me, and I just couldn't believe it. It was another surprise in a career of surprises.”
Few people realize that Van Dyke, 87, started with Walter Cronkite. Van Dyke wouldn't come right out and say he was proud of his career, which continues with his singing quartet, The Vantastix.
“I am just startled every time I look back,” he said. “I never expected that to happen. I thought I would be an announcer on television. I was an anchor on a CBS morning show; Walter Cronkite was my newsman. I was no good at it.
“It was a bad start. I tried a game show for a while. That was no good. I would run out and audition for Broadway shows. I got into a revue with Bert Lahr, which flopped, and got into ‘Bye Bye Birdie' and changed my life forever.”
To grasp just how surprising landing that show was, consider that Van Dyke did not know how to dance when he auditioned. Gower Champion taught him.
“I had never danced or sang or acted,” Van Dyke recalled. “I just went up on stage and sang a little of a Ray Bolger song, and he gave me the part on the spot. The choreographers I had knew what I could do and couldn't do. He just taught me. He would give me a move and see if I could do it.”
Van Dyke was in his 30s when he won a Tony for “Birdie.”
“I was scared stiff opening night, and I was a bit wooden, and the reviews said I was adequate,” he said. “Once I started to relax and enjoy myself, I enjoyed it a lot.”
And perhaps that's the secret to why people smile watching him. To prove it, watch what he is most famous for: the black-and-white classic TV comedy “The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-66).
“All of us agree that the five years on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show' were the most fun we ever had,” Van Dyke said.