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Dick Van Dyke’s entertainment career began in WWII toilets

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Actor, singer and all-around performer Dick Van Dyke will turn 98 in 2023, and at this point in time, it’s hard to imagine anything he hasn’t done. We’re most likely to remember him for his comedic roles on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “Mary Poppins,” or his dramatic turns in “Diagnosis: Murder” and “Mary Poppins.”Mary Poppins’ (he also played an elderly banker).

but he is also rap Working with the drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to create computer graphics for television and for Marvel Cinematic Universe. His career has outlived most of us (76 years and counting).It all started with an audition in a bathroom army Airports in Texas.

Van Dijk was never shy about admitting it timidity led to his entertainment career.He even claimed he wasn’t exactly a soldier in his 2011 book “My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business: A Memoir,” which recounts how his army air forceHis career led to his acting career.

World War II broke out in Danville, Illinois when he was a teenager. In high school, he began working as a draft disc jockey for the local CBS affiliate WDAN. He was 17 when he enlisted in the US Army Air Forces in March 1942. The thought of enlisting in the army and rushing across the front lines filled him with dread.

“Anything else is fine,” he wrote.

He went to the nearest air force base and began taking IQ tests and physicals in an effort to become a fighter pilot. He’s almost perfect for the job, but there’s just one problem: At 6-foot-1 and 135 pounds, he’s too skinny. He has to take two more tests before being admitted.

In an almost comedic twist, he actually lost weight on his second try. He was so worried about being sent to the front that he sweated profusely, causing his weight to drop. Before his third and final attempt, he ate six bananas and drank as much water as he could before being weighed. He barely passed.

Van Dyke enlisted in the Army Air Force so soon after graduating from high school that he didn’t finish school or earn a diploma. After basic training in Wichita Falls, Kansas, he was sent to Toledo, Ohio for pilot training.

“I imagined myself as a fighter pilot,” Van Dyke wrote. “Given I have a severe allergy to combat, it doesn’t make sense. It turned out to be a moot point. The closest I’ve ever been to a pilot’s wing was when I was working with other cadets on the plane.”

While the young soldier scored perfect marks in his physics, math and aviation exams, he failed all military-related exams he took. One day, their commander gathered them in a classroom and told them that the Air Force was about to launch a major attack on Japan.

“Some of you will be sent overseas as tail gunners,” the commander said. “Others, distribute according to your abilities.”

Van Dyke started singing and dancing on the spot. His special abilities earned him an assignment to Special Forces at Major Sherman Army Field in Texas. There, he built and painted sets, staged plays, and performed sketch-filled variety shows. He even found a small booth in the cafeteria where he played records and read the news.

“Going into Special Forces is the best thing that could have happened to me and the Air Force,” Van Dyke wrote.

One day, he noticed an announcement on the bulletin board at the base. The base radio station needs a new announcer for its daily entertainment show “Airtime.” He signed up for the position. A few days later, while he was in line for the toilet, a man came in and asked him if it was Van Dyke.

When Van Dyke confirmed he was, the man sat next to him in the toilet, handed him a note and asked him to read it. Van Dyke did as he was told. It turned out to be his audition for Flight Time, and Van Dyke got the job. He played music, read the news, and shared war messages.

Dick Van Dyke in a 1959 promotional photo for the advertising agency Young & Rubicam.

Van Dyke acknowledged that, for the most part, he was not suited for a lifelong Air Force career. He’s good at close quarters and obstacle courses, but not at anything that doesn’t involve speed or agility. He lacks discipline.his uniform Very little clean. He also hates flying.

After the war, he returned home to Danville and took over his old job at WDAN. He knew he wanted to break into television. In 1954, he made his first television appearance in a comedy show at WDSU in New Orleans. His ratings caught the attention of a veteran Air Force buddy who happened to work for CBS in New York.

Turns out, the man who approached him in the base bathroom in Texas was Byron Paul, who would later become a cameraman and director for CBS. At Paul’s suggestion, CBS flew Van Dyke to New York for an audition. This time around, the auditions were in theaters, which led to Van Dyke’s big break: a seven-year contract with CBS.

– Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com.You can also find him on Twitter @blacksdiwell or is LinkedIn.

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