Bye, Bye Birdie (1963) w/ Dick Van Dyke

The manager of a popular singer chooses a young fan to kiss the star for publicity, wreaking havoc on the girl's small town.

Bye, Bye Birdie is satire of American rock stars and the mania that surrounds them. It also features the life of the manager - Albert Peterson (Dick Van Dyke)- who delays marrying his assistant Rose (Janet Leigh) until he's a success.

Ann-Margret plays the rock star's fan in this, her third film. Bye, Bye Birdie would turn into a big vehicle for the actress. According to Dick Van Dyke's autobiography, My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, the cast had no idea that Ann-Margret's part would be expanded. It was only at the premiere that they saw extra shots of the young lady with a new song before the credits and after the story ends.  Janet Leigh -who had been a major star for much longer and who is billed first- was livid.

Van Dyke claims a c'est la vie approach to it all. His youthful co-star was at the right place at the right time... and she hustled like crazy. Van Dyke carries the same sanguine view of his own career.

When he showed up to audition for the Broadway version of Bye, Bye Birdie some years before, he was incredulous then, as he is to this day, that he was chosen. It seemed a random choice.

"My audition took place in a dimly lit, empty theater off Broadway, somewhere in the Forties.... There were only a few people there, including [choreographer Gower Champion], a handsome, serious man. ... Gower and his producers sat at a table in front. I stayed in the back until I heard my name, then took my place on the stage. There was one light shining down and a piano player on the side.

"After answering a few questions, I sang 'Till There Was You' from The Music Man and then 'Once in Love with Amy' with a little soft-shoe that I knew. When I finished, Gower came onstage and said, 'You've got the part.' Just like that. He gave me the job. Right on the spot.
"'But I...I can't really dance.'
"'Don't worry about that,' he said. 'I saw what you can do. That's what we'll build on'"

And a star was born.

He played the part of Albert Peterson on Broadway for a year and a day. During that time, Gower Champion made sure Van Dyke had something to do in the first act, namely, the song "Put On a Happy Face," which would become the actor's signature song.

Van Dyke caught the eye of show business moguls in the West and left the show to pursue television. He would star in his eponymous sitcom with Mary Tyler Moore, written by Carl Reiner and funded by Peter Lawford, which would become a classic.

During a summer break, he (and Broadway cast mate Paul Lynde) was tapped to recreate his Bye, Bye Birdie stage role for film.

And a star was born to the movies.

The next year, 1964, Van Dyke would play in an ensemble cast with Paul Newman, Gene Kelly, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine in What a Way to Go!  1964 would also bring his iconic role as Bert the chimney sweep opposite Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins.

Although his first film didn't turn out as he had imagined, Van Dyke is grateful for a long career and several iconic roles.

What is your favorite Dick Van Dyke film?


  1. Wow, what a start to such a grand career! I'm surprised that Dick Van Dyke auditioned as a singer, I always thought that his singing voice was his weakest talent. He was a better dancer/comedian/actor. Great behind-the-scenes trivia here!

    1. That's part of why Van Dyke calls himself "lucky." He really had nothing but a desire to work and a sense of humor.

      And lanky movements that appealed to dancers. Not only did Champion find his movements a diamond in the rough, so did another dancer.

      Van Dyke recounts Fred Astaire watching him on stage in Birdie, later on TV as Rob Petrie and then visiting him on the film set of Birdie. Astaire told Van Dyke that he likes the way Van Dyke moves.

      Another thing going for Van Dyke at the time was his sense of style. He says that Cary Grant visited him backstage on Broadway, pushed past him and went straight to Van Dyke's closet, asking about his clothes. Van Dyke used his own tailored suits onstage. Later Grant offered to do a movie with the young star; that project never came about.

      There are bits and pieces of Dick Van Dyke that each person responds to, which created a fabulous career.


Thanks for your contribution to Java's Journey.


About Java

"Java's Journey: A really fun, informative well-written blog that explores all of the things - and I mean all - I love about classic films."-- Flick Chick of A Person In The Dark Email:


Blog Archive

Writer's Block Doesn't Stand a Chance