Dick Van Patten

Active - 1941 - 2016  |   Born - Dec 9, 1928 in Kew Gardens, New York, United States  |   Died - Jun 23, 2015   |   Genres - Comedy, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Through eight decades, actor Dick Van Patten retained the cherubic, chipmunk-cheeked countenance of his child-star days. Born into a family of actors, Van Patten was seven when he made his Broadway bow, playing Melvyn Douglas' son in Tapestry in Gray; that same year, he first stepped before a radio microphone. He would ultimately appear in over 20 Broadway productions, including Thornton Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth. His co-star in this endeavor was Tallulah Bankhead, who declared that "Dickie" was the only child actor she could tolerate because he could read The Racing Form. In 1941, Van Patten and his younger sister Joyce made their joint film debut in Reg'lar Fellers, repeating their roles from the radio version of the same property. He would not again appear in a film until 1968's Charly, by which time he had played eldest son Nels Hansen in the pioneering TV sitcom Mama had made a smooth transition to adult parts in the role of Mister Roberts' Ensign Pulver, and had co-starred in such New York stage presentations as The Tender Trap, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and Don't Drink the Water. An avid tennis player, Van Patten met producer/director Mel Brooks on the courts; their personal relationship blossomed into a professional one, with Van Patten playing Friar Tuck in Brooks' 1975 TV series When Things Were Rotten and appearing in several of Brooks' theatrical features. From 1977 through 1981, Van Patten starred as Tom Bradford on the TV "dramedy" Eight is Enough. His other series-TV assignments include The Partners (1971), The New Dick Van Dyke Show (1973-74 season) and WIOU (1990). In addition to his sibling relationship with Joyce Van Patten, Dick Van Patten is the half-brother Timothy Van Patten and the father of James and Vincent Van Patten--actors all. Van Patten died in 2015, at age 86.

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  • Made his first of 27 Broadway appearances at the age of 7 in Tapestry in Gray.
  • Named his second child Nels after his role in the CBS sitcom Mama, which ran from 1949 to '57, and told the story of a Norwegian family living in San Francisco in the 1910s.
  • Developed a friendship with Mel Brooks after meeting on the tennis courts, and went on to act in three of the director's films.
  • Played the ship's doctor in the original 1976 two-hour pilot for The Love Boat, and was later a frequent guest star on the show.
  •  A love of animals led to his founding Natural Balance Pet Foods in 1989.
  • Had cameos in the "Weird Al" Yankovic videos "Smells Like Nirvana" and "Bedrock Anthem."
  • Started National Guide Dog Month in 2008 to raise awareness and money for nonprofit guide dog schools in the U.S.
  • Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009.
  • Published a memoir titled Eighty Is Not Enough.