Jerry Van Dyke shined in these six memorable TV guest roles
Give the man a banjo and he could steal any scene.
Image: The Everett Collection
We are blessed to still have Dick Van Dyke with us. At 92 years old, the legend continues to sing and dance his way into our hearts. He's popped up on TV routinely in recent years, and he'll be seen in Disney's upcoming Mary Poppins sequel. The downside to that long life and enviable career is that Van Dyke has suffered some awful losses of late. Over the holidays, his former Dick Van Dyke Show costar Rosie Marie passed away. On January 5, Van Dyke said goodbye to his little brother, Jerry Van Dyke, who died at the age of 86.
It has been said that Jerry Van Dyke lived in the shadow of his older brother. That sells him short. While Jerry may not have reached the same level of headlining Hollywood fame, he worked in his own spotlight. In a way, he used this perception to his advantage. Jerry brilliantly portrayed second fiddles, dimwits, the insecure, and hard-luck guys — all while oozing charm. He could make a sad sack seem like a ray of light.
Most people know him for his work on Coach, as collegiate defensive coordinator Luther Van Dam. Boomers remember him as the star of the quirky Sixties sitcom My Mother the Car.
We wanted to highlight a handful of his minor roles. He could pop up in a single episode and create an unforgettable character. These bit parts showcased his many skills, from singing and banjo playing to stand-up comedy. Let's take a look. He will be missed.
1. The Dick Van Dyke Show (1962)
"I Am My Brother's Keeper" / "The Sleeping Brother"
It will come as no surprise that Jerry made his first television appearance on Dick's sitcom, in its first season, a few months before showing off his stand-up skills on Ed Sullivan. Here, he naturally played the younger brother of Rob Petrie, Stacey Petrie. The Army man has a two-week furlough. Rob suggests he stay in a hotel. Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) will have none of it. What she doesn't know is that Stacey is a sleepwalker who calls his brother "Burford." Stacey would return again in season four.
2. Perry Mason (1964)
"The Case of the Woeful Widower"
After establishing himself a comic performer, Van Dyke showed off his dramatic chops in this season seven mystery, the second episode in the series to adapt Erle Stanley Gardner's novel The Case of the Fiery Fingers. Again, he portrayed a military man, from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. It's a fascinating change of pace to see him play straight.
3. The Andy Griffith Show (1965)
"The Banjo-Playing Deputy"
The fifth season of this beloved sitcom would prove to be momentous. For starters, it was the last run of episodes in black and white. Secondly, the scene-stealing Don Knotts left the show. Thus, the final two episodes have no Barney Fife. At least the season finale, "The Banjo-Playing Deputy," found a suitable substitute in Jerry Van Dyke, who might have made a lovely permanent replacement. After a carnival seen in the previous episode leaves town, a one-man-band is left behind in Mayberry. His name, too, is Jerry. Andy takes pity on the guy and hires him as a deputy.
4. That Girl (1967)
"Leaving the Nest Is for the Birds"
"Nobody knows how I feel," a man named Howie proclaims. He's wearing a brown suit and eating a hard boiled egg. Oh, and he just so happens to be standing on the ledge outside of Ann Marie's apartment window, threatening to jump. And just when Ann Marie's city-frightened Aunt Harriette is visiting for dinner. Howie has an 8"x10" glossy photo of his girlfriend in his pocket. He's doing this for love. Eventually, Howie is talked off the ledge, though he quickly turns to crime instead. "It's been real nice knowing you, at least temporarily," he says to Donald. Indeed, he made for a great one-episode wonder.
Watch "Leaving the Nest Is for the Birds" now on our Videos page.
5. Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. (1968)
"Gomer and the Night Club Comic"
Here, Jerry picks up his beloved banjo once again, and sings a little ditty, too, "Hello, Dolly." His character wants to form a duo with Gomer, and we do get to hear Jim Nabors and Van Dyke harmonize in this stand-out later episode.
6. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1972)
"But Seriously, Folks"
Chuckles the Clown remains one of the greatest running jokes of this workplace sitcom, leading up to his unforgettable end in "Chuckles Bites the Dust." Van Dyke played another essential part of the Chuckles lore, Wes Callison, a writer for the Chuckles the Clown show. "You know what it feels like for a grown man to dress like this to stand in front of a bunch of screaming kids?" he asks. Mary is dating Wes, and convinces Lou to give him a shot on the news. When that inevitably goes awry, Wes goes back to stand-up comedy — in a bowling alley. Again, Van Dyke is perfect playing a sad sack. Wes returns for one episode the following season.