Dick Van Dyke: A Legacy of Laughter and Joy

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Photographer Laura Johansen, Arlene and Dick Van Dyke, and Malibu Arts Commissioner Julia Holland are shown during the Q&A for the opening reception of "Moments in Time" on Sunday, Nov. 19. Photos by Devon Meyers/TMT.

Photography Exhibit by Laura Johansen Opens at The Malibu City Hall Art Gallery

By Barbara Burke

Specia to The Malibu Times

​The mood was festive and the Malibu City Hall had never been so crowded as excited fans and friends awaited the arrival of Malibu’s favorite patriarch, Dick Van Dyke, for the opening reception on Nov. 19 for “Moments in Time,” a dazzling array of lively portraits by photographer Laura Johansen. The event featured a live musical performance by A Call 2Peace followed by a question and answer session with Johansen and Arlene and Dick Van Dyke.

As one enters the exhibit, they see images of Van Dyke the performer; Van Dyke, the prankster; Van Dyke and his family. 

There’s a wonderful image of him celebrating his 90th birthday at Disneyland, and intriguing images include one wherein he and David Copperfield are casually chatting at the Academy of Magical Arts awards. When one lean closely in to carefully view that one, he realizes that the reflection in the mirror behind Van Dyke and Copperfield is that of one Pee Wee Herman.

The whole exhibit is fun and depicts images that evoked childhood memories for many attendees — memories of more delicate times when families gathered around the television and went to the movies, often to view Van Dyke dancing and prancing and pranking across the stage in classic after classic, singing tunes that are ingrained in people’s memories — memories of fun and fantasy. 

As people assembled in the hall, against a colorful, cheerful backdrop by Kazuyuki Sakamoto, A Call 2Peace entertained the crowd, first playing “Passion Fruit” by Bernardo Rubaja, Eduardo Del Signore and Frederico Ramos, segueing into other tender pieces that set a mood of joy and appreciation, then providing an apropos rendition of Imagine by John Lennon, featuring a sax solo by Bill Bixler, who served as the instrumental music director at Malibu High School for years. 

“The Malibu Arts Commission is dedicated to expanding the arts and culture in our town,” Commission Chair Fireball Tim Lawrence said. “There is no one better who exemplifies that than Dick Van Dyke.” 

Soon, four generations of the Van Dyke clan assembled, waiting to cheer on their patriarch. Van Dyke’s son Barry and his son Wes and Wes’ two children, Kyla, 7, and Conor, 3, were joined by Dick’s daughter, Carrie.

As the audience waited, they spontaneously began singing their favorite songs from Van Dyke’s movies. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” they sang, followed by “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” 

And then … he walked in, smiling broadly and waving, delighted to join the party. 

“I’ll be 98 in three weeks!” Van Dyke proclaimed, in a tone mixing surprise and excitement. The adoring crowd clapped wildly.

Van Dyke is sprightly, his intellect shines, and he’s quick with a joke. He jovially laughs as he shares many fond memories, always attentive to the crowd and ensuring he’s taking them along on his jovial journey. 

“I’ve had such a good life!” He said. “I can’t complain about anything. I’ve had fun!”

The fans had many questions for Van Dyke and he thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. His favorite songs? “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” and “Put on a Happy Face.”

Pausing, he added, “I never had any lessons for singing! I was in ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and was cast by Chita Rivera in the part after I did a song on set for fun and I ended up winning a Tony Award!”

Van Dyke has, indeed, lived a life of serendipity and delight.

Discussing the photographer who brought the crowd together, Van Dyke and Arlene sang Johansen’s praises.

“She is the best photographer!” Van Dyke proclaimed. “I never even know she’s there taking photos.”

Johansen described her journey of becoming Van Dyke’s photographer as one of happenstance.

“I was just attending an art show at the Malibu Playhouse and I saw Dick and Arlene struggling to take cellphone photos — this was 2015 so it wasn’t as easy to do so as it is now,” Johansen said. “I offered to use my camera to take images and that launched an incredible journey.” 

It’s been, she said, a journey of taking images of Van Dyke when he was honored at the Kennedy Center, following all of his jazz adventures and all of his family events.

“It’s been fantastic!” she said.

Johansen’s secret to capturing the incredible moments and images? “You’re engaging all of your senses and need to anticipate the image,” she said. “I know when it’s going to be a great shot before it happens.”

Arlene was highly complimentary of Johansen as a photographer and as a friend. 

“Her use of light and shadow is not only beautiful, but it also embraces the emotional and is so artistic,” Arlene said. “I actually forgot she’s there. She’s so good!”

Then, it was back to fan questions for Dick, who thoroughly enjoyed the conversation.

His favorite leading lady? “Mary Tyler Moore,” he responded, soliciting thunderous applause. “We had so much fun on [‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’].”

How does Van Dyke want the next generation to remember him?

“Fondly,” he quipped, whereupon Arlene noted, “Everything you’ve done has been timeless.”

He is, indeed, timeless. Wee ones sang to him while he gazed with joy, and outside the City Hall, Irene Benyoung, 91, was delighted to pose in front of a LaFrance fire truck from the 1920s that emulates the era of “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” 

Quipping, Irene toyed with her name, saying, “I’ve been young!”

So too has Van Dyke.

​“Today has given my dad his best birthday party, which will go through Dec. 13,” Barry Van Dyke said. “He’s earned it!”

As the crowd dispersed, they smiled communally as if to say, “Happy Birthday Dick! Long may you and your legacy run!” 

“Moments in Time” will be on display until Jan. 5, 2024, at Malibu City Hall which is open on Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. No reservations are required.