Dick Van Patten’s TV wife remembers the beloved actor
By Betty Buckley
June 26, 2015
Editor’s note: Dick Van Patten died this week at age 86. A beloved actor onstage as well as on screens big and small, he starred in TV’s “Eight Is Enough” alongside Betty Buckley, the actress and singer who recently recorded the album “Ghostlight.” Here’s how she remembers him.
I had just done my first film, “Carrie,” when Brandon Tartikoff at ABC suggested that my character in that film, the gym teacher Ms. Collins, was the perfect prototype for the Bradford family’s stepmother. My first screen test was not a success, but Tartikoff was convinced I was right for the role. He insisted on a second test, this time bringing in Dick Van Patten to read with me.
Dick was charming, kind and immensely helpful. I got the job.
Shooting my first big TV show was tough. It was like working in a factory, a grind. But Dick — gentle, low-key, witty, and with his funny stories — rallied us and kept us all on point.
I wasn’t aware, then, of his extensive theatrical background, and he never really made a point of it. As a young man, he had done more than a dozen Broadway productions between 1937 and 1951, among them “The Skin of Our Teeth,” with Tallulah Bankhead, and “Mister Roberts,” with Henry Fonda. Later he appeared in many TV shows and films, most famously for Mel Brooks.
Dick wanted me to enjoy my new life in LA. He would come to work every day, get the job done and go off to play tennis or hit the track. He even invited me to join the Van Patten clan for their traditional New Year’s Day swim in the Pacific Ocean. It was cold, but Dick plunged into the water, elated.
Without his kindness and the guidance of his lovely wife, Pat, I would have been lost.
Despite our 19-year age difference, Dick and I had a warm chemistry on the show. I remember all of us studying Dick closely when he would work. We all tried to mimic his signature “comic take” at the end of a scene. He was the consummate clown who could turn on a dime and act straight from the heart.
It’s only now, some 39 years later, that I can fully comprehend what he was trying to teach me about life and showbiz: Do your work with a grateful heart, then go home and live a full, fun life.
I heard he’d been having health problems, but when he and Pat came to my concert in LA this past January, he seemed great. He was cheerful, buoyant, loving and funny, the way he’d always been. It was the last time I got to see him.
Grant Goodeve, who played the oldest Bradford son, David, sent us all a beautiful e-mail Tuesday after hearing the painful news of Dick’s death. He ended it by saying, “Thank you, Dick, for showing us what it was to be a good man.”
Dick was a true father, not only to his three sons, Nels, Jimmy and Vincent, but to our TV family as well. Years after “Eight Is Enough” ended its run, he continued to be both guide and friend.
I love you, Dick. I’m so grateful for your presence in my life and heart, and will always treasure being your television wife for a time.