Dick Van Dyke was Once Saved by Porpoises When He Found Himself Lost at Sea on a Surfboard

Today I found out Dick Van Dyke was once saved by porpoises when he found himself lost at sea on a surfboard.

In his younger years, Dick Van Dyke frequently spent time surfing.  In an appearance on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Van Dyke briefly mentioned one such time he was surfing using a 10 foot long-board and fell asleep on it while floating out in the ocean.

Went out once and fell asleep on the board… and woke up out of sight of land and I looked around and started paddling with the swells and I start seeing fins swimming around me and I thought, “well I’m dead.”  They turned out to be porpoises and they pushed me all the way to shore. I’m not kidding.

Bizarrely, Ferguson didn’t choose to have Van Dyke elaborate on this remarkable tale and instead proceeded to make a few slightly less than humorous jokes and then used the remaining time in the segment to have Van Dyke play a harmonica (Dick Van Dyke does not actually know how to play the harmonica).  So I can give no further details like: when did it happened (would we have missed out on is wonderful performances in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Mary Poppins had the porpoises not helped him out, or was this after the fact); how far out did he estimate he was after they pushed him back to shore; were they really porpoises or was Van Dyke simply making the common slip of thinking dolphins are porpoises and vice-verse; where exactly was he surfing at the time; did he fall asleep on porpoise? (ba-dop-ting)

In any event, for those curious, you can tell the difference between a porpoise and a  dolphin on sight in a few different ways.  First, porpoises have much shorter snouts that also are fairly flat at the end and easily distinguished from dolphin snouts.  Less obvious at first glance is that their teeth have more of a spade shape than the conical shape dolphin teeth have.  Porpoises also tend to be smaller than most types of dolphins.

Bonus Facts:

  • A man, Ronnie Dabal, was once saved by Dolphins after having his fishing boat capsized during a small storm.  At the time, he was out of sight of land and once his boat sunk, he grabbed onto some Styrofoam to stay afloat.  Eventually, a group of about 30 dolphins came along and took turns nudging him towards land for several hours until he finally ended up exhausted on a beach about 24 hours after his boat sank.
  • On October 30, 2004, in New Zealand, a pod of 7 Bottlenose Dolphins rescued a group of young lifeguards, members of the Whangarei Heads Surf Lifesaving Club, from a Great White Shark.  The dolphins first began acting strange, tightly circling and slapping the water next to the people, eventually herding them into a close group.  It was then that one of the older lifeguards, Rob Howes, noticed the 9-10 foot Great White Shark swimming very close to them, being kept at bay by the dolphins.  This encounter lasted a full 40 minutes with the dolphins successfully fending off the shark and no one getting hurt.
  • Dick Van Dyke once turned down becoming the host of a new game show, The Price is Right, in 1956.  He later hosted such game shows as Mother’s Day in 1958 and Laugh Line in 1959. The role as the host of The Price is Right instead went to famed host Bill Cullen. In 1972, The New Price is Right (soon renamed just The Price is Right) host job went to Bob Barker and finally in 2007 Drew Carey began hosting the program.
  • At one time, Van Dyke was a Sunday School teacher.  He even wrote a book about his experiences teaching Sunday School: Faith, Hope, and Hilarity, The Child’s Eye View of Religion
  • After unsuccessfully applying to the United States Air Corps to become a pilot during WWII (rejected due to his low weight), Van Dyke instead became a military radio announcer in the Special Services.
  • Van Dyke once worked as an anchorman on CBS Morning News in 1955.  He got the job thanks to a friend from his army days that was now an executive at CBS.  Interestingly, Walter Cronkite was his newsman on the show.  One funny story during his time as an anchorman occurred during a segment with a dog sledder and his dogs: “I had a guy who drove a dog sled in the races. And he brought his dogs and his sled and everything…into the studio. And he said, ‘Don’t say ‘mush.’ Well, the first thing I did was clown around. And I got on the sled. I said, ‘mush.’ And they took off. They took down the weather set and the cooking set. I mean…everything just went.”
  • Johnny Carson originally tried out for the role of Rob Petrie in what later became The Dick Van Dyke Show.  Obviously Van Dyke won the role.  The show lasted five years, running from 1961 to 1966, winning 15 Emmy Awards in the process.
  • When Dick Van Dyke got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and it was unveiled at the ceremony, his last name was blended together: DICK VANDYKE.  He proceeded to laugh and take out a pen and put a slash through the Van and Dyke.  The problem was later fixed.
  • Dick Van Dyke stated once that his first ever acting role came when he played baby Jesus in a church Christmas play.  He further stated, he has since been told he was terrible in that performance, showing no acting potential, due to the fact that he apparently cried during the entire play. 😉
  • Porpoises, whales, and dolphins are all thought to be descendants of hoofed land-based animals around 50 million years ago.  Dolphins and porpoises are thought to have had a common ancestor that they diverged from around 15 million years ago.
  • Dolphins must always breathe consciously.  As a result of this, they can never be fully unconscious, even while they sleep.  Read more about this here: Dolphins Don’t Breathe Automatically
  • Dick Van Dyke’s Cockney accent on Mary Poppins is generally thought to be one of the worst accent attempts in movie history.  In fact, it was recently rated in an Empire magazine poll as the second worst accent in film, after Sean Connery’s attempt at an Irish accent in The Untouchables.   Third place on that list was Brad Pitt for his Austrian accent in Seven Years in Tibet; next up was Charlton Heston in A Touch of Evil (1958); then Heather Graham in From Hell; and Keanu Reeves in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Clearly they’d not yet seen Claudia Schiffer’s amazingly awkward British accent in Love Actually, which came out the same year this poll was run (2003).
  • Claudia Schiffer currently owns, with husband Matthew Vaughn (director of such films as X-Men: First Class and Stardust), Coldham Hall, built in 1574 by Sir Robert Rookwood (color me jealous).  Shortly after Sir Robert Rookwood built it, it became home to Ambrose Rookwood, famously executed for his part in the Gunpowder Plot.

    Coldham Hall

  • Van Dyke stated the reason his accent was so horrible in Marry Poppins was that his coach was Irish and apparently “didn’t do [the] accent better than I did.”
  • Dick Van Dyke recently got engaged at the age of 86 to 39 year old Arlene Silver.  This is after he lost his longtime partner (33 years) Michelle Triola to lung cancer in 2009 at the age of 76.  Before Triola, he was married to his high school sweetheart, Margie Willett, from 1948-1984, though obviously from the fact that he was living with Michelle Triola in the late 1970s, he and Willett had been separated for several years before the divorce.  It should be noted, though, that he supposedly did not begin his relationship with Triola until after he separated (though not yet divorced) with his wife.
  • If you deal at all in California law, you may have heard of Michelle Triola for a different reason than being the long time partner of Dick Van Dyke.  Shortly before getting together with Van Dyke, Triola sued Lee Marvin for palimony.  She claimed that because Michelle Marvin had promised to support her for the rest of her life and thus she made life changing decisions based on that assumption. So,despite the fact that they never married, when they broke up, she should have been entitled to the same type of compensation she would have had they been married for the duration of their six year relationship.  The case, Marvin v. Marvin, went all the way to the California Supreme Court, where she ultimately lost because she had insufficient documentation of her claim that he said he would support her.  She had been seeking $1.8 million, which was half of what Marvin had earned during their time together.
  • Margie Willett and Dick Van Dyke were married on the radio show “Bride and Groom”.  By getting married on the show, the radio show paid for their wedding rings, honeymoon, and several household appliances.  At the time, the two were extremely poor and even were homeless for a spell, living in their car.
  • Contrary to the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”, Van Dyke in his 60s became fascinated with computer animation and took up the hobby, including creating some of the 3D rendered effects on Diagnosis: Murder, as well as on The Dick Van Dyke Show Revisited.
  • A little known fact about Bill Cullen (the guy who landed the game show Price is Right after Van Dyke turned it down) is that he was severely crippled due to a bout with poliomyelitis, a.k.a. polio, in the 1930s.  In order to hide his disability, the sets and movement of game show contestants were carefully arranged so that Cullen would never have to move, or at the most, only have to move a step or so while in front of crowds and the camera.  He was so successful at hiding this that even fellow colleagues, such as Mel Brooks, didn’t know about it.  This once led to Mel Brooks accidentally making fun of his disability.  Mel Brooks: “The week of October 17–21 in 1966—that would make me about 40—was a special celebrity week on Eye Guess. Bill Cullen was the host. The game was very similar to Concentration. I was teamed up with Julia Meade. Remember her? Actress, very pretty young lady, blonde… Okay, never mind. I don’t think I won, but I did get the take-home game. Anyway, the show is over, and I start walking toward the podium to say good night to Bill, to thank him for having me on. He starts coming toward me cross-stage, and I don’t know what he’s doing. His feet are flopping. His hands are flying everywhere. He’s doing this kind of wacky walk-of-the-unfortunates that Jerry Lewis used to do. So I figured, what the hell, I’ll join him. I start doing, I dunno, this multiple-sclerosis walk, flapping my arms and doing the Milton Berle cross legs—my own Jerry Lewis impression… And Julia is whispering, “No! He’s crippled, Mel!” I don’t even hear her. Finally we meet in the middle, we hug, and he says to me, “You know, you’re the only comic who’s ever had the nerve to make fun of my crippled walk. Everyone’s so careful, it makes me feel even worse.” And I realize, Oh, my God, this guy is really crippled! It was my worst moment—and if you weren’t me, probably the funniest thing that ever happened.”  After Cullen thanked him while crying and hugging him, Brooks played it off as if he’d known Cullen was crippled.
  • Killer “whales” are actually Dolphins.  Read more about this here: Killer Whales are Actually Dolphins
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