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The Dick Van Dyke Show Turns 50

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On October 3, 1961—50 years ago today—The Dick Van Dyke Show first aired on CBS.

The show followed the adventures of an easygoing comedy writer named Rob Petrie (played by Dick Van Dyke), his beautiful wife Laura (the then-unknown Mary Tyler Moore), and his two comedy co-writers, Sally Rogers (played by Rose Marie) and Buddy Sorrell (actor Morey Amsterdam).


Let's take a closer look at this comedy classic.

Head of the Family

Originally, the series was titled Head of the Family and starred Carl Reiner, the show's creator and producer. But executives at CBS decided Reiner wasn't quite right for the part and cast Dick Van Dyke in a new version.

Johnny Carson was also in the running to play Rob Petrie.

Broadway or the Living Room?

Van Dyke was actually taking a bit of a risk signing on to do the show. At the time, he was starring in the hit Broadway show Bye Bye Birdie, which he had to quit to do a television series. If the series had flopped, he would have been out of work.

Credit Roulette

The original opening credits for the show were just a packet of photos of the cast spilling onto a table and being shown individually on the screen. These credits were used only during the show's first season. For the remaining four seasons, two other memorable openings were used: the famous shot of Rob entering the room, greeting his wife and friends, and tripping over the ottoman, and an almost identical version in which he enters, walks toward the group, and expertly sidesteps the ottoman. These two versions were used randomly for the opening credits. A third variation, in which Rob enters, sidesteps the ottoman, and then stumbles anyway, was introduced in season three and was used occasionally.

According to Van Dyke, before each episode, viewers would bet on which opening would be used that week.

Pilot Jitters

The pilot episode was actually shot on the same day President John Kennedy was inaugurated. Van Dyke was so nervous doing the episode that he developed a cold sore on his upper lip; extra makeup had to be applied to hide it. Van Dyke says he cannot remember JFK being inaugurated.

Begging and Pleading

For its first season, the show was not successful and was actually canceled by CBS. Producer Danny Thomas personally went to the network execs and had to convince (beg) them to leave the show on the air. The show picked up steam during summer reruns that year, remained on the air, and became the classic series we all know. When Van Dyke decided to end the series in 1966, it was the CBS executives who begged him to stay.

The Inspirational Mel Brooks

Buddy Sorrel, the wise-cracking joke writer played by Morey Amsterdam, was based on Mel Brooks. Brooks worked as a comedy writer with Carl Reiner, The Dick Van Dyke Show's creator and producer, on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows in the 1950s. (The photo shows Reiner, at left, and Brooks on the right.)

Who's Laughing?

The show was usually filmed before a studio audience, but there were at least three occasions when it was not. One of those days was November 22, 1963. While the cast was in the middle of rehearsals that day, they heard about JFK's assassination, but decided to go ahead and film the episode "Happy Birthday and Too Many More" anyway. However, it was decided they would film the episode with no studio audience, figuring no one would be in the mood to laugh.

Brought to You by Kent Cigarettes

Kent Cigarettes sponsored the show and would often give the cast and crew free cartons of cigarettes. Mary Tyler Moore, then a heavy smoker, would routinely take her cartons, as well as those of the set's non-smokers, and trade them in at a local store for her preferred brand.

The Starring Couple

Although they played one of the most attractive couples in TV history, Dick Van Dyke was a full 12 years older than Mary Tyler Moore. He originally thought she was too young to play his wife. Both Van Dyke and Moore later admitted to having crushes on each other during the show's run. Countless viewers actually believed the two were married in real life.

Real Life Friends, TV Enemies

Although they played bitter enemies on the show, Morey Amsterdam and Richard Deacon (who played Mel Cooley) were actually very close friends in real life. Many of the best insults Buddy hurled at Mel were crafted when the two of them went out for drinks after work.

The Wardrobe Controversy

A small controversy erupted when Mary Tyler Moore started wearing capri pants on the show. The executives at CBS objected because, at the time, all TV housewives (June Cleaver, Alice Kramden, Wilma Flintstone) wore dresses. But Moore insisted all the housewives she knew wore pants. She was allowed to continue wearing them, helping capri pants become a popular fashion fad for women across America. (Interestingly, the most famous sitcom wife of all time, Lucille Ball's Lucy Ricardo, often wore pants on episodes of I Love Lucy.)

Dick Van Dyke and the Civil Rights Movement?

On September 25, 1963, an episode aired called "That's My Boy?" Written by Reiner, Bill Persky, and Sam Denoff, the episode flashes back to Rob and Laura bringing home their newborn baby. Rob confides to his neighbor Jerry (director Jerry Paris) that he might have been given the wrong baby at the hospital. Rob details how a Mrs. Peters was staying in the hospital in room 203 at the same time Laura (aka Mrs. Petrie) was staying in room 208. Rob is convinced the hospital confused the baby of Mrs. Peters with his own.

Rob places a desperate call to Mr. Peters, who agrees to come to Rob's home to discuss the matter.

As Rob welcomes an unseen Mr. Peters at his front door, he's shocked. Rob giggles nervously as Mr. Peters enters the room and is revealed to the studio audience. Mr. Peters, played by Greg Morris, is African-American. This reportedly led to the longest uninterrupted span of laughter from a live studio audience.

Rob sheepishly greets a laughing Mr. Peters, shakes his hand, and welcomes him into his home, in an understandable state of acute embarrassment. Contrasted with Rob's discomfort, Mr. Peters is being calm, cool, and collected.

According to Reiner, "It was the first time in television history that a black man was shown as being superior to a white man." If Hulu works where you are, you can watch the episode here:

"So You Think That You've Got Troubles?"

The famous Dick Van Dyke Show theme song actually had lyrics, though they were never used on the show. The lyrics, composed by Morey Amsterdam, were first revealed by Van Dyke in a 2010 interview with NPR. The first three verses:

So you think that you've got troubles?
Well there's a bubble
So tell old Mister Trouble to get lost.

Why not hold your head up high and
Stop cryin', start tryin'
And don't forget to keep your fingers crossed.

When you find the joy of livin'
Is lovin' and givin'
You'll be there when the winning dice are tossed.


Eddie Deezen has appeared in over 30 motion pictures, including Grease, WarGames, 1941, and The Polar Express. He's also been featured in several TV shows, including Magnum PI, The Facts of Life, and The Gong Show. And he's done thousands of voice-overs for radio and cartoons, such as Dexter's Laboratory and Family Guy.


Read all Eddie's mental_floss stories.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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