Dick Van Patten

Stage Manager, Performer

Also known as: Dickie Van Patten


Born: December 9, 1928
Kew Gardens, New York

Died: June 23, 2015
Santa Monica, California

Obituary: Dick Van Patten, whose acting career began when he was a kid on Broadway and reached its pinnacle with the television series "Eight Is Enough," in which he played the kind, but often flustered father of guess-how-many children, died June 23 from diabetes complications in Santa Monica, CA.

Mr. Van Patten was never a glamorous performer. He specialized in playing the Everyman, genially muddling through life, his performances earnest and seemingly egoless. Never was this persona more apparent than during his five-season run at Tom Bradford, the patriarch of "Eight Is Enough," a 1970s sitcom based on the life of Tom Braden, a syndicated columnist who, indeed, had eight children. The hour-long drama was a surprise hit when it debuted in 1977. In every episode, in semi-soap-opera-ish fashion, the Bradford clan dealt with some family crisis or other with care and compassion.

New York Times television critic John J. O’Connor wrote at the time, "Tom and Joan Bradford, played engagingly by Dick Van Patten and Diana Hyland, treat their eight children like people, not cute artifacts. In the pilot, one daughter was caught in a drug bust, and their oldest son decided to move away from home. Both developments, however contrived, were treated with an appealing blend of intelligence and humor."

Richard Vincent Van Patten was born Dec. 9, 1928, in Kew Gardens, New York. Before he was ten, he was acting on Broadway in the Max Reinhardt spectacle The Eternal Road. The apple-cheeked, blonde Van Patten became one of the most ubiquitous child actors on Broadway in the 1930s and early '40s, appearing in Paul Osborne’s On Borrowed Time, Run Sheep Run, The American Way, The Woman Brown, The Lady Who Came to Stay, The Land Is Bright, The Snark Was a Boojum and, most significantly, the original production of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, in which he played a telegraph boy.

As he matured into a teenager, he acted in Decision, Too Hot for Maneuvers, The Wind Is Ninety and O Mistress Mine. He later stepped into the role of Ensign Pulver in the hit production of the wartime comedy Mister Roberts.

Mr. Van Patten became an early star of the new medium of television when, in 1949, he was cast as Nels Hansen in "Mama," a CBS sitcom based on the Kathryn Forbes memoir "Mama’s Bank Account" (the same book that inspired the John Van Druten play I Remember Mama. The show, which ran until 1957, told the story of a Norwegian family living in San Francisco in the 1910s. Like "Eight Is Enough" many years later, the show was a warm-hearted program in which family members helped each other through their problems. It was taped live during its first seasons, and was a ratings success for much of its run.

Dick Van Patten never had much of a film career, but he found a devoted director in Mel Brooks, who sent up the actor's sincere, all-American persona in the satiric films "High Anxiety," "Spaceballs" and "Robin Hood: Men in Tights." (Musical satirist "Weird Al" Yankovic lampooned that same perceived squareness by casting Van Patten in his video spoof of Nirvana’s grunge rock hit "Smells Like Teen Spirit.")

A dogged worker, he logged countless guest spots in a wide variety of television series throughout the '70s and '80s. Later Broadway jobs included Have I Got a Girl for You! (1963), A Very Rich Woman (1965), Lovers and Other Strangers (1968), But, Seriously… (1969) and Thieves (1974). The last, a Herb Gardner comedy directed by Charles Grodin, was the most successful, running nearly a year.

He is survived by his wife, Pat Van Patten; sister Joyce Van Patten; and his children Nels, James and Vincent Van Patten; and niece Talia Balsam. All are actors.



Playbill Cover - The 32nd Annual Tony Awards - 1978 The 32nd Annual Tony Awards - 1978
Jun. 4, 1978 - Jun. 4, 1978
Participating Artist Performer
Playbill Cover - Thieves Thieves
Apr. 7, 1974 - Jan. 4, 1975
Charlie Performer
Playbill Cover - But, Seriously... But, Seriously...
Feb. 27, 1969 - Mar. 1, 1969
The Hon. Newton Prince Performer
Playbill Cover - Lovers and Other Strangers Lovers and Other Strangers
Sep. 18, 1968 - Nov. 16, 1968
Hal Performer
Playbill Cover - A Very Rich Woman A Very Rich Woman
Sep. 30, 1965 - Oct. 23, 1965
Stage Manager
Playbill Cover - Have I Got a Girl for You! Have I Got a Girl for You!
Dec. 2, 1963 - Dec. 2, 1963
Ruby Pulaski Performer
Playbill Cover - O Mistress Mine O Mistress Mine
Jan. 23, 1946 - May 31, 1947
Michael Brown Performer
Playbill Cover - The Wind Is Ninety The Wind Is Ninety
Jun. 21, 1945 - Sep. 22, 1945
Ernie Sheffield Performer
Playbill Cover - Too Hot for Maneuvers Too Hot for Maneuvers
May 2, 1945 - May 19, 1945
Sergeant Walter Burrows Performer
Playbill Cover - The Snark Was a Boojum The Snark Was a Boojum
Sep. 1, 1943 - Sep. 4, 1943
Elwood Performer
Playbill Cover - The Skin of Our Teeth The Skin of Our Teeth
Nov. 18, 1942 - Sep. 25, 1943
Telegraph Boy Performer
Playbill Cover - The Land Is Bright The Land Is Bright
Oct. 28, 1941 - Jan. 3, 1942
Timothy Kincaid Performer
The Lady Who Came to Stay
Jan. 2, 1941 - Jan. 4, 1941
Roger Performer
Playbill Cover - The Woman Brown The Woman Brown
Dec. 8, 1939 - Dec. 16, 1939
Peter Brown Performer
Playbill Cover - The American Way The American Way
Jan. 21, 1939 - Sep. 23, 1939
Karl Gunther, Age 9 Performer
Playbill Cover - Run Sheep Run Run Sheep Run
Nov. 3, 1938 - Nov. 1, 1938
Nine Performer
Playbill Cover - On Borrowed Time On Borrowed Time
Feb. 3, 1938 - Nov. 5, 1938
Boy in Tree Performer
The Eternal Road
Jan. 7, 1937 - May 15, 1937
Isaac Performer
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