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Dick Van Dyke

My cockney accent was quite atrocious

Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Life at 95 is rosy, says Dick Van Dyke in The Washington Post. Sure, “it’s kind of odd being the age where you can die in your sleep”, but the actor doesn’t dwell on it. “I don’t want to waste a minute when I could be enjoying life.” And there’s plenty to enjoy. This year he won one of America’s top arts prizes – a Kennedy Center Honor. “How did I get to a Kennedy award? You know, I never trained or did anything. I just enjoyed myself.”

Of course, some training might have helped his performance as Bert in the Disney classic Mary Poppins. Van Dyke’s cockney accent was, in his words, the “most atrocious in the history of cinema”. But his charm overshadowed it. He even sweet-talked Walt Disney into letting him play a second part in the film, the miserly old banker Mr Dawes. Unconvinced that the young Van Dyke was right for the role, Disney told him that if he wanted the part, he had to donate $4,000 to the California Institute of the Arts. Van Dyke immediately wrote a cheque.

He wasn’t always so flush. He grew up during the Depression and his father made $25 a week selling biscuits. He remembers mowing lawns to save for a bicycle. When he finally made the $7 he needed, he found his parents had taken the money. “They had to use it to pay the light bill.”

Now he lives in Malibu with his second wife, Arlene, a 49-year-old make-up artist he met at a red-carpet event. “I was talking to Cate Blanchett. And I saw her go by and I said ‘Excuse me’, and went right over. And then I said, ‘Hi, I’m Dick.’ That’s the only time in my life I ever introduced myself to a strange woman.” They got married in 2012, which was a relief: “I couldn’t be a bachelor if my life depended on it.”