It probably won’t shock you a bit to know that Buddy the gag-writer from The Dick Van Dyke Show got his start in vaudeville. Born on this day in 1908 he began performing as a teenager in a two act with his brother (a piano player and comedian) in their native Chicago. In addition to his comic abilities, Amsterdam also played the cello, a skill which he integrated into his turns on TV variety programs in later years.
A shoot-out in one the speakeasies where he was performing convinced him to leave the Windy City. He moved to Hollywood where he became a gagwriter and then a performer, on radio, and later TV. From 1933 to 1945 he was married to singer/comedienne Mabel Todd, with whom he appeared on Al Pearce and His Gang and other radio programs. From 1949 to 1950 he hosted his own TV variety show.
Amsterdam’s old vaudeville chum Rose Marie suggested him for the cast of The Dick Van Dyke Show in 1961, and the rest, as they say is history. You can also see Amsterdam in a bunch of Frankie and Annette’s Beach Party movies in the mid-60s, and many other movies and tv shows over the next three decades. In fact, he never did retire: his last appearance was on Caroline in the City in 1995, one year before he died.
Here is a clip from his short-lived 1950 variety show the Morey Amsterdam Show featuring a pre-Honeymooners Art Carney:
To find out more about vaudeville and stars like Morey Amsterdam, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc
What an awesome post! You’re the best writer ever! Thanks for taking the time to research all this information and share your insights with myself and your thousands of other readers, whose lives you have enriched immeasurably. Citizen volunteers like you are what’s great about this country. Keep up the good work!
You bet I will — as long as you keep comments just like that coming!
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Ironically, Morey Amsterdam died 721 years to the day, the name Amsterdam alone, granted independence of taxes in the Netherlands.
I used to love how Amsterdam would break himself up on the DVDS. A typical scene, Buddy is explaining the scenario of a sketch for Alan Brady:
Buddy: So after Lucky Pierre ties up Alan he takes a drink of really strong whiskey called Old Factory Whistle. (The setup is a beautiful one laugh throwaway, Buddy is starting to laugh already).
Rob:(also developing a giggle as he delivers the straight line) How do you know it’s strong?
Buddy:(having trouble containing himself, Sally is too in anticipation) Because all you need is one blast and you’re gone for the day.
You could tell they had been practicing this all week, and among themselves built it into such a big laugh that the audience would go along with it. That show had some of the best comedy writing and execution in the history of television. And I’m still in love with Laura Petrie.