The kid who played Ritchie Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show got discovered by his parents' mailman

It was actually Larry Mathews' inexperience that got him cast!

In the early 1960s, there was a mailman in Burbank, California, who kept encountering the most amusing little boy as he went along his route. The boy lived in a busy house with six other kids, but he managed to stand out, always doing mimicry or performing short skits.

This particular mailman was no stranger to child actors, as his own son had won a talent contest that nabbed him an acting coach named Lois Auer. She was part of an agency well-known for managing child actors, and one day after stopping by this other boy's house to drop off the mail, the mailman told the kid's parents that they should link up with Lois and get the boy an agent. 

And that's how Larry Mathews who played Ritchie on The Dick Van Dyke Show got discovered, after which his fame escalated rather quickly.

In a sitcom-like twist, Mathews happened to join Auer's agency just before a call came from Carl Reiner, seeking boys to audition for the part of Ritchie Petrie. Despite the boy having no experience, Auer must've had confidence in Mathews.

In the book The Dick Van Dyke Show: Anatomy of a Classic, Mathews said, "Not too long after I signed with them, Carl Reiner phoned, saying he needed a little boy for the Dick Van Dyke pilot. I was the only one sent."

But Mathews wasn't the only boy who auditioned. He was just the only one at the audition from his agency. However, it turned out he had a special edge the other actors didn't have: his inexperience. 

In The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book, Morey Amsterdam (who played Buddy Sorrell) remembered why Mathews stood out: "Carl said, 'I want a kid who hasn't done anything and hasn't been in anything.'" 

At five years old, Mathews had approximately two months of acting training before he took on the role that made him famous.

On the set, Dick Van Dyke would later recall in his memoir, Mathews would sometimes crack up the veteran actors around him with child-like humor, like jokingly referring to actress Joan Shawlee (who played Buddy's wife Pickles) as "Aunt Wrinkles."

It seems he kept up the same level of antics that caught the attention of his mailman, becoming the natural child actor onscreen that Reiner was seeking and soon growing into one of TV history's favorite sitcom kids.

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Corey 1 month ago
The two most useless child actors of the 60's. The other is the kid from Hazel.
JeffStevenson 1 month ago
He was great. The Woodpecker episode was funny
RedSamRackham 1 month ago
* Mysteriously beyond opening credits Richie was never seen on most episodes. We the viewers often wondered WHERE'S RICHIE? ☺
Pacificsun 1 month ago
The only annoying thing about Matthews is that he was always grinning no matter the situation, at least in the beginning. Could be the adults didn't want to scare him, and so kept things light & fun! But they must've trained it out him, as he took the part more seriously with age. You look at all the kid actors who were part of so many seriously crafted sitcoms, and they were all professional. Jay North did admit his own tendency to smile all the time (in the role), but assumed it was his deep seated urge (desperation?) to please the people around him. He was not treated well.
texasluva Pacificsun 10 days ago
Well Larry had a wonderful 5 years with the DVD Show. After that little was heard of him until a production hosted by DVD he appeared in almost 30 years later. Then a couple more over the last 20 years which amounted to much of nothing. One of the 1000's of child actors that once they became a teen it was just about over. Its nice thought that MeTV gives us a take on many former and current stars of the past. Many times I read a story that either I had forgotten or never knew about a certain individual. Learn something new everyday.
Pacificsun texasluva 9 days ago
You wonder sometimes if the difficulty in making the transition from child star to mid-teen actor, and then continuing upward, wasn't a matter of meeting appropriate skill sets. Meaning, young kids were often hired just because of their looks, fitting into a family (etc.) and it worked, it was because they could at least remember their lines and marks! But they were probably being mostly themselves, and could project personality! By the time a role came up for a mid-teen, some real acting was required. Not so much at all about appearance, but the impact that the youthful actor could make in the particular role. In other words those kinds of roles were more intense and serious, using more skills to convey.

So you would wonder if the people (casting agents) managing those kids initially, were willing to invest in their development, or if they found it easier to represent a new generation of kids applying for jobs, who were ready for the upgraded responsibility. And that having a fresh face also helped!

The only kid whose transition was fairly interesting was Jay North (of Dennis the Menace fame). Obviously cute, obxiously so, and exceptionally energetic. Meaning he dominated the scenes in which in appeared. Years later he was cast (as a teen) in a MFU episode with Angela Landsbury, herself a formidable scene stealer. North had become quite subdued by that time, and it was interesting that while they could've chosen any kid for that minor part, it was North. Perhaps in using him they recognized a particular chemistry among the actors! He was certainly memorable however!
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