Dick Van Dyke almost played the world's most famous spy!
His secret weapon would have been a good joke!
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You know Dick Van Dyke from an assortment of lovable roles. He’s been part of numerous iconic films that multiple generations have enjoyed. From Bye Bye Birdie to Dick Tracy, he’s one actor whom most people can not only point out, but smile to think of and immediately name their favorite role.
There’s one role, however, that he just didn’t qualify for. Anyone’s first instinct at hearing this would be to question the casting director’s sanity. After all, Van Dyke was a well-established, talented actor and a comic treasure. What could he possibly not qualify for?
Here’s a hint: he likes his martini shaken, not stirred.
That’s right; Van Dyke was offered the opportunity to play 007! In an interview with Kevin Pollak in 2013, Van Dyke revealed that he and producer Albert R. Broccoli had discussed the idea. Broccoli was already planning his next few projects. His current one was the family film Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang, and working with Van Dyke inspired Broccoli to pitch a casting opportunity that may have been too good.
"I was doing Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang, and Sean Connery had spoken about leaving the Bond pictures, you know," Van Dyke recalled. Sean Connery was indeed preparing to pass the torch (or rather, the Walther PPK) to the next James Bond, although that actor had not been solidified yet. "And Cubby [Albert] Broccoli actually called me in and asked me if I wanted to be Bond!"
Broccoli's work on Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang was more out-of-the-ordinary than anything else. Broccoli had a long line of action-adventure films on his resume, notably Bond titles like Goldfinger, Dr. No and From Russia With Love, along with dozens of other films. Broccoli was enjoying his work with Van Dyke, and wanted to extend the 007 world with a new face. There was only one problem.
"I said, 'Have you heard?'" Van Dyke remarked, referring to his infamous British accent. He had spoken a broken Cockney English in his role as Burt the chimney sweep in Mary Poppins. While the film delighted critics as a children’s film, Van Dyke’s attempts at a Cockney accent did not go over well. To this day, fans still giggle when they hear his attempt at a cheery "'Allo, Mary!" from the film. It was this key flaw that took him out of the running for the role.
"[Broccoli] said, 'Oh! That’s right! Forget it!'" The producer ended up moving forward with actor George Lazenby instead.
This flaw has humorously plagued Van Dyke for the duration of his career. He’s even gone so far as to apologize for the Poppins performance. In 2017, he was honored with the Brittania Award for Excellence in Television. During his acceptance speech, Van Dyke requested atonement for the past: "I appreciate this opportunity to apologize to the members of BAFTA for inflicting on them the most atrocious Cockney accent in the history of cinema."
Van Dyke may not have played the world’s greatest spy, but he did eventually get to correct his English accent. In the recent film Mary Poppins Returns, Van Dyke makes a cameo appearance as Mr. Dawes, Jr.
After nearly 60 years, Van Dyke presented an accent that was wonderfully polished, all thanks to the accent specialist hired to work with him.
We may not have seen him as James Bond, but with memorable roles like Burt or Caractacus Potts under his belt, maybe the world doesn’t need a soft-shoeing spy.