Dick Van Dyke on Mary Tyler Moore: "She was the best there ever was"

One day after legendary actress Mary Tyler Moore’s death, her longtime friend and co-star Dick Van Dyke recalled the “surprising” day he first met the then 23-year-old in the office of Carl Reiner, the director of what would become their hit sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”  

Discouraged from several casting rejections in previous weeks, Moore -- who, according to Van Dyke, then dreamed of being a serious actress and wasn’t into comedy --  almost didn’t go to the audition. 

“She had kind of a mid-Atlantic accent -- kind of a Katherine Hepburn. And I thought, ‘Gosh, she’s beautiful, but do you think she can do comedy?’” Van Dyke told “CBS This Morning” Thursday.

Not only did she prove him wrong, he described her as “the best there ever was.”

“It was amazing how quickly she picked it up... had such good timing,” Van Dyke recalled. “In no time, she had us laughing.”

Moore’s performance on the classic sitcom as Laura Petrie – the wife of Rob Petrie, played by Van Dyke – won her two Emmys. Van Dyke compared working with Moore to “going to a party every morning.”  

“I didn’t know I can sing and dance she knew that she could. The chemistry that happened between us was just serendipity,” Van Dyke said. “We became an improv group. We could almost reach each other’s mind.”

But Van Dyke said the sitcom was “really a kind of training ground” for what would come later.

“She learned comedy and she learned – by the time she had that show, she knew what she was doing,” he said.  

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” ran on CBS from 1961 to 1966. In the ‘70s, Moore went on to star in her own groundbreaking show, portraying TV producer Mary Richards. Her independence as a single woman, fashion sense, and the topics addressed on the show – such as birth control, divorce and sex -- inspired women all over the country.

“She just found herself on that show. It was wonderful to see,” Van Dyke said.

Even after their on-screen collaboration ended, the two’s friendship lived on. In 2012, Van Dyke presented Moore with a SAG Life Achievement Award. He remembered walking her to the podium to receive the honor, as her battle with Type 1 Diabetes -- which she was diagnosed with in her thirties -- affected her vision.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Van Dyke described the moment, saying: “Outside of her family, I don’t think there was anyone more proud of her than I was.”

Van Dyke also expressed gratitude to Moore’s husband, Dr. Robert Levine, for personally calling to inform him of his friend’s declining health, days before her death. 

“You know, even though it wasn’t a shock – we had been dreading that moment for months now and Robert was so broken up and so kind to call me and let us know,” Van Dyke said. “It was so sad. There’s not going to be another one like her. The times have changed.” 

As for Moore’s legacy, perhaps no one can explain better than Dyke.

“She did the first show about a single woman in her thirties who wasn’t married, who wasn’t interested in it, and I think a lot of ladies changed their course in their lives after watching that show,” he said. “Who went out on Saturday night when Mary was on?”