Dick Van Patten: America’s Favorite Dad in ‘Eight Is Enough’

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Dick Van Patten in 2011

Actor Dick Van Patten might have been America’s favorite fictional dad in the late 1970s/early 1980s for his role on the TV sitcom Eight Is Enough: Tom Bradford, a widower who married his son’s tutor (Betty Buckley) and formed a chaotic but loving new family unit with her.

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But in a career that spanned seven decades, Van Patten, who died June 22 at age 86 in Santa Monica, Calif., played a wealth of other characters. Here are some facts you might not know about him.

  • Billed as child actor Dickie Van Patten, he made his first appearance on stage at age 7 in Tapestry in Gray in 1937.
  • In his youth, he was a carousing pal of future film producer and executive Robert “The Kid Stays in the Picture” Evans.
  • He debuted on the small screen in 1949 in Mama, a sitcom based upon the film I Remember Mama, in which he played a son in a Norwegian immigrant family.
  • His small roles in memorable films include a scientist who artificially enhances the intelligence of Cliff Robertson’s character in the 1968 drama Charly and an usher at the euthanasia center where Edward G. Robinson’s character commits suicide in the 1973 dystopian science fiction classic Soylent Green.
  • He reportedly learned about the cancellation of Eight Is Enough in 1981 when he read it in the paper.
  • He was a commentator for the World Series of Poker in the mid-1990s.
  • He was a horse racing aficionado who for decades frequented the old Hollywood Park track, where he always sat in the same seat in row 31.
  • He made a cameo appearance in the video for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s 1992 musical parody of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
  • He started a natural pet food company and was the founder of National Guide Dog Month.
  • His 2009 memoir was entitled Eighty Is Not Enough.


Here’s a snippet of an interview that Van Patten did with the Archive of American Television, in which he talks about his most famous role.

 

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