Actor Dick Van Dyke chronicles his long career on television, Broadway and movies in on of the summer's more fun reads. Here's an excerpt:
Fred [Astaire] asked if I was enjoying myself on [Bye Bye Birdie (1963)]. I said I was, explaining that it was my first and quite exciting and I was learning a lot. I missed working with Chita [Rivera], who had been passed over by the movie's producers, but I was partnered in her place with Janet Leigh, who was not only an Oscar-nominated movie star but a real doll, lots of fun on and off camera, and a warm, generous woman who had my entire family over the her house many times.
All of us adored her.
She wasn't much of a dancer, though you wouldn't have known from the way choreographer Anna White worked with her individually and the two of us together. A Broadway veteran, White figured out our capabilities and made sure we looked good. But Janet's limitations in that area might have diminished her standing with the film's director, George Sidney, who was, quite obviously, enamored with the movie's young star, Ann-Margret.
Then again, even if Janet had moved like Ginger Rogers, it's likely that Sidney would still have been fixated on the very talented redhead. What wasn't to like about her? She was talented and sexy and just exuded the kind of energy and charisma that let you know a major star was being born.
But Sidney's embrace of that potential made the film very different than the play. One afternoon, Janet and I walked onto the set after lunch. She was carping that she wasn't getting as much screen time as she had been led to believe before shooting began. She didn't know that for sure, I said. None of us had seen any of the dailies.
Then we stepped inside the soundstage and I stopped.
"Uh-oh," I said.
"What?" Janet asked.
I motioned toward the stage. Ann-Margret was sitting on George Sidney's lap.
"I think we're in trouble," I said.
Nothing was going on other than the director was smitten with a young woman who was about to have the same effect on countless moviegoers. C'est la vie, especially in Hollywood. You couldn't say a bad word about Ann-Margret. Sweet and polite and barely out of her teens, she was an extremely shy young woman until it was time to work. Then she lit up. She strove to do everything perfectly.