By Anna Gustafson
It was on the tree-lined streets of Kew Gardens that Dick Van Patten got his start as a child star who would go on to appear in hundreds of radio shows, two dozen films and seven television series, including the 1970s sitcom “Eight is Enough.”
Van Patten’s mother and longtime supporter, Josephine, would push him in a carriage through the streets of Kew Gardens and was frequently stopped by passersby who would urge her to bring her child into a modeling agency.
So, at age 3, Van Patten posed for the biggest modeling agency in the city and launched the career that would bring him to work with such greats as Orson Welles, Mel Brooks and Tallulah Bankhead.
Van Patten describes growing up in Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s in his recently published memoir “Eighty Is Not Enough.” The book’s title is a reference to both the show, in which he became known to much of the world as the sitcom’s father, and his age.
“For nearly eight decades I’ve had the great fortune of playing thousands of roles before millions of people,” Van Patten said in his book. “I’ve enjoyed every step of the journey. Now, I look back with a mix of emotions: sadness for the people who are gone, nostalgia for times that have passed, but immense gratitude for the wonderfulopportunities that came my way. I’ve titled this book ‘Eighty Is Not Enough’ not just for the obvious play on words, but as a way of expressing the single idea that has governed my entire life, that every moment of life is precious, that every step we take is an adventure, that every day on earth is a gift from God.”
The former Queens resident co-authored the book about his life with Robert Baer, a former judge who practices law in New Jersey and is a good friend of Van Patten’s nephew, Casey King. King had long encouraged his uncle to put his life down on paper.
“It was fun doing this and going through my life,” Van Patten said in a telephone interview from his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. “I’ve had a great life. It was exciting. I worked with the most interesting people, and I traveled all over the country.”
Van Patten was born in Jamaica Hospital in 1928 and grew up in Kew Gardens and Woodhaven, where his mother had lived as a teenager. In the 272-page book, he relays many of his memories from Queens, including living on the first floor of a crowded home in Woodhaven, participating in a talent contest at the Willart Theater in Woodhaven and the death of a 7-year-old friend on the Long Island Rail Road tracks near his Woodhaven home.
He particularly stresses the important role his mother played in helping him to form a career he said he would never have had if not for her.
“I hope from this book people understand that stage mothers are not evil, they are wonderful,” Van Patten said. “They sacrifice their lives for their children and give them a great life.”
The book has received a number of rave reviews from people like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, and Baer said he loved writing the book with Van Patten.
“Writing with Dick was especially enjoyable because he is every bit as good and decent a man in private as he appears in his public image,” Baer said. “I feel lucky we were able to become great friends throughout the process.”
Eighty does not seem to be enough for Van Patten, and he will be starring in another movie that comes out next month. In the film “Opposite Day,” Van Patten plays comedian Pauly Shore’s father.
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.