Dick Van Patten Biography

Television Actor, Actor (1928–2015)
Dick Van Patten was an actor who most TV viewers will remember as Tom Bradford, the father of the brood on Eight Is Enough.


After acting professionally for over 35 years, Van Patten landed his most enduring role in 1977 on the family drama Eight is Enough. The show was an international hit during its 4-year run, and it put Van Patten on the cultural map. In addition to Eight Is Enough, Van Patten is also remembered for his many collaborations with longtime friend Mel Brooks, who put Van Patten in several of his films. On June 23, 2015, Van Patten died at the age of 86 due to complications from diabetes. 

Early Life

Actor. Dick Van Patten was born Richard Vincent Van Patten on December 9, 1928 in Queens, New York. His mother, Josephine, was a high school gym teacher, and his father, Richard, was a furniture salesman. His parents were both avid lovers of the theater, and every Friday night the Van Patten family trekked into Manhattan to see a different play. When Dick Van Patten was 7 years old, his mother began taking him to audition for shows. "My mother was a real stage mother," Van Patten recalls. "She used to take me up and down Broadway to all the casting directors, producers and agents."

In 1935, at the age of 7, Van Patten made his acting debut as Melvyn Douglas's son in the Broadway production of Tapestry in Gray. The role launched his prolific career as a child stage actor. He appeared in the Broadway productions of The Eternal Road (1937) and The American Way (1939). In 1946, Van Patten beat out 80 young actors, including Marlon Brando and Roddy McDowall, for the part of Michael Brown in O Mistress Mine, one of the biggest Broadway roles available to a young actor. While rehearsing for the show, Van Patten lived briefly in Ten Chimneys, Alfred Hunt and Lynne Fontanne's famous actor's retreat in Wisconsin.

After establishing himself on the Broadway stage, Van Patten forayed into a relatively new entertainment medium—television—on the 1949 CBS show Mama. The show, which followed a large Norwegian family living in San Francisco, was one of the top-rated programs of the 1950s. While filming Mama, Van Patten reconnected with his childhood sweetheart Patricia Poole, who was then dancing on CBS's The Jackie Gleason Show. They married in 1954.

Big Screen Success

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Dick Van Patten appeared continuously in films and television shows. His most notable performances from this period include the Academy Award-winning film Charly (1968); the NBC cop comedy, The Partners (1971-1972); and guest appearances on such classic shows as I Dream of Jeannie (1970) and Sanford and Son (1972). Van Patten landed his most beloved and enduring role in 1977 on the ABC family drama Eight is Enough. His depiction of family patriarch Tom Bradford helped establish what became a stock character of American television—the good-natured TV dad. The show was an international hit, earning high ratings not only in the United States but also in Italy, France and the Philippines during its four-year run.

In addition to Eight is Enough, Van Patten is also well remembered for his many collaborations with longtime friend Mel Brooks. Both Van Patten and Brooks were avid tennis players, and they quickly became close friends and on-court partners upon meeting in the early 1970s. Brooks cast Van Patten in his 1975 show When Things Were Rotten, a spoof of the classic tale of Robin Hood. Van Patten has since appeared in such classic Mel Brooks comedies as High Anxiety (1977), Spaceballs (1987) and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)

Recent Projects

Van Patten took his career in a new direction in 1989 when he founded Natural Balance Pet Foods, a company that makes health foods for animals. Always an animal lover, as a child Van Patten built his own menagerie and kept chameleons, snakes, toads, rats and even an alligator named Oscar. Natural Balance started out selling all-natural dog food, and now makes specially formulated foods for lions, tigers, cheetahs, polar bears, snakes and carnivorous birds. "We're feeding all the zoos in the country," Van Patten said.

In 2009, Van Patten published a memoir titled Eighty Is Not Enough. He lived with his wife Patricia in Sherman Oaks, California, where he stayed active running Natural Balance Pet Foods, acting and playing tennis daily. The couple's three sons—Vincent, James and Nels—all live in the area.

Dick Van Patten enjoyed a prolific career performing hundreds of roles for millions of viewers. "I look back with a mix of emotions," he said. "Sadness for the people who are gone, nostalgia for times that have passed, but immense gratitude for the wonderful opportunities that came my way." But even after a career that spanned eight decades, Van Patten stayed active well into his later years. He wrote in his memoir, "I still wake up early to meet the new day. While I don't jump out of bed with the nimbleness of my youth, I've retained a desire to see what's new for today and what's on the horizon for tomorrow. I don't believe that will ever change."

On June 23, 2015, the beloved TV dad died due to complications from diabetes at Saint John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. He was 86 years old. 

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