Van in 1975
Robert Jack Stein|
December 6, 1928
The Bronx, New York, U.S.
July 31, 1980 (aged 51)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Brain cancer|
|Resting place||Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery|
|Occupation||Actor, singer, dancer, game show host|
(m. 1952; div. 1962)
(m. 1968; d. 1980)
Robert Jack Stein, better known by his stage name Bobby Van (December 6, 1928 – July 31, 1980) was a musical actor, best known for his career on Broadway, in films and television from the 1950s thru 1970s. He was also a game show host and panelist.
Bobby Van was born Robert Jack Stein to Jewish vaudeville parents in The Bronx, New York City, and grew up backstage, witnessing many memorable Depression-era acts. Originally, Van took King as his stage name (after his father's stage name, from the trio "Gordon, Reed and King"). He finally opted for Van, supposedly after seeing a Van Johnson poster hanging in his sister's bedroom.
Van began his career as a musician, playing trumpet. When his band played a venue in the Catskills, Van was asked to fill in as a song and dance man for another act. His act drew rave reviews and gave Van a thrill performing live as a solo act. He went on to appear in several Broadway musicals.
In the early 1950s, Van received a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and appeared in several films including the title role in The Affairs of Dobie Gillis in 1953 and roles in the musicals Because You're Mine and Kiss Me, Kate. Hal Erickson noted that "Van will always be remembered as the ecstatic young fellow who made like a human pogo stick during an expansive production number in Small Town Girl (1953)."
In the 1960s, Van did comedy work with Mickey Rooney in films and television. He appeared in three episodes of Rooney's Mickey sitcom on ABC in the role of a freeloading brother-in-law. He also did some choreography, as had his father years earlier.
Van starred in the 1971 Broadway revival of No, No, Nanette, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award. In 1973 he appeared in the musical remake of Lost Horizon, the last occasion on which he took his traditional song-and-dance persona to the big screen. His novelty dance number from Small Town Girl (1953) was featured in That's Entertainment, Part II (1976). In 1978, he played swindler Warren Custer in the episode "The Two-Million-Dollar Stowaway" of the NBC crime drama series The Eddie Capra Mysteries. In 1979, he appeared in the original Battlestar Galactica episode "Greetings from Earth" as the robot Hector, working along veteran song and dance man Ray Bolger (Vector). Van also hosted a syndicated revival of the game show, Make Me Laugh during the 1979–80 season.
Van married starlet Diane Garrett in 1952. They adopted a son, Peter, in 1959. The marriage ended in divorce in 1962.
Illness and death
In 1979, Van was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. His widow, Elaine Joyce, stated on the Sally Jessy Raphael talk show that Van suffered 13 days of headaches and went to the hospital where they made a small incision and tested the tumor. He survived the initial surgery, but after a year-long battle with cancer, he died in Los Angeles in 1980, and was interred at Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Los Angeles.
- Skirts Ahoy! (1952)
- Because You're Mine (1952)
- Small Town Girl (1953)
- The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953)
- Kiss Me Kate (1953)
- The Ladies Man (1961) (as choreographer)
- It's Only Money (1962) (as choreographer)
- The Navy vs. the Night Monsters (1966)
- Doomsday Machine (1972)
- Lost Horizon (1973)
- The Lion Roars Again (1975) (MGM short subject)
- Wonder Woman (1976) Beauty on Parade
- Battlestar Galactica (1978) Greetings from Earth
- Alive and Kicking (1950)
- On Your Toes (1954)
- Oklahoma! (1959)
- The Tunnel of Love (1963) (Westchester County Playhouse, Dobbs Ferry, NY)
- No, No, Nanette (1971)
- Doctor Jazz (1975)
- The Music Man (1977) (Marriott's Lincolnshire Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL)
- Anything Goes (1977) (Kenley Players, Ohio)
- "Bobby Van". Masterworks Broadway. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
- "Bobby Van Performer". Playbill. Retrieved August 16, 2015.
- The Affairs of Dobie Gillis Turner Classic Movies, accessed August 16, 2015
- Erickson, Hal. "Bobby Van Biography" The New York Times, accessed August 16, 2015
- The Game Show Pilot Light: "Showoffs" with Larry Blyden
- Make Me laugh TV.com, accessed August 16, 2015
- Anything Goes ovrtur.com, accessed August 16, 2015
- Clark, Earl W.; Singer, Allen J. (January 1, 2010). Beverly Hills Country Club. Arcadia Publishing. p. 80. ISBN 978-0738566191.
- "Actor-singer Bobby Van Dies of Cancer at 47". Milwaukee Journal. Associated Press. August 1, 1980. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
- Advertisement, "Westchester County Playhouse, The Tunnel of Love with Mickey Rooney and Bobby Van, July 19 thru July 21", Herald Statesman (Yonkers, NY), June 26, 1963, p. 19
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