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Eight is Enough Patriarch, Dick Van Patten, Dies at 86.

23 Jun

By James Robert Shaw (The Wind up Geek)

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Dick Van Patten who played the father of the Bradford family on the television series Eight is Enough has died. He was 86. Both Budd Burton Moss, Patten’s longtime agent and his publicist Daniel Bernstein, have confirmed his death. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Patten was ill for some time and passed away in a hospital in Santa Monica, California.

Patten was a former child actor who began his career as a model at age 3. In his early years he worked in radio and on stage both on and off Broadway. He appeared in such radio series as On Borrowed Time and The American Way. He was better known as Jimmy Duggan in Reg’Lar Fellers (1941), based on the 1917 comic strip creation by Gene Brynes and as one of the Thompson children in Lighted Windows by Charlie Robinson, which gave an intimate look at an American family during WWII. Hollywood almost called for Patten in 1943 when he was to be paid one of the greatest of compliments by his peer. Bette Davis asked Warner Bros. to purchase the rights to a stage play called Bright Horizon. She wanted it for her next movie and she wanted the young teenager from that play, Patten, to star alongside her. The project never materialized and young Dick would go on to greater success on Broadway.

Patten would create the role of Michael Brown in the New York debut of O Mistress Mine by Terence Rattigan. The show stayed on Broadway for two years before touring. Many critics were favourable with the young actor’s performance. Wisconsin State Journal staffer William L. Doudna wrote of him in 1946, “Van Patten is a theatrical find. He has a role that could be played like a Henry Aldrich but Dick instead gives it all the intense sincerity of a young Woodley, leavened by a sense of humor.”

Patten’s television debut was as Nels Hansen in Mama (1949-57). In the show he played the son in an immigrant family adjusting to life in 1910’s San Francisco. Mama was a family comedy-drama based off the stage play and film, I Remember Mama.

Over the next 70 years, Patten would appear in both film and television in roles such as Sgt. Nelson Higgenbottom of The Partners, Max Mathias in The New Dick Van Dyke Show, Floyd Graham in WIOU and Cal Cullen in Arrested Development.

Patten was strongly tied with comic writer/director/actor Mel Brooks and worked for him on more than one occassion. He played Friar Tuck in Brook’s Robin Hood TV series When Things Were Rotten. Patten would later appear in three of Brooks’ feature films; High Anxiety (1977) as Dr. Wentworth, Spaceballs (1987) as King Roland and Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) as The Abbot.

But out of all of Patten’s works he is best remembered for his TV role as Tom Bradford, father of eight children, in the family comedy-drama Eight Is Enough. The series was based on the book of the same name by journalist Thomas Braden.

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