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Dick Van Patten meets the Naked Lady and the Bearded Lady

January 27, 2010 |  7:44 am

DVP3 Life doesn't really begin at 40, much less 50, even though that's how old Dick Van Patten was when he entered the pop culture sphere as the dad on "Eight Is Enough." It turns out Van Patten had half a century of existence, give or take, before he showed up on your TV.

No, really. This we learned from him just Monday over at Book Soup in West Hollywood. But more on that later.

A zillion years ago, he was a tyke on Broadway who performed under the name Dickie Van Patten. He followed that up with being an adolescent on Broadway (still Dickie).

When he was 14, he played the Telegraph Boy in Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth" in a production starring Tallulah Bankhead. Back in the day, she was known for putting the "out" in outrageous (whatever that means).

Tallulah and Dickie had a five-page scene together, and one day she pulled him aside and said, "Dickie, darling, I want to see you before the show begins. Come to my dressing room."

The next day, he did as he was told and found the actress sitting at her makeup table.

Completely nude.

"I'm 14," Van Patten said. "I'd never seen a naked woman. She said, 'There's one line you say like a question. You have to say it like a statement. You understand?'

"So I kept doing it wrong every night."

On Monday evening, Van Patten was perched on a chair in a corner of Book Soup, where he was talking about his new book, "Eighty Is Not Enough: One Actor's Journey Through American Entertainment." It's full of anecdotes about the stars he worked with in TV, theater and movies, about his family, his animal rights activism and his staying power in a fickle business.

But the Ministry particularly likes his twisted sexual awakening stories, so here's another one!

When Van Patten was 15, his father told him he was worried about the boy going to the movies alone. He said, "If a man sits next to you and feels your leg, say loud and clear, 'Stop what you are doing immediately!' And he will stop."

Van Patten also liked to go to freak shows, and one day he saw someone touted as "the only living hermaphrodite on exhibition today."

DVP4 The OLHOET was introduced as Albert/Alberta and then he/she came onstage. "Ladies and gentlemen," he/she said. "I am half-man and half-woman. On this side, I have a beautiful breast, but on this side, I need a shave...."

"Two weeks later, I go to the New Amsterdam Theatre," Van Patten continued.

"The whole balcony is empty. And then I see a man in a trench coat and he sits right next to me. All of a sudden, I feel his hand on my knee. I said, 'Stop what you are doing immediately!'

"It was Albert/Alberta. Well, I couldn't yell at a star."

And you think your business is tough.

-- Irene Lacher

Photos: Dick Van Patten with co-author Robert Baer, top. Van Patten signed copies of his "Eighty Is Not Enough" at Book Soup in West Hollywood on Jan. 25, 2010. Credit: Joseph Urbanczyk

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Jerry O'Connell writing an owner's manual to go with his twins

Dennis Hopper, battling prostate cancer, files for divorce

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