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Dick Van Dyke sings the Geffen's praise at a theater benefit

August 16, 2010 |  6:30 am

JBS_0316[1] To think it all started with a TV diaper-changing-contest game show called "Mother's Day." That was where host Dick Van Dyke and the show's producer, Gil Cates, met cute more than 50 years ago. Cates went on to produce a zillion Oscar broadcasts and helm the Geffen Playhouse as its producing director, and Dick Van Dyke went on to become Dick Van Dyke.

Their long journey led to Saturday night, when DVD saw his name up in, well, embossed metal. On the Geffen stage, Cates presented him with a framed plaque, like the one that had just been attached to a dressing room door dedicated to his old buddy.

"Here's what it's going to look like, and when you go upstairs to take your clothes off today, this is what's going to be up there," Cates told him to a huge round of applause.

The occasion was a performance by Van Dyke and the Vantastix, a four-man a cappella group that came together a decade ago when bass and former rocket scientist Mike Mendyke met the song-and-dance icon at a Starbucks in Malibu.

The group -- which also includes tenor/arranger Bryan Chadima and bass Eric Bradley -- began gathering around the star's piano every week to sing Van Dyke's old hits and other ...

... feel-good songs and to chow down on pizza (it's biweekly now that Mendyke has moved up to Portland, Ore.).

Saturday's performance, which included a rap version of "A Spoonful of Sugar" and a cameo by Shirley Jones chiming in on a number from "The Music Man," benefited the Geffen's education programs and Determined to Succeed, a tutoring and mentoring program co-founded by Hank Azaria, who was in the audience.

All in all a pretty friendly crowd. Quite a bit less stressful than the group's performance at the White House a couple of months ago. "I hadn't had butterflies in maybe 50 years. and I had 'em," Van Dyke told the Ministry at the post-performance reception. "I looked and there was the president and his wife, Desmond Tutu, Maya Angelou, all the senators. I was a wreck."

After that performance, the president and first lady came up onstage and thanked everyone, Cates recalled. "And when they got to Dick, the president sees that his tie is askew, and he starts to adjust his tie. And we have this wonderful photograph of President Obama adjusting Dick's tie, and Dick looks at the president and says, 'My God, sir, you have to fix everything.'"

-- Irene Lacher

Photo: Dick Van Dyke startles Shirley Jones with a surprise kiss on the Geffen stage. Credit: Jordan Strauss