Eighty Is Not Enough

Author: Dick Van Patten and Robert Baer

Published By:
Phoenix Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            When I first received the book Eighty Is Not Enough, I had mixed emotions.  On one hand, an autobiography of Dick Van Patten’s life in entertainment would fit the genre perfectly.  On the other, I rarely read biographies about actors.  And yet, I do love reading about history and this book promised plenty of that.  Plus, I was a fan of the show Eight Is Enough, having watched every single episode that ever aired.  But could Dick Van Patten write a book that would keep my interest? 

            I soon discovered that I had nothing to worry about as I breezed through fifty pages in a matter of an hour.  As the actor discussed his early beginnings as a child model and theater actor during the Great Depression, I was transported back to a time where perseverance and determination were key to survival.  Thanks to Dick Van Patten’s mother’s determination that her son and daughter should “make it big” in the theatrical scene, the Van Pattens never truly experienced the deprivations faced by many families during this difficult time.

            After the first fifty pages, I was mesmerized.  I loved the descriptive way that Van Patten could tell a story, making the reader feel they were right there with the author as he performed in a talent show, received his start as a Broadway theater actor and got his first shot in radio theater.  It was also a treat to discover that Dick Van Patten grew up in New York, living in Queens for a good portion of his life and walking many of the same streets I’ve known all my life.

            What is also enjoyable about this book is that Dick Van Patten doesn’t sugarcoat things.  Yes, he and his family got through the Depression virtually unscathed, but not everything went perfectly according to plan.  Jo Van Patten’s determination to make her children stars caused her marriage to fall apart.  Joyce Van Patten, sister of Dick Van Patten, later complained of the stress and strain of beginning a career in entertainment at such an early age. 

            Van Patten doesn’t just tell us the good side of entertainment, like being roommates with Burt Lancaster, acting side by side with such greats as James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, Kirk Douglas, John Forsythe and more, living next door to the Jacksons, becoming friends with people like Mel Brooks, Farrah Fawcett, Merv Griffin, and more.  He also discusses some of the pitfalls in his life, such as his addiction to gambling, specifically on horse races, what happens when roles become few and far between and you are forced to take a regular job, the struggles some child actors go through after “making it big,” and his health issues. 

            Nothing is made light of and yet, there are some funny moments despite the scariness of the issue.  For example, when discussing the first of his two strokes, Van Patten makes it quite clear that it was a very scary experience, but he also adds some comedy to it by noting that instead of calling for an ambulance, he called his friend Mel Brooks: “I manage to fumble my way to the cell phone…When I got hold of it, I did what everyone does when they are having a stroke - I called a comedian.

            When you’re good at storytelling, people will often say, “You should write a book.”  A good storyteller captivates an audience by setting the stage descriptively without bogging the audience down by being overly descriptive.  The good storyteller then tells their tale, offering little points of laughter and suspense along the way, thereby holding the audience’s attention until the point of the tale has been made.  Dick Van Patten is the perfect storyteller and I’m so happy that enough people told him, “You should write a book,” that he decided to listen to them.

            Eighty Is Not Enough is a fast and enjoyable read, offering great insight into who Dick Van Patten is as a man as well as an actor.  I loved reading his anecdotes about life and acting.  Dick Van Patten is a very insightful man with a great deal of experience and many tales to tell.  His stories were interesting and entertaining and I’m quite happy that I received this book for review. 


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