This was our fourth year helping Dick Van Dyke decorate his house for Halloween, and although we say it every year, this really was the biggest Halloween yet! (For the scoop on last year’s decorations and how we got started doing this, click HERE.)
For starters, this year’s celebration required a pre-production meeting the week before that had us rooting around in a couple of self-storage units filled to the brim with ghouls and goblins and traipsing through the new Anawalt hardware store (at last you can buy a hammer in Malibu!) picking up paint and supplies. Van Dyke also expanded setup to two days and welcomed trick-or-treaters on Sunday night and Halloween night.
The “stage” has been slowly extending down the street for the last few years, and this year it took over the neighbor’s side yard. Van Dyke convinced them to donate it to the cause as the site of our graveyard, and the plot was so perfect, I’m surprised the neighbors aren’t using it for a graveyard already!
Dick Van Dyke’s side yard is always tricky because the low tree branches prevent us from setting up most of the big figures and there’s a lot of space to fill.
This year I was on a mission to cover the Dumpsters that mar our otherwise convincing displays of horror, so Patrick painted up a tarp to look like a rock.
Every year there’s a new assortment of props and figures to work with, since Van Dyke is constantly rotating his collection, swapping props with his relatives and other Halloween enthusiasts, and acquiring new effects from prop houses and supply stores around the country. Last year’s showpiece, the electric chair effect, and the irritatingly off-key singing heads on pikes (“I Ain’t Got Nobody”) were gone, replaced by a sinister clown; a lunging, blood-spattered butcher; and a mechanical hell hound so large he required someone to stand by all night reigning him in.
And then there’s this guy… somehow a re-dressed Santa with dyed beard and, inexplicably, a pirate costume turned up in Dick Van Dyke’s Halloween storage bin, and nobody’s sure why.
Still, our fellow decorators found a way to spookify him a bit…
At lunch time we were treated to pizza and stories by Van Dyke, his daughter Stacy and his fiancee, Arlene. We heard about the ranch the family owned for 10 years in Arizona and how Stacy got to go to the set of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with her dad every day because she had a tutor. She even got to be in the movie’s carousel scene with her sister. He also talked about his exhausting book tour spent answering the same questions over and over… which he then obligingly answered for us! (Mary Poppins was his favorite working experience, natch, and the film The Runner Stumbles, well, “it closed three days after it opened.”) Oh, and we got to hear a funny story about the time they moved the cat tree from its spot of many years and then watched as the cat instinctively leapt toward a perch that was no longer there—major face plant!
And then it was back to work… The wall Patrick painted last year for one of the figures to bang his head into became a backdrop for a less sinister tableau involving a family-friendly witch.
Another new effect was a lenticular Dick Van Dyke had made of his portrait—the effect was seamless!
Due to Patrick’s storyboarding schedule, we were only able to work one day this year, but we did make it back Sunday night to show his parents our handiwork… most of which had been vastly improved while we were gone! A couple of our co-workers raided a Hollywood prop house for more stuff to round out the graveyard, and it looked amazing!
Last year we didn’t have as many trick-or-treaters as in years past, so this year, Dick Van Dyke put a notice about the 2-night display in the local paper and even secured a parking lot.
The walk up from the lot is quite picturesque—this year the creek was fuller than we’ve ever seen it!
When we got there, the finishing touches were being placed on the display, and Patrick decided to light the graveyard a little better so the tombstones would be visible after dark.
The asylum door effect has been around a few years now, probably because it makes such a great place to put the candy barrel. I made a big deal of “accidentally” triggering the effect to show the first few groups of trick-or-treaters how it worked…
Dick Van Dyke is always a perfect host, graciously posing for photos and autographing memorabilia for the myriad local fans who show up. Here he demonstrates the hell hound effect.
When it was time for us to leave, Stacy gave us a lift back to the parking lot in her dad’s golf cart. We asked her what it was like growing up in such a Halloween-centric household, and she had nothing but fond memories: “It was better than Christmas!” Then she paid us the ultimate compliment of saying how impressed she was that so many of us turn out to help her dad realize his Halloween vision each year, to which I replied, “Hey, free pizza!”
If you’re interested in reading what the second Halloween night was like at Dick Van Dyke’s, check out this blog.
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