The kid who played Ritchie Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show got discovered by his parents' mailman
In the early 1960s, there was a mailman in Burbank, California, who kept encountering the most amusing little boy as he went along his route. The boy lived in a busy house with six other kids, but he managed to stand out, always doing mimicry or performing short skits.
This particular mailman was no stranger to child actors, as his own son had won a talent contest that nabbed him an acting coach named Lois Auer. She was part of an agency well-known for managing child actors, and one day after stopping by this other boy's house to drop off the mail, the mailman told the kid's parents that they should link up with Lois and get the boy an agent.
And that's how Larry Mathews who played Ritchie on The Dick Van Dyke Show got discovered, after which his fame escalated rather quickly.
In a sitcom-like twist, Mathews happened to join Auer's agency just before a call came from Carl Reiner, seeking boys to audition for the part of Ritchie Petrie. Despite the boy having no experience, Auer must've had confidence in Mathews.
In the book The Dick Van Dyke Show: Anatomy of a Classic, Mathews said, "Not too long after I signed with them, Carl Reiner phoned, saying he needed a little boy for the Dick Van Dyke pilot. I was the only one sent."
But Mathews wasn't the only boy who auditioned. He was just the only one at the audition from his agency. However, it turned out he had a special edge the other actors didn't have: his inexperience.
In The Official Dick Van Dyke Show Book, Morey Amsterdam (who played Buddy Sorrell) remembered why Mathews stood out: "Carl said, 'I want a kid who hasn't done anything and hasn't been in anything.'"
At five years old, Mathews had approximately two months of acting training before he took on the role that made him famous.
On the set, Dick Van Dyke would later recall in his memoir, Mathews would sometimes crack up the veteran actors around him with child-like humor, like jokingly referring to actress Joan Shawlee (who played Buddy's wife Pickles) as "Aunt Wrinkles."
It seems he kept up the same level of antics that caught the attention of his mailman, becoming the natural child actor onscreen that Reiner was seeking and soon growing into one of TV history's favorite sitcom kids.
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