Back in the 1960s, before starring with brother Tommy on CBS's The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Dick Smothers sang and danced as Tweedledee, to his sibling's Tweedledum, in a 1966 TV musical called Through the Looking Glass. Later in the Sixties, Dick competed in automobile races, driving Formula B race cars.
And five decades later, Dick Smothers is still dancing, and still driving, but in different directions.
In 2011, the former race-car driver spent four months on the road, piloting a 21-foot Winnebago Rialta with only the loosest of itineraries, discovering himself in the process.
And for 2012, Dick Smothers is eager to dance again -- and would love nothing more than to do so as a 73-year-old contestant on ABC's Dancing with the Stars...
He's been watching the dance competition series, Dick told me yesterday, since "the very first year" (in 2005), and would love to be auditioned, and selected, as the next cycle's representative for the older set.
"I've been listening very carefully to Len [Goodman, one of the show's three judges], the guy in the middle, and his critiques for as long as the show's been on, and I've been taking them all to heart.
"So I've been working on parts. I haven't been dancing full dances -- I've been working on parts that make up the dance. Your shoulders, your posture, your back, your footwork, don't stick your butt out... In Sarasota, I have a teacher who has group classes and single classes."
In preparation for Stars, just in case he gets the opportunity to compete, Dick also is taking a class in ballet fitness, where he's the only man in a roomful of women. He's doing, he says, "all the things that will give me a leg up."
And even though he was the straight man in the Smothers Brothers, I'm pretty sure he was aware how tutu funny that sounded.
Dancing in the Stars, should he be cast (the program is selecting contestants now for the first cycle of 2012, which premieres Mar. 19), would be the next stop on a journey that has taken Dick to unexpected places since he and his brother retired their act in 2010, after 50 years as a performing duo.
What else has Dick done with his time off, besides taking dance lessons? This summer, he hit the road -- but not as a touring act. Just as a tourist. He visited family out West, but drove from Florida with no set timetable or route.
"This is the first time in my life," he says, "that I could go somewhere by myself without any constraints, other than my imagination and circumstance.
"I felt a little bit like Huckleberry Finn and Jack Kerouac put together. Except the difference between me and Jack Kerouac was, I didn't want to get high, and I didn't want to get laid. I just wanted to find out who in the hell I am after 50 years in show business."
He ended up renting a house for two months in Eugene, Oregon, using that as a home base to visit children and grandchildren (and Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour head writer Mason Williams, who lives there) while driving in all directions to explore. And before that, he visited friends in Las Vegas, then drove to Sonoma to visit older brother Tom.
"We had a wonderful three days together, just amazing," Dick says. "Visiting my brother was like someone visiting an ex-wife, where they had a real stressful life together -- but since the stresses were gone and they weren't in each other's face every day, you saw why you liked them so much. Tommy and I got along really great."
[In the photo at the top of this column, that's Tom at left, and Dick at right, on the roof of CBS Television City, where they used to have offices back in the Sixties while starring in The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. They were touring the facilities in 2008, for the first time in decades. The photo was taken by Jessica Kozzi, who, since then, has married my son, Mark. Nice photo, Jess.]
The entire travel experience, for Dick, was transformative.
"If I wanted to stay somewhere, or change my mind, I didn't have to check with my travel partners," Dick says. "I didn't compromise once...
"I think I discovered who I wanted to be, and who I was naturally -- and David, at this stage of my career, more people are recognizing me, and wanting to come up and be with me, than ever before. I'm a little puzzled by that. But I'm a different person now..."
All in all, Dick concludes, "It was a great summer. And now, if I get on Dancing with the Stars, I can go out as Dick Smothers, as Dick Smothers, and not just as a brother."
I think Dick Smothers would be great on Dancing with the Stars.
And hey -- if an Internet fan base can generate enough interest to get Betty White on Saturday Night Live and give her a whole new experience of show-biz stardom as she approaches 90, why can't Dick Smothers benefit from the same sort of popular groundswell? Spread the word.
I know Dancing with the Stars host Tom Bergeron is a Smothers Brothers fan, because he actively sought, and conducted, an interview with Tom Smothers and me on ABC's Good Morning America when my book Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour' came out in 2009.
I also know that ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee is a Smothers Brothers fan. He attended the 2000 Aspen Comedy Festival where Tom and Dick were honored, and he was nice enough to invite me to his table, back when he was running BBC America, to watch another comedy act.
And to drop yet another set of names, now that my book has just been optioned by George Clooney and Grant Heslov's Smokehouse Pictures, the Smothers Brothers may be about to enjoy their largest profile in decades. So why shouldn't Dancing with the Stars give a Smothers brother a shot?
Dick Smothers always has been eager to try new things, and dedicate himself to mastering them. Here he is, in a YouTube clip from 1969, driving a Formula B race car at St. Jovite -- after chatting with fellow racing enthusiast James Garner -- and giving play-by-play of his race, which is shot from his point of view, like a Sixties-era version of Top Gear:
Dick Smothers was a competitor then, and wants to be a competitor now.
I want to go on the record as saying I think it's a great idea, and that Dancing with the Stars would benefit from an entire generation's good will, stored up with fond memories of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and its three-year run as the hippest, hottest, most controversial show on television.
Besides, Dick Smothers is likely to charm the judges. He's used to currying favor from authority figures.
After all, as any Smothers Brothers fan is well aware, mom always liked him best...