“I didn’t know Dick Van Patten had a sister,” my roommate said.
Now I could take that two ways. One, my roommate didn’t know who Joyce Van Patten was or two, she knew who Joyce Van Patten was, but just didn’t realize that she was Dick Van Patten’s sister.
It turns out it was the latter and that stands to reason. Joyce Van Patten has had quite the solid career, built upon her own fantastic talents. A little nepotism really wasn’t necessary in her case.
She was Claudia Gramus on The Good Guys, Iris Chapman on The Mary Tyler Moore Hour, and Maureen Slattery on Unhappily Ever After. And she has a slew of guest credits on a wide variety of TV shows.
Two of my favorite guest appearances of hers happened to be on the same show, Hawaii Five-O.
Miss Van Patten made her first appearance in the Season 3 episode “The Payoff”. She plays a woman helping out an old friend that she’s sweet on. The only thing is that her old friend was involved in a kidnapping for ransom that ended in murder and now he’s been gut shot by one of his co-conspirators. She’s desperate in multiple ways –desperate to help Jace, desperate to have Jace feel for her what she feels for him, and desperate to evade the law. Unfortunately, none of it works out for her and the scene in Steve’s office where she spills her guts has you aching for her.
Her second appearance came in the Season 5 episode “I’m a Family Crook–Don’t Shoot!” I picked this as my favorite episode of that season and with good reason. Joyce Van Patten plays the matriarch of a swindling, thieving family with Andy Griffith as her husband. The family pulls their bump and grab routine on a mob bagman and lets just say that it doesn’t work out well for them. These crooks are obviously the lesser of the evils in this ep, and even though they are crooks, you can’t help but like them. The way that Miss Van Patten plays both outlaw and doting mother is a unique blend that feels real. She is all about her family, it’s just that the family business is illegal.
She also tangled with the law on episodes of The Untouchables, The Defenders, Perry Mason, Men at Law, The FBI, McCloud, The Streets of San Francisco, Amy Prentiss, Columbo, Law & Order, and NYPD Blue; worked with Jack Lord on Stoney Burke and Andy Griffith on The Andy Griffith Show; checked in on Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare and Young Dr. Kildare, The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, Medical Center, and Diagnosis Murder; got laughs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, The Odd Couple, The New Dick Van Dyke Show, and Love, American Style; worked with Bob Newhart on The Bob Newhart Show and Bob; went west on Gunsmoke and The Virginian; went to jail on Oz and got in with mob on The Sopranos; privately investigated on Cannon and The Rockford Files; got spooky on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, The Twilight Zone, and the 1960s Outer Limits; was family oriented on Family, Sisters, Touched by an Angel, and Judging Amy; made headlines on Lou Grant and disappeared on Without a Trace; went back in time on Boardwalk Empire and Brooklyn Bridge; and got soapy for several episodes on All My Children.
Joyce Van Patten has a charm that shines across genres, no matter the role or the show. She’s eye-catching in a subtle way, and compelling whether she’s making you laugh or pulling at your heart strings. Her older brother may have been pretty great, but she holds her own. As the paraphrased saying goes…thank God for little sisters.