What Do a Movie Star and a Horse Farmer Share? A Humble, Ozarks Beginning
On a cold winter week in 1925, two babies were born in a hospital in West Plains, Missouri. They shared the same doctor and even the same first name. But one would grow up to stroll the red carpets of Hollywood, and the other would retire as a horse farmer in one of the most rural places in the Ozarks.
On December 13th, 1925, now-legendary actor and comedian Richard Wayne “Dick” Van Dyke was born to Hazel Victoria and Loren Wayne “Cookie” Van Dyke in the Christa Hogan Hospital in West Plains. Three days later, on December 16th, Richard “Dick” Deupree was born in the same hospital.
“We were the only two babies born that week in the hospital," Deupree said.
The doctor at the time, Dr. Hogan, delivered both babies. Deupree says he remembers Dr. Hogan later recounting that week.
Since they were the only babies born that week, their mothers became fast friends.
“They corresponded back and forth. They met each other when they’d go in for a checkup, and they got acquainted. And they were very good friends.”
Deupree says the two women wrote letters for decades, and he kept the letters—but lost them, along with everything else, in the fire that decimated his family’s historical home in recent years.
Van Dyke’s father was familiar with the area around West Plains, Deupree says.
“His dad was one of the [foremen] that built 14 Highway from West Plains to Ava,” Deupree said.
And Deupree says he always heard that Van Dyke’s parents came to West Plains from Illinois in order to have the baby—because they weren’t yet married, and the Christa Hogan Hospital was one of the few hospitals at the time that would receive babies born out of wedlock.
Van Dyke appears to confirm some of that story in his autobiography, “My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business,” published by Three Rivers Press in New York.
Van Dyke begins the memoir with a story of him and his mother washing dishes one evening. He told her that he was going to sign up for the Air Force as soon as he turned 18 years old.
She revealed that he was actually already 18—and said only that he had been born “a little premature.”
Dumbfounded, and curious to know more, he went to his grandmother to get the full story. His grandmother revealed to him that he was born out of wedlock—the “stuff of scandal” back in 1925, in his words. She confirmed that his parents went to Missouri to have the baby before moving back to Danville, Illinois, where he lived out the rest of his childhood.
Dick Van Dyke became one America’s most famous actors, starring in “Mary Poppins” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
Dick Deupree, by contrast, grew up in rural Ozark County near Dora, where he still resides. His father owned a general store, and his family had ties to notorious bank robbers of the 1930s and ‘40s who used to hide in the rural Ozarks.
Deupree bred and sold horses; he also sold cars. He was married to the love of his life, who passed away years ago. He now lives alone.
His life was turned upside-down when his family’s home burned to the ground.
Today, all that remains is the chimney and the foundation—and Deupree now lives in a mobile home in the woods.
He says he would still like to meet Dick Van Dyke one day, given their shared beginnings.
“I’ve tried to get a hold of him but I never could. I’d like to visit with him, tell him who our doctor was and what hospital,” Deupree said.
KSMU requested an interview with Dick Van Dyke for this story through his publicist, but did not hear back from the actor.
Dick Van Dyke is still in show business and has a role in Disney’s upcoming “Mary Poppins Returns.”
Both men turn 93 this December.
For KSMU Sense of Place Series, I’m Claire Kidwell.