Bobby Van



  • Birth Name: Robert Jack Stein
  • Height: 6' 1" (1.85 m)


Triple-threat performer singer, dancer and actor Bobby Van was the epitome of the breezy, exuberant song-and-dance man who could enliven any film he was put into. Unfortunately, he caught the tail end of MGM’s musical reign during the 1950s. Alas, the visions of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor come more readily to mind when one reflects on the “Golden Age” of musicals but Bobby was a charming colleague. The entertainer was born Robert Jack Stein on December 6, 1928 in The Bronx, New York. Living most of his early youth backstage (his parents were vaudevillians), Bobby made his stage bow at the ripe old age of four, when he became a scene-stealing part of his parents’ act. Bobby attended New York City schools growing up and took a special interest in music classes. His early interest focused on the trumpet, but a last-minute song-and-dance job as a replacement at a Catskill Mountains resort where he and his band were playing a gig ultimately changed his destiny. A natural on stage, he also told jokes and did impressions. World War II interrupted his nascent career but he eventually regained his momentum and started appearing regularly in nightclub, on radio and TV. Bobby earned some Broadway attention in the musical “Alive and Kicking” and in the revival of “On Your Toes,” both in 1950. In 1952 he married musical actress Diane Garrett, who abruptly retired (they adopted a son, Peter, in 1959). That year was a banner one for Bobby professionally for he had joined the MGM ranks and was now appearing in movies. He partnered up with Debbie Reynolds in Skirts Ahoy! (1952) and had a minor part in the glossy Mario Lanza vehicle Because You’re Mine (1952), which featured him in a dance solo. Bobby went on to “second lead” status the following year with Small Town Girl (1953) starring Jane Powell, which featured his famous “hopping” dance sequence, then to film star as the boyish high school swooner in the warm and winning The Affairs of Dobie Gillis (1953). Best of all, he showed off his exceptional dancing prowess in the musical classic Kiss Me Kate (1953) in which he, Tommy Rall and then-dancer Bob Fosse stopped the show with their breathtaking footwork in the “From This Moment On” number. Although this MGM film should have put him on the movie map, it ended up being his swan song. Bobby would not make another film for over a decade. With the “Golden Age” of MGM now officially a part of his past, Bobby was forced to look elsewhere for work. He kept a lower profile but remained busy in night clubs and worked as a choreographer, staging the musical numbers for two of Jerry Lewis’ movie vehicles: The Ladies Man (1961) and It’s Only Money (1962). He appeared regularly again on the screen (the smaller screen, that is) with a recurring role in the short-lived TV series Mickey (1964) starring old MGM pal Mickey Rooney. The two stars later worked together in night clubs. Divorced in the early 1960s from musical actress Diane Garrett, Bobby married another performer, singer/comedienne Elaine Joyce, in 1968. The lovely couple appeared frequently together on such game shows as Tattletales (1974) and Match Game 73 (1973). Game shows actually became a steady line of work for Bobby, and he wound up hosting a few of his own, including Showoffs (1975), The Fun Factory (1976) and Make Me Laugh (1979). On stage he was rejuvenated again when he co-starred in the successful revival of “No, No, Nanette” (1971) on Broadway starring Susan Watson and Tony winner Helen Gallagher. Bobby himself was nominated for a Tony and went on to hoof it up in the original musical “Doctor Jazz” (1975), as well as the more established “Mack and Mabel” (1975), “Anything Goes” (1977) and “Dames at Sea” (1978). In 1977 wife Elaine bore him a baby girl, Taylor. Sadly, in 1979 Bobby was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Although he underwent surgery to remove the tumor, the cancer came back. Ever the trouper, the “show went on” as he valiantly continued to perform despite his illness. He made his fourth and last appearance as host of the “Mrs. America Pageant” in June 1980. Bobby passed away a little more than a month later on July 31, 1980, at age 51. He is buried at Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Burbank, California.