Born to vaudeville parents in the Bronx, Bobby Van (né Robert Jack Stein, b. 6 December 1928; d. 31 July 1980) was one of the best known of the mid-century Broadway performers who managed to work a career on both the stage and the big screen. A one-time trumpeter playing in the Catskills, Van was soon recognized to be both a singer and dancer. He first appeared on Broadway in the 1950 musical revue Alive and Kicking, a production that also featured such notable performers as Carl Reiner and Gwen Verdon. He had his first starring role four years later in the role of Junior in the 1954 revival of the Rodgers and Hart musical comedy, On Your Toes, choreographed by George Balanchine.
Ultimately, Van would devote most of his career to television and film, appearing in the 1953 film version of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate and starring that same year in the title role of The Affairs of Dobie Gillis and in the MGM musical, Because You’re Mine.
Bobby Van returned to Broadway in 1971 to play the role of Billy Early in the celebrated revival of the 1925 musical comedy, No, No, Nanette, and earned a Tony Award® nomination for Best Actor for his performance. Clive Barnes in his New York Times review of the show said, “But for my money the best performance came from Bobby Van as the suave, debonair dancing lawyer (the man is a superb tap dancer ¬– the program says he has never had a lesson; where would he be now with lessons?).”
In 1973, Van appeared in a musical film adaptation of the classic movie, Lost Horizon, featuring songs by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and starring an unlikely cast that included John Gielgud, Peter Finch, Sally Kellerman, Olivia Hussey and George Kennedy.
Van returned to Broadway once more in 1975 to star in the ill-fated musical, Doctor Jazz, by Luther Henderson and Buster Davis. The show ran for only five performances. He returned to Hollywood, where he hosted television game shows and emceed The Mrs. America Pageant.
Bobby Van died of a brain tumor in Los Angeles in 1980.