Dick Van Dyke Says He 'Still Can't Get Over' His Career Success After Competing on 'The Masked Singer'

"When I was young, I really was hoping to make a living. What happened to me was such a surprise," the Emmy-winning actor, who performed as Gnome on season 9 of the Fox competition, tells PEOPLE

The Masked Singer
Photo: Michael Becker/FOX; Christopher Polk/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty

A spoonful of sugar doesn't necessarily help some misguided Masked Singer guesses go down with ease.

Dick Van Dyke, the first of two celebrities to unmask on Wednesday's season 9 premiere of The Masked Singer, couldn't believe judges Ken Jeong, Jenny McCarthy, Nicole Scherzinger and Robin Thicke thought that, while performing as Gnome, he could be Robert DeNiro or Dustin Hoffman.

"I said, 'Those guys don't sing,'" Van Dyke, 97, tells PEOPLE. "I hope they would say a good singer, but they didn't."

Eventually, the panel did throw out Tony Bennett as a possibility. Then, "I was flattered," the four-time Emmy winner says.

Van Dyke knew going in, though, that the judges wouldn't be able to guess his identity.

"I had never even seen the show when they asked me. So I checked it out and it looked like a lot of fun," he shares. "I was positive they wouldn't be able to guess who I was. And I was right!"

The Masked Singer
Michael Becker/FOX

The legendary actor jokes that because of the secrecy of the show, he needs to return to The Masked Singer to actually meet the crew.

"From the time I got out of the car, my head was covered, so I never saw anybody," Van Dyke says. "I wanted to go back and meet them in person because I really never got to meet anybody. They led me around so I wouldn't fall down. But I was blindfolded the whole time."

When it comes to his performance, fans have Van Dyke's wife Arlene Silver to thank for him singing Frank Sinatra's' "When You're Smiling."

"They wanted me to do something current and I know nothing from rock," Van Dyke admits. "So we picked out one which typifies me. She's the one that came up with it and I liked the song, too."

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After being eliminated, Van Dyke broke into a little riff of "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from Mary Poppins.

"To be able to be in a Disney movie was a childhood dream for me, to work with Walt," Van Dyke says of the 1964 film. "Then I got to do it twice, and I did a couple of B movies for Walt, too. Loved working over there."

Van Dyke says his role as Bert the chimney sweep continues to resonate across generations. "Little kids will recognize me and say, 'There's Bert,'" the Kennedy Center honoree says. "I love that. I'm on my third generation now."

The actor also considers Mary Poppins a resume highlight in a career that has exceeded all expectations.

"When I was young, I really was hoping to make a living. What happened to me was such a surprise," he says. "The successes I've had, I still can't get over it."

Disney Legend Dick Van Dyke, who portrays Bert, the carefree Cockney chimney sweep in Mary Poppins, will host interstitials throughout Walt Disney Television via Getty Imagess broadcast of The Wonderful World of Disney Presented by Target Brings You Mary Poppins on SATURDAY, DECEMBER 12 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET). Van Dyke will be joined by the Targets mascot, Bullseye, the lovable bull terrier. This holiday event marks the first network television broadcast of Mary Poppins in 13 years.
Dick Van Dyke. Rick Rowell/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty

Despite that, Van Dyke can't bear to watch himself on TV, and typically avoids reruns of his hit series like The Dick Van Dyke Show and The New Dick Van Dyke Show.

"When we made those, [there] were three commercials in a half an hour. Now there's about six commercials in a half an hour. So our old show is just cut to pieces," he explains. "I can't bear a look at it."

When Van Dyke happens to catch himself, however, "he'll talk about himself as he's another person," Silver says. "When he's watching The Dick Van Dyke Show, he'll talk about it like, 'Look at him doing whatever.'"

Outside of his career, Van Dyke names dueting with his 51-year-old wife as one of his favorite things to do these days. They celebrated Valentine's Day with a karaoke party at their house with some friends, and Silver even taught herself some of Van Dyke's favorite songs during the pandemic.

Dick Van Dyke and Arlene Silver attend the 43rd Annual Kennedy Center Honors at The Kennedy Center on May 21, 2021 in Washington, DC
Dick Van Dyke and his wife Arlene Silver in 2021. Paul Morigi/Getty

"I learned all the music he knows so I can keep him singing," she says. "Every show tune, every standard. I know all of them now, and I didn't know any of them before."

Van Dyke confirms: "There's a lot of duets going on around the house most of the day."

If Van Dyke has it his way, he'll return to the stage soon. "I would like to go back and do a play," he says. "I've got enough material together to sit down to a one-man show, which I think I may do just for fun. I love to do that."

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The Masked Singer airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on Fox.

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