About Vince Van Patten

Vince Van Patten
Vince Van Patten

The terms "celebrity" and "star" get tossed around pretty loosely in the entertainment world. Anyone who's made an appearance on television or made the news for any reason suddenly gets labeled a celebrity.

Not so in the case of Vince Van Patten. Those terms couldn't be more fitting for the man who was almost literally born into stardom and has shone brightly in various areas of entertainment including acting, tennis and as a commentator for the World Poker Tour.

Van Patten was born in 1957 in Bellrose, N.Y., the son of actor Dick Van Patten and his wife Pat. He has two older brothers, James and Nels, and all three of them grew up in the thick of the entertainment business.

With an actor for a father and a mother who was once a June Taylor dancer and also in the entertainment industry, it's no surprise Vince stepped into his first acting role at age nine. He starred in a Colgate toothpaste commercial, followed by more than 30 other commercial roles by the time he was 12.

At age 12, his father was cast in Arnie and the family moved from New York to Los Angeles. Arnie didn't pan out so well for Dick as it only ran for two seasons (his breakout role would come in 1977 with Eight is Enough), but Vince's acting career began an upward trajectory with the move.

Stepping up from commercials, he guest-starred in several television series including Bonanza, Adam 12 and The Courtship of Eddie's Father. He also appeared in made-for-TV movies before being cast in a CBS series, Apple's Way, and co-starred in The Bionic Boy a few years later.

Vince could easily have been swallowed up in his successful acting career, but he didn't let it sidetrack him from his other passion - tennis.

After the family moved to L.A., the Van Pattens started spending a lot of time at Poinsettia Park in Hollywood, where Dick and Pat would go to play tennis. Faced with sitting and doing nothing or picking up a racket and playing, Vince chose to play.

Self-taught at tennis, he was practically laughed off the court by his peers when he said he wanted to become a pro player someday. He hadn't attended lessons or tennis camp, but got by mimicking his favorite players and on his own tenacity. He even came up with some of his own techniques which proved successful in the junior tournament ranks in Los Angeles.

Determined to follow his tennis dreams, Van Patten switched gears to part-time acting, turning down a starring role as a tennis player in a movie called Players to try his hand at professional play.

His first step was traveling to England to take a shot at Wimbledon. Though he never did qualify to play in the tournament, his defeat spurred him to practice more. Within a year, he was ranked in the top 30 professional players, 25th in the world at his peak, and was named the Association of Tennis Professionals Rookie of the Year in 1979.

The highlight of his career was his Seiko World Super Tennis tournament win in Tokyo in 1981 where he defeated John McEnroe, as well as the first- and fourth-seeded players in the world, to claim the title. In 1986 he retired from tennis and returned to acting.

Three years after retiring from tennis, he married his first wife, Betsy Russell, with whom he has two sons, Richard Van Patten and Vince Van Patten Jr. And as his family was expanding, so were his entertainment business aspirations.

He wasn't content to just stick with one aspect of the business and began branching into writing, producing and directing. His first feature film, The Break, which he wrote and produced, was released in 1995.

The movie starred Van Patten as a tennis pro who has been kicked off the tournament circuit and is hired to coach a bookie's son. The movie also starred Martin Sheen and Van Patten's wife Betsy.

His screenwriting credits since then include The Flunky, which he also directed in 2000, and Winning Texas Hold'em, Mastering Bluffs and Tells in Poker, and Beat the Pros, all in 2004.

As those titles suggest, Van Patten's interests have shifted over the years to focus on poker, a game that had always been a big part of his life. Growing up, his father hosted two or three serious home games each week.

Vince couldn't help but be mesmerized by a game that brought together characters and actors his father knew, only to have them reduced to childish behavior. He says people would be laughing, yelling and throwing pizza boxes, and he just wanted to find a way to be a part of it.

Dick Van Patten was more than happy to share his favorite pastime with his son and taught him poker at an early age. By the time Vince was 14, he was allowed to play in the games. It didn't take him long to take it to the next step by putting on a fake moustache and beard and heading to the casino in Gardena, Calif.

"I was only 5'5" and looked like a little freak but it usually worked," Vince said in a World Poker Tour interview. "The experience was very educational. I've never stopped playing since, and I'm always looking for a game."

Even on the tennis circuit he was trying to get games going with other players. After retiring from tennis he took his poker hobby a little more seriously and entered tournaments, including the World Series of Poker, and started up his own home games in Hollywood. The home games came complete with a hostess, his sister-in-law Shana Hiatt.

Hiatt's experience in Vince's games helped her land a job as hostess on the World Poker Tour when it was being created in 2001. Not only did she get herself a job on the tour: in her audition when they asked about her experience with poker, she mentioned Van Patten's home games and snagged him a job with the show as well.

The first season of the show began filming in 2001 with Van Patten joining Mike Sexton to commentate on the action. The job was ideal for the actor who was able to combine his love and talent for poker with his entertainment experience.

The show was a hit when it began airing in 2002, and its popularity exploded the following year when Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker Championship and focused the whole world's attention on the game.

Vince had gotten in at just the right time and is now a fixture in the world of televised poker. Known as the "King of the Hollywood Home Games," he's still always looking for a game. He plays in the WSOP and even a few WPT events when he isn't commentating, as well as his home games.

He and his wife Eileen Davidson, an actress whom he married in 2003, also play in celebrity charity poker events. Vince also teamed up with his father in 2006 to play in the WPT "Fathers and Sons" special televised tournament, taking on other pro poker families such as Doyle Brunson and Todd Brunson, and Barry Greenstein and his stepson Joe Sebok.

His poker reach also extends into the online world where he is a regular and one of the main spokesmen for Hollywood Poker. You can find him and many other celebrities on any given night bellying up to the virtual felt to play a few hands or take in a tournament.

"To me, poker is the ultimate game. It is something I am good at and a pastime that I truly look forward to," Van Patten said in the WPT interview. "Most of all it is matching wits, heart, and money against your fellow man. It is the complete game."


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