Sometimes in life, you’re forced to change your plans in order to do something that you feel is important. Today just happens to be one of those times.
I initially had another topic of discussion planned for today’s entry, and actually had most of the entry planned out ready for posting. But then something happened on Wednesday that made me rethink my original plan. I’m going to postpone today’s planned entry for one week. You’ll see it on April 27th.
Today, we’re going to focus on a man who many dubbed “America’s Oldest Teenager” and the show that he hosted for almost four decades.
I’m sure by now most of you already know about the death of Dick Clark. He passed away of a heart attack on April 18, 2012 at the age of 82.
Dick Clark’s life and career had been nothing short of remarkable and extraordinary, and he always put so much effort and charm into every project he worked on. Almost immediately after graduating high school in 1947, Clark landed a position in the mailroom of an AM radio station owned by his uncle and managed by his father. Within a few weeks, he filled in for a vacationing weatherman, and soon began announcing station breaks. Over the next few years, Clark would work at various radio and television stations, and made his television debut as the host of a show called “Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders” (a country music show).
In Clark’s later years, he took on the role of producer as well as host. He created his own production company “Dick Clark Productions”, and became the host of several radio and television programs, which included the following.
- Creator and host of “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Years Eve”. Clark hosted the program every year except in 2000 and 2004.
- Creator of American Music Awards, which have aired since 1973.
- Creator and host of long running radio program “Rock, Roll & Remember”, which ran from 1982-2004.
- Host of long running game show “Pyramid” off and on between 1973 and 1988.
- Executive producer of the NBC show “American Dreams” which ran from 2002-2005.
- Co-hosted “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” with Ed McMahon.
- Co-hosted “The Other Half” talk show from 2001-2003.
- Hosted several short-run game shows including “The Object Is (1963)”, “Missing Links (1964)”, “Scattergories (1993)”, and “Winning Lines (2000)”.
Dick Clark was one busy man, wasn’t he?
When Dick Clark suffered a stroke on December 8, 2004, and was forced to miss Rockin’ New Years Eve and end his radio show, many believed that he would take it easy while he recovered. Yet, the very next year he returned to Times Square along with Ryan Seacrest to help ring in 2006.
Who knew that Dick Clark’s January 1, 2012 appearance on his own “Rockin’ New Years Eve” special would end up being his final appearance ever on television? I know I will never look at New Years Eve the same way again with his passing.
Now, some of you may be looking at his list of accomplishments, and thinking that his life was filled with lots of excitement and business dealings. You would be right. But, some of you may also have noticed that I left off one of Dick Clark’s major accomplishments. There’s a reason why I did this. It’s because I couldn’t think of a better way to honour Dick Clark’s memory than doing this blog entry on the one show that made not only him famous, but thousands of musical artists all over the world.
Of course, I’m referring to “American Bandstand”, a music-performance show that featured the best of Top 40 radio.
I was fortunate enough to have been born in the early 1980s, because at that time, American Bandstand was still on the air. When I was younger, I would watch American Bandstand on Saturday afternoons after the morning cartoons were over. Watching performers singing (well, actually lip-synching) on stage while hundreds of teenagers were dancing all around them. It was like being at a discotheque or a club, but it seemed more intimate, if that description at all makes a lick of sense.
And Dick Clark, as host of the show, was front and center. But, did you know that Clark wasn’t the show’s first host?
When the show debuted in September 1952 on Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV, it was originally known as “Bandstand”. The program’s first host was Bob Horn, and its original format was quite different from what it would come to be known for. The first few episodes focused on short musical films, and occasional studio guests.
Basically, it was like a precursor of MTV, which would debut 29 years later.
And Horn HATED it!
Horn didn’t think that “Bandstand” would become a hit under the original presentation, and came up with the idea to have the program retooled. Inspired by an idea he heard from a radio station, Horn transformed “Bandstand” into a dance music program, which had a studio audience made up of young people dancing to records in front of television cameras. The new format debuted on October 7, 1952, and immediately became a bigger hit. Teenagers went crazy over the chance to appear on television, and the show became a great promotional tool for up and coming artists to release new singles.
TRIVIA: Because the original studio could only comfortably hold 200 people, the short music clips produced by Snader and Official aired, so that different groups of teenagers could appear on the same show.
The show ran for four years without much incident. That would all change on July 9, 1956, when Horn was arrested for drinking and driving. He was fired on the spot as host of “Bandstand”. It was later reported that Horn was also involved in a prostitution ring during his time as host.
As a result of Horn’s firing, he was temporarily replaced by producer Tony Mammarella before another host was found to take over.
Upon Dick Clark taking over the host of the program in late 1956, he took the program and really made it his own. A few months later, ABC was looking for a program to fill their 3:30pm timeslot, and Clark took the opportunity to pitch the program to network executives. It took some persistence on Clark’s part, but ABC agreed to air “Bandstand” nationally beginning on August 5, 1957. That same day, the program changed its name to “American Bandstand”.
And, don’t think that the name change was the only thing that Dick Clark did for the program. He really stepped in and made the program his own with positive results.
For one, Clark would often interact with the teenagers on the studio floor just as much as he did with the scheduled musical guests. One feature that became popular was his “Rate-A-Record” feature. When a new song was featured, he’d ask two people in the studio their opinions. He’d have them give the single a score between 35 and 98, and he’d average out the two numbers to give a rating for the single. He’d also ask the people to justify their answers as to why they scored the song the way they did. Here’s a clip of this in action from 1988.
(Did anyone see the George Michael lookalike in the crowd there?)
Dick Clark also seemed to have a real genuine interest in music. His style of interviewing was top-notch. Many artists got their first big breaks on that television show, and I have located some of these performances to post below.
In 1971, then 13-year-old Michael Jackson appeared on the program without his band, The Jackson 5, singing his solo hit “Rockin’ Robin”. Watch the clip below.
In 1975, one of ABBA’s first television appearances in the United States was on American Bandstand. Here they are below singing their hit song “S.O.S.”
In January 1984, a young woman named Madonna made her debut on American Bandstand, where she had some rather lofty ambitions. You’ll have to turn up your speakers for this one, but here she is performing her song “Holiday”.
Who knew that just a few years later, Madonna was well on her way to fulfilling the declaration she made to Dick Clark?
American Bandstand’s popularity would influence the creation of other similar programs including “Soul Train” and “Top of the Pops”, and for the most part, Clark hosted almost every single episode of American Bandstand by himself. The only exception was the episode from May 27, 1978, when Donna Summer was his co-host to promote the film “Thank God It’s Friday”.
The show would air exclusively on ABC until 1987, when network executives wanted to shorten the length of the program from sixty minutes to thirty minutes. Clark refused to agree to those terms, and as a result, American Bandstand began airing exclusively in syndication beginning on September 17, 1987. Clark would stay on as host until April 1, 1989, when he was replaced by David Hirsch, and the show’s final episode appropriately enough aired thirty-seven years after the show’s format was first retooled, on October 7, 1989.
Despite the cancellation of American Bandstand, the show still lives on. Dick Clark produced and hosted the 50th anniversary of the program in 2002, which featured an exclusive performance by Michael Jackson. References to the program were made on “American Dreams”, and in 2004, Clark was set to revive “American Bandstand” with help from Ryan Seacrest in time for the 2005/2006 season. Unfortunately, with Clark’s December 2004 stroke, plans for the revival quickly fell through. However, one idea that stemmed from the “American Bandstand” revival brainstorming sessions lead to the creation of the reality television competition “So You Think You Can Dance”.
I guess one thing that we can take from the passing of Dick Clark is that his influence will always be around. Although he is gone, his Rockin’ New Years Eve parties will continue to go on. His influence on television will forever be present.
And American Bandstand was the one show that made Dick Clark a star...perhaps an even brighter star than the musical artists that featured on his program for the three decades he served as host of the program.
Thank you for the memories, Richard Wagstaff Clark. You’ll never be forgotten.
In Memory Of Dick Clark