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DICK CLARK, 1929-2012
April 19th, 2012 by Clark Humphrey

abc photo via chicago tribune

The “world’s oldest teenager” was originally only a decade or so older than the teens who danced on the first incarnation of American Bandstand.

It had begun as a local Philadelphia show, started and hosted by others. (The first host got fired after he was arrested for drunk driving and implicated in a pimping ring.)

Dick Clark took over the show in 1956. The following year he got it placed in a weekday afternoon slot on ABC, the distant-third-place network at the time.

The next six years could be considered the “high point” of Bandstand, in influence if not ratings. It was telecast live every afternoon. It featured lip-sync performances by nearly every major rock star. It was the only regular national outlet for the music that would define its time. His super-clean-cut good looks and reassuring demeanor helped make that wild teenybopper music parent-friendly–including the music of black artists, who were on the show from the start.

Unlike many producers of the time, Mr. Clark kept kinescope films or videotapes of Bandstand’s entire 33-year run; an invaluable archive of many singers’ first or only U.S. TV appearances.

He quickly expanded into related ventures, including record labels (somehow avoiding implication in the “payola” scandals of the day) and package touring shows (including integrated revues, even in the deep south where such things were just not done).

In the 1963-64 season, when the Beatles (one act that didn’t appear on the show) would change pop music again, Bandstand moved to Saturday mornings and to L.A. These shows were taped in four- to six-episode batches, making them less in tune with the music world’s convulsions.

Once ensconced in Hollywood, Mr. Clark established a production “factory.” His company made Where the Action Is, the telecast of the Golden Globe Awards, the American Music Awards, New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes, radio countdown and nostalgia shows, and even the psychedelic-exploitation film Psych-Out. He started rock-nostalgia theme restaurants and American Bandstand venues in Reno and Branson.

He also appeared on other producers’ programs, including 14 years on the Pyramid game shows.

He starred in 1960′s “serious” teensploitation film Because They’re Young. In 1967 he played the killer on the final episode of Perry Mason, symbolizing the youth culture that had made programs like Mason seem passé within the TV industry. And he had cameos on dozens of scripted shows, most notably on Police Squad! (desperately seeking his next fix of “miracle youth cream”).

A 2004 stroke ended his on-camera career, except for annual cameos on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. But he kept on producing (Boston Legal, Codename: Kids Next Door, So You Think You Can Dance). Dick Clark Productions will continue, one of the last prime-time producers not owned by a network or a movie studio.

Less than two weeks after the death of Mike Wallace, Mr. Clark’s loss further shrinks the number of early TV performers still with is. His legacy as a pre-MTV music introducer lives on in this post-MTV era.


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