Dick Clark: 20 Years of Clearasil Rock

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Horn was also forced to work with this skinny kid with the inferiority complex.

"Bob Horn and I," said Clark, "did a radio DJ show in the afternoon the same time the TV show was on. He would come on and do the first 15 or 20 minutes with me. He was the shill – the well-known disk jockey the station used to put his name up on so that they could sell it, and hopefully draw an audience, then he'd split and do a TV show. And I did the rest of the show and he would occasionally come in and do a 15-minute thing at the end. It was a bad setup. He was being used. He didn't like it. He didn't like me. He made it abundantly apparent that he hated every minute of it and I can see why, in retrospect."

Horn, who didn't like Lee Stewart much, either, and had long been rid of his partner, did not have to share a studio with Clark for long. In 1956, as Donahue remembered, "Horn got busted for drunken driving. He could not stop, getting busted driving a hundred miles an hour. Also, young girls ..." Horn (now dead) was accused of statutory rape with a 14-year-old girl, herself alleged to be part of a teenage vice ring in Philly. Horn was also in trouble over charges of tax evasion on payola income. He was acquitted of the rape charge, but the payola (he was convicted, the first DJ to be nailed) and the drunken driving did him in. WFIL's owners also owned the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the paper was conducting an anti drunk-driving campaign when Horn hit a hundred. In July, 1956, clean-cut 26-year-old Dick Clark took over the localBandstand.

Clark says he was still a naive young would-be Garry Moore. "I wasn't as old as a 16-year-old today, in terms of sophistication." All he knew was that Horn didn't seem to like kids so much, and that, if he were to succeed, he would have to get along with them. But not so well, he knew, that he might be accused, as he so gingerly put it, "of jumping on one of those 13-year-olds in there." He eschewed the rocket-powered, rhythm 'n' rhyming bebop talk prevalent among radio jocks in the Fifties. He wore a coat and tie and kept his hair short and bear-greased. "Pretty much what you saw," he says, "was Dick Clark according to the mores of the time. I was cast as an All-American boy, and although I smoked and drank and swore and all of that in private life, that was not presentable for television. That was the myth that was built up. But other than that, that was pretty much me."

Clark got rich quick. In his first year, he says, he combined his still-paltry WFIL salary with enough work at area record hops to come out with "at least $50,000." So when the station began plans to hook up with ABC, and possibly replace Bandstand with whatever the network fed it, Clark scurried up to New York, to pitch ABC on his dance party. After much hounding, the heads of ABC began to seriously consider the show. Clark, naive as he may claim to have been, snuck a friend, "a record plugger, pretending to be a sponsor," into the meeting. Clark got back the word: They thought he had droopy eyes and a lousy set, but network-quality lighting and staging could make it work. They agreed to send it out, to 67 ABC stations.

"And in order to show them that we had people watching, in the first three or four days we were on we ran a contest on 'Why I'd Like a Date with Sal Mineo.' It drew 40,000 pieces of mail. The next month we ran the annual dance contest that had been going on since '52, and drew 700,000 pieces of mail. The only time we beat it was in the Beatle era when we drew about a million and a half pieces for Beatle memorabilia – George Harrison's soda pop bottle, Paul McCartney's pillow case, craziness like that."

But craziness is always lovelier the first time around, and when Bandstand hit teenaged America, they... Well, they caught the beat, and they could dance to it. They gave it a hundred, and Chuck Berry gave it top billing in his "Sweet Sixteen." Suddenly, along with Dig magazine, sock hops, soda shop juke boxes, and drive-ins, they had their own TV show, this combination big-name record hop and teen-love soap opera.

American Bandstand consistently presented all the big artists, lip-synching them at the rate of two a day, ten a week. There inevitably arose the need for new artists, and – inevitably – they came from Philly.

"Man, everybody sang in South Philadelphia," said Jerry Stevens, who joined WIBG in 1960, after the payola rumble and the subsequent departure of several "Wibbage" big guns. "It was a third-class hang-around-the-drug-store scene. People like Jimmy Darren, Fabian and Frankie Avalon – they all lived in the same row of houses." Tom Donahue: "Philadelphia was always an incredibly good market in that, you get a big record, you could sell a hundred thousand in town." And of course, Bandstand attracted newly established artists for their first TV appearances, and those included Johnny Mathis, Neil Diamond, Fats Domino, and, in 1957, a crew-cut pop duo called Tom and Jerry, later changed to Simon and Garfunkel.

The other thing everyone watched for on American Bandstand could have been called As the ID Bracelet Turns. Or The Regulars: Kenny Rossi and Arlene Sullivan, Bob Clayton and Justine Corelli, the blondes, Pat Molitierri, Franny Giordano and Carol Ann Scaldeferri chief among them.

"They," said Dick Clark, "became the stars. Within a year they were drawing 15,000 pieces of mail a week, addressed to Kenny and Arlene and Pat. People would look in and fantasize about what was happening. Just the images and you'd say, 'Oooh, look at the look she gave him.' 'They're not holding hands today,' or whatever, and they'd do this whole mind trip. It became a... national phenomenon."

In 1958, Clark began commuting to New York. It was really the big time now, the Dick Clark Show, Saturday nights from the Little Theater. Here would be the switchblade singers in concert, performing to a seated, non-dancing audience and, to another audience: in six million homes around the country watching Clark, and the Royal Teens, and Dion and the Belmonts, and Connie Francis and Robin Luke (who forgot the words to "Susie Darlin'"), while the girls snapped the sponsors' gum and wore big green and white IFIC buttons.

Saturday night lasted two years, and Clark became a millionaire. He was getting smarter all the time, but on the air, he maintained himself as a straight, bland MC, smoothly leaning toward the camera to start each show, mastering the short, inoffensive interview, never outright defending either teenagers or rock & roll. He was the understanding older brother, and only once, in the trade papers, did he speak out, against Mitch Miller, the pop head at Columbia Records in the Fifties who railed at rock to a DJ convention in Kansas City in 1959. "He was grinding his ax that was going dull at the time," said Clark, "and that's sheer business, man. When somebody jeopardizes your way of living, then you've got to quick run in there and take care of business." So it is more turf-protection than politics or sociology. Clark says he has no politics, publically. "I'm just an old liberal guy," he says.

Dick Clark sits back on his Malibu floor, against a fur-covered stool, and shakes his head. I am railing at a buddy of his, a record company president who purged "drug-oriented" groups off his label, then released old Grateful Dead material months later, when the Dead were high on the charts. He re-released ten R&B stiffs under the title The History of Soul when black music began to dominate pop charts. Clark's reasoning is that, in business, in this world of commerce, anything goes, "as long as you can sleep with yourself at night." I shake my head, slowly.

"The problem," says Clark, "is that you're a fucking idealist, and I'm a whore."

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