Dick Clark: Presenter of the influential TV teen pop show 'American Bandstand'

 

For 30 years Dick Clark presented the teenage television show American Bandstand, which was particularly influential in the late 1950s and early '60s. Although it was not screened in the UK, American Bandstand had over 20 million viewers and Clark, with this and numerous other productions, became a broadcasting legend. American Bandstand was the model for The Corny Collins Show in the stage and film musical Hairspray.

Dick Clark was born in the Bronx in 1929, the second son of Richard and Julia Clark; his elder brother was killed in the war. His uncle owned a radio station, which was managed by his father and Clark worked in its mailroom when he was 15. He broadcast on campus radio at Syracuse University and became a TV newscaster and weatherman in 1951.

In 1956 Clark was working in Philadelphia for WFIL, which had a daily show, Bandstand, featuring teenagers dancing to the new rock'n'roll music. When the presenter, Bob Horn, was fired after a drink-driving conviction, Clark took over. Bandstand lacked excitement as artists would mime to their releases but it was all there was, and the programme was networked nationally as American Bandstand from August 1957. "American Bandstand was a very important show for breaking records, including mine," the teen idol Brian Hyland said. "The kids would get home from school at four o'clock and turn it on."

American Bandstand made national stars of local performers such as Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon, Freddy Cannon and Fabian. Clark presented Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Paul Anka and Duane Eddy on a regular basis, and Eddy recorded the title song for a film that Clark produced, Because They're Young (1960). Eddy was to comment, "I naively thought that Dick was just looking after my career. I didn't realise that he owned part of it."

The British TV producer Jack Good was keen to discover what was happening in America and he told me, "We all thought that the show must be great – you know, Chuck Berry refers to it in "Sweet Little Sixteen". I went to the States in 1959 and I have to tell you that American Bandstand was the most boring show I have ever seen. Terrible, terrible, terrible, and I hated Dick Clark because he looked so slick and so smooth and he was selling commercials aimed at spotty adolescents. I don't think he contributed anything to rock'n'roll, but he understood a cash register." Good returned to the UK and produced the ground-breaking Oh Boy!, which featured live music.

The cash-register comment is undeniably true: Clark founded Dick Clark Productions and was involved in artist management, record production and music publishing. He came under scrutiny with the payola scandal of 1959-60 – disc jockeys and presenters playing and recommending records for cash. Unlike Alan Freed, whose career was over, Clark was found innocent but was criticised for his conflicting interests and was forced to sell them. It was however, touch and go: Clark regularly featured "16 Candles" by the Crests, which he published, but said he never played the record until it was popular and hence demanded by viewers.

Clark became rich from promoting concert tours, which played arenas. "In the early '60s, I was travelling with The Dick Clark Caravan of Stars, Lou Christie recalled, "and we would do two shows a day for 72 days and we would only sleep in a hotel every other night. The rest of the time we would sleep on the bus. We drove all over America and it was gruelling, although I would never regret it because it developed my career and I travelled with the Supremes, the Drifters, the Coasters, the Crystals, the Ronettes, Del Shannon, Paul Anka, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell – almost anyone who had a hit record."

Looking like a youthful and clean-cut elder brother, Clark emphasised that rock'n'roll did not pose a dangerous threat. That was thrown into doubt after a teenager was stabbed at one of his concerts in Pennsylvania.

In his own way Clark helped to bring racial integration into the networks by featuring black artists. In March 1959 the black R&B act Hank Ballard and the Midnighters released "The Twist" and he was invited to perform – or mime to – the record on American Bandstand. Ballard wanted to include the Midnighters and demanded additional payment, but Clark couldn't see the sense of this. He passed the song to the up-and-coming Chubby Checker, who copied Ballard's vocal and invented the dance, although there are conflicting stories about this. As well as the twist, American Bandstand promoted the pony, the locomotion and the watusi. The dancers chewed gum as one of the show's sponsors was Beech Nut, and on one tour, he hired firework displays which spelt out B-E-E-C-H-N-U-T-G-U-M as the audiences were leaving.

In 1962 Bobby Vee was hoping for a major success with his new single, "Please Don't Ask About Barbara". "That was unfortunate, bad timing," says Vee, "I didn't get any airplay on American Bandstand because Dick Clark was divorcing his wife, Barbara."

Clark only had Elvis Presley and the Beatles on the programme via telephone links, Presley in 1959 and the Beatles in 1964. When he asked a young Michael Jackson why his sisters Janet and LaToya weren't with him, Jackson replied, "Because they're too shy."

From 1964, the show was produced from the ABC studios in Hollywood and took advantage of the surf craze. It became weekly rather than daily and was broadcast until 1989, with guests including Madonna and Prince. By the time it finished Clark had introduced over 65,000 records. Clark also presided over the music shows Where The Action Is and It's Happening. In 1959, he started the World Of Talent series, which excluded rock'n'roll, and he presented several light entertainment series including $10,000 Pyramid, The Krypton Factor, TV Bloopers and his New Year's Eve parties. There were few elements of light entertainment he did not touch.

Clark produced the TV movie Elvis (1979), which featured Kurt Russell and was directed by John Carpenter. In the same year he also produced Birth Of The Beatles, directed by Richard Marquand and featuring Stephen MacKenna as John Lennon and Nigel Havers as George Martin.

Clark appeared regularly at his theatre in Branson, Missouri, and in 2004, he presented tributes to American Bandstand twice nightly at Lake Tahoe. His American Bandstand diners were criticised in the documentary Bowling For Columbine (2002) for overworking staff, and Clark, door-stepped by Michael Moore, refused to comment.

Spencer Leigh

Richard Wagstaff Clark, television presenter: born Mount Vernon, New York 30 November 1929; married three times (two sons, one daughter); died Santa Monica, California 18 April 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own