Wednesday, April 18, 2012

America's Oldest Teeanger Dick Clark Dead at 82

Dick Clark, long time host of American Bandstand and television producer, died today at the age of 82. He passed after having a heart attack following outpatient surgery at St. John's Health Centre in Santa Monica, California.

Dick Clark was born on 30 November 1929 in Mount Vernon, New York. He started his career in radio in the mailroom at WRUN in Utica, New York. The station was owned by his uncle and managed by his father. Mr. Clark was only 17 when he started reading the news and weather reports. Dick Clark attended Syracuse University, from which he graduated with a degree in business in 1951. It was in 1952 that he went to work at the radio stations Initially Bandstand aired short musical films of the sort produced by Snader Telescriptions and Official Films (essentially a primitive version of music videos). This format only lasted about a month, and it then became the dance show it would remain for the rest of its existence. Originally Bandstand was hosted by popular disc jockey Bob Horn. It was on 9 July 1956 that Bob Horn was convicted of driving while intoxicated. This resulted in Mr. Horn's dismissal from Bandstand. It was Dick Clark who was hired to take his place

That Dick Clark became the host of Bandstand was fortunate for both Mr. Clark and the programme. It was in 1957 that ABC was looking for new afternoon programming. Thinking that Bandstand could air on the network, Mr. Clark went to New York City with a kinescope of Bandstand to pitch the show to ABC executives. The show was given a seven week trial run on the network. Renamed American Bandstand, it debuted on ABC on 5 August 1957. Dick Clark would remain the host of American Bandstand until 1987. The show continued to air on weekday afternoons until 7 September 1963, when it moved to Saturday afternoon.

The success of American Bandstand would lead Dick Clark to other shows. In 1958 Mr. Clark received his own prime time show, The Dick Clark Show. The show featured musical performances, as well as interviews (not just of musicians, but also of such show business personalities as Bob Hope and Tony Randall). It lasted until 1960. From September 1959 to December 1959 he hosted Dick Clark's World of Talent, essentially a music competition programme. From 1963 to 1964 Dick Clark was the host of the short lived game show The Object Is (it was the first game show he hosted). About the same time he hosted ABC's edition of the game show Missing Links. In 1965 Dick Clark once more became the host of a weekday, music programme. Where the Action Is was a half hour programme shot at various places around California and featuring performances by the biggest music artists of the day. The show had several regulars, with Paul Revere and the Raiders more or less the show's house band in everything but name only. Where the Action Is lasted until 1967.

Starting in 1972 Dick Clark produced and hosted Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, which would become an annual special aired every New Year's Eve on ABC. Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve consisted of live remotes at Time Square in New York City as well as musical performances (both live and recorded). Dick Clark hosted the show every year except 2004, when he was recovering from a stroke. After 2004 he co-hosted with Ryan Seacrest. In 1973 Dick Clark became the host of The $10,000 Pyramid (which, though inflation, would eventually become The $100,000 Pyramid). Dick Clark hosted the daytime version of the show in most of its incarnations until 1988. In 1978 he hosted a short lived variety show on NBC called Dick Clark's Live Wednesday. In 1980 he was the host of the short lived variety programme The Big Show on NBC. Beginning in 1984 Dick Clark co-hosted TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes with Ed McMahon. The programme would air at times as both a regular series and as a series of specials. Mr. Clark would continue as a co-host on the programme into the Nineties.

In 1990 and 1991 Dick Clark hosted the syndicated game show The Challengers and in 1993 he  hosted the short lived game show Scattergories. From 2001 to 2003 he was the host of the daily, NBC talk show The Other Half.

Of course, Dick Clark was not merely a TV show host. He was also a very prolific producer who produced several major television shows. As might be expected, the first show he produced was American Bandstand. Over the years he would work as a producer on such shows as Where the Action Is, The Guns of Will Sonnett, It's Happening, You Are the Jury, The Weird Al Show, TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes, Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, American Dreams, and Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve. In 1973 following a disagreement between ABC and the Grammy Awards, Dick Clark created the American Music Awards. From the Seventies into the 21st Century, Dick Clark produced most of the award show's broadcasts. Mr. Clark also produced feature films, including Psych-Out (1968), The Savage Seven (1968),  and The Dark (1979).

Dick Clark also appeared as an actor in some shows. In most of these instances he played himself, appearing on such shows as The Jack Benny Programme, Batman, The Partridge Family, The Odd Couple, and Murphy Brown. He also played himself in movies, including Gidget (1959) and The Phynx (1970). While Dick Clark mostly appeared as himself on TV shows and in movies, he also performed some roles in TV shows and films. He had parts in the films Because They're Young (1960), The Young Doctors (1961), Wild in the Streets (1968), and Killers Three (1969). He guest starred on such shows as Stoney Burke, Burke's Law, Ben Casey, Branded, Honey West, Lassie, Perry Mason, and Coronet Blue.

Even though he was 82, I rather suspect many of us find it hard to believe that Dick Clark is dead. Part of this is due in no part in that prior to his stroke in 2004 Mr. Clark never seemed to age. He largely looked the same in the 1990's as he had in the 1950's. It is also likely that Dick Clark's death seems unbelievable because he was the part of the childhood of at least three generations: the Silent Generation, the Baby Boomers, and Generation X. He was the host of American Bandstand for three decades and the host of various other shows for fifty years. I very seriously doubt that there are very many between the ages of 75 and  35 who have not seen at least one regularly scheduled programme hosted by Dick Clark.

Indeed, Dick Clark's impact on American pop culture is such that I doubt that the vast majority of Americans have heard of him, even those too young to remember American Bandstand. While Dick Clark would produce numerous shows and host many others, his most important position in American pop culture may well have been as host of American Bandstand. Quite simply, as the host of American Bandstand Dick Clark helped bring rock 'n' roll into the mainstream. As a clean cut, non-threatening young man Dick Clark helped allay the fear of older Americans in the Fifties about a music genre many of them regarded as dangerous. While Dick Clark helped ease the fears of older people, even into his fifties he was a figure with whom teenagers could be comfortable. He never talked down to them and always treated them with respect. This made him the perfect host for American Bandstand.

Aside from bringing rock 'n' roll into the mainstream, Dick Clark's position as host and producer of American Bandstand made him significant to American pop culture in other ways. In the Fifties many dance programmes did not include African Americans. American Bandstand did. In fact, it was one of the first integrated shows on American television. And it was largely at Dick Clark's insistence that it became such. American Bandstand itself would prove pivotal in the careers of artists ranging from Fabian to The Jackson Five. As a regularly scheduled, nationally broadcast dance show American Bandstand would also pave the way for other shows featuring rock music, from Shindig to Hulabaloo to Mr. Clark's own Where the Action Is.  Indeed, Where the Action Is may have been pivotal in the career of Paul Revere and The Raiders. Already a popular rock band, their regular exposure on the show may have been partly responsible for their string of hits from 1965 to 1968. Of course, Dick Clark also produced numerous shows as well. Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve would become an annual tradition for many.

In the end Dick Clark's career was such that it is perhaps impossible to evaluate his importance to American pop culture. From the Fifties to the Nineties he was nearly ubiquitous on American television. His position alone as host and producer of American Bandstand made him one of the most important figures in American television in the last half of the 20th Century. That he did so much more made him even more important to American pop culture.

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