Tomorrow is the 63rd anniversary of the first day Dick Clark hosted a local television show in Philadelphia called Bandstand. The clean-cut 26-year-old had been a college radio disc jockey at Syracuse University, and in 1951 he landed a job in Philadelphia at an ABC radio station. He had been told he looked too young to be in television.
When the existing host of Bandstand (first aired in 1952) came into some legal trouble and was fired, Clark stepped into the role July 7, 1956, and never ever looked back. Not content with the show remaining on just a small local channel, Clark pushed hard for it to become a nationally syndicated show.
That dream was realized just a little over a year later on August 5, 1957. Renamed American Bandstand, the show aired live five days a week until 1963. Then it began its 24-year run as a taped weekly program with Clark still as host. I’ve included the Wikipedia link below if you want to read more details.
I remember during the school year as a pre-teen I would race across the alley from the elementary school to my grandmother’s house. (Yes, isn’t that amazing? I led a charmed life; leaving school property and entering my grandmother’s yard took less than two-and-a-half seconds.) Grandmother Elizabeth had a teeny-tiny television, but that didn’t matter to me. It picked up American Bandstand.
At that awkward stage that only pre-teen girls (who are now boomers) experienced, I had never danced in public let alone with a boy. But American Bandstand afforded me afternoon practice in the privacy of Grandma’s multi-purpose room using a tall dining room chair as my partner.
I strove to be like the suave, confident teenage girls on the show. And the kids all seemed to be so clean-cut. In the early years the boys wore suits and ties and the girls wore jumpers or skirts with blouses and sweaters. And the hair!! My own was short and stringy or else tightly permed; there was no in-between for me in the early 60s. I longed for a luscious bouffant with flipped up ends.
Much like Johnny Carson has been credited for giving many new performers a solid boost by featuring them on the Tonight Show, Dick Clark is revered by so many singers because he invited them to lip-sync their songs on Bandstand.
For example, in 1957 two high school guys calling themselves “Tom & Jerry” appeared on the show. We know them now as Simon and Garfunkel.
According to some sources Chubby Checker introduced “the Twist” on American Bandstand. Go ahead, get up and dance with Chubby when you watch the clip below. (Although someone noted this particular recording is from the Dick Clark Show and not American Bandstand.)
Widely respected and admired not only for American Bandstand, Dick Clark died at the age of 82 on April 18, 2012.
Thanks for helping me learn to dance all those years ago, Dick. My classmates in Zumba Gold now know where I got my start.