He didn’t sing or dance, he wasn’t a movie star, and he was in, of all places, Philadelphia. But when Dick Clark, 26, went before WFIL-TV’s cameras on July 9, 1956, to host America’s hottest after-school dance party, one of America’s biggest teen idols was born.
His acceptance wasn’t quite instant. On Clark’s first day, he ran a gauntlet of shouting Bandstand fans loyal to the man he was replacing, Bob Horn, who’d been nailed for DWI during a much-hyped crackdown. The station banked on Clark’s wholesome image as a WFIL newsman to restore Bandstand‘s good name. He did that and more. Clark’s boyish looks made him seem like a teen himself, and his chit-chat with guests — a chore Horn reportedly didn’t relish — was not condescending. ”I genuinely liked their company,” Clark says. ”I treated them as if we were peers.”
The show’s popularity soared, and WFIL’s network, ABC, quickly took it national. On Aug. 5, 1957, American Bandstand went out to 67 stations and some 20 million viewers. ”America’s oldest teenager” was suddenly a pop-music power broker. Within three years, he was head of a music conglomerate.
Then Uncle Sam cut in. In 1960, amidst a federal government assault on record-business payola, Clark was called before a congressional subcommittee. Despite his protests of innocence, he had to face findings that he had a stake in 27 percent of the records he broadcast. ABC made him choose between his record interests and the show. ”I had an instantaneous dose of adulthood,” Clark says. ”I became very protective, intelligent about life.” He switched to TV and film production, moved Bandstand to Hollywood, and made dick clark productions into an empire that earned him six Emmys, a place in the Television Hall of Fame, and a reported fortune of $180 million.
In April 1989, Clark handed over stewardship of Bandstand to 26-year-old David Hirsch. The program died months later, a victim, says Clark, of the remote-control-happy younger generation, but its 37 years make it TV’s longest-running variety show. Clark is proudest of that: ”I wasn’t put here… to solve world problems. I’ve dealt in fluff all my life, but I’ve made a lot of people happy.”
July 9, 1956
Gogi Grant sang of a ”Wayward Wind” as Edwin O’Connor’s The Last Hurrah kept readers rapt. And The King and I ruled movie screens, while TV viewers laughed along with I Love Lucy in its fifth season.