Elvis Presley never appeared on American Bandstand. In fact, Dick Clark has said that anybody who was significant in the first two decades of Rock and Roll appeared on American Bandstand, except Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. So this story is not about Elvis.
Dick Clark died of a heart attack Wednesday at age 82. There have been wall-to-wall retrospectives of his career, and it certainly was a significant one. Younger readers will remember him best for his Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Perhaps you remember his bloopers shows or the $25,000 Pyramid game show. Old timers like me remember Dick Clark best for American Bandstand.
You may know that the show started out as Bandstand, a local afternoon dance show in Philadelphia. Each weekday afternoon, teenagers from Philly would race from school to the studio to make sure they got there early enough to get in
Bandstand was all about dancing. I lived in a Philly suburb and watched most afternoons. It was how we learned the latest dance steps.
Dick Clark replaced the original host of Bandstand in July 1956. The format didn’t change, but Dick Clark’s personality added a new appeal to the show. In less than a year, he attracted the attention of network TV executives, and in August 1957, ABC picked up the show and renamed it American Bandstand.
In 1960, when I headed off to college, American Bandstand was a huge national hit. I spent my freshman year at one of Penn State’s commonwealth campuses in the little town of Mont Alto. By chance, I ended up with a roommate also named Phil. He was from Philadelphia, right down in the city, not out in the burbs like me.
Within walking distance of our campus was a state park with a picnic area featuring a large wooden pavilion. Every Saturday night, they held dances there, and lots of local girls showed up. Phil and I both loved to dance, so we never missed a Saturday night dance at the pavilion.
I remember the first night overhearing Phil talking to a pretty girl. He told her his name and said he was from Philadelphia. Immediately, the girl’s eyes widened and she said, “Oh, have you been on American Bandstand?” Phil replied, “Oh, yeah. Lots of times.” That did it. Phil had hooked his girl for the night.
When I got the chance, I asked him if he had really been on Bandstand. He winked and said, “Nah, but it worked, didn’t it?”
Later, I tried to get something going with a cute little blond. When I told her I was from Philadelphia, she reacted just like the other girl, “Have you been on American Bandstand?”
You can guess what my answer was.
So, thank you, Dick Clark, for your part in making my first social experience in college a success.
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