I met Dick Clark -- who died today (Wednesday) at 82 of a heart attack -- on the set of a show he was producing, American Dreams. This was in 2004, before his stroke, and Clark was there to work the television press shuttled to the old Columbia lot where Dreams was based for three seasons. "America's Oldest Teenager" was kind of peripherally involved in that ABC drama, which was very much set in a world Clark created, the early '60s studio of American Bandstand.
Bandstand was so from another, innocent time. A boyish Clark started hosting the teen music series from Philadelphia in 1956, going national the next year. He was so gosh-darn American, with that trademark salute at the end of each broadcast and trademark "for now, Dick Clark, so long" sign-off. American Idol host Ryan Seacrest, Clark's replacement on those New Year's Rockin' Eve shows, should pay Clark a royalty every time he opens his mouth.
Bandstand had a good beat and you could dance to it and it lasted into the '80s, but really was about the '50s. The British Invasion swept aside all of the squeaky clean Fabians and Tab Hunters and Bobby Darins that Clark helped fabricate and mold into Bieber blueprints.
One of the most ironic Hollywood signposts I've ever seen is a plaque on the outside of a downtown Hollywood studio where Grey's Anatomy now shoots. It marks the transition of Clark's Bandstand from Philly to L.A. and is dated Feb. 8, 1964 -- the day after The Beatles changed everything on The Ed Sullivan Show. Basically, the day the show arrived in California, it was history.
Clark, on the other hand, endured for decades. He was a daytime star as host of the Pyramid game show. His production company produced prime time series and specials, many of which he hosted. He was just one of those gifted broadcasters who never wore out his welcome.
Years before I met him in person, when I worked at TV Guide Canada in the '80s and '90s, I spoke with Clark on the phone. He was hosting Bloopers & Practical Jokes and New Year's Rockin' Eve at the time. He was all charm on the line, oozing that famous casual, neighborly manner, bragging about a new brick pizza oven he'd installed in his house, and suggesting if I was ever in the 'hood, to drop over for a slice.
Never did get that address.
He was more business-y on that day on the American Dreams set. Executive Producer Jonathan Prince had gone to the trouble of bringing extras in to walk the lot in '60s costumes, and even had a Philly cheesesteak wagon on the street set for scribes to nosh. (The things we remember often have to do with our stomachs.)
The Bandstand set was inside, and journalists sat in the bleachers while Clark, Prince and the cast were introduced. There was some sort of raffle or draw, and I wound up winning a cool high school jacket with the name of the series stitched on one sleeve. It was handed to me by Clark.
He talked about the old days, a bit reluctantly -- Clark was all about what's happening now. He skirted around questions of Beatles and British Invasion. When the talk came around to the kids who used to arrive at the studio to dance on the show, Clark spoke proudly about booking African-American entertainers in the '50s, and candidly about how the audience was integrated far later than the talent featured on the series.
It was well into the show's run before the first black kid danced with the first white kid. Bandstand was not even of its time but slightly behind the times, and the last place where civil rights was tested.
Condolences to his wife and family.