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Forever, Dick Clark, so long

Posted: April 20, 2012 9:56 a.m.
Updated: April 23, 2012 5:00 a.m.

I think Wednesday, April 18, 2012, will be one of those dates I might have a hard time forgetting: the day we said so long to Dick Clark for the last time.

Up until his 2004 stroke, he continued to look like the “world’s oldest teenager.” He hosted “American Bandstand” (AB), “The $10,000 (or $20,000, $25,000, $50,000 and even $100,000) Pyramid” game show, “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes” (with Ed McMahon) and, of course, “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” Like many television icons who got their start in the medium’s early years, Dick Clark became more than just some host we saw on TV.

He became a member of the family.

A fact I didn’t know until much later:  Clark graduated from Syracuse University. I attended SU until my sophomore year, switching to Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). My wife was born in Syracuse and lived about 45 minutes north.

I can’t remember the first time I watched AB. For some odd reason, I keep cycling back to when Madonna first appeared on the show, but I know I must have watched the show before that.

Like many early TV pioneers, Clark started in my earlier profession: radio. He worked at his uncle’s WRUN-AM in Rome, N.Y.; WOLF-AM in Syracuse, a country station. Later in life, he dabbled again in radio, hosting a program in Riverside, Calif., from 1962 to 1982, and then owned a Santa Barbara, Calif., radio station. He even tried to compete (as friends, of course) with Kasey Kasem’s “American Top 40.”

Clark’s TV career started at WKTV in Utica, N.Y., where his parents lived for a time. He moved near Philadelphia in 1952 to work with a radio station that had a TV affiliate. He acted as a substitute host for “Bob Horn’s Bandstand.” He took over full time in 1956 and the show’s name changed to “American Bandstand” when it was picked up by the ABC network.

Talk about history: the first national show, Aug. 5, 1956, featured an interview with none other than Elvis Presley. Things skyrocketed after that.

The combination of in-studio dancing and music star appearances changed television, music and what it meant to be an American teenager for generations. According to Entertainment Weekly, AB ran as a daily show -- can you imagine? -- until 1963 when Clark and the show moved to Hollywood. It ran on ABC on a weekly basis through 1987, then continued in syndication for another two years.

AB has been so ubiquitous with American teens and music that I don’t think I realized the show never made it into the ’90s.

I can’t leave AB behind without mentioning Barry Manilow. Here’s how that works: the first AB theme song was Artie Shaw’s “High Society,” followed by different arrangements of Les Elgart’s “Bandstand Boogie.” In 1975, Manilow recorded his version of “Boogie” for his hit album “Tryin’ to Get the Feeling.” It became the official version in 1977 and stayed that way for a decade.

Onward.

I won’t spend too much time on the “Pyramid” game shows. The one thing they did was provide Clark another chance to prove he was an amiable host. He succeeded. It was also fun to watch stars make fun of themselves as they tried to guess the winning answers. “Bloopers & Practical Jokes” was one of many shows on TV – “America’s Funniest Home Videos” being the longest running -- that have made their way into our living rooms. It was fun, but I don’t know that I’d call it special.

What Clark did that was special was hosting the first-ever “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” program on Dec. 31, 1974. He’d produced two New Year’s Eve specials before that, but 1974/1975 was the first with Clark -- a mainstay that lasted until his death. He only missed one appearance: 2004 when he suffered his stroke. That year, Regis Philbin filled in.

Since then, Ryan Seacrest has helped out as co-host and is the heir presumptive -- and deservedly so, I might add -- to Clark’s throne.

Like AB, perhaps even more so, “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” became a tradition with our favorite family member. The idea of the New Year’s Eve Times Square ball drop now seems inconceivable without him. Seacrest (who I also think should have succeeded Larry King on CNN), is one of those media moguls who appears to have maintained a down-to-earth, amiable personality. I’d like to think Clark was OK with the show continuing with Seacrest at the helm.

Seacrest appears devastated by Clark’s death, calling him one his greatest influences and that it was a “dream come true” to work with him each New Year’s Eve.

“He was smart, charming, funny and always a true gentleman,” Seacrest said.

Where AB, as President Barack Obama put it, introduced us to “decades’ worth ... (of) the music of our times,” “Rockin’ Eve” celebrated that music and America’s place in that world.

We got to know not only Manilow, Madonna and Presley, but Jerry Lee Lewis, Connie Francis, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, Chubby Checker, the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Buddy Holly, the Osmond Brothers (and Marie), Run DMC, New Kids on the Block, Back Street Boys, The Black Eyed Peas, Robin Thicke, Selena Gomez (and boyfriend Justin Beiber), Avril Lavigne, Ne-Yo, Train -- the list is endless.

There is so much more I could say; what I’ve talked about only scratches the surface of who Dick Clark was. But here’s what I think we should remember: his life had a beat and we all danced to it ... and we still can.

(Martin L. Cahn is the associate editor of the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. E-mail responses to camden@ci-camden.com.)

 

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