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Clark and 'Bandstand' Break the Top 40


Just a few years shy of senior-citizen status, Dick Clark still looks like the "world's oldest teen-ager."

And he also possesses a teen's youthful exuberance, squiring his visitor around his homey office chockablock with rock 'n' roll memorabilia, eagerly pointing out such finds as a Beatles wig and a pair of Fab Four women's hosiery. Vintage albums, 45s, posters, letters, ticket stubs and photos of Clark hosting ABC's "American Bandstand" line the walls, bookcases and furniture.

But "American Bandstand" has left Clark an even more impressive collection: an archive of 20,000 individual performances, many of rock's greats, on the series he hosted from 1956 until 1989. "We have virtually everything from the '60s on," he says. "The '50s were live, so the (performances) from the late '50s are hard to come by."

Clark is dusting off a lot of these vintage clips for his "American Bandstand 40th Anniversary Special," Wednesday on ABC.

Besides those classic clips, the two-hour special features new performances by Alabama, Boyz II Men, Neil Diamond, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, Little Anthony and the Imperials and Luther Vandross. Also included is a musical tribute by an all-star super-band of rockers including Bo Diddley, Greg Allman, Frankie Avalon, David Cassidy, Sheila E., John Entwhistle, James Ingram, Donny Osmond, Johnny Rivers and the former E Street Band's Max Weinberg and Clarence Clemmons .

"There will be some rather well-known people (on the show)," Clark says. "It is a mix. We are going to deal with some of the old commercials, little tidbits of conversation we haven't done before, like Jim Morrison talking a bit and Prince not talking."

In short, Clark says, the special "will be two hours of 40 years of your life."

The interesting thing Clark has discovered about "Bandstand" is that "people grab a hold of little pieces of it and make it their own. We have an American Bandstand Grill in Miami, which is similar to this office with stuff all over the walls with kinescopes running. I was in there the other day and (one) woman's comment was, 'I didn't know we wore our hair that way.' Everyone has a different feel."

Clark was a 26-year-old disc jockey when he became the host of "American Bandstand," then seen only in Philadelphia. The show made its network premiere as an ABC weekday series on Aug. 5, 1957. In 1964, it moved to Los Angeles and began airing on Saturday afternoons.

"We used to do two hours and 15 minutes a day when we were local," he says. "It was a great experience. I was doing 17-and-a-half hours of television (a week) when I was 26. It teaches you to be punctual, organized and reliable."

Within a month of going national, Clark says, "American Bandstand" became the No. 1 daytime show on the network.

Critics, he admits, weren't impressed, because entertainment journalists at the time were primarily in their late 40s and 50s. "They hated the music," Clark says. "They hated rock 'n' roll. They weren't particularly fond of television in general. The combination of the two made (the show) like a disease. They wrote caustic, terrible articles."

But "American Bandstand" prevailed. Over the decades, Clark says, hundreds of performers, including two-thirds of the artists inducted in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, made their TV debuts on "Bandstand."

To get a spot on "Bandstand," performers had to have a record either on the charts or "coming on the charts or going off the charts or some track record," Clark says. "In the early years, we didn't even have charts that were reliable because Variety would publish hit parade charts (which were) adult-oriented. We began to make up our own top 10."

But Clark didn't get every performer he wanted. Elvis Presley, for example, was a huge star by the time "Bandstand" went national. "He only appeared via the telephone from Germany when he was in the Army to keep the fans apprised of his whereabouts," Clark says. "The Beatles were gigantic by the time they got over here, but we introduced their videos. I wanted to get Ricky Nelson, but Ozzie wouldn't let him because he was doing 'The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.' Ozzie was smart enough to know his son was hot. He wanted him on his own show."

In 1987, "American Bandstand" left ABC. Ratings were sagging and ABC wanted to cut the show to 30 minutes. So Clark took the show to syndication. Eighteen months later, "American Bandstand" moved to the USA Network and Clark handed over his duties to 26-year-old David Hirsch. Six months later, on Oct. 7, 1989, "American Bandstand" was history.

"Bandstand's" decline came as interest in MTV and VH-1 surged. Clark says the cable music channels are natural progressions of his show.

"You got to remember when 'American Bandstand' went on in 1952, it was hosted by two radio disc jockeys who played musical films," he says. "The very first day, the kids in the audience got up and danced with the films. (Music) videos from the '90s and '80s are an extension of radio promotion. It is a way to sell and introduce the consumer. It is an important marketing tool."

Clark, now 62, dreams of reviving "American Bandstand."

"I have got another format in mind that is not just kids dancing to records," he says. "That form is pretty well gone. I came up with a format that embodies the title and a little bit of dancing and some other elements. It is my fantasy now to maybe get that back on the air and continue for another 40 years."

"American Bandstand 40th Anniversary Special" airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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