Dick Clark died in 2012. Seven years later, ABC’s New Year’s Eve special continues to bear his name.
Who was Dick Clark? Here are a dozen items from the life of an entertainment figure nicknamed “America’s Oldest Teenager.”
1. ABC’s “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” debuted in 1972 with Three Dog Night as the host and Clark, the producer, providing coverage at Times Square.
It was the first time a New Year’s Eve special “rocked” because, previously, Dec. 31 was the domain of “big band” leader Guy Lombardo, whose annual NYE special originated on CBS in 1956. All of a sudden, TV viewers could choose between Clark’s show and music embraced by an older generation.
Said Lombardo before the competing show arrived: “Rock music is no competition for us. It has its own place, just as our sound has its own place and classical music has its own place. Everyone must have his ear open to all forms of music, including rock.”
2. The program that vaulted Clark to fame was “American Bandstand.” It was America’s TV jukebox.
“American Bandstand” initially aired on a Philadelphia station. It was picked up by ABC in 1957. Original host Bob Horn lost the gig due to bad boy off-camera behavior and was replaced by the clean-cut Clark, who, over the decades, exposed audiences to approximately 10,000 performers and 65,000 records. The show’s ABC run ended in the MTV era (1987), but it continued in syndication.
3. Clark was credited for having an ear for hits. He once acknowledged in an interview that you could never really predict which songs would become hits.
“When we started, there were no scientific play lists,” he said. “It was all very primitive. People at radio stations had their secretaries listen to the show and write down the songs we played. As soon as we played something, kids would start calling up the stations requesting those songs. ‘Bandstand’ was the only TV exposure available at that time for that kind of music.”
4. Clark was on the bill for a live show featuring young performers at Tulsa’s Assembly Center in 1964. A Tulsa World story said 500 or more youngsters engulfed a Carson Attractions ticket booth when tickets went on sale at a downtown Vandever’s store. A counter almost tipped over before Dick and Jackie Carson and their aides could get the youngsters in line.
5. Clark was known as “America’s Oldest Teenager” because of his youth-centric programs and because he seemed immune to the effects of aging.
In 1991, Clark appeared in federal court as a character witness, and, because he was under oath, a prosecutor couldn’t resist asking his age. Jurors laughed. In 2012, the Tulsa World’s Mike Jones called Clark the “Dorian Gray of television” and said Clark never looked his age until he suffered a stroke in 2004. Clark died at 82.
“I loved Dick Clark,” Smokey Robinson said after Clark’s death. “He was so instrumental in my career as well as all the other Motown acts and so many others in the recording business.”
Said Nancy Wilson of Heart: “Back in the 1960s the pop culture catch-phrase was ‘never trust anyone over 30.’ Dick Clark was trustworthy all the way home. Rock on, sir!”
6. Clark missed one “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” following his stroke and was replaced by Regis Philbin. Clark, whose ability to speak was affected by the stroke, was praised for his courage when he returned to take part in subsequent NYE specials. His words were slurred, but stroke survivors saluted him.
“For him to get up on national TV and say, ‘This is what I am now,’ I have nothing but respect for him,” Leanne Hendrix, a stroke survivor and former Miss Arizona, said after Clark’s first NYE appearance after the stroke.
7. Clark’s older brother, Bradley, died in World War II. Lonely, Clark turned to the radio for companionship. He pursued work in the radio biz and worked at radio and TV stations in New York and Philadelphia before hitting it big with “American Bandstand.” While working in Philadelphia, Clark introduced his friend Ed McMahon to someone named Johnny Carson. You probably know the rest of that story.
8. Clark was wired in such a way that he probably wasn’t content unless he was too busy. Dick Clark Productions was responsible for beauty pageants, game shows (including “The $25,000 Pyramid”) and “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes.” Clark created the American Music Awards when ABC lost broadcast rights to the Grammys.
“I have been criticized for dealing in froth and light entertainment, like game shows and music,” Clark said in 1995. “But I don’t think that’s so bad because with all the bad things out there, somebody’s got to bring some lightness to the darkness.”
9. In a 1986 interview with McCall’s magazine, Clark said there were many times he came up with a good idea he was unable to take to fruition. “In 1955, I saw my first McDonald’s and thought, ‘There’s room for another.’ And I started a chain of 15-cent hamburger stands. It went out of business, but if we had organized and financed it properly, it probably would have been a Wendy’s or a Burger King (type fast-food chain).”
10. Clark is part of “Perry Mason” lore. The TV series aired from 1957-66. Clark guest-starred in the final episode (“The Case of the Final Fade-Out”) as Leif Early, a television writer. Clark also did guest spots on “Adam-12,” “Lassie,” “The Partridge Family,” “Police Squad!” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
11. In 1981, John Lennon was a topic when the Tulsa World’s Tom Carter interviewed Clark.
“The day after (Lennon died), I must have had a hundred calls (from reporters),” Clark said. “I didn’t answer any of them. I think only the people who were close to him should speak. I felt the same way when they called about Elvis’ death. Too many people use something like that to get themselves quoted, to jump into the spotlight. I just have an aversion to that and don’t want to say anything about John Lennon.”
In 1987, the Tulsa Tribune’s Ron Wolfe asked Clark how someone older is able to keep up with dance fads and records that are popular with teens.
“That’s like asking a doctor how he stays current in his practice,” Clark said. “If you need to keep current, you just do it.”
Added Clark: “When you look at Lawrence Welk’s show, as he grew older, the audience grew with him. But that never happened with ‘Bandstand.’ It’s a phenomenon.”
12. In a 1996 TV Guide interview, Clark talked about NYE memories and mentioned issues related to weather and crowd noise. But he said his biggest challenge came while broadcasting with a private party of 30 naked people in the background.
And here’s something to consider with another rocking New Year’s Eve on the horizon. America’s Oldest Teenager once said this about his forever young status: “When I go to my high school reunions, I do feel younger. Everyone else thinks like 50-year-olds. I think I’m not that way because I haven’t been allowed that privilege of thinking or getting old.”
Can he get an amen?