Who Was Dick Clark?
Sometimes known as "America's oldest teenager," Dick Clark was one of the most influential figures in popular music. American Bandstand began in 1957 and continued until 1989. With the show, he helped advance the careers of countless artists, including Paul Anka, Barry Manilow and Madonna. The program's mix of lip-synched performances and its "Rate-a-Record" segment captivated teenagers, propelling Clark to fame. Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, the long-running special broadcast that aired on December 31 each year, began in 1972, and he created numerous other shows over the years.
Born Richard Wagstaff Clark on November 30, 1929, he was the son of a sales manager for radio stations. Clark decided he wanted to pursue a career in radio in his early teens. While in high school, he suffered a great personal loss. His older brother Bradley was killed during World War II. As the war was ending, he began his career in show business. The teenager landed a job in the mailroom of radio station WRUN in 1945. Located in Utica, New York, the station was owned by his uncle and managed by his father. The young Clark was soon promoted to weatherman and news announcer.
After graduating from A. B. Davis High School in 1947, Clark went to Syracuse University. There he majored in business administration and landed a part-time job as a disc jockey at the student-radio station at the university. He also worked at radio and television stations in Syracuse and Utica before moving to WFIL radio in Philadelphia in 1952.
WFIL had an affiliated television station (now WPVI) which began broadcasting a show called Bob Horn's Bandstand in 1952. Clark was a regular substitute host on the popular afternoon program, which had teenagers dancing to popular music. When Horn left the show, Clark became the full-time host on July 9, 1956.
Largely through Clark's initiative, Bandstand was picked up by ABC as American Bandstand for nationwide distribution, beginning on August 5, 1957. The program's mix of lip-synched performances, interviews, and its famous "Rate-a-Record" segment captivated teenagers. Overnight, Clark became one of pop music's most important tastemakers. His exposure on American Bandstand, and his prime-time program, The Dick Clark Show, generated countless hits.
Clark required a formal dress code of dresses or skirts for girls and coats and ties for boys that helped establish the show's wholesome appearance. The move was an early indication of Clark's innate ability to read the public's mindset, and mute potential criticism. When African Americans were introduced among the white teenage dancers in a groundbreaking move of integration on national television, Clark was able to use his influence to stifle divisive talk amongst viewers.
During the 1950s, Clark also began investing in the music publishing and recording business. His business interests grew to include record companies, song publishing houses, and artist management groups. When the record industry's "payola" scandal (involving payment in return for airplay) broke in 1959, Clark told a congressional committee he was unaware performers in whom he had interests had received disproportionate play on his programs. He sold his shares back to the corporation, upon ABC's suggestion that his participation might be considered a conflict of interest.
Clark emerged from the investigation largely unscathed, as did American Bandstand. The program grew to be a major success, running daily Monday through Friday until 1963. It was then moved to Saturdays, and was broadcast from Hollywood until 1989.
The move to Los Angeles, the center of the entertainment industry, allowed Clark to diversify his involvement in television production. Dick Clark Productions began presenting variety programs and game shows, most successfully The $25,000 Pyramid and TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes.
Among the many awards programs the company produced was the American Music Awards, which Clark created as a rival to the Grammy Awards. The special has often surpassed viewership of the Grammys, presumably because it presents performers more closely attuned to younger audiences' tastes. Clark's production company also produced a number of movies and made-for-TV movies including Elvis (1979), Birth of the Beatles (1979), Elvis and the Colonel: The Untold Story (1993), Copacabana (1985) and The Savage Seven (1968).
'Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve'
In 1972, Clark produced and hosted Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, the long-running special that has been broadcast on December 31 of each year. The program consists of live segments which feature Clark, his co-hosts, and different entertainment acts in and around New York City's Times Square. The performances continue until the clock counts down to midnight, at which time New York's traditional New Year's Eve ball drops, signaling the new year.
The program is aired live in the Eastern Time Zone, and then tape-delayed for the other time zones so that viewers can bring in the New Year with Clark when midnight strikes in their area. For more than three decades, the show has become an annual cultural tradition in the United States for the New Year's Eve and New Year's Day holiday. In 2004, Clark was unable to appear in program due to a stroke, which left him partially paralyzed and caused difficulty of speech. That year, talk-show presenter Regis Philbin substituted as host. The following year, Clark returned to the show, with radio and TV personality Ryan Seacrest serving as the primary host.
Clark made his last appearance on the annual event on its New Year's Eve 2012 program, which was celebrating its 40th anniversary that night. Around this time, he spoke with the Los Angeles Times about the show. Clark noted that two of the most memorable moments for him were the millennium broadcast and Jennifer Lopez's performance in 2009. "The most amazing thing to me about doing the show for 40 years is how quickly it all went," he said.
Personal Life and Later Years
Clark was married three times. He first wed high school sweetheart Barbara Mallery in 1952, and the couple had one son, Richard, before their divorce in 1961. He then married his former secretary, Loretta Martin, in 1962. The couple had two children, Duane and Cindy. They divorced in 1971. Since July 7, 1977, Clark was married to another of his former secretaries, dancer Kari Wigton.
While Clark's behind-the-scenes business acumen had much to do with the fortune he amassed, he was better known for the charming on-air personality and ageless looks that allowed him to remain one of television's most popular hosts and pitchmen, even after American Bandstand went off the air in 1989.
Death and Legacy
After his stroke in 2004, Clark was not as the public eye as much as he once was. Still he remained active behind the scenes and made his annual appearances on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve. Before the 2012 program, he told a reporter that he had physical therapy daily. "I'm making reasonable progress and I feel really good," he said. Sadly, a few months later, Clark suffered a massive heart attack while having a procedure done at Saint John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California. He died there on April 18, 2012. He was 82.
As friends and colleagues learned of his passing, there was an outpouring of grief and affection for the famous television host and producer. His friend and Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve host Seacrest said, in a statement, that Clark had "truly been one of the greatest influences in my life. I idolized him from the start, and I was graced early on in my career with his generous advice and counsel." Singer Janet Jackson said that "Dick Clark changed the face of musical television. He was wonderful to many artists including our family."
For more than five decades, Clark shaped the viewing and listening habits of music fans with American Bandstand, Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve and the American Music Awards. A true pioneer in both music and television, he will be remembered for his lasting impact on popular culture.
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