by Susie Hodgson

The City of Burbank recently announced that it was going to build a dog park in the southern part of Johnny Carson Park. Thanks to a generous donation from Dick Clark’s widow, Kari Clark, this dog park will be named for Dick Clark, who was both a huge dog lover (no, the dogs didn’t have to be huge!) plus he did business at his company, Dick Clark Productions, for several years on Olive in Burbank.

We all remember Dick Clark, don’t we? He was dubbed “America’s oldest teenager” as he always looked young. “The Dorian Gray of Television.” But how’d he get his start?

Dick Clark was raised in Mt. Vernon, NY. When he was young, he considered himself an introvert – shy, modest. But at the age of 14, something shocked his world: his beloved older brother, Bradley, was killed in WWII’s famous Battle of the Bulge. Dick idolized his older brother and sunk into a grief-filled depression, spending hours just listening to the radio in his room. But in 1945, Dick got a job! Probably knowing his son needed a distraction, Dick’s dad hired him and Dad just happened to manage the local radio station – a station Dick’s uncle owned, by the way. There ain’t nuthin’ like nepotism!

With great deliberation, Dick purposely re-made himself into an extrovert and did very well in high school and later, in college at Syracuse. After he graduated he was able to secure a job at a Philadelphia area radio station. The station had a sister television station, which just happened to have a popular teenage dance show called Bandstand. Can you guess where this is going?

That original Bandstand show was hosted by a local personality named Bob Horn. Depending on who you listen to, Horn was either a swell guy who was great with teens - or a nasty, hard-drinking pig. But the facts are, in 1956 Horn was arrested for a DUI. Then he got another DUI which resulted in an innocent 5-year-old becoming paralyzed. Then someone squealed that Horn was also fooling around with underage girls. Good-bye, Bob Horn. Hello Dick Clark! Horn was fired and Clark got the TV show. (Mmm – ever see All About Eve?)

Originally a Philadelphia show, Bandstand was picked up nationally by ABC and re-named American Bandstand in 1957. A savvy businessman, Clark created Dick Clark Productions when he was young, saying that on-camera work will go away as one gets older (which did not turn out to be true for him) but he could always make money in producing (and he did!)

A big part of American Bandstand’s claim to fame is that it made rock n roll music palatable to kids’ parents. Dick Clark was the squeaky clean host. Clark was vigilant in maintaining that perfect image; he would never become a Bob Horn! The kids who danced on the show were smiling and well-dressed and the music seemed almost sweet. Dick Clark took credit for desegregating the program – having black kids dance and sit wherever they wanted to in the teenage audience and having black performers sing on the same stage as white performers. But many people dispute Clark’s claim, stating that Clark did not want black kids there and that’s why they enforced the “boys-in-a-suit” rule. (The white boys in Catholic school wore suits anyway.) There has been a lot of controversy as to where Dick Clark stood when it came to races back then and we still aren’t sure.

In 1960, the government launched an investigation into payola and kickbacks in the music world and Dick Clark spent two days on Capitol Hills testifying. He was cleared as, once again, he was seen as an innocent, baby-faced kid. In the early 60s, he also got a divorce, re-married and moved to the west coast where surfing music was surfacing. He also started hosting TV game shows. And he created a Hullabaloo-like show called Where the Action Is (remember that?) featuring Paul Revere & the Raiders as its house band. In 1973, he started hosting The $10,000 Pyramid, a great success, winning 9 Emmys. He also started New Year’s Rockin’ Eve to serve as competition against Guy Lombardo’s dated big band New Year’s Eve show.

In the 1980’s, Clark created a radio show called Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll & Remember to compete against Casey Kasem. Clark’s show included the tagline “The soundtrack of your life.” Clark also tried, but failed miserably, at competing with Soul Train, but he came up against forces such as Don Cornelius and Jesse Jackson who were offended by Clark’s “white” interpretation of soul music. Clark also made TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes with Ed McMahon, and he hosted a live spectacular show called Live-Aid to end world hunger. As if all this weren’t enough, he had a chain of restaurants, to compete with Hard Rock Café, called Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill.

Clark managed to keep most of his private life, private. We do know he was married three times and had four kids. The two boys worked in show biz.

Dick Clark was a millionaire many times over. Growing up, he studied Arthur Godfrey’s technique. He adored his third wife, Kari, whom he did not divorce. They say he hated baseball and loved dogs. At least three dogs strolled leisurely all over the Dick Clark production offices. Clark had a sweet tooth the size of a “sweet fang,” according to Clark himself, and he developed diabetes. The very first New Year’s Rockin Eve was hosted by Three Dog Night. American Bandstand ran longer than any other music show, from 1956 to 1989. The unforgettable American Bandstand theme song was an old big band song, which was re-worked over the years to modernize it. The 1977 to 1986 version of the theme song – with lyrics – was sung by Barry Manilow, who also co-wrote those lyrics. Does this ring a bell? “We’re goin’ hoppin', we’re goin’ hoppin’ today/ Where things are poppin’, the Philadelphia way/ We’re goin’ to drop in on the music they play/ On the bandstand, bandstand…”

In 2004, the seemingly immortal Clark suffered a stroke. While they claimed at the time that it was “mild,” the stroke altered his speech - his golden voice - forever. He took the 2004/05 New Year’s Eve off, and Ryan Seacrest slid easily in his place. He appeared the following year, ruined voice and all, to controversy. Some people found his post-stroke appearance to be pathetic and heart-breaking. Others – especially stroke survivors – applauded his courage and called him a role model to others.

Sadly, Clark died in 2012 of a heart attack.

We’re glad Clark loved dogs and loved Burbank so much. We’re looking forward to his dog park. In fact, we hear that the park is going to have a good beat and it’s easy to dance to – so we give it a 90!

Want to learn more about Burbank? Come visit us!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
Web site: www.burbankhistoricalsoc.org
Email: ghowardmuseum@sbcglobal.net

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