By Karen Holt, The Historic Examiner
Born to Richard Augustus Clark and Julia Fuller, Richard (Dick) Wagstaff Clark arrived in Mount Vernon, New York on November 30, 1929.
Dick’s involvement in public media began in 1945 as a mailroom clerk for radio station WRUN, owned by his uncle and managed by his father, in Utica, New York. In time, Dick was promoted to weatherman, and then to newscaster.
In 1951, Dick graduated from Syracuse University in New York with a degree in business administration. He was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity and worked part time as a disc jockey for the campus radio station WOLF-AM, which had a country music format. Here he used the name Dick Clay. He transferred to WFIL in Philadelphia after graduation. (Dick Clark Photo credit: James Colburn/Zuma Press)
When Clark arrived in Philadelphia in 1952, WFIL had a sister television station, also WFIL (now WPVI). One of the afternoon shows broadcast on the station was Bob Horn’s Bandstand featuring teenagers dancing to the popular music of the day. Clark substituted for Horn on a regular basis. On July 9, 1956, Horn left the show and Clark became the full-time host. Through Clark’s efforts, the show was picked up by ABC on August 5, 1957. The show’s name was changed to American Bandstand and almost overnight, Clark became a pop music icon. The first broadcast of American Bandstand included Clark’s interview of Elvis Presley.
Teenagers who appeared on Bandstand were required to adhere to Clark’s dress code. The girls wore dresses or sweaters/blouses & skirts and the boys were in slacks, coats and ties. When the show began, all of the teenagers were white, but in time, black and Hispanic young people joined them. The original version of American Bandstand was one of ABC’s longest running daytime shows from 1957 to 1987. Stars from Buddy Holly to Madonna debuted on Clark’s show. When the show ended, Clark donated the original podium and backdrop used in the broadcasts to the Smithsonian Institution, solidifying American Bandstand’s status as an American cultural institution.
During the 1950’s, Clark also became involved in the recording business and publishing of music. In time, he had vested interests in song publishing houses, record companies and various artist management groups.
In 1952, Clark married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Mallery. They have one son, Richard. Dick and Barbara divorced in 1961 and in 1962 he married Loretta Martin, a former secretary. Barbara bore Dick two children, Duane and Cindy. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1971. In 1977, Dick married for the third and final time, this time to another former secretary, Kari Wigton.
In 1959, the ‘payola’ scandal broke in the record industry, involving payment in return for air time. Before a congressional committee looking into the scandal, Clark told those in attendance he was unaware of any of the artists he had an interest in being on the receiving end of a disproportionate amount of play time on any of his programs. Per ABC’s request, Clark sold his shares back to the corporation to avoid any future conflict of interest. The investigation left Clark and American Bandstand virtually unscathed. The show continued on a daily basis Monday through Friday until 1963. It then moved to Saturday and continued to be broadcast from Hollywood until 1989.
When Bandstand moved to Hollywood, it opened up a number of new opportunities in the entertainment industry for Clark. His company, Dick Clark Productions, now began to present a number of variety and game shows, including: The $25,000 Pyramid and TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes. Clark also created the American Music Awards for younger audiences, which became a rival of sorts to the Grammys. The production company also made a number of made-for-TV movies, including: Elvis, Elvis & the Colonel, The Birth of the Beatles and Wild in the Streets.
Clark’s New Year’s Eve programs began in 1972 when he hosted Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. This became a long-running special broadcast each year on December 31st. The show would feature Dick and his co-hosts, along with various entertainment groups/acts around Times Square in New York City. The entertainment continued as the clock ticked off the time to midnight, when the traditional New Year’s Eve ball drop occurred. The show was broadcast live in the Eastern Time zone, with delayed broadcasts in the other three time zones as their clocks struck midnight.
Clark’s business expertise played a large role in helping to amass a sizeable fortune. During the 1980s, there was a time he had shows being broadcast by all three major networks. He was also listed among the wealthiest Americans on Forbes 400. Clark once mentioned, “There’s hardly any segment of the population that doesn’t see what I do. It can be embarrassing. People come up to me and say, ‘I love your show’and I have no idea which one they’re talking about.”
In his later years, Clark experienced numerous challenges to his health. In April 2004, he announced on Larry King Live he had been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Later that year on December 8th, Clark, then 75, was hospitalized after suffering a minor stroke, canceling his appearance on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve that year.
Clark returned the following year to host the event on December 31, 2005. His camera exposure on this broadcast was limited in comparison to previous years, but though he showed signs of having difficulty speaking, he was able to perform his famous countdown to midnight. Dick shared with his audience the reality of his health situation: “Last year I had a stroke. It left me in bad shape. I had to teach myself how to walk and talk again. It’s been a long, hard fight. My speech is not perfect, but I’m getting there.”
In 2006, Clark was honored at the Emmy Awards. As he spoke to the audience, he said, “I have accomplished my childhood dream, to be in show business. Everybody should be so lucky to have their dreams come true. I’ve been truly blessed.”
On Wednesday, April 18, 2012, Dick Clark suffered a heart attack and died at Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California. He had been admitted the day before for an outpatient procedure. Though he will be remembered by various generations for a number of things, probably one all of them will agree on – Dick Clark is best remembered for is his ageless looks and charming on-air personality . . . and if there truly is a rock-n-roll heaven, Dick Clark will be interviewing the stars and spinning their hits.
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“For now, Dick Clark . . . so long.” Dick Clark