Dick Clark Because They're Young
Dick Clark (1929 - 2012)
'The world's oldest teenager', the television presenter who took rock'n'roll music into the living rooms of middle America
Dick Clark, who has died aged 82 following a heart attack, used the fledgling mediums of rock'n'roll and television to make himself a US household name and a vast fortune. Never one to shy from the public eye, he continued to make appearances on his New Year's Rockin' Eve countdown celebration even after suffering a stroke in 2004.
He had produced and presented the show from Times Square since 1972, and took an undentable pride in supplying what the mainstream audience wanted to see. His promotion of music that appealed to teenagers went back to the 1950s, with the start of American Bandstand.
Clark came from the north-east suburbs of New York: he was born in Bronxville and grew up in Mount Vernon. His uncle owned the radio station WRUN-AM, which his father managed. The teenage Clark loved radio, also worked there, and after gaining a business degree from Syracuse University returned to the station.
In 1952 he went to WFIL radio and television in Philadelphia. That summer WFIL launched a weekday TV show called Bandstand, with the DJ Bob Horn playing records. Within a month teenagers were invited to dance on the programme.
Clark, then a radio DJ on WFIL, filled in for Horn during his summer vacation. After Horn left the station, Clark took over the show in 1956 and stayed with it until he brought it to an end in 1989. By then he had acquired the nickname of "the world's oldest teenager", but the rise of MTV had made the US's longest-running music-performance show redundant.
Though Clark had no interest in rock'n'roll, he realised that there was money to be made, so found out what was happening in youth culture. The first national broadcast of the renamed American Bandstand came in August 1957, on ABC. Clark presented a clean-cut, non-threatening image and succeeded in taking rock'n'roll music into the living rooms of middle America.
He enforced strong standards on Bandstand: girls who appeared on the show were not allowed to wear slacks or tight sweaters, and the boys had to wear a jacket and tie. Smoking and chewing gum were not allowed. When the programme went national Clark ended its "whites only" policy, and included black youngsters among those dancing. Clark and ABC were surprised when nothing was said about this move towards integration, and Bandstand introduced many black artists to a pop audience.
In February 1958, The Dick Clark Show received a spot in ABC's Saturday night line-up. It featured established as well as new acts and was broadcast live from New York before going to other cities.
The programmes helped launch many careers and had a key role in popularising dance crazes – Ernest Evans was a struggling Philadelphia singer until Clark's wife renamed him Chubby Checker and Clark put him on Bandstand performing what would go on to be the ultimate dance craze, the twist. The Italian-American heartthrobs Fabian and Frankie Avalon got their start with Clark.
Having a new song played on Bandstand virtually guaranteed thousands of sales, and soon the power of the show became a concern within the music business. Many thought that Clark was more concerned with local music companies than public taste across the nation. Philadelphia record-company artists were frequent guests. It was noted that Clark had invested in local record pressing plants, and the records they manufactured were played more often on American Bandstand then those from elsewhere.
In 1959 a US Senate subcommittee began investigating payola within the music business. Clark, along with the pioneering DJ Alan Freed, was of particular interest. Investigators found that Clark had partial copyrights to 150 songs, many of them played on Bandstand. There were also ties to 33 music-related businesses, including publishers, recording companies, and pressing plants.
Clark admitted to accepting a fur stole and expensive jewellery from a record company president. Although he was admonished for this single transgression alone, ABC told Clark to give up his outside businesses or leave the network. Clark sold up and continued presenting Bandstand, helping break everything from new dances to The Supremes and The Temptations to a pop audience.
The Beatles-led British invasion hit Bandstand hard: ABC changed the show to a weekly rather than weekday format, and in 1964 Clark moved his headquarters to Los Angeles. The following year Bandstand became a syndicated show, and for ABC Clark produced Where The Action Is, a Bandstand-type show fronted by Seattle band Paul Revere & the Raiders. His Caravan of Stars toured the US, featuring new hitmakers from Bandstand, and in the 1970s he promoted Oldies concerts, featuring veterans from the show.
Rock culture had outgrown Clark and, while continuing to host Bandstand, by the 1970s essentially a pop programme, he began producing hit TV shows, enjoying great success as host for the 1970s game show that started as $10,000 Pyramid. Dick Clark's TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes, various music awards shows and a range of TV and film productions helped make him one of the richest men in entertainment.
In 1987, Dick Clark Productions was floated as a public company. Six years later, Clark was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 2002 he provided a bemused cameo in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine when confronted about employing low-paid workers in his restaurant chain.
Clark is survived by his wife, Kari, and by two sons and a daughter from his first two marriages, which ended in divorce.
• Richard Wagstaff Clark, entrepreneur and television presenter, born 30 November 1929; died 18 April 2012
Garth Cartwright The Guardian 18 April 2012