Original Document
Original Document
Dick Clark on the early history of American Bandstand, 1998

William Kashatus (WK): Before hosting American Bandstand, you worked as a radio disc jockey in Utica, New York, and in Philadelphia at WFIL-AM. What inspired your passion for music?

Dick Clark (DK): I grew up loving music. As a child, I always used to listen to the radio. Radio, in those days, was much like television, full of dramas and comedies. When I got a little bit older, I listened to the all-music stations. In high school I dated a girl who taught me to love jazz. Later on it grew into rhythm and blues. When I moved to Utica, New York, I learned about hillbilly music - it wasn't even called country and western in those days - and when I came to Philadelphia I was highly influenced by the radio disc jockeys there. So my background was rather eclectic.

WK: Will you briefly trace your early career in the music industry?

DK: I was born [on November 30,1929] in Bronxville, New York, and raised in Mount Vernon. After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in business administration, I moved to Utica to work in radio and TV. From there, I became a radio disc jockey at WFIL-AM in Philadelphia and, a few years later, became the host of Bandstand. I guess I'm an unusual character for the radio and television business. I've only had four jobs during my lifetime. Most people you meet in the entertainment industry have had a dozen or more....

WK: Philadelphia holds a special place in the history of rock 'n' roll because American Bandstand launched the careers of many talented artists. Did these artists, collectively, represent music that could be called a "Philadelphia Style?"

DK: Philadelphia has always been a cultural hot spot, where the music has, at various times, been classical, jazz, rhythm and blues, or rock 'n' roll. That moment of time you refer to is another time when Philadelphia had a claim to fame because all of those kids were growing up in the same neighborhood. We also had a television show that happened to be seen nationwide. Even after American Bandstand left Philadelphia, the city was still considered by many to be one of the birthplaces of American music. It's one of the reasons why I've always claimed Philadelphia as my adopted home.

WK: When Bandstand debuted in 1952, it was an exclusively white program. A year after you became host, in 1957, you integrated the show with black dancers. Were [sic] there any reverberations?

DK: Philadelphia, in those days, was the northernmost "southern" city in the country. Blacks and whites didn't socialize. That's just the way it was. Then, in 1957, at the time we went national, producer Tony Mammarella and I concluded, "The times they are a-changing," and so we invited a few black kids on the show. It still wasn't acceptable for them to dance with white kids, so the blacks just danced with each other. We were waiting for the explosion, but it never happened. The wonderful part about our decision to integrate then was that there were no repercussions, no reverberations, no battles at all - it just happened right there on a television screen in front of millions of people. That was a giant step forward.

WK: In what other ways did the program help Philadelphia, as well as the nation, in the process of integration?

DK: We also introduced a lot of black musical talent to white America and I'd imagine that since the show was so highly visible and seen by so many millions of people, the idea of integration simply crept into society. There was no overt statement, no headline grabbing, no trumpets blaring - it just happened. And that was probably the best way for it to occur. I certainly didn't think of myself as a hero or a civil rights activist for integrating the show; it was just the right thing to do....

WK: Why did Justine Carelli and Bob Clayton, the quintessential American Bandstand dance couple of the fifties, appeal to teenage America?

DK: Justine and Bob seemed like all-American kids. They just had magic. Nobody ever knew whether or not they were in love or whether they were a couple. But they danced well together and I guess everybody fantasized, "Wow! What a great couple."

WK: How would you describe your relationship with the show's regulars?

DK: I'd call it a good relationship. The regulars were such an important part of my life, and we were together so much, for two or three hours a day. I realized that some of them got picked on a bit, by jealous classmates, and that some of them had a hard time adjusting after they left the show. It was a rude awakening for many of the regulars to discover that they had to make their own way. Unfortunately, I couldn't help in the transition at that point in my life because I was more of a big brother than a mature father figure, a reputation I later assumed. But life is full of changes, some of which are happy, some of them sad. I'm sorry that the show might have affected anybody adversely, but that's life and we all get knocks along the way. We just have to pick ourselves up and keep going.

WK: In what ways did the show change when it went national in 1957?

DK: The producers at ABC sent people down to relight the show and to build us a new set. We also had a little more rigid format; the show was more formally planned. In the old days, we just had a list of records and commercials and shuffled the two. There were no substantial changes, other than changing the name from Bandstand to American Bandstand....

WK: Was there any connection between the change to a weekly program and the show's relocation to California the following year?

DK: Yes, there was. I personally had to find a way to keep my energy level high and to do other things. There wasn't a great deal of television opportunity in Philadelphia - it was either in New York or Los Angeles. Like so many other people in the music industry, I discovered that California was where the action was, so I went there.

WK: What does the future hold for Dick Clark? Will there be a revival of American Bandstand?

DK: I'm already very busy these days. The Bandstand Grills are an extension of the show, so the icon lives on. We do eight to ten "Good Old Rock and Roll" stage shows annually. Dick Clark Productions is involved at the moment in twenty-five TV and film productions. As for a revival of American Bandstand, my fantasy is to come up with a thirty-minute version with some unusual gimmicks, to fit the short attention span of the nineties. Aside from that, I hope I stay in good health and keep on doing what I'm doing.

Credit: William C. Kashatus III, "Sparking A Rock'N'Roll Revolution; An Interview With Dick Clark," Pennsylvania Heritage 24:3 (Summer, 1998).
Back to Top