Rock music promoter
Dick Clark has spent over thirty years as the host of the longest-running musical variety show in U.S. history, “American Bandstand.” Clark has given many of rock and roll’s brightest stars their first national television exposure and is credited with being one of the most important early promoters of rock music. Rock pioneers who made their television debuts on Clark’s show include Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, and Clark’s influence has extended into the latter days of rock and pop, giving him the privilege of hosting the first television appearances of more modern superstars, such as Prince and Madonna. Clark has also branched out from strictly musical ventures into more general areas of television and film production and has gained a respected reputation with the heads of major networks for delivering successful projects on time and within budget limitations. As Nikki Finke Greenberg summed up in Newsweek, “In every aspect of the business, Clark shows himself to be a committed, hardworking professional.”
Born Richard Wagstaff Clark on November 30, 1929, in Bronxville, New York, his childhood ambition was to work in radio. This ambition intensified when his older brother, Bradley, was killed in World War II, leaving Clark to fight grief and loneliness by listening to radio programs like “Make Believe Ballroom” and “Battle of the Baritones.” His parents encouraged his interest and at the same time helped bring him out of depression by taking him to live radio shows and advising him to join the school dramatic clubs. Clark became popular in high school, serving as class president and being voted “Man Most Likely to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge.”
When Clark was in his late teens, his father took a job managing a relative’s radio station in Utica, New York. The young man worked at the station, WRUN, taking care of the mimeographing and the mailroom. When a weather announcer went on vacation, Clark was allowed to substitute; eventually he was promoted to broadcasting station breaks and reading the news on the AM affiliate. In 1946, Clark matriculated at Syracuse University. Though his major was advertising, he took a minor in radio, and served as a disc jockey on the university’s student radio station, WAER-FM. Just before his graduation he did weekend work as a news announcer and disc jockey for a country-music segment on a commercial Syracuse station.
Soon after Clark graduated in 1951, he returned to Utica and took a job at a small television station. WKTV was such a tiny setup that Clark found himself involved in almost every facet of its operation, including writing commercials and changing scenery backdrops. More importantly, he was the host of a country-music program called “Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders.”
Full name Richard Wagstaff Clark; born November 30, 1929, in Bronxville, New York; son of Richard (a salesman and radio-station manager) and Julia Clark; married Bobbie Mallery, 1952 (divorced, 1961); married Loretta Martin (a secretary), 1962 (divorced, 1971); married Kari Wigton (a secretary), 1977; children: (first marriage) Richard, Jr.; (second marriage) Duane, Cindy. Education: Graduated from Syracuse University in 1951.
Worked in the mailroom of radio station WRUN, Utica, N. Y., c. 1945; disc jockey at WAER, and news announcer and disc jockey at WOLF, both in Syracuse, N.Y., 1946-51; worked as a news announcer, music-show host, and at various other jobs at television station WKTV, Utica, N.Y., 1951; music-show host, WFIL Radio, Philadelphia, 1952-56; host of “Bandstand” on WFIL-TV, Philadelphia, 1956; host of nationwide “American Bandstand” on ABC, 1957-c. 1988; host of various game shows, including “The $25, 000 Pyramid.” Founder of various music and television business ventures, including Dick Clark Productions, SRO Artists, Sea Lark, January Music, Swan Records, and Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars. Has produced and appeared in films and authored books, including an autobiography.
Awards: Four Emmy Awards—one for “American Bandstand,” c 1982, two for hosting “The $25,000 Pyramid,” c. 1978 and c. 1985, and one for coproducing The Woman Who Willed a Miracle .
Addresses: Residence —Malibu, Calif.; and New York, N.Y.; Office— Dick Clark Productions, 3003 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, CA 91505.
But in 1952, Clark saw a better career opportunity and moved to Philadelphia to work at radio station WFIL. He knew the station had a television affiliate, and exposure in Philadelphia was a step up from exposure in Utica. He was soon given his own daily radio show, “Dick Clark’s Caravan of Music.” The young disc jockey continued successfully at the station for a few years. Meanwhile, WFIL’s television affiliate had spawned a popular afternoon music program called “Bandstand.” When one of its hosts, Bob Horn, went on vacation in 1955, Clark took his place. And when Horn was jailed for drunk driving the following year, Clark became the show’s permanent host.
Within a year, Clark’s presence had helped transform “Bandstand” into Philadelphia’s best-known daily television show, and the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) chose to pick it up for nationwide viewing. The name was changed to “American Bandstand,” but the program kept its format of dancing teenagers, record playing, and star appearances and interviews. “American Bandstand” was so successful nationally that not only did Clark receive fan mail, but so did many of the show’s regular dancers. Singers and musicians of the caliber of Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Mathis, and Neil Sedaka came to lip-sync their latest hits before the program’s cameras. The dancers started national dance crazes such as the twist, the Watusi, and the stroll. Clark also did a weekly nighttime program which traveled to cities throughout the United States; one of these editions of “The Dick Clark Saturday Night Show,” done in Atlanta, was also one of the first racially integrated rock concerts in the South and was picketed by the Ku Klux Klan.
“American Bandstand” would provide Clark with a steady income for over thirty years, but he did not stop there. He invested heavily in the music industry, forming the music-publishing firms Sea Lark and January Music and starting Swan Records. He had to divest himself of these businesses, however, at the request of ABC, when he came under investigation by a U.S. Congress subcommittee during the payola scandal of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Payola referred to the taking of money for playing new records, and though Clark did not do this, his holdings in the music business were perceived as a conflict of interest.
Though the program was still going strong in the 1960s, Clark himself lost interest in music during the psychedelic era. He began to branch out into other areas of television, including game shows like “Missing Links” and “The Object Is.” He also appeared in movies and produced such films as Psych-Out, The Savage Seven, and Killers Three. As Clark tried to become a larger force in the television industry, however, the youthful good looks that enabled him to be a convincing host for his teen-oriented show worked against him. As Greenberg reports, “for many years he couldn’t get anyone to take him seriously.” Clark told her that he “would leave a meeting, bang his fist against a wall and say, ’They don’t know how smart I am.’”
Eventually, in the late 1970s, he began to close large deals with the major television networks. Meanwhile, Clark became the host of “The $25, 000 Pyramid,” a game show. At one time, according to Christopher P. Andersen in People, “only he simultaneously [hosted] hit shows on all three networks and in syndication.” His production company has also been responsible for ratings-grabbing specials, and television films like Elvis, Murder in Texas, Copacabana, which featured pop star Barry Manilow, and The Woman Who Willed a Miracle, which earned Clark an Emmy Award as coproducer. Though he is now seen as a major figure in television, who can be counted on to produce shows that get good Nielsen ratings, Clark has garnered some criticism for the lack of quality in his productions. He claims he provides what the television audience wants, and gave this rebuttal to Greenberg: “If I were given the assignment of doing a classical-music hour for PBS, it would be exquisite and beautifully done.” Clark’s other productions include the 1985 box-office film Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, and the annual special “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” He also cofounded United Stations, the second largest radio network in the United States.
On the subject of his youthful appearance, which has lasted for decades, “America’s oldest living teenager” told Andersen, “It’s … like being a female sex symbol. They’re constantly told how wonderful they look, but it gets to be a drag after a while, because someday the looks have gotta go. It would be nice to be allowed to age gracefully.” Apparently, Clark has begun to do just that, relinquishing his role as host of “American Bandstand” to a younger man in 1988.
Clark, Dick, Rock, Roll, and Remember, Crowell, 1976.
Newsweek, August 18, 1986.
People, January 27, 1986.
Rock music promoter, producer
Dick Clark doesn’t play a musical instrument, has written a few bad songs, and made one record that sunk without a trace, but he has been a prevailing force in the music and television industry for more than 40 years. Branded America’s oldest teenager, this industrious television host and radio announcer turned high-powered executive achieved fame and fortune with his youthful looks and productions aimed at adolescents. Clark has been credited with introducing some of rock and roll’s brightest stars and he is considered one of rock’s most influential promoters. In addition to 33 years of hosting American Bandstand, one of America’s longest-running television entertainment shows, Clark has hosted and produced thousands of hours of television and radio programming ranging from game shows to awards shows to television films. He has also built an entertainment empire that includes, Dick Clark Productions, a leading independent producer of television programming, and Unistar Communications Group, which distributes his radio shows.
Richard Wagstaff Clark was born on November 30, 1929 in Mount Vernon, New York, to Richard Augustus and Julia Clark. Growing up in Bronxville, New York, Clark spent his childhood listening to the radio and was likely influenced a great deal by his father’s work as a radio station manager at WRUN in nearby Utica. Clark recalls a deep admiration for radio voices and characters such as Arthur Godfrey, Steve Allen, and Dave Garro way. When his brother, Bradley, was killed in World War II, Clark used such radio programs as Make Believe Ballroom and Battle of the Baritones as an antidote for his depression. He soon joined the school dramatics club and served as his high school class president.
The summer before Clark entered Syracuse University as an advertising major and radio minor, his father hired him to work in the mailroom at WRUN. He was only 17 when, in between e as a disc jockey at WAER-FM, Syracuse University’s student-run radio station.
Clark is proud of his success in radio. He has only had four jobs in an industry renowned for high turnover. Shortly before graduating from college, he gained experience working as a country-western and popular music announcer at WOLF in Syracuse. When he graduated in 1951, Clark returned to Utica where he got a job as a television news anchorman at WKTV. Clark saw more opportunity at a larger station, so he moved to Philadelphia in 1952 and became an announcer for WFIL radio, where he began to host the local radio show Bandstand.
For the Record…
Born Richard Wagstaff Clark, November 30, 1929, (in Mount Vernon, NY); son of Richard Agustus (a salesman and radio-station manager) and Julia Clark; married Barbara Mallery, 1952 (divorced, 1961); married Loretta Martin (a secretary), 1962 (divorced, 1971); married Kari Wigton, 1977; children: (first marriage) Richard Agustus, II; (second marriage) Duane, Cindy. Education: Graduated from Syracuse University in 1951, majored in advertising.
Worked in the mailroom of radio station WRUN, Utica, NY, 1945; disc jockey at WAER, and news announcer and disc jockey at WOLF, both in Syracuse, NY, 1946-51; worked as news announcer, music-show host, and various other positions at WKTV, Utica, NY, 1951; music-show host, WFIL Radio, Philadelphia, 1952-56; host of Bandstand on WFIL-TV, Philadelphia, 1956; host of ABC’s American Bandstand, 1956-1989; host of various game shows and television programs, including $25,000 Pyramid and TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes; formed Dick Clark Productions, 1956; co-founder and principal owner, United States Radio Network; founder of SRO Artists, Sea Lark, January Music, Swan Records, and Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars; producer of television series, television specials, various annual award programs, television movies, and syndicated radio programs.
Awards: Daytime Emmy Awards for $25,000 Pyramid, 1978, 1984, 1985; Emmy for Best Children’s Entertainment Special for co-producing The Woman Who Willed a Miracle, 1982; Emmy for Special Achievement of Outstanding Program Achievement for executive producing American Bandstand, 1982; inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame, 1993.
Addresses: Home— Malibu, CA; Office— Dick Clark Productions, 3003 W. Olive Ave., Burbank, CA 91505.
WFIL TV had an afternoon dance show similar to the rock and roll dance shows on local stations across America. It was called American Bandstand. In 1956, when the show’s host was arrested for driving under the influence—an image not well associated with a whole-some show for impressionable teens—the station approached the then twenty-something Clark as a replacement.
Clark had hosted the show for nearly a year before he convinced the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) television network to put American Bandstand on television screens around the country. ABC purchased the show, and it premiered nationally on August 5, 1957 when Clark introduced Billy Williams, who sang “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.” The 90-minute show featuring dancing teenagers and musical guests was televised live on weekday afternoons and, briefly that year, on prime time. Dance crazes such as the twist, the watusi, and the stroll were started on the show. American Bandstand appeared as a weekly one-hour taped show that ran on Saturday mornings from 1963-87.
Clark grew older in those 33 years, but his youthful appearance and cult status made him an accessible figure to the two generations that grew up with the show. The longest-running musical show in television history, American Bandstand featured nearly every pop musician imaginable with the exception of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley. In 1987, when ABC asked him to cut the show back to half an hour, Clark pulled out of the network and put the show into syndication. By 1989, Clark had replaced himself with a new host, 26-year-old David Hirsch, and went behind the scenes to work as executive producer. However, American Bandstand had finally exhausted itself as a weekly syndicated production and soon disappeared from television.
American Bandstand may have faded from American television sets, but its legacy left Dick Clark an American icon, as well as a very rich man. Clark resourcefully used the show as the bedrock of his entertainment empire. He became a very wealthy man as a result of his shrewd involvement in other business ventures. As a producer and founder of Dick Clark Productions, he provided 170 television programming hours a week by 1985. His company produced made-for-TV movies, game shows, award shows, beauty pageants, and “reality” programs. Clark created The American Music Awards in 1974 and has produced the show ever since. His company has also produced such notables as The Academy of Country Music A wards, The Soap A wards, The Daytime Emmy A wards, The Golden Globe A wards, and, in 1996, “The 48th Annual Emmy Awards.” His made-for-TV-movie credits include The Man in the Santa Clause Suir” (1978,; The Birth of the Beatles (1979), Elvis (1979), and The Woman Who Willed a Miracle (1984), which won Clark an Emmy as co-producer. He also tried his hand, somewhat unsuccessfully, at full-length, full-screen motion pictures with a 1985 release of the $4 million, four-year production of Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.
Besides American Bandstand, Clark is probably best known as the man who counts down the seconds to the New Year every New Year’s Eve in New York’s Times Square. Dick Clark Productions has provided ABC with the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve television spectacular every year since 1972. Clark, however, hasn’t always found success in television production. Some of his game show ideas have proven less than extraordinary. These include The Object Is (ABC, 1963), Missing Links (ABC, 1964), The Krypton Factor (ABC, 1981), and Scattergories (NBC, 1989).
Clark went through a difficult time professionally when he was brought before the House Committee on Legislative Oversight in 1960. The Committee was investigating “payola” in the record and radio industry. (This was the practice of those in the business accepting bribes and favors to promote records.) Clark was eventually cleared of all suspicions, but he was forced to divest himself of some of his business ventures since his holdings in the music business were considered a conflict of interest.
Clark spent a lot of time and money behind the scenes, but his youthful persona didn’t disappear from television screens altogether. While he was hosting Bandstand, Clark continued to emcee a number of awards telecasts and host television game shows and half-hour variety shows, including $25,000 Pyramid, for which he won three Emmy Awards in 1978, 1984 and 1985; and TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes. At the time, he was the only person to have shows on all three American television networks with NBC’s Bloopers, ABC’s Bandstand, and CBS’s $25,000 Pyramid. Clark has also appeared onscreen playing himself in film and television cameos, as well as original performances in two episodes of the 1964 series Burke’s Law and, around the same time, an episode of Perry Mason. He made his silver screen debut in 1960’s Because They’re Young in which he played a teacher. In 1961 he played a doctor in The Young Doctors, a popular soap opera.
Though Clark moved into television broadcasting with Bandstand, he didn’t abandon music and radio. He hosted Countdown America, a Top 40 radio show, as well as Dick Clark’s Rock, Roll & Remembers. Both were syndicated as weekly shows to more than 1,800 radio stations around the U.S. by Unistar Communications. In 1993, Unistar’s merger with Infinity Broadcasting gave the company upward of 3,000 affiliates. His company has also entered the home video and compact disc market with the release of Dick Clark’s Best of Bandstand videocassettes and Dick Clark’s All-Time Hits line of CDs. Clark seems to possess an unending supply of energy, not to mention an unrelenting motivation for the success of his enterprise. His influence on the American entertainment industry will doubtlessly continue into the 21st Century as will his status as an icon of American pop culture history.
Business Wire, February 12, 1999.
Chicago Tribune, May 25, 1989.
PR Newswire, January 20, 1999.
Record, September 29, 1985.
Rocky Mountain News, January 6, 1998.
Washington Times, January 12, 1999.
—Kelly M. Cross
CLARK, Dick. (Richard Wagstaff Clark). American, b. 1929. Genres: History, Music. Career: Announcer at radio and television stations in Syracuse, NY, and Utica, NY, 1950-51; Philadelphia, PA, radio announcer, 1952-56; host of television program Bandstand (later American Bandstand), 1956-89; dick clark productions, Burbank, Calif., chairman and chief executive officer, 1956-; co-founder and principal owner of United Stations Radio Network; host of television programs; producer of: television series, specials, annual award programs, movies, syndicated radio programs; actor in and producer of feature films. Publications: Your Happiest Years, 1959; To Goof or Not to Goof, 1963; (with Richard Robinson) Rock, Roll, and Remember (autobiography), 1976; Dick Clark's Program for Success in Your Business and Personal Life, 1980; (with Bill Libby) Looking Great, Staying Young, 1980; (with Michael Shore) The History of American Bandstand, 1985; Dick Clark's Easygoing Guide to Good Grooming, 1986; Dick Clark's American Bandstand, 1997. Address: dick clark productions, 3003 West Olive Ave., Burbank, CA 91505, U.S.A.