Northeast Times

Happy Days

— It has been more than five dec­ades, but folks like Bunny Gib­son and Charlie Gracie still re­call the glow of 'Band­stand' and its le­gendary host Dick Clark, who died last week at 82.

Band­stand dan­cer Bunny Gib­son points to the im­age of her­self in the new mur­al at the old WFIL stu­dio. The mur­al un­veil­ing marked the 50th an­niversary of Amer­ic­an Band­stand.

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The first time Bunny Gib­son saw Dick Clark in per­son, he “looked a little or­ange.”

The odd col­or was cast by the makeup Clark had to wear for his TV dance show Band­stand, said Gib­son, who went to North­east High School and was one of the teen­age dan­cers who reg­u­larly ap­peared on the broad­casts from WFIL’s West Philly stu­di­os some five dec­ades ago.

She was just 13 at the time, she said in a phone in­ter­view last week, and nev­er be­fore had seen a man wear­ing makeup.

“Oh, but he was a hand­some man,” she said of Clark, “with a great, great an­noun­cer’s voice.”

The host, pro­du­cer, broad­caster and rock ’n’ roll icon was 82 when he passed away April 18. He had re­tained his boy­ish good looks for so long that he had been dubbed the world’s per­petu­al teen­ager.

“He really was the world’s old­est teen­ager,” Gib­son said from her home in Mar­ina Del Rey, Cal­if. “In my mind, he was go­ing to live forever.”

Clark’s pres­ence on TV was a con­stant from 1956, when he took over Band­stand. He took the show na­tion­al as Amer­ic­an Band­stand and went on to be­come a TV pro­du­cer and was the an­nu­al host of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve un­til he missed a year be­cause of a stroke in 2004.

ldquo;He lived to do the New Year’s Eve show,” Gib­son said on Fri­day. “Even at the end, he went to work every day. He had an of­fice built next to his house on Malibu Beach… . He was do­ing re­hab and swim­ming so he could be there New Year’s Eve.”

Gib­son re­called Clark as a man with a roar­ing laugh who felt at home as a broad­caster. “He was more com­fort­able in front of the cam­era than off,” Gib­son said.

It all star­ted in the 1950s in the West Phil­adelphia stu­di­os of WFIL, Chan­nel 6.

Clark had been a dee­jay at WFIL, long­time Philly mu­si­cian Charlie Gracie said on Fri­day. When Band­stand’s ori­gin­al host, Bob Horn, was fired in 1956, Clark was moved in­to the job and soon took the show na­tion­al. It was then the big time for Clark, he said.

A long big-time. The pro­gram stayed on the air for dec­ades, end­ing its run in 1989. Its im­pact on pop cul­ture is, per­haps, bey­ond meas­ure. But the show’s ef­fect on re­cord sales could be cal­cu­lated. An ap­pear­ance on Band­stand could boost a re­cord’s sales by 50,000, Gracie said in a phone in­ter­view from his Drexel Hill home. There is no doubt that Clark made stars of many per­formers, he ad­ded.

ldquo;It was a big show,” said Gracie, whose “But­ter­fly” was No. 1 in 1957. For per­formers, he said, “the ex­pos­ure was tre­mend­ous.”

Jerry Gross also came to ap­pre­ci­ate the clout of the Band­stand host.

ldquo;Dick Clark was a le­gend who helped a lot of acts, in­clud­ing us, gain star­dom and have many, many hit re­cords,” said Gross, lead sing­er of Band­stand  reg­u­lars The Dov­ells, who found fame with hits like The Bris­tol Stomp and You Can’t Sit Down.

ldquo;Dick Clark was one of our in­spir­a­tions for cre­at­ing the ‘Sound of Phil­adelphia’,” Phil­adelphia re­cord pro­du­cers Ken­neth Gamble and Le­on Huff said in a joint state­ment last week. They lauded Clark as one of the pi­on­eers in “pro­mot­ing the Philly dance and mu­sic scene for the na­tion and world to en­joy.”

For Clark, tak­ing over Band­stand was the start of a pros­per­ous show-busi­ness ca­reer that las­ted long after the show aired its last pro­gram, Gib­son said.

ldquo;He had ac­know­ledged that Band­stand was the root of all the things he did in later years,” she said.  But he nev­er for­got any of the four gen­er­a­tions of teens who danced on his show, she said.

ldquo;And he would re­mem­ber all our names,” Gib­son ad­ded.  

When she moved to Cali­for­nia to pur­sue an act­ing ca­reer, she vis­ited Clark in his Burb­ank of­fice.

ldquo;He said, ‘I knew I’d see you again,’” she re­called last week.

Gib­son lately has been cam­paign­ing to get a star on the Hol­ly­wood Walk of Fame for Band­stand’s dan­cers, an idea Clark sup­por­ted, she said.

“He gave me a let­ter of sup­port. He wanted the kids to get that star,” she said.

Teens like Gib­son were live on the show, but the mu­si­cians who provided the beats they danced to wer­en’t really singing, Gracie said.

ldquo;We lip-synched our re­cords,” he said. Sing­ers just mouthed the words to their songs as their re­cords were played.

Gracie, then just a teen, pre­ferred to sing but the show’s pro­du­cers wanted what was aired to sound like the re­cords that were be­ing sold.

The 75-year-old mu­si­cian said he also re­called the or­ange TV makeup. As a per­former, he had to wear it too. As a South Philly teen­ager, however, he made sure he washed it off after his Band­stand ap­pear­ance. A kid wear­ing makeup, he said, was not go­ing to make it home in that neigh­bor­hood without get­ting beaten up.

Gracie said he wound up su­ing Clark — in­dir­ectly —be­cause he had filed a com­plaint against Cameo Re­cords for some dis­puted roy­al­ties. It turned out Clark owned a piece of Cameo and that by su­ing the re­cord com­pany, he also was su­ing Clark. The suit was settled out of court, he said, but Gracie nev­er was in­vited back to per­form on Band­stand.

There was a down­side for the show’s dan­cers, too.

Those stu­dio teens were very pop­u­lar with view­ers, and some even had their own fan clubs. Gib­son re­called that some sail­ors had nom­in­ated her queen of their ship.

However, sev­er­al Band­stand dan­cers were not at all pop­u­lar in their own neigh­bor­hoods or schools, said Gib­son, who was known for her ear-to-ear smile. She said she trans­ferred to North­east High for her seni­or year be­cause she got death threats at St. Hubert’s.

For her, that turned out for the best.

ldquo;North­east High was won­der­ful,” she said. •• 

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You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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