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. ••EndFragment