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Dick Clark Made Boomer History

A huge chapter in the annals of boomer history came to a close this past week with the passing of Dick Clark. Is there a boomer alive in the United States today who does not know Dick Clark, and does not have a memory of watching his TV shows?

As TV broadcasts became regularly scheduled after the War, the need for content was ever-expanding as the sales of TVs grew, along with the population, into the 1950s. By the mid-’50s, the first wave of the boomer generation were reaching their teens, and presented an irresistible target demographic for marketers of everything from breakfast cereals to toys, clothing to colognes. TV networks were scrambling for shows that teens would watch, and so it was that a local show was pitched to the ABC network in hopes of gaining a national audience.

Dick Clark had taken over as host of the Philadelphia-based Bob Horn’s Bandstand in 1956, after the host was arrested for drunk driving and allegations of being involved with a prostitution ring. Like big band swing bandstand venues of the previous decade, Bandstand played music for young people to dance to, but now included rock ‘n roll, a new genre that many in the country were campaigning against as “the devil’s music.” The show’s name was changed to American Bandstand, and soon after, Mr. Clark proposed that it be broadcast to a national audience. ABC picked up the program, and it premiered across the nation on August 5, 1957.

Mr. Clark tinkered with the formula he inherited, keeping the live group of kids to dance to the music, but adding a more formal dress code of skirts or dresses for the female dancers, and jackets and ties for the males. He also added appearances by guest artists who would lip-synch their hits in the live broadcast, and introduced interviews with rising stars like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. Perhaps the most-known feature Dick Clark added to Bandstand was “Rate-a-Record,” which allowed teens to rate a record — newly released 45s — on a scale of 35 to 98. We have Dick Clark’s “Rate-a-Record” to thank for the phrase, “It has a nice beat and you can dance to it.”

In an age when segregation still remained the practice across the country, Mr. Clark welcomed African-American artists on Bandstand, which broke the tradition of the show’s earlier incarnation. Nonetheless, it was Dick Clark’s ambition that rock ‘n roll be made more socially acceptable (through his dress code and clean dancing requirements), so he — and especially his broadcast network — didn’t want to anger any part of the population that could bear pressure on the show. Consequently, contrary to TV legend, in the early days of American Bandstand there were no black teens dancing on the program. Mr. Clark changed that policy when the show moved to Los Angeles in 1964, when both black and white kids were welcome to dance in the studio (though not with each other).

The show aired five days a week, in the after-school time slot of 4:00 to 5:00 p.m. Mister Boomer recalls coming home from school and his brother would switch on the family’s Sylvania TV to watch Bandstand. Mr. B was a pre-teen, so would have preferred cartoons to the music show. Some boomers remember the show on Monday nights, while others recall Saturday afternoons. All are correct memories at some point of the show’s history. The show ran live five days a week in its earlier days; at first it was 90 minutes long, then 60 and finally ran in a half-hour format. In 1963, the weekly shows were all recorded at the same time on Saturdays for broadcast.

Mr. Clark was a consummate TV production professional, going on to produce many shows in the following decades, from the $10,000 Pyramid game show to a series of blooper shows (co-hosted with Ed McMahon), to the more recent So You Think You Can Dance. But if there is a boomer who doesn’t remember Dick Clark for American Bandstand, he is remembered for Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Every boomer will tell you that New Year’s Eve TV shows were a lot like Henry Ford’s famous line about the color of his Model T: it came in any color you wanted, as long as that was black. The only “color” New Year’s Eve TV came in was in the form of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. He had a lock on the nation’s TV sets for years, so boomers welcomed a change from the stodgy “old people’s” New Year’s Eve programming when Dick Clark’s show debuted in 1972. Dick Clark showed rock ‘n roll acts of the day, which were infinitely closer to what boomers wanted to see and hear than people playing accordions and clarinets.

Mister B recalls that first New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in 1972. He had been invited to a house party — only the second of his waning teen years for New Year’s Eve. Music would be played, refreshments would be served, and yes, there would be girls. Plus, the host had his own TV in his basement with which to tune in the program for the countdown. To make a long story short, the “party” didn’t quite happen as advertised. Mister B and two of his other friends showed up. Refreshments were there, but no girls, or anyone else. Instead, four guys shared a pizza and watched New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in the basement while the host’s parents tuned in Guy Lombardo in the living room.

If you are a part of the baby boomer generation, no matter what year you were born, Dick Clark has played a part in your memories. For that reason, we have to say, Dick, “so long for now.”

posted by Mister B in Music,Pop Culture History,TV and have Comments Off on Dick Clark Made Boomer History

Boomers Count Down Another Year

Well, boomers, this week we’ll flip the life odometer on another year. 2011 will see the youngest boomers turning 47, while the oldest among us will reach 65. As the clock strikes midnight, we’ll still be wondering what “Auld Lang Syne” means. For the record, it’s Scottish for “times long past,” a phrase popularized by the poet Robert Burns in the song from the late 17th century. Are there boomers of any age who can recall all the lyrics to that traditional New Year’s song? Probably not.

Perhaps the reason is, unless your family was Scottish, the version you probably heard during your formative boomer years was an instrumental played by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadiens. It’s probably playing through your brain right now as you read this. (Sorry.) His TV presence and rendition of the song became synonymous with New Year’s Eve, first for our parents, then passed on to us through family TV osmosis. Mr. Lombardo had performed on a radio broadcast each year since 1928, then his first live New Year’s TV broadcast was aired beginning in 1956. He continued the tradition until his death in November 1977. His brother Victor took over for a year, but the band disbanded in 1978. In addition to his live broadcast from New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, there would be coverage of the Times Square ball drop. While most boomers that Mister Boomer knows couldn’t stand Guy Lombardo (the “old fogey” that he was represented the past, man!), we did want to see the ball drop. That is yet another shared memory we boomers have in our history.

New Year’s Eve was one of the few days of the year when boomer children were allowed to stay up late. Mom and dad, along with possibly some family members, friends and neighbors, would down cocktails and watch Guy Lombardo on the black and white TV, until the time arrived for the big New Year’s countdown.

In Mister Boomer’s household, the children were dressed in their pajamas (with the feet on them), had coats draped over their shoulders like capes to ward off the winter chill, and were issued pots, pans and wooden spoons. The young troop was then marched out the front door, where Mister B and his siblings lined up along the porch edge waiting for the countdown. The TV volume would be turned up so it could be heard from the porch, as the group shivered in anticipation. “5-4-3-2-1 … Happy New Year!” was their cue to bang as furiously and loudly as possible. Their percussive cacophony was joined by a few neighborhood children also banging pots and pans on their porches, along with the sounds of horns, shouts of “Happy New Year,” and car horns that echoed through the neighborhood. Then, as the noise began to diminish, Mister B’s father would step out on the porch with his shotgun that he used for pheasant hunting. All eyes were on him as he loaded a shell into the gun. He raised it to his shoulder, and, aiming at the front lawn, fired into the ground as if the bang were a finale to the neighborhood noise-making.

As the years progressed, shotgun firing was dropped from the family tradition. It wasn’t long after that, that the banging of pots and pans also became “times long past.” We were getting older, and Guy Lombardo wasn’t going to cut it for the Pepsi Generation. Finally, in 1972, Dick Clark offered boomers another choice. Calling his show New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, he put the older generation on notice that his was not your father’s New Year’s celebration. We already knew Dick from American Bandstand, of course. We liked him, and we trusted him as a voice of our generation. If he wanted to rock New Year’s Eve, we wanted to rock with him.

As the decades-old tradition of one television for the whole family began to crack, boomers had New Year’s parties in basements, where they could watch Dick Clark on a second TV while their parents sat in front of Guy Lombardo, upstairs, for another year. That first Rockin’ Eve show in 1972 featured Three Dog Night as hosts, and musical guests Blood, Sweat & Tears, Helen Reddy and Al Green. Mister Boomer recalls several house parties in the seventies, when, rockin’ or not, the show seemed pretty boring. Since it wasn’t Guy Lombardo boring, we would continue to watch.

Any overview of boomer New Year’s celebrations would be remiss without the mention of The Soupy Sales Show. Almost every boomer remembers some version of The Soupy Sales Show on TV. It was New Year’s Day 1965 that marked a momentous day for boomer fans of Soupy. The network had forced Soupy to work the holiday, and that didn’t sit too well with the pie-man. Soupy jokingly looked at his young viewers and asked them to tip-toe into their parents’ bedrooms while they were sleeping and remove the “funny green pieces of paper with pictures of men with beards” from their pockets and purses. He then instructed his viewers to “put them in an envelope and mail them to me.” That week the station, WNEW in New York, received what has been reported as $80,000, though Soupy himself revealed that most of it was was play money or Monopoly money. Soupy was suspended for two weeks, but his show was not canceled and continued another two years.

It is said many boomers like to say they were among those who sent Soupy some dollars in 1965. Unfortunately, Mister Boomer cannot make that claim. Others say it’s more likely we have the same situation at work in the Soupy incident as the number of people who claim to have been at Woodstock. How about it, boomers? Does Guy Lombardo, Dick Clark or Soupy Sales loom large in the annals of your New Year’s memories?

posted by Mister B in Getting Older,Holidays,Music,Pop Culture History,Suburbia,TV and have Comments Off on Boomers Count Down Another Year