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.”

Boomers Remember Special Passings of 2011

As another year begins in the chronicles of boomer history, it is fitting for us to pause for a moment to remember many of the people who passed on in 2011. In their own way, each played an important role in the lives of boomers, or were boomers themselves.

Jan. 18: Sergeant Shriver
Though he was the former Ambassador to France, Shriver went down in history as the Democratic Vice Presidential running mate of George McGovern in his ill-fated bid for the presidency in 1972. He was 95 years old.

Jan. 24: David Frye
The comic Frye will forever be remembered by boomers for his spot-on satirical impersonation of Richard Nixon. He was 77.

Feb. 12: Joanne Siegel
The wife of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel, Ms. Siegel was the original model for Lois Lane. Boomers loved the comic, and of course, Lois Lane, but perhaps what kept Superman at the top of boomers’ lists was the television series that ran from 1952-1958. She was 93.

Feb. 24: Suze Rotolo
Ms. Rotolo, an artist, was best remembered as the muse of Bob Dylan in his early years. She is pictured with him on the cover of the album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963). She was 67 years old.

March 23: Elizabeth Taylor
Boomers may best remember Liz Taylor as the come-hither queen in Cleopatra (1963), a socialite in Giant (1956) and as a young woman with her horse in National Velvet (1944). She won one of her three Academy Awards for her performance in BUtterfield 8 (1960).

March 26: Geraldine Ferraro
Ms. Ferraro was the first woman to be on the ticket of a major political party as the Vice Presidential nominee. She ran alongside Walter Mondale in 1984. The duo lost the election to Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. She was 75.

April 5: Gil Robbins
The father of actor Tim Robbins, Mr. Robbins was a folk singer in the band, The Highwaymen. The band had two Top 20 hits in the early 1960s. He was 80 years old.

May 4: Mary Murphy
It certainly helps to be remembered as an actress when you co-star opposite Marlon Brando. That being said, Mary Murphy starred opposite Brando in one of the best-loved boomer movies of its time, The Wild One (1953). She was 80.

May 5: Dana Wynter
An actress boomers will best recall for her portrayal as Betty Driscoll in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Dana Wynter was 80 years old.

May 17: Harmon Killebrew
Many boomers closely followed the career of Baseball Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. He played 22 years in the major leagues for the Washington Senators, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals. A consistent hitter through the 1960s, by the time he retired from baseball in 1975 he was second only to Babe Ruth in American League career home runs. Killebrew was 74.

June 3: James Arness
James Arness is the actor boomers recall as Marshall Matt Dillon in Gunsmoke (1955-1975). He was 88.

June 12: Carl Gardner
Carl Gardener will best be remembered as a member of The Coasters (Yakety Yak, Charlie Brown), which was the first vocal group inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He was 83.

July 8: Betty Ford
The First Lady when husband Gerald Ford became president after Richard Nixon’s resignation, she went on to found the Betty Ford Clinic for the treatment of chemical dependency. She was 93 years old.

July 28: Bill O’Leary
A scientist, Mr. O’Leary was selected as a NASA astronaut in 1967. He resigned in 1968 for many reasons, including the cancellation of NASA’s Mars program. He was also known for his strong political views. He protested the incursion into Cambodia during the Vietnam War in 1970, and was an outspoken opponent of the weaponization of space. He was 71.

Oct. 5: Steve Jobs
Read Mister Boomer’s take on the death of Steve Jobs at: Another Boomer Legend Passes On: Steve Jobs

Nov. 7: Joe Frazier
A heavyweight boxing champion in the 1960s, “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier went on to defeat Muhammad Ali in 1971. He later lost to him in a rematch in 1973. He was 67.

Dec. 7: Harry Morgan
Which Harry Morgan will boomers remember best: Officer Bill Gannon in Dragnet (1967-1970) or as Colonel Sherman T. Potter in M*A*S*H (1974-1983)? Both long-running TV shows were a favorite for many boomers. He was 96.

Dec. 18: Ralph MacDonald
A songwriter and percussionist, Mr. MacDonald is perhaps best known for his song Just the Two of Us, a hit for Bill Withers in 1981. He also co-wrote Where Is the Love, which was recorded by Roberta Flack in 1971. He recorded with a host of boomer favorites over the past four decades, including David Bowie, Carole King, James Taylor, Ashford & Simpson, The Average White Band, Art Garfunkel, Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan and a long list of others. His age was 67.

There were many other famous and not-so-famous musicians, artists, authors, singers, actors, politicians, sports stars and more who passed on in 2011. Boomers appreciated and emulated them, and they will be missed.

Which celebrity passing of 2011 caused you to flash back to your youth, boomers?