When I was a child growing up in Lansdowne in Delaware County, my father loved to teach me about Philadelphia icons. His list started with Ben Franklin, who was followed quickly by Dick Clark. Whenever we would go to the Drexelbrook Club in neighboring Drexel Hill, Dad would point out the apartments where Dick Clark and Ed McMahon lived. And when we drove by the cement disc that was WFIL (now WPVI), it was not the home of Action News, it was the home of Dick Clark and American Bandstand.
Dick Clark made being from Philadelphia special. The eyes of the world were watching our city and learned the “Bristol Stomp” and that South Street is the “hippest street in town.”
By now, most of us know the legend was a substitute host for Bob Horn when the show was called Bob Horn’s Bandstand. Horn is now the Wally Pip of the entertainment industry, as Clark transformed from a fill-in host to national star and then into a Hollywood mogul.
Clark is given credit for introducing Buddy Holly, Michael Jackson and Madonna to the world, but he isn’t given enough credit for creating the first TV reality show. For it wasn’t the music stars that made the show, but the teens who danced on the show. My cousin Jimmy Coffey from Yeadon was one of them. My Aunt Eleanor would show me boxes and boxes of fan mail that Jimmy would get from across the country. The letters wanted to know if Jimmy was dating the girl he was dancing with, if he was jealous of another male dancer, if he secretly liked one of the other guy’s dancing partners. All of those story lines were created on camera by Dick Clark, as he would feature certain dance teams, switch them up and break them up. It is what kept American teens glued to the tube every afternoon.
Clark left Philadelphia for Hollywood in 1964, but we still claimed him as ours. Dick Clark Productions would create game shows, awards shows, variety shows and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. It is on that show where we watched the man known as the timeless teenager finally age. It was painful but important to watch the once glib and perfect host struggle to speak after his stroke in 2004. In Dick Clark’s last few Times Square appearances, we all witnessed our own mortality. Nothing is ageless, except in our memories.
January 1, 2012 will be the last time most of us saw Dick Clark, but that will not be our memory of him. He will always be the handsome young man signing off from Philadelphia with, “For now, Dick Clark … so long.”