Wednesday, 18 April 2012

0 Curtain falls on Dick Clark, but not on his legacy

But Dick Clark? He never left. With his toothpaste-ad smile and a microphone always ready, Clark was a fixture in our pop culture for decades.

Maybe you hear his name and think New Year's Eve stalwart, or American Bandstand host, or "the oldest living teenager," a nickname he picked up years ago, but Clark was much more than any of those single images.

Curtain falls on Dick Clark

Clark, who suffered a stroke in 2004 and died Wednesday of a heart attack, was a irrepressible entrepreneur who built an empire for himself in the entertainment industry. He was 82.

A wide spectrum of artists whose careers he had nurtured rushed to pay tribute. Tony Bennett tweeted that Clark was "a great guy and one of the first people to play my records." Paul Stanley wrote that Clark "was the face of rock and roll and its best ambassador. He championed Kiss when others turned away and was instrumental in breaking us."

On Facebook, Marie Osmond recalled their long association: "In 1974, my first time on Bandstand, I thought Dick Clark was the most handsome man in show business. In 1998, when he created and produced the Donny & Marie talk show, I realized that he was truly the hardest-working man in showbiz. And now, in 2012, I will always remember him as one of the most honorable men in show business."

And Motown founder and family friend Berry Gordy called Clark "an entrepreneur, a visionary and a major force in changing pop culture and ultimately influencing integration. It happened first emotionally. Music can do that. He didn't do it from a soap box, he just did it. That's who he was."(Bing)

With teen dance shows, prime-time programming, specials, game shows, made-for-TV movies and even feature films and restaurants, the ambitious Clark made Dick Clark Productions into a thriving business that touched the worlds of music, television and film.

And from Bandstand in the 1950s to his three decades of New Year's Rockin' Eves, Clark was particularly adept in the melding of music and TV, long before MTV and American Idol.

"Music is the soundtrack of your life," he was quoted as saying, and yet, he wasn't ever the one shimmying on the dance floor.

And his favorite music? "Disco," he said in more than one interview.

Clark was all about the smooth running of the production, not so much the joy of music. "I don't make culture," he once said. "I sell it."

Worked up from radio

In fact, the life of Richard Wagstaff Clark is a classic mailroom-to-boardroom Hollywood story. He was a broadcast salesman from start to finish.

The Mount Vernon, N.Y.-born Clark began his career in 1945 working as a teenager in the mailroom of WRUN-AM in Utica, N.Y., a station owned by his uncle and run by his father. He worked his way up to weatherman and newsman. At Mount Vernon's A.B. Davis High School in 1947, Clark was voted "Most Likely to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge."

After getting his business administration degree from Syracuse University in 1951, clean-cut Clark used his stint in radio to move into a newscasting job in Utica. But his career took off in Philadelphia the next year, when a station followed the new trend of having radio announcers play records over the air. Shortly after, the station decided to try it on a sister TV channel.

Teenagers were invited to come and dance on the show, Bob Horn's Bandstand. When host Horn went on vacation, Clark filled in, and when Horn was arrested for drunken driving in 1956, Clark got the job permanently.

What made him a success was his rapport with the teens and his non-threatening image to their parents. He knew what to sell. In 1957, American Bandstand went national, and Clark began introducing the American public to rock 'n' roll. Not only did it show worried parents exactly what their kids were interested in, but when Clark took over, he also began introducing black artists. American Bandstand provided the first national exposure for Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly and Chubby Checker, among others.

But Clark, while breaking racial ground, shied away from grittier fare. He basically ignored the British Invasion, figuring The Beatles would never be big, and gravitated to the tamest pop acts he could find. He was die-hard mainstream — always keeping his eye on what would sell in America and therefore ensure his success.

"I'm not gonna sit here and tell you I did this solely to keep music alive," he once told Rolling Stone. "To perpetuate my own career first and foremost, and secondly the music."

Add game show, AMAs

By 1959, American Bandstand was broadcast by 101 affiliates and reached an audience of 20 million. And the music industry quickly realized that once a new song was played on the show, it became a guaranteed hit.

Pop singer Connie Francis says she would have had "no career" without him.

"I had put out a bunch of records, and they were going nowhere," and her record label was "ready to drop me," she says. "Then, on Jan. 1, 1958, at 4 p.m., I rushed over to my 18-inch Motorola and turned on American Bandstand, like everyone else. And I heard him say, 'There's a new girl singer headed straight for the No. 1 spot,' and I thought, 'Good for her — sour grapes.' Then he played Who's Sorry Now, … and I knew in five seconds flat I was a star.(Yahoo)

"He could make or break anybody," she says, but "he used that power with kindness."

But the power of the show became a concern within the business. In 1959, the Senate began investigating the practice of "payola," record companies paying radio personalities to play new records. Clark admitted he accepted a fur stole and jewelry and held financial interests in artists and songs frequently on American Bandstand. Even though Clark was cleared of wrongdoing, he was ordered to either leave ABC or sell his interests; he sold.

Clark, who started Dick Clark Productions in 1957, moved his headquarters to Los Angeles in the 1960s and developed a keen eye for business.

"The man loved to come up with new ideas, and preferably moneymaking ideas," says a pal from the era, guitarist Duane Eddy, for whom he says Clark's second son was named. "And he had some ridiculous ideas. He said, 'It would be great to come up with a way to keep kittens continue to be kittens.' "

He never did. But during that time, he became friends with an up-and-comer named Chuck Barris, who went on to create and host The Gong Show, and Ed McMahon. Clark was responsible for introducing McMahon to Johnny Carson.(Aol)

In 1965, Clark produced Where the Action Is for ABC, a Bandstand-style show hosted by Paul Revere and the Raiders, while he continued to host Bandstand after it went into syndication. When he stopped hosting in 1989, it had become the longest-running television variety show of all time.

He was also a big game-show fan, becoming host in 1973 of $10,000 Pyramid, and he stayed with it as the pyramid's value grew (and won nine Emmy Awards for best game show).

Also in 1973, Clark took on a new production, the American Music Awards, which offered an alternative to the Grammys but became a battleground for loyalty in the music industry.

In 2001, that battle came to a head. Clark filed suit in federal court in Los Angeles, alleging that Michael Greene, president and chief executive of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, maintained a "blacklist" policy that prevented stars — including Britney Spears, Michael Jackson, Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Toni Braxton— from performing on both Greene's Grammy Awards and Clark's American Music Awards. The suit sought $10 million in damages but was later withdrawn.

Now known as the Recording Academy, the group paid tribute Wednesday, saying Clark "blazed new trails in pop music and became pivotal celebrations of music on television, spotlighting both established and emerging artists."(Google)

'In bad shape' after stroke

In 2001, Clark sold Dick Clark Productions for $137 million to a group of private investors but stayed on as chairman and chief executive, producing various shows and cultivating other parts of the business, such as Dick Clark Restaurants.

Whenever he was asked how he retained his youthful, teenage looks, Clark would always says, "I've got the pat answer — select your parents carefully, get the good genes."

On Dec. 8, 2004, he was hospitalized with what was described as a "mild" stroke and missed ringing in 2005 on his New Year's Eve show. Regis Philbin substituted.

But the stroke was not so mild; Clark returned when 2005 turned to 2006 with slurred speech and a gaunt look as he sat in the ABC studio in Times Square and told the audience the stroke had left him "in bad shape."


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