Friday, April 20, 2012

"For now, Dick long" & Levon Helm

   Of course by now you've heard of the passing of Blooper legend, Dick Clark, at the age of 82, of a massive heart attack. It's so very sad... so young. He's virtually one of those people who have been around throughout your entire life, at least he has been through mine (and I guess, by extension, anyone who is younger than I am).
   One of my first memories as an amateur television viewer, before I turned pro, was on my parents big black and white T.V. set, watching American Bandstand. I know what your thinking, dear readers, we don't care about that... what about the bloopers?
   Have patience, please. That will come a little later.
   I had just seen Dick a few nights before. Not in person, but in the film "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," in which Mr. Clark had made a cameo appearance.
   And in another amazing, sad coincidence, I learned of Dick's death as I attended the memorial service for Tina Castellaw Wednesday that we here at the Las Americas held for her. Tina's was the first recorded death of an active Skid Row Housing Trust (SRHT) Ambassador, and accordingly our lovely Director of External Affairs and head of the Ambassador Program, Molly, and her crew attended, as well as many of the Ambassadors from the other SRHT hotels. Several people spoke, including myself, about Tina and her many fine qualities, and how we would miss her and love her.
   Then we ate.
   After, I returned to my box and checked the Internet to learn more concerning Mr. Clark's death. Apparently I had been told the truth and Dick had in fact passed away.
   I thought it would never happen. That's only because I thought he was actually a immortal space alien, or at least a Highlander or something, as he rarely appeared to age. I thought he had only pretended to have a stroke in 2004 that drastically impaired his ability to walk and speak. That it was all a rouse designed to keep the rest of humanity off of his back until we all died off and he could return to being young again. But I guess I was wrong.
   Many of my young friends may not even know who Dick Clark was... except for the bloopers of course.
   Richard Wagstaff Clark was an immortal space alien...
   Let me start over again.
   Richard Wagstaff Clark was born 32 days after "Black Tuesday" in 1929, which was the big New York stock market crash that precipitated the "Great Depression," which lasted at least a decade. He was born in Bronxville, New York, when very young, and grew up in Mount Vernon, NY, which had a large African-American population, which may have been a factor later on in his life when he discarded American Bandstand's "White Only" rule, thereby allowing other ethnic groups to appear on the show, and thereby introducing various new styles of music, like Motown for instance. But let's not get ahead of ourselves damn it!
   He had a mom and dad, Julia Fuller and Richard Augustus Clark. His only brother, Bradley, was killed in World War II, which was a fairly major conflict between certain nations in the last century.
   Dick began his long career in the entertainment business when he was 16 at WRUN in Rome, New York, a radio station. He began in the mail room doing God knows what, but was quickly promoted as talent, and was soon doing the weather and announcing news. It didn't hurt matters that his uncle owned the station, which was managed by his father.
   Dick began his television career at station WKTV in Utica, his first television-hosting job was on "Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders," a country-music program. He would later replace Robert Earle as a newscaster.
   In 1951, when he was 22, he graduated from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, with a degree in business.
   That would come in handy later on.
   In 1952 Dick got married to Barbara Mallery, moved to Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, became a neighbor to... wait for it... future Blooper collaborator, Ed McMahon. He took a job as a disc jockey at radio station WFIL. WFIL also ran a television station, also with the call sign WFIL, It was all very confusing. WFIL T.V. began broadcasting a show called "Bob Horn's Bandstand," that year, which Dick guest hosted regularly. In 1956, the year after I landed on Earth, Bob Horn got busted for drunk driving (plus he may have been involved with a prostitution ring) and was fired. After a while Dick got the job of hosting the show permanently.
   A born businessman, Dick pitched the show to the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), which was a big time television network in the United States at the time. Perhaps you've heard of it. ABC picked up the show, Dick changed the name to "American Bandstand," and the show debuted nationally on August 5, 1957 with Dick interviewing Elvis Presley.
   It was a simple show with a simple format.
   "I played records, the kids danced, and America watched," said Mr. Clark.
   And that was pretty much it. Simple, low overhead, so inexpensive to produce. Attractive young people dressed conservatively for the times (a requirement), dancing. Good popular music featuring rock and roll, then other forms as Dick abandoned the "White Only," rule that had been in place before. (Soon black and white kids were dancing in the same room, and the Earth still held together). Musical acts that came on, lip synced their songs while promoting them, and a non-threatening host, Dick Clark, presided over all. A host that both the kids and adults at home could relate to.
   What's not to like? The show aired live at 3:30PM EST, five days a week, for 90 minutes, so it didn't interfere with the networks prime time lineup. Kids could watch it after coming home from school. There wasn't any nasty Internet, or cell phones, texting, or video games to distract at the time. The show became a big hit, and it's host became, over time, a national icon.
   By 1959 American Bandstand averaged 20 million viewers.
   Dick treated the kids as adults, with respect, and in one particular daily segment asked them to rate the songs that were played, on a numerical scale, which I imagine helped promote the popular songs, and also gave the recording industry an insight into whet the kids were into.
   "As a result, notes journalist Ann Oldenburg, "he deserves credit for doing something bigger than just putting on a show." Los Angeles Times writer, Geoff Boucher, goes further, stating that "with the exception of Elvis Presley, Clark was considered by many to be the person most responsible for the bonfire spread of rock 'n roll across the country in the late 1950s," making Clark a "household name." He became a "primary force in legitimizing rock 'n' roll," adds Hollywood producer Michael Uslan." -Wikipedia
   Dick was responsible for introducing many performers and acts, including Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, and Miguel Witznitski.
   In the fall of 1961, ABC shortened American Bandstand's air time from 90 to 60 minutes (4:00–5:00PM EST), then even further as a daily half-hour (4:00–4:30PM EST) program in September of 1962. In early 1963, all five shows for the upcoming week were videotaped the preceding Saturday. Later that year the show changed from five days a week to a weekly show on Saturdays, returning to an hour long format. It would remain in this form until 1989, American Bandstand's final year.
   Mr. Clark had one son, Richard, with Barbara before divorcing in 1961. The next year he married Loretta Martin. They had two children, Duane and Cindy, and divorced in 1971.
   Back in 1964 Dick brought American Bandstand to Los Angeles. Color broadcasts began on September 9th, 1967.
   Ike and Tina Turner, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, the Talking Heads and Tom and Jerry, who would later magically transform into Simon and Garfunkel, had their first exposure to nationwide audiences on American Bandstand during the 1960s.
   Beginning in 1972, Dick produced and hosted "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve," The first of an ongoing series of annual specials which consisted of live remote broadcasts from Times Square in New York. Just before midnight on the last day of the year, what they call a New Year Ball, a big one, slides down a pole, landing precisely at midnight. I don't know why.
   Dick would countdown until the Ball marked the beginning of the new year, going something like this, "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six..." You get the idea. At midnight all hell would break lose, which the show dutifully recorded, then musical acts in L.A. would take over, and play music of some kind.
   He would host this show every year until 2011, except in 1999, when it was preempted, and in 2004, when Dick was recovering from that stroke. 
   Back in 1973, March 26th to be exact, Mr. Clark began hosting the popular game show, "The $10,000 Pyramid." It was a word association game played between two contestants and two celebrities. I've watched it many times myself actually. Dick would host the show, in various forms, until 1988. He would win three Emmy Awards for best game show host during this period.
   In 1977 Dick married for the last time to Kari Wigton. They remained married until his death.
   At various times throughout his career Mr. Clark would try his hand at acting, and appeared in a few films and many television programs.
   He hosted many radio programs, and produced them as well. He was indeed an impresario. A Jack of all trades and master of every single one of them.
   What's that? Alright, alright. Bloopers!
   Dick and Ed McMahon were longtime Philadelphia acquaintances, and Ed credited him for first bringing him together with comedian Johnny Carson when all three worked at ABC in the late 1950s. Of course Johnny and Ed would go on to host "The Tonight Show," for 30 freaking years! From 1962 to 1992. So in a way, Dick Clark is responsible for that show's success.
   Sometimes while producing television shows, news programs, movies, commercials, the actors make mistakes. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true. Considering the medium, these mistakes are caught on film or video tape for the rest of eternity. Or at least until the Earth is swallowed by the expanding sun five billion years from now. These mistakes caught on film or video tape are called "outtakes."
   A lot of people think it's fun to watch these outtakes. Some think it's fun to watch other people make mistakes and absolute fools of themselves. I know I do. I love it!
   Some of these mistakes are very humorous and entertaining. Accordingly someone got the idea to gather up these outtakes and broadcast them on national television, hoping the show would be a success.
   It was!
   In 1984, Mr Clark produced and co-hosted with Ed "TV's Bloopers & Practical Jokes," on the National Broadcasting Network (NBC). It would run for four years, until 1988, and the format continued with specials, still hosted by Dick, and sometimes joined with other celebrities, indefinitely, or at least until Mr. Clark couldn't work it anymore due to his 2004 stroke. It switched from NBC to ABC, and is now in reruns on the Turner Broadcasting System (TBS), where I see it in 15 minutes segments early in the morning when I'm trying to watch Kelly Bundy on "Married with Children."
   I'm secretly in love with Kelly. Please don't tell anyone.
   Dick Clark owned restaurants. He owned theaters. It makes me tired thinking about all of this man's accomplishments.
   And not only that, the very most important thing, Dick Clark was a good man. He was a decent man. A considerate and thoughtful man, with a playful sense of humor. He was a nice man, and he will surely be missed.
   One of the things he is known for was his trademark sign off. During the American Bandstand years, he would end each show with these words: "For now, Dick long," while giving a little military style salute to the camera.
   Well Mr. Clark: November 30, 1929 to April 18, 2012, you led one hell of a life!
   Goodbye sir. And...
   "For now, Dick long."

   While writing this yesterday afternoon and watching television at the same time, as is my custom, I was saddened to hear MSNBCs Martin Bashir report that Levon Helm, drummer and vocalist for The Band, which started out as back up for Bobby Dylan, had succumbed to cancer. He was 71 years old, and I was indeed a fan. Here's a link to an ABC/Yahoo news story concerning his life and death:


  1. Thank you for posting something about my dear longtime friend Tina Castellaw. Unfortunately, I found out about her memorial service after the fact. I was so proud of her becoming Ambassador, knowing how excited she was about becoming one. My heart breaks that she is gone, especially after getting back in touch with her recently. She touched many people and will continue to do so through our memories of her. Peace.

  2. Thank you for mentioning my dear longtime friend Tina Castellaw. Unfortunately, I found out about her memorial service after the fact. I was so proud of her becoming Ambassador, knowing how excited she was at the prospect of becoming one. My heart is broken that she is gone, especially since we just got back in touch recently. She touched many people while here on earth, but she will continue to do so through our memories of her. Peace!