Dick Clark Made Rock Commercially Viable

Dick Clark, who died yesterday at 82, knew he wanted to make his living speaking into a microphone after seeing comedians Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore on stage in a New York theater when he was 13, he once told an interviewer. He went on to study advertising and radio at Syracuse University before taking a job at a Philadelphia television station that would lead to his becoming the impresario most responsible for making rock and rock a viable commercial medium. 

On top of that -- and perhaps most endearingly to a generation forced to grow up listening to Guy Lombardo’s dulcet orchestra perennially usher in the New Year from the Waldorf Astoria -– he launched an alternative program called “Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve” from Times Square in 1972 that no doubt seems as hoary to the young ’uns as the Royal Canadians did in their day (despite the addition of Ryan Seacrest as host following Clark’s stroke in 2004). Clark only missed one broadcast, however, returning in ’05 despite his impaired speech.

“Although his speech at times was difficult to understand, many, including other stroke victims, praised his bravery," according to an obit on CBSNews.com

Mark Feeney of the Boston Globe points out that NBC executive Brandon Tartikoff once called Clark “the McDonald’s of television.” Legendary TV programmer Fred Silverman is quoted in a New York Times roundup of reactions as saying that “he was the first person in terms of national broadcast who recognized the value of teenage viewers.” 

“‘I was an entrepreneur,’ Mr. Clark said in a 1992 interview on the Nashville Network quoted by the Globe’s Feeney. “‘I used every single opportunity I could to make money. I managed artists. I pressed records. I did tours, I owned labels. I did everything I could think of to turn a dollar.’” 

That included being the pitchman for a blizzard of products … including Dairy Queen Blizzard, as seen in this spot from 1986. Even a spot for a local FM radio station or two wasn’t beneath a man whose fortune is reportedly in the hundreds of millions (though, come to think of it, he probably had a quiet stake in them). The headline on Mack Lacter’s story in LA Observed reads: “Shrewd Salesman Masquerading As Inoffensive Frontman.” 

A CNN story reported by Alan Duke, Denise Quan and JD Cargill and written by Chelsea J. Carter points out that Clark was influential in the emergence of rock ’n’ rollers ranging from Ike and Tina Turner to the Beach Boys to Madonna. "Only God is responsible for making more stars than Dick Clark," singer Tony Orlando, who was 16 when he first appeared on Clark's show in 1961, tells them. 

You can throw Chuck Berry, Chubby Checker, Bo Diddley, Bobby Darin, Jackie Wilson, Annette Funicello and many others into that mix, as Gene Seymour does in a special piece for CNN -- all of them lip-synching their hits on “American Bandstand,” the show that was to launch Clark’s prodigious career on and off the screen. His break came in 1955 when the regular host of what was then just called “Bandstand” was arrested for drunk driving. 

But Clark was not to be contained on local TV. His first ancillary venture was the “The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech Nut Show." Check out this early doppelganger spot for “flavorific” Beech Nut Spearmint Gum with such hard-sell lines as “the one and only fun gum” and “by George, it is a treat.” 

He “soon became as unavoidable as the weather by hosting ‘The $10,000 Pyramid’ (which grew in other versions to $25,000 and $100,000) and co-hosting with one-time Philadelphia colleague Ed McMahon, ‘TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes,” Seymour writes. He also invented the "American Music Awards."

Clark was often called ‘America’s oldest living teenager’ because of his perpetual and almost eerily youthful look,” David Hinckley reminds us in the New York Daily News. “I can’t imagine our world without Dick Clark,” deejay Bruce “Cousin Brucie” Morrow tells Hinckley. “You’d just look at him -- that face. I never thought we’d lose him.” And, according to Morrow, “Parents trusted him. And so did the kids. He was the bridge.”

He was also the link to billions of dollars of merchandise over the years. "I don't make culture," he reportedly said, Jack Doyle reports on PopHistoryDig.com. "I sell it."

Clark, who was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., died of a heart attack at a hospital in Santa Monica, where he had gone for a checkup. He is survived by his third wife, Kari, two sons and a daughter. There will be no funeral; plans for a possible a memorial service are reportedly under discussion.

“Work was his hobby,” Fran La Maina, the longtime president of Dick Clark Productions tells the AP’s Ryan Nakashima. “He had this never-give-up attitude. He was a great salesperson and a task master.” 

Clark’s fortieth -- and last -- countdown to the New Year can be viewed starting at about 3:45 seconds into this clip.

Tags: music, obituary
Recommend (1) Print RSS