The year was 1961…During my junior year in high school, I spent the better part of most weekday afternoons catching a trolly car to a transportation hub of suburban Philadelphia, followed by a subway ride to downtown. My destination was on the corner of 46th and Market at the television studio of WFIL. In their tiny studio, approximately 200 teenagers gathered every afternoon to dance for ninety minutes via live television on American Bandstand. The show was broadcast across the country and it captured a fiercely loyal teenaged following. Fifty two years later, if I tell someone of my generation that I was a semi-regular on the show, odds are the person will ask “did you know Justine and Bob?” Justine Carelli and Bob Clayton were the “stars” of the show and danced together for the better part of three years. Legend has it that Bob had watched the show from his home in Willmington Delaware and fell in love. He managed to get to Philadelphia, get on the show, get Justine to dance with him, and they both jitterbugged their way into rock and roll history. For over three years they never danced with any other partner.
Most of the regulars went to assorted catholic high schools in the area, and because they were required to wear uniforms every day consisting of a white blouse and dark sweater, the Bandstand girls would wear their sweaters backward to cover their monogramed white blouses, and a new fashion craze was started across the country. During the late sixties, almost every teenaged girl in America wore a dark sweater with a white collar every day possible.
Two to three times a week, I would take public transportation for the fifteen miles trek into center city and eventually developed a mini-status of sorts of not having to stand in line. Regulars like Justine and Bob went to make-up; I, on the other-hand, took my spiffily out-fitted shirt, pegged pants, and saddle shoes to a seat on the grandstands. I never once talked to Justine or Bob, or Bunny and Eddie, or any other “star” because they were in a special class of their own. Everyone who danced fought for space near the cameras and dance partners would shift positions as often as possible so their faces could be seen by the camera. All the wild positioning taking place was very funny to watch, especially during slow songs. At the special request of my Mother and Aunt who tried to watch every show I attended, when the Stroll played, two lines would form directly in front of the bandstand and as couples met at the top to begin their “stroll” towards the camera, I would try to find an opening, walk and stop in the center of the two lines and wave to my ardent fans watching at home. Much to my great surprise, I repeated this over and over, week after week, without ever drawing a remark from Dick or the crew.
Years earlier, to help overcome my shyness at school dances in the seventh grade, my older sister took the time to teach me all the steps needed to become proficient in slow dancing and the faster jitterbug, twist, stroll, and the calypso, and because of her patience, I was able to often dance diminuatively in the background of one of the most famous TV shows ever created. All of these dance styles were part of the rock and roll fabric, and it was Dick Clark that rolled this fabric out to the viewing America and made American Bandstand wildly popular. I owe my life-long love of dancing to him and the show, and his passing reminded me once again what a large positive influence and difference he unknowingly made to my life. So long Dick…so long and thank you.
PS I made the above picture larger for a reason. In looking at many AB pictures to prep for this writing, I came across this one and studied it because I remember being on one of the number of shows where Bobby Rydell was the guest performer. If you mentally draw a diagonal line from the right side of Dick’s head dividing the girl and boy’s head, there is a portion of a face which gives just enough detail to convince me that it is me sitting there in the picture. My wife thinks I’m delusional and opines it is the face of a girl. Whether or not it is me can never be answered, but for these purposes, I went so often to the show that it ought to be me, and that’s good enough.