Walter Mencken 11 a.m., Nov. 27
Dick Clark, "America's oldest teenager," is floating high as a cloud on the heavenly bandstand. The game show host, shrewd TV mogul, blooper-wrangler, American Bandstand overlord, multifunctional celebrity, and master at ushering in the new year, died yesterday after suffering a heart attack. He was 82.
My earliest memories of Dick Clark are irrevocably linked to my late cousin, Ruth Sherman. Ruthie was not only my occasional Saturday morning babysitter, she also fit the Bandstand demographic and never missed an episode of the popular teen dance show.
I was four, and the thought of watching a bunch of spasmodic, well-oiled teenyboppers at a televised sock-hop over the animated offerings of another network didn't mesh. This was long before the remote control became a standard part of the viewing experience, and after a few cautionary slaps to my channel-switching wrist, Ruthie would give me a comic book and lock me in the living room closet for the duration of the hour.
Needless to say, I was forever turned off by the show, and my knowledge and appreciation of Dick Clark is limited to his post- American Bandstand days. He was seldom the reason for my tuning in -- who needs Dick Clark when you have JoAnne Worley and Nipsey Russell going head-to-head on The $10,000 Pyramid? -- but his constant state of forced-cheer and pre-Alex Trebek aura of sincere insincerity kept things moving along at a brisk clip.
Clark hosted five different incarnations of Pyramid (ranging from the $10,000 to $100,000 version), but the true force of his genius didn't impact me until TV's Blooper and Practical Jokes hit the airwaves in the early '80's. Recycling TV's garbage by turning it into a "blooper" show was Clark's masterstroke of genius.
Each week Dick and his equally unctuous co-host, Ed McMahon, would introduce clip after clip of celebrities embarrassing themselves while tape rolled. For those too challenged to figure out the show's basic premise, there was Clark's condescending dubbed-in narration advising viewers to, "Watch the upper-left corner of the screen" just in case they were too dim to notice the horsefly about to buzz up the news anchor's nostril. It was television at its finest.
In the mid-'60's, his production company, Dick Clark Productions, bankrolled a few grindhouse releases, most notably two Richard Rush biker/psychedelia pictures (Psych-Out and The Savage Seven). Clark recognized his shortcomings and soon receded to safer, more profitable TV fare like Lou Rawls: Soul on Ice, The Tempestt Bledsoe Show, and numerous awards programs including two dozen Golden Globes telecasts.
While other deejays were content to countdown stacks of wax, Clark turned counting backwards from ten into a lucrative holiday tradition. He produced and hosted Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, which began in 1972. He missed out on his hosting duties only twice in the show's nearly 40 year history.
In 1999, Clark's annual ball drop was preempted by ABC 2000 Today, a news special hosted by Peter Jennings. Clark made a brief appearance to ring in the new year. Ryan Seacrest took over hosting chores in 2004 after Clark was sidelined by a stroke.
Clark's subsequent appearances made for uncomfortable viewing, particularly in light of the party atmosphere that surrounded him. His ability to speak was greatly impaired and something tells me the remote segments were taped in advance to ensure that there were no bloopers when the show aired live. He wouldn't step down. He couldn't. Even if his appearances were brief and kept to a minimum, it was a way to remain in the spotlight.
Dick Clark leaves behind his third wife, Kari Wigton; three children, Richard, Duane and Cindy; and two grandchildren.
For now, so long, Dick Clark!
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