As Bandstand’s popularity with viewers grew, it went through the growing pains of success.
For Hank Latven, it meant new duties.
Latven was a relative newcomer to the WFIL-TV staff in 1953. The ex-Marine had returned to his native city after attending college in Alabama and was lucky enough to land a job in the WFIL mailroom.
But the station added a new paragraph to Latven’s job description, that of station doorman.
With throngs of kids wrapping around the block outside the studio doors every weekday afternoon, someone need to regulate the flow into the building, so Latven left the mailroom every afternoon and assumed his position.
“It was tough getting them in,” Latven said.
Two other mailroom employees were drafted into security duty, Marvin Brooks and Bob Hopkins.
The husky Hopkins was physically well-suited for the role. Another of his many duties at the station was donning a gorilla suit for countless skits. Brooks, who later became a cameraman for Bandstand, was much smaller, weighing in at around 140 pounds.
“The girls from West Catholic High School got out early and were the first in line,” Brooks said. “They were tough. When I opened that door, they ran right over me, they trampled me. So I had to open the door and step out of the way, fast. I got shoved around a lot.”
Bandstand policy dictated roughly equal numbers of girls and boys in the studio, but the girls’ line was much longer than the boys’ every day. The regulars flashed their passes for easy entry, but the remaining crowd needed to be screened to make certain they measured up to the show’s standards.
Parents called the station with concerns about their children’s safety and viewers weren’t bashful about expressing their opinions about what they saw on screen.
Host Bob Horn and producer Tony Mammarella early on adopted a policy that boys must wear sports coats and ties to gain admission. No gum chewing was allowed in the studio and dancers were generally expected to behave like ladies and gentlemen.
Once the studio was filled, the security crew took to patrolling the building inside.
Although Studio B had been constructed to handle Bandstand-sized crowds of up to 250, the rest of the building had difficulties handling an influx of twice that many teenagers for the split shifts of Horn’s afternoon show.
“The building wasn’t designed for something as big as that,” said Marie K. Pantarelli, who could hear the throngs of youngsters from her office. “They were chirping outside like magpies. You could hear them all the time.”
Excerpted from Bandstandland © 2014 Larry Lehmer