Dick Clark didn't start Bandstand. Nor did he create some of American Bandstand's more popular segments, like Rate-a-Record or Top Ten lists. Clark waited patiently in the wings for nearly four years, while Bandstand's original host, Bob Horn, built the show into Philadelphia's teen favorite.
But people who knew Clark weren't surprised to see the shy, insecure kid from New York mature into the polished, confident frontman who enjoyed the spotlight almost as much as he loved creating the massive business empire that made him one of the wealthiest non-performers in the history of television.
He was born Richard Wagstaff Clark on November 30, 1929, in Bronxville, N.Y., and grew up while his family lived in the Park Lane Apartments on what was the former estate of circus magnate James A. Bailey in Mount Vernon, N.Y. Among his neighbors was the famous TV dancing couple - Kathryn and Arthur Murray.
Clark's entrepreneurial spirit was soon apparent. He published a neighborhood gossip sheet at age 5 and sold peanut butter sandwiches from the sidewalk at age 6. He was slight of build, underweight and had a poor complexion. He was such a compulsive nail-biter that his parents forced him to wear gloves in an effort to curb the habit.
After older brother Brad was killed while serving in the air corps in World War II, Clark joined his school's punching bag club and entered school politics to overcome his athletic deficiencies and conquer his shyness. By the time he graduated he was voted by classmates as the "most likely to sell the Brooklyn Bridge."
Clark also acquired the radio bug after attending a broadcast of the Jimmy Durante Show. After his family moved to Utica, N.Y., following Clark's high school graduation he took a job at his uncle's radio station, WRUN, starting in the mail room and operating a mimeograph machine.
He worked on his skills on campus radio while studying business at Syracuse University. Although he worked at an assortment of odd jobs such as a bed maker, dishwasher and brush salesman in his early college years, he worked at radio station WOLF during his senior year.
After graduation in 1951, Clark returned to WRUN, this time as Dick Clay. He also did a turn at WKTV in Utica as Cactus Dick.
In early 1952, Roger Clipp, general manager of the radio-TV division of WFIL and a friend of Clark's father, told WFIL-TV general manager George Koehler that he wanted to hire some new, young talent for the TV operation.
Koehler sorted through applications and resumes and started calling the better candidates. By the time he was done, about a half-dozen young men - including Clark - had been hired and soon began filling spots in the WFIL radio and TV lineups.
“Dick of them all, was far and away the best," Koehler said of Clark. "There was no question. Absolutely none. They’re all good people. We went over the applications and beyond with a fine toothcomb, but Dick was a natural, a shoo-in.”
Clark, who made his WFIL radio debut on May 13, 1952, rented a room for $1.65 a day at the YMCA and began taking his meals at the Horn and Hardart automat.
John Carlton and Bill Webber were two young announcers hired two years after Clark who went on to long and successful Philadelphia TV careers. Carlton thinks WFIL management saw all young announcers in the early 1950s as interchangeable.
“I think they lined up people, people who could step into these key roles," Carlton said. "And they didn’t just necessarily hire one, they’d usually hire a couple. ... We were all about the same age. We were all youthful in appearance. I don’t know if they had that in mind when they hired us, but we were there.”
After Webber became something of a celebrity in Philadelphia, his mother came from Florida for a visit. Webber admitted that he was "showing off" when he picked her up at the airport in a limousine that he had rented.
"I took her to the station and asked her, ‘What do you want to do. Anything you want to do?’" Webber recalled. "She said, ‘I want to see Dick Clark.’”
Do you have any stories about Bandstand, Dick Clark or growing up in the Philadelphia area during the show's run at WFIL-TV? Please share them in the comments section or e-mail them to me.