A few years back, I exchanged e-mails with Robert Nash, who described himself as "an irregular regular" on American Bandstand in 1960 and 1961. It was Robert's observation that it was easier to get into the studio on weekday afternoons in the winter than it was in the summer, when tourists and various out-of-towners flocked to the queue outside the WFIL studios.
So, he'd ride the 69th trolley after school in the snowy months and would usually get in.
"I remember the nickel pretzel, with mustard, that I'd eat, from a roving vendor, while waiting to get in," Robert wrote. "My memory of the set was that, compared to how it looked on TV, even on those crappy black and white ones, it was kind of cheesy. The sets were little more than painted balsa wood, or some like material. Dick Clark was constantly barking at the "regulars" who were hogging too much face time.
"They were interesting times. We sort of knew how popular we were outside of Philadelphia but we really didn't know."
Many regulars over the years have spoken of their off-the-dance floor experiences during their Bandstand years, and they weren't always positive. Robert, however, found his Bandstand experiences to be rewarding, though it didn't seem that way at first.
"In 1961, my family moved to Lynchburg, Virginia," Robert said. "It was February and my life was over. They wore bib overalls and T-shirts to school. The boys dressed the same way. I came from a land of pointed Italian laceups. I died and went to hell.
"For the first couple of weeks, nobody really spoke to me. They were spending too much time sizing up this alien from up North, when that stuff still seemed to matter. In turn, I was processing my current predicament. I was a second-semester sophomore. Two more years and change and I'm out of there. Since I was too young to run away, and too stupid to survive, I played the cards I was dealt.
"I was nursing my abject misery mostly to myself. I ate by myself in the cafeteria and pretty much stayed by myself when we were out on the grounds. Every day, the school gym was opened during lunch and the kids congregated there, after eating their lunch (these were the days before students could leave the school), for an informal sock hop.
"It was the weirdest thing. The guys would be sitting on the bleachers, watching the girls dance with themselves. I never saw girls dance with one another before and, I gotta tell you, it is a bit erotic. Anyway, as usual, I was sitting off by myself when this girl starting shrieking from the other side of the gym, "American Bandstand, American Bandstand," all the while running towards me with her finger pointed right at me. She had seen me on American Bandstand. I went from being an alien to an alien-god.
"Here's the nub: from that day forward, until I graduated to the Navy, I was one of the most popular kids at that high school. All the girls wanted to know me because I could show them how to do the latest dances - Twist, Hucklebuck, Mashed Potatoes, that sort of thing. And, all the guys wanted to know me because all of the girls wanted to know me. It was great. They turned out to be the best years of my life, because I was seen on TV."
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.