Besides pulling all the pieces together for a national television program, Clark was busy in the greater Philadelphia area, attending as many teen dances as he could while hyping the Bandstand brand that would eventually bring him immense wealth and fame.
He was also busy with a little rock & roll film that has been largely forgotten over the years, but offers some insight into the motivation that fueled Clark's ambitions to be king of whatever mountain he chose to climb.
The movie was Jamboree, one of those early rock films that straddled the line between insipid ballads and the emerging raw sound that was threatening to supplant it. Rock & roll was still seen as a fad by many in 1957, a fad that was understood by young hepcats, misunderstood by older squares but really wasn't all that bad. Dig, Daddio?
Alan Freed had pioneered the genre a year earlier with three films built around slim storylines of generational or cultural conflicts, and punctuated by the real stars - clips of popular musical artists of the era. Clark, who saw himself as the heir apparent to Freed as the nation's No. 1 influencer of rock music, was eager to get his clean cut, boy-next-door image into theaters as an alternative to Freed, whose image was considerably coarser but whose musical acumen was light years ahead of his youthful Philadelphia counterpart.
Jamboree had some advantages over Freed's productions, however.
For one thing, it was being produced by a major studio, Warner Brothers. Its producer, Max Rosenberg, was intimately familiar with the genre, too, having produced Freed's most recent epic, Rock, Rock, Rock, in 1956. And, while Freed's productions were built around him as the arbiter of good musical taste, Jamboree featured 19 disc jockeys, including two from England and two from Germany, making cameo appearances. This, presumably, would give ample promotional opportunities for distributors in major markets where these jocks held sway over young, impressionable listeners. Indeed, the film was originally titled Disc Jockey Jamboree to reflect this reality.
Typically not leaving anything to chance, Clark decided to be an investor in the film. He and Bernie Binnick, a veteran of the Philadelphia music scene, teamed up to form the Binlark Corporation in the summer of 1957 to invest in the film. Binnick, who would later be a partner with Clark and Tony Mammarella in Swan Records, was rewarded with a slot in the credits as "Assistant to the Producer."
While the film's script was predictably lame, the mix of musical acts was, well, peculiar. Songwriter Aaron Schroeder, who wrote five No. 1 hits for Elvis Presley and later would sign Gene Pitney to his Musicor label, cranked out some real clunkers for Jamboree. Jazz greats Count Basie and Joe Williams lend some class to the proceedings, but seem woefully out of place in this movie.
Not as out of place as country warbler Slim Whitman, though, or "Ron Coby" (really Brazilian singer Cauby Peixoto), whose Toreador, frankly, wouldn't be welcome anywhere. While strong performances by Jerry Lee Lewis (his screen debut) and Fats Domino nearly save the day, the film is pretty much a yawner, though it does show how much influence Clark already had, even before American Bandstand was a national sensation.
Take, for example, the matter of face time. All of the disc jockeys (with the exception of Clark and Chicago's Howard Miller), were limited to a few seconds while introducing a record or making a comment. Clark, however, managed to wrangle five different spots for himself.
Clark also managed to keep performances by several Philadelphia acts from the cutting room floor - Charlie Gracie, Jodie Sands and 17-year-old Frankie Avalon, who looks every bit his age as he cranks out Teacher's Pet with his backup band, Rocco and the Saints. And, to the producer's credit, rather than have main character Honey Wynn (played by actress Freda Holloway), sing Schroeder's insipid lyrics, another Clark favorite, Connie Francis, overdubbed the vocals.
When the film premiered at Philadelphia's Stanton Theater at 1620 Market Street in November 1957, a veritable who's who of the Philadelphia music scene attended, including some royalty from the kids who danced on American Bandstand.
Each of the 10 couples who were named finalists in the show's first jitterbug contest were invited to attend. That included Jack Fisher and his dancing partner, Dottie Horner. Fisher, who later produced a documentary, Bandstand Days, remembers the night well.
“They picked us up in a limo after [Bandstand], took us to the dinner downtown (at the Chancellor Room, owned by Chancellor Records founder Bob Marcucci). Then we went to the premiere of the movie downtown. We all sat together at the movie theater," Fisher said.
While Fisher was excited by the night's activities - the limo ride, eating dinner with Frankie Avalon, attending the premiere of a motion picture as an honored guest - he said the evening had an abrupt ending.
"After all that, ... they dropped us off at the el. There you are, back to reality.”
Reality for two of Jamboree's lead actors - Freda Holloway and Bob Pastine - meant that Jamboree was their big chance. Neither appeared in a credited role in another film. Director Roy Lockwood, who was directing his first movie since 1938, never directed another film.
Dick Clark, of course, found a much better version of reality.
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.