American Bandstand made its network debut from the WFIL-TV studios in Philadelphia on Aug. 5, 1957, beginning a run that would take it through four decades and nearly into a fifth before running out of gas. While 1957 was clearly a pivotal year for Bandstand and its host, Dick Clark, the year was important for many other reasons as well:
- It was the "year of Elvis." Actually, 1956 was Elvis' breakout year with five No. 1 hits. Although he only managed four No. 1 tunes in 1957, that was the year Elvis started playing hard to get. Management was steering him towards Hollywood, but Elvis loved shaking it up on stage so they allowed him just 18 tour stops that year (one was at the Philadelphia Arena). Those would be Elvis' last tours of the 1950s (he entered the Army in 1958) but the momentum he'd built carried his popularity unabated until his return in the 1960s. Elvis bought Graceland in 1957 for $100,000, a pittance compared to the $55 million Elvis-related merchandise pulled in that year.
- While Elvis was raking it in, Little Richard was getting out. He quit rock at about the same time 17-year-old Ricky Nelson was entering it, on his family's Ozzie & Harriet TV show.
- Ford introduced the Edsel, a bomb of a car that failed to slow the sales of a hot new U.S. import, the Volkswagen Beetle. Nor did it dent the sales of 1957 Chevrolets, which I swear were still being built into the mid-1960s.
- In serious news, the Little Rock Nine, a group of African-American students, needed protection by federal troops to enroll in the racially segregated Little Rock Central High School. The nation's first atomic power plant was finished at Shippingport, Pa., and the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society reported the first causal link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer. The FDA approved the first birth control pill.
- The space race heated up after the Soviet Union put two artificial moons in orbit before we could get a rocket into space. U.S. hopes were dashed when the first test of an Atlas intercontinental missile exploded shortly after takeoff from Cape Canaveral.
- Jimmy Hoffa was elected president of the Teamsters and Pres. Eisenhower suffered a stroke.
- The Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants played out their final East Coast seasons and headed to California. Jack Kerouac's On the Road was a treat for serious readers; Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat appealed to the rest of us.
While the premiere of American Bandstand set the stage for its unprecedented run, the broadcast was not without its difficulties. Although a threatened strike by the National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians did not affect the show in Philadelphia, wildcat strikes in other cities did affect John Daly's news show and the Lawrence Welk Show that night.
The show was mostly bashed in the press, like in this excerpt by Bob Bernstein of Billboard:
"A local smash, the series isn't going to help [Philadelphia's] reputation nationally as a quiet town. ABC-radio has just banned records. Why doesn't ABC-TV?"
Author Larry Lehmer is putting the finishing touches on a book about the Philadelphia years of American Bandstand. The book is called Bandstandland. It has lots of details about the show you've never read before. If you have any stories about American Bandstand or Dick Clark that you'd like to share in the book, contact Larry.