“Don’t be too surprised if there’s an engagement announced by Arlene Sullivan and Joe Wissert. They got together a month ago, when Steve Brandt was in town and took the two of them to dinner. They’ve been seeing each other every night ever since.” - Bandstand Newsletter, 16 magazine, from Richie Cartledge.
16 magazine loved to print gossipy little items like that about the regulars that danced on American Bandstand when it was based in Philadelphia. For the record, Arlene Sullivan and Joe Wissert never married but Steve Brandt, who was never actually a Bandstand regular, was a frequent visitor to the Bandstand set in those days.
Brandt was a quirky young man who had been hired by 16 editor Gloria Stavers to work himself into Bandstand’s inner circle and provide photos for the magazine. Disc jockey Clay Cole described Brandt as “a slight, pockmarked, intensely nervous young man” who lived in an expensive suite at the Beverly Hotel on Lexington Avenue in New York.
Brandt became friends with several of the regulars, including Sullivan, Wissert and Larry Giuliani and his Bandstand photos did, indeed, pop up in 16. Brandt was sometimes described as “16’s private eye photographer,” but his contributions weren’t limited to the visual. He often wrote articles, like The Story of My Life by Mike Balara “as told to Steve Brandt.”
His days at 16 magazine were just a stepping stone for Brandt, who went on to be a well-known gossip columnist for Photoplay magazine, working out of Southern California. Brandt was assimilated into the jet set culture of L.A. in the late 1960s and was a good friend of actress Sharon Tate, even standing up at her wedding to Roman Polanski.
After Tate and three other Brandt acquaintances were among the five people murdered in suburban Benedict Canyon on August 9, 1969, Brandt feared that he would be next. That November, he attempted suicide by swallowing a bottle of Tylenol, but was rescued after he made a phone call from his West Hollywood apartment to the secretary of a good friend, singer Eddie Fisher, who was performing in Las Vegas. Brandt was hospitalized in “very critical” condition, but recovered.
Later that month, Brandt attended a Rolling Stones concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City with some friends in the Andy Warhol cohort. He split from the group and retired early to his room at the Chelsea Hotel. When a concerned friend, actress Ultra Violet, called to check on him, Brandt said he had taken a bunch of sleeping pills. By the time help arrived, he was dead.
Excerpted from Bandstandland © 2016 Larry Lehmer
Photo: Steve Brandt with Sharon Tate.