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- January 27, 1986
- Vol. 25
- No. 4
He Won't Dance—don't Ask Him—but the Boyish Impresario Is Cruising Toward 60 with His Life on Fast Forward
That's not all that's irking Clark. He is still smarting from a clash of tempers with one of his staff members on the Dick Clark's Nitetime set only a couple of days earlier. What's more, workmen in his apartment building have marked up his expensive furniture, and now a photographer has asked him to dance on a tabletop for the camera. "I don't want to be a total shit-heel about this, but I'm not a graceful person," he says in a voice tinged with exasperation. "People expect me to dance well. I don't dance. Period."
Forget the neatly coiffed kid who looked so reassuringly squeaky clean as he Pied-Pipered an army of bopping teens in poodle skirts and penny loafers down Primrose Lane on ABC's American Bandstand. Never mind the cool hand who helped anchor last summer's chaotic Live Aid telethon ("It reminded me why I shouldn't do freebies," says Clark), or the low-key emcee of CBS' The $25,000 Pyramid and the syndicated $100,000 Pyramid. Pay no attention to the deft poker of good-natured fun standing in Ed McMahon's ample shadow each week on NBC's TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes. Away from the taping studios, where he generates the same kind of megawatt sincerity as Ronald Reagan and Dinah Shore, Dick Clark is—and always has been—a driven man.
Not without reason. In addition to having achieved a sort of immortality as the big-brotherly figure who has introduced three generations to virtually every pop music figure since Elvis, he runs a multimedia entertainment boutique—only he simultaneously hosts hit shows on all three networks and in syndication—that has filled his personal coffers to the sweet tune of around $100 million.
Not that he has much time to count it. Last month Clark celebrated Band-stand's "33 1/3 Anniversary" with a star-studded ABC special and a commemorative book, co-authored with Michael Shore, The History of American Bandstand: It's Got a Great Beat and You Can Dance to It! (Ballantine Books, $12.95). He rang in 1986 with his 14th annual Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, and this week his Golden Globe Awards show will be syndicated nationwide, to be followed Jan. 27 by Clark's 13th annual American Music Awards telecast on ABC.
Clark considers these and a multitude of other projects merely pleasant diversions from his bone-crushing Los Angeles schedule. Most Mondays there are spent taping Bloopers shows with McMahon. On Tuesdays, Clark tapes a few Nitetimes, his new weekly comedy-rock show that is now syndicated to 84 percent of the U.S. market. Wednesdays he tapes his national Top 40 radio shows, Countdown America and Dick Clark's Rock, Roll & Remember. Some Thursdays he clicks off a week's worth of Pyramids, five half-hour shows, and on Fridays another 10. Every fourth or fifth Saturday he tapes a few Bandstands. "The rest of the time," he says without irony, "is left for office work."
Well, not quite. From the three-story mock-Tudor headquarters of Dick Clark Productions in Burbank, Clark and his staff tirelessly churn out additional series (including son Richard "RAC" Clark's syndicated lip-sync show, Puttin' On the Hits), a seemingly endless succession of specials, TV movies (Murder in Texas, Copacabana) and, recently, the motion picture Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. Then there is the Clark-produced Good ol' Rock 'n' Roll stage show that keeps packing 'em into Las Vegas and Atlantic City hotels.
As his stunningly blond celebrity partner Teresa Ganzel cradles her head in anguish, a $25,000 Pyramid contestant fails to guess the final category at the pyramid's peak—"Things that are scarce." In the process, he has blown a chance to boost his prize money past $50,000 and become the biggest overall cash winner in the history of the show. As he often does, Dick Clark leaves the podium where he spends most of the half hour lounging comfortably and throws in a few postgame clues of his own. "As hens' teeth," he suggests helpfully. Ganzel and the contestant stare at him uncomprehendingly. " 'Scarce as hens' teeth' used to be quite a popular expression," Clark jokes mildly, "but I guess you have to be really old to remember it."
At 56, Clark is accustomed to this sort of thing. He hurled himself into the breach between the generations three decades ago and is still there, spanning the gap. Tanned and fit, with just enough gray to reassure the rest of us that he's no Stepford host, Clark could pass for a man two decades younger. "That's very flattering," says Clark with a sigh, "but it's also a little bit like being a female sex symbol. They're constantly told how wonderful they look, but it gets to be a drag after a while, because someday the looks have gotta go. It would be nice to be allowed to age gracefully. Besides, it's all in the genes. If you want to stay young looking, pick your parents very carefully."
Clark would much rather talk about the finer points of emceeing a game show that he considers "the best ever invented." Before signing on to do Pyramid, he turned down an offer for a similar series. "The producers told me to be more exciting, but that's not my style. I told them if that's what they wanted, go get Wink Martindale. What makes me different from the rest is that I try to calm down the contestants so they can be comfortable and think. The game is exciting enough."
Clark is a calming presence on Pyramids other reasons as well. "He behaves differently there than he does on, say, the Bandstand set," says Kari Clark, 43, who doubles as the boss's third wife and his executive assistant. "On Pyramid, which he hosts but doesn't produce, Dick is totally cool—he just enjoys himself when that red light goes on and lets everybody else do the worrying. But when it's his show, watch out! If the crew takes five, Dick makes sure it's five minutes and not 10 or 20. In that case, time is money—his money—and Dick won't put up with seeing it wasted. He doesn't tolerate mistakes very well either."
Friends call Clark a "perfectionist;" abraded acquaintances are often less flattering. All agree, Clark included, that he has a deserved reputation as a demanding taskmaster with an ego-shriveling temper. "Sure I blow up, I let it out," he shrugs. "That's why I don't have an ulcer." No, but he is a carrier. "I hate lazy people, liars and most of all excuse makers," he says. "If somebody tells me up front, 'Sorry, I've screwed up,' I try not to get mad—how can you?" But he has learned that forgiveness doesn't always pay. "This one bastard stole from me—tapes of my shows that he turned around and sold," he remembers. "When he apologized and told me the financial pressures he was under, I gave him a second chance. And he did it again! So no more Mr. Nice Guy."
The son of a Mount Vernon, N.Y. cosmetics salesman, Clark was a wheeler-dealer practically from toddlerhood. At the age of 5 he published a neighborhood gossip sheet and sold it for two cents a copy. As a child he idolized radio personalities like Arthur Godfrey, but it wasn't until Clark Sr. took his 13-year-old son to a live radio broadcast featuring Garry Moore and Jimmy Durante that young Dick got hooked. After his older brother, Brad, was killed in World War II, Clark's father took a job managing a radio station in Utica, N.Y. so his surviving son could have a shot at a career in broadcasting. Dick worked summers as a gofer and part-time announcer and in 1951 broke into TV as "Cactus Dick," host of a local country music show. The following year he moved to Philadelphia's WFIL, where he had his own radio show and commuted to New York to do TV beer commercials—until brewery owner Rudy Schaefer yanked him off the air because he looked too young to be drinking the product. That choirboy image served Clark well in 1956, when the host of a popular Philadelphia dance program called Bandstand was arrested for drunk driving and summarily fired. Clark stepped into the job, and the show took off. Within months of going network in 1957, American Bandstand, which led directly into ABC's The Mickey Mouse Club, was the country's highest-rated daytime show.
Musically, the late 1950s and early '60s belonged to Clark, as the likes of Chuck Berry, Fabian, Chubby Checker, the Coasters, the Temptations and the Supremes had millions of kids doing the stroll, the pony, the frug, the mashed potato, the Watusi, the twist, the Bristol stomp, the hully gully, the jerk, the monkey—you name it. Regular dancers on the show, local kids like Kenny Rossi, Arlene Sullivan, Joanne Montecarlo and Bandstand's most famous couple, Justine Carrelli and Bob Clayton, became celebrities in their own right, drawing as many as 14,000 fan letters a week.
Clark didn't hesitate to exploit his position, setting up several companies for the sole purpose of pressing and distributing records that he would spin on his show. Although the practice wasn't illegal, congressional investigators determined in 1960 that it amounted to a flagrant conflict of interest. At the height of the payola scandal, Clark was forced by ABC to divest himself of his record companies at a loss of eight million preinflation dollars. Clark calls the payola investigations "a huge, trumped-up witch hunt," but admits that he did some "stupid things" and was "absolutely terrified" that he might be fired by the network.
He wasn't, and four years later Bandstand relocated to Los Angeles, where it successfully weathered the freaked-out '60s. "It was a very self-destructive time—much worse than it is now, even with all the coke," Clark says. "As an adult and a parent I was very disturbed by what was being said to the kids about drugs. We even had big stars nodding off on camera. I saw one of them just the other day and asked her if she remembered that she did that on the show. She told me that everything from 1965 to 1970 was a blank. She missed the whole damn thing."
The show continued to grow in popularity, affording Clark the chance to rebuild his empire completely. The all-consuming nature of the task was at least partly responsible for the collapse of his first two marriages—to his childhood sweetheart, Bobbie Mallery, and later his former secretary, Loretta Martin. Custody of RAC, now 29, Duane, 22, and Cindy, 21, went to their mothers, though RAC says all three remain close to their father.
The person closest to him, though, is Kari, Mrs. Dick Clark since 1977. "It's the perfect marriage," RAC says flatly. Minnesota-bred Kari Wigton, a onetime dancer who worked as an assistant to North Dakota Sen. Quentin Burdick before joining the Clark operation as a secretary 17 years ago, is as relentlessly cheerful as she is efficient. Clark is forever pulling slips of paper out of his pockets, on which Kari has written the instructions that guide him through each day: "The limo comes for you at 2:30...Don't forget to unplug the lamp in the living room..." And she performs another service that is perhaps even more valuable. "Kari is the pleasant face Dick turns toward the world so he can swim freely with the rest of the sharks," says a longtime acquaintance. "It's not that he's a bad guy; he just knows how to handle them." Kari herself is no Pollyanna vis-à-vis Dick the Knife. "He's tough, he can be moody, he's a worrier," she concedes. "But I'm fairly happy and up nearly all the time, so we balance each other perfectly."
There are more tangible compensations. In addition to their New York coop, the Clarks boast one of Malibu's most spectacular beachfront houses, complete with a pushbutton-operated waterfall in the cavernous living room, an Art Nouveau dining room, an "English pub room" featuring a stained glass bar, and "theme" bedrooms—one with a rustic log cabin feel and another in the Las Vegas bridal suite vein. On the property is a small vehicular galaxy including a Rolls-Royce, a Mercedes, a Jaguar, a Dodge Caravan and a Chevy pickup. Perhaps with an eye toward guaranteeing himself elbow room, Clark has plunked down several million dollars for 80 hilltop acres near his home.
For the foreseeable future, though, Clark will concentrate on developing film projects rather than real estate. He has a number of TV movies in the works, one a Janis Joplin film bio and another dealing with the Abscam sting, as well as five theatrical features. And since the ratings for Bandstand have slipped over the past two years, Clark says he plans to step down as emcee, probably in 1987. He already has his replacement in mind, but he's not saying who it will be.
Nothing rankles Clark more than attacks by critics who charge him with wasting his time, talent and resources in turning out pap. "What I do isn't necessarily my personal taste in entertainment," he counters, "but it is what people want. I don't pretend it's great art. That's not what I'm here for."
Then again, maybe you can't please all of the people all of the time. Clark jumped into a New York taxi recently and rode in silence for a few moments before the driver piped up:
"Hey, I used to live in Philly, and we watched your show all the time. Really enjoyed it."
"So...done anything since?"
November 25, 2015
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