Dick Clark: Rock’s Clean-Cut Champion

In 1959, rock music was still young and revolutionary. Adults were attacking it because, they believed, it was stirring up rebellion among teenagers.

Rock’s greatest defender in those days was Dick Clark — a young (29), polite, well-groomed spokesman who was successfully defending the future of popular music.

As we say goodbye to him today, here are excerpts from his interview with Post writer, Pete Martin.

He firmly and continuously defends that amorphous group known as “teen-agers.”

He is quiet, smooth-voiced, neat in appearance. Obviously he has been brought up to be polite.

In spite of his mannerly attitude, he has had applied to him such titles as The Czar of the Switchblade Set and The Kingpin of the Teen-age Mafia

He has also been labeled The Elder Statesman of the Young People.

“Unfortunately,” he told me, “as we grow older our minds close in certain areas, music among them. The real truth is that adults are more preoccupied with rock ‘n’ roll than the teen-agers.”

“To [adults], short hair means cleanliness, neatness and honesty— obviously the right kind of young man for a bank to hire. The minds of older people are inclined to run in grooves. One of those grooves is that a ducktail haircut means its wearer is a potential juvenile delinquent; a crew cut means that a young man is likable, dependable, bound to succeed.

“As far as the kids are concerned, rock ‘n’ roll is just a portion of their musical knowledge. Youngsters today have a widely varied musical background. Someday they’ll sift some things and be more discriminating. In the meantime they’re having a little bit of everything. I think it’s a very healthy situation.

“A teenager can turn on a phonograph and listen to any kind of sound he wants during one sitting. You can have a Fats Domino record, a Perry Como record, a Frank Sinatra record, or he can listen to the Chordettes, the Everly Brothers, Johnny Mathis, Ricky Nelson, a Tony Martin or a Dean Martin record.

Dick Clark on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post
Dick Clark. July, 1995.

“[American Bandstand] originated locally at an ABC station, WFIL in Philadelphia. It was invented to use up some afternoon time. Somebody asked, ‘What can we do to fill a couple of afternoon hours?’ Two guys in the studio got together and decided to play games, show short films of musical stars and persuade people to telephone in and request their favorite recordings. They also thought it would be a good idea to invite an audience in to watch them. The only audience conveniently located were highschool kids on their way home from school. They discovered that when they played recordings, the kids got up and danced. It became apparent that the show’s future lay in getting on with the dancing. That’s how the Bandstand was born.

“Shortly after I took over it started climbing und soon achieved ratings it had never reached before. That helped make me solid with the studio.

“In about a year’s time the station executives and I persuaded the American Broadcasting Company, who was affiliated with our Philadelphia studio, to let the Bandstand go national on a network basis. The ABC had been running old English movies during that afternoon time slot, but, being young and impetuous, I told them, ‘Put us on for four weeks and if we don’t better those ancient British films, toss us into the ash can.’

“They said O.K., but they made it clear that the only way I could fill that time satisfactorily was by not costing more than the old English movies. Fortunately I met their qualifications.

“I’ve never been able to understand why people who’ve never met me write unkind things about me in their columns or in their newspaper or magazine stories. I’ve tried to get used to criticism, although it’s not the easiest thing in the world to bear, but I am always puzzled as to why anybody should dislike me apparently because I am associated with young people, and because I defend teen-agers’ musical likes and dislikes. The only way I can explain it is that controversial writing, which is usually destructive, must have more newsstand appeal than constructive writing.”