Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Brush With Dick Clark

The year was 1958.  Downingtown, Pennsylvania, the small suburb of Philadelphia (5,000) town in southeastern Pennsylvania where I lived was preparing to celebrate its bicentennial year of existence. 

One of the many events to celebrate the Downingtown Bicentennial was an essay contest offered to teenagers in Downingtown.  The essay subject was "Why I Want To Appear on American Bandstand to Celebrate the Downingtown Bicentennial."  I was a 16 year old senior at Downingtown High School.  I wrote my essay ( I liked to write even way back then) and entered the contest.  I won!

Along with several other teenagers who had also submitted winning essays, we boarded a station wagon on a hot and humid August summer day bound for American Bandstand in Philadelphia.  We were going to be on American Bandstand! 

I cannot tell you how thrilled we were to actually be on this television show that we all watched every day after school beginning at 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon.  Big time thrill for our little contigent (seven of us) from the unsophisticated hick town of Downingtown. 

We were going to be on television! 

We were going to meet Dick Clark!

We were going to meet The Royal Teens who would sing "Short, Shorts!" 

Oh the excitement!  We could hardly contain ourselves.

Downingtown is 37 miles west of Philadelphia.  The ride to Philadelphia only took about an hour. 

We arrived at the garage in West Philadelphia neighborhood were American Bandstand was televised daily.  There was a long line outside of the big garage door.  At first we were somewhat disappointed.  First with the garage.  What was that?  It didn't look too glamorous.  Then the fact that we would have to stand in line.  Oh no.

But our worries were for naught because as soon as we got out of the station wagon we were lead to a side door to the garage for "special guests."  Ah ha.  Yes, this works!

Shortly after we entered the garage like building (I have no other way to describe it) we entered the studio where American Bandstand was televised.  This is where they danced!  Wow, it looks much smaller in person.  On TV it looks so much bigger.  But no matter, everything was there. 

The bleachers where the dancers sat which was called "The Peanut Gallery." 

The podium where Dick Clark presided over the day's televised dancing.

And the dance floor surrounded by three television cameras. 

A man spoke to everyone in the bleachers shortly before the live television show began.  I don't remember everything he told us because I was in such awe to actually be at THE DANCE FLOOR WHERE AMERICAN BANDSTAND WAS TELEVISED.  One thing I do remember though was that he told us Dick Clark wouldn't be there that day.  We were somewhat disappointed but not that much because this was before Dick Clark became a really big star. 

I forgot who the guest host was but he announced the first song and the dancing began.  I noticed immediately how the "regulars" (Justine and Company) immediately went onto the dance floor and moved towards the camera with the red light on.  Then I noticed in amazement that everytime the red light went off on one camera and went on in another, the whole dance floor would move like lava flow towards the camera with the red light.  And this when they were slow dancing!  I thought "They must have great periphal vision!" 

After I few dances I got down on the dance floor myself and danced.  I tried to maneauver myself towards the camera with the red light on but I was no match for the regulars, they knew what they were doing and had me blocked at every turn.  It didn't take me too lone to realize that my attempts to be discovered by appearing on TV were in vain.  I settled back and just enjoyed the dancing and the show.

Then it came time for the special guests, the Royal Teens performing their hit song "Short, Shorts." 

Dick Clark's substitute (I wish I could remember his name but my mind is a blank, he was some nonentity) announced them and we in the Peanut Gallery all dutifully cheered.  Then the Royal Teens began to sing.  They weren't singing!  They were lipsynching!  OMG!  Fake!  Oh well, I got a kick out of seeing the slim boys with their slicked back ducktail haircuts (check out the sax player, my type!) and one woman (in short shorts although I would rather of seen the sax player in short shorts) lipsynching their way through this banal Fifties hit song. Lots of fun seeing them in person even if they were faking the music.  By the way, the above video was taken on that summer day in August of 1958 that I was at American Bandstand.  There is a quick shot of the Peanut Gallery.  I looked in but I couldn't see myself there.  I was one of the many who cheered the Royal Teens after they finished their number.  Listen carefully and you may here my 16 year old boy scream.  HA!  By the way, looking at this video I now remember that another one of the musical guests was Julius LaRosa, he of the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts fame.  I have to say we were all very disappointed because Julius wasn't cool at all to us young teenagers!

Too soon our adventure was over and we left the "studio" (which was still a garge in a West Philadelphia neighborhood) and lwith our adrenalain still pumped up, we loaded up in our station wagon headed back to our anonymous existence in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

When I got home I asked my Mother and brothers did they see me on TV. They said they didn't watch it.  My brothers (two younger one, you know how that goes) were up to some other mischief and I think my Mother said she had some rows of corn to weed.  No one saw me. 

So who knows?  Maybe there is some old kinescope out there in a now abandoned, dusty garage in West Philadelphia that shows me making my moves on the dance floor of American Bandstand on that hot and muggy August summer day in 1959.  And I never did meet Dick Clark.

Jeanette Pritchard - Ron Tipton 1959 - DHS Senior Prom


  1. What a great story.
    And I can imagine that the regular dancers knew exactly how to position themselves so they could be seen.

    1. Bob,

      It was fascinating watching the dancers! At first I couldn't figure out why they were moving en mass then I realized they were following the camera with the red light on. Fascinating! I never once saw any of the dancer look directly at the camera with the red light on but they knew which camera was live. The other thing that surprised me was how small the dance floor was. On TV it looked so big. It wasn't that big. Actually, it was quite small.

  2. Ron,

    Was the guest host Tony Mammerello (not sure of spelling). He was the producer and second host of Bandstand between Bob Horn and Dick Clark. He was also co-founder of Swan Records, which was the label that The Beatles first released songs on in America.

    The "Regulars" had special tickets that let them right in. Everyone else had to line up and guys had the door would decide if you were worthy to enter.

    It was ironic yesterday. I was telling Lois how we knew we were old because so many of the "teen idols" we followed as teens were now dead. Then we get home and here Dick Clark, the icon of that age, had died.

    You didn't mention in here about a girl getting car sick on that trip and throwing up on you.


    1. Lar,

      You're right! It was Tony Mammerello who was the host. I can't remember too much about him other than Bob Horn wasn't there (this was after his teenage girl sex scandal) and probably before Dick Clark began hosting. And about that girl throwing up on me on the ride down; now that you mention it I do vaguely remember something of that sort happening. What I really remember is that we went down in a station wagon and I had to ride backwards, which I wasn't too happy about because the ride down and back was uncomfortable and I had to look at the drivers behind the wheel of whichever vehicle was following us. They might as well have taken us down in a tumbrell cart. I felt like cattle.

  3. anne marie in philly7:31 PM

    WOW! impressive! by the time I was old enough to be on bandstand, it had moved to CA.

    "short shorts" - the band tawked like it was from noo yawk! :-)

    1. Anne Marie,

      Oh yes, I believe the Royal Teens were a New Yawk concoction.


  4. That is a great story!!!

    It must have been really exciting! I can't beleive that no one watch for you on TV, but that is so something my family would have done, too.

    I have to admit that the link I click on to get to your site, had the post title split over two lines... the first line was "My Brush with Dick"

    1. Hank,

      My family rarely expressed interest in anything I did. I had just that kind of family, sad to say. I think you understand. That lack of interest in me when I was growing up is probably why I am so sensitive to rejection today. I wish I wasn't but I am. Ah ha, so you picked up on "My brush with Dick?" Now that's another whole story for another blog....or two. :)

  5. That was a wonderful story. I watched 'American Dreams' a few years back about a girl who became a regular on Bandstand and it always fascinated me about the kids who did actually go there everyday to dance.

    1. Scott,

      I was fascinated by the "American Bandstand" kids too and was anxious to meet some of them but they wouldn't have anything to do with us. Maybe we were too shy. I thought we would at least be introduced but it didn't happen. It was still a thrill to be there though. I just wish I had taken my camera. I never thought of it.

  6. I got to meet Bozo the clown once. that is my brush with TV celebrity.

    1. Dr. Spo,

      I met a several Bozo's in my lifetime too but probably not the same one you met.



Comments are always welcome except from SPAM bloggers. I answer all comments. Have a great day!