the Rock & Roll Icon and
host of American Bandstand
in the 50s and 60s passed today
April 18, 2012
Dick Clark was a wonderful man who enjoyed his work. He was an ace professional with a kind and sincere manner. He liked the “kids” and enjoyed giving someone their start in the music business. So many wannabes sought to be a guest on American Bandstand. Every year it has been a tradition in our house, on New Year’s Eve, to watch Dick Clark in New York City – while the ball dropped in Times Square. Hundreds of thousands of people will miss this in 2012.
Dick was the 50s version of iPods, vcrs, and all that attracts teenagers now. Everyday we rushed home from school to watch Bandstand, and the dancers on the show, Kenny Rossi, Arlene Sullivan, Patty Moliteri, Frankie Branchaccio, Justine Carelli and Bob Clayton, were our idols. The teens on Bandstand set the fashion style of the day. They wore their blouse collar up under their sweater, which they put on backwards and buttoned up the back. They rolled their socks down a certain way over their saddle shoes. It was a wonderful time, and fondly, one of the best experiences in my young life.
My partner, Frankie, and me in front of Pop Singers
My identical twin sister and I were on Bandstand for three and one-half years, from 1957 through 1960. We had many wonderful experiences while on the show, and the Saturday Night Dick Clark Show as well, and met many of the famous music stars of today. Some of them I have been able to keep in touch with.
I began writing my book, “Unlimited Realities,” in 2004, and sent Dick the chapter about my time on American Bandstand. He personally told me that he loved it and wrote me a note to tell me so. I’d like to share that chapter with you now. Dick Clark — thank for for all you did to help so many people – your memory will always be with me — and you are in my heart. I shall truly miss you!
My twin took this photo of Arlene & Kenny
“Please, please, you just gotta let us do it,” Priscilla and I begged our parents with the fervor of a pair of starving vacuum cleaner salesmen. “Please take us down to Philadelphia so we can dance on American Bandstand. Everyone in the world wants to be on.”
“It’s all we’ll ever ask you for, ever, ever again,” I said. “Nancy and Claramay did TV commercials, so it’s only fair for us to be on television too. We’re fifteen, and that’s just the right age.”
My father looked skeptical. “What exactly is this American Bandstand thing?”
“Omigosh, Dad, I can’t believe you don’t know,” Priscilla said, her fists pumping the air like mad pistons. “Everyone in the world watches it. They have performers come on and sing all the new music, and they have high school kids like us dance all the new dances.”
“And it won’t cost you anything at all,” I cut in. “They let you dance for free. You’ll get to see us on TV, and we’ll make you proud, and we’ll get to see famous singers, and it’ll be great experience in case we become professional dancers.” Our parents weren’t sure at first, but finally they gave in. Maybe the fact that my twin and I were agreeing about something threw them off balance.
The four of us drove to Philadelphia the very next week. My father blew up when we got to the WFIL-TV studios on Market Street and saw at least two hundred teenagers lined up outside the front doors. “This really takes the cake,” Dad roared. “A hundred and five-mile drive down the Jersey Turnpike in heavy traffic, just so you kids can get turned away before we even get out of the car.”
“Wait here,” I said, jumping out. “I’ll be right back.” Before anyone could stop me, I plunged into the crowd. A few minutes later I came back with Bob, a man many times more important than the President of the United States. Bob was the security guard who decided who got in and who did not, and Bob thought that dancing identical twins would be great on American Bandstand.
Before anyone could say “Cinderella,” Bob asked Franny Giordano, one of the well-known regular dancers on the show, to take us into the studio. She very sweetly led us through a side door into a hot, dazzlingly bright little room. Inside were three sets of grandstands, a map of the United States, and the podium where the star Dick Clark stood, all behind a red line drawn across the floor. Three enormous TV cameras occupied most of the rest of the space. “It’s so small,” I thought. “How are we ever going to do so much dancing on this postage stamp floor?” But somehow or other Priscilla and I did, along with sixty or so other teens, that afternoon and many, many other times over the course of three years.
After Priscilla and I had been on a few shows, the regular bandstand dancers started to welcome us as regulars too. Soon people began to recognize us on the street. Even some of the mean parents and kids from high school began giving us their attention. It was such a big change. They’d stop us on the street and say, “Are you the Dancing Twins on television?” And we would say, quite sweetly and graciously, “Why yes, as a matter of fact, we are.” It was the stuff that dreams are made on. American Bandstand marked the end of our suffering era, and we began to emerge somehow as deserving individuals. People from outside our area liked us and accepted us. Regulars on the show like Kenny Rossi, Arlene Sullivan, and Frankie Branchaccio, who had fans all over the United States and got bags of fan mail every week, became our friends. We could relax and have fun with them without being gossiped about and criticized the way we were back in Ridgewood. Dick Clark, the show’s star and all-around Emperor of Teen TV, knew us by name. We met just about all the rising rock’n’roll royalty of the day –– Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Sam Cooke, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, Paul Anka, Pat Boone, Connie Francis, Frankie Valli, and Annette Funicello. American Bandstand was a gift from Heaven. What an eye-opener! What a relief to learn that Ridgewood, New Jersey, was not the center of the universe.
One Saturday night in the early spring of 1958, after a Dick Clark show in Atlantic City, we were invited to a party hosted by Pop Singer, who owned the delicatessen next door to the Bandstand studio. Frankie Valli, Danny and the Juniors, Lou Monte, and Janice Harper were there, along with Dick and some of the Bandstand regulars. I was feeling especially shy and awkward because I didn’t know many people there. I went to the back of the room to get some punch, and I saw an especially handsome boy reaching for a chocolate chip cookie on the table. His eyes were deep and kind looking, and his hair looked so soft and wavy that I was tempted to run my fingers through it. My breath was catching in my throat, and I was afraid I would sound like a frog if I said anything. At last I mastered my fear enough to produce some words in something like my normal voice.
“Hello,” I said. “You’re new to the group here, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I’m a guest of Dick’s. My name’s Bobby Darin, and I’ve just recorded several new songs. I was hoping Dick would play one on his show next week. It’s called Queen of the Hop. This guy named Woody Harris and I wrote it.” He looked at me for a minute. “Say, aren’t you one of the twins on the show?”
“Yes, my name’s Beth.”
“I really like the show,” Bobby said. “My favorite’s Justine Carelli, the beautiful blonde.”
My heart, which had been flying up near the ceiling on pink frosting wings, crashed to the floor and tried to hide under the table.
“The song’s about her,” Bobby said. “It talks about tuning into ‘Bandstand’ and watching Justine dance. ‘She’s the queen of the hop. Sweet little Justine, yeah, she’s my queen.'”
“Great,” I said. “Can’t wait to hear it.” This was not entirely a lie. There was still hope. He hadn’t said that he was engaged to Justine or anything. Besides, everyone in the world knew that she was dating her dancing partner Bob Clayton. “What’s the beat?”
“Oh, it’s a jive song. You know a lot about music?”
Music! How I knew music. I could tell you the name of any popular song or show tune on the first three notes and then sing all the words. “Yes, I’ve studied music all my life. I have a wonderful record collection, and I take voice lessons too.”
“You sing?” he smiled.
“Not very well. My twin is much better,” I said, looking down.
“Okay, but what about dancing? Guess that’s your talent. I know because I’ve watched you. You even won the Spotlight Dance recently.”
I felt my cheeks and ears turn red. “I love to do all the new dance styles.”
“Well,” Bobby said, “Let’s try a few.” My heart took up its previous position on the ceiling.
At the time, I never realized how shy Bobby Darin was and how difficult it was for him to meet girls. Later I found out that he rarely went to a party or a dance because he was always working on his writing or singing. When he did get out, he always stayed in the back of the room because he didn’t know anyone. He never seemed that reticent to me. Maybe it was because he sensed that I was even shyer than he was.
It was a slow dance, and I was enjoying the lightness of his step and, of course, his wonderful sense of rhythm.
“I have a feeling your record will do well,” I said.
“That’s good to hear. I’ve got to make it and soon, before the age of twenty-five.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because,” Bobby hesitated, “because I have a bad heart. I had rheumatic fever when I was a kid, and it messed up my heart.”
We danced silently for a while. Then, in the middle of the floor, we stopped and did something more daring than I would ever have thought possible. We gazed into each other’s eyes. I was only fifteen, and it was the first time I had ever felt someone’s energy completely penetrate my body. I actually started to swoon. Bobby had to catch me.
His voice came to me from far away. “Are you okay?” he smiled and his dimples were overwhelming.
Oh, yes, I was okay.
“You know, you dance really great. You float like a feather. Where did you learn to follow like that? It’s like you know my mind as well as I do.”
“My Uncle Fred teaches me,” I said.
“Well, I owe your Uncle Fred a debt of gratitude.”
I didn’t tell Bobby that being psychic doesn’t hurt either. It makes it easier to zero in on what your partner wants to do, and it helps you avoid getting your toes stepped on.
“By the way,” Bobby said, “what kind of song do you think would make it big on the charts?”
“Well, I’m not really sure. Perhaps it’s like the way it is with books. Romance novels are a dime a dozen, but a classic is timeless. Have you ever thought about recording a classic song, maybe from one of the Broadway shows?”
“No, I haven’t, but I’ll keep that in mind for the future.”
“Bobby, I just know you’re going to make it. You’ll make it big, and your music will be everywhere, even overseas.”
“Thanks, Dreamboat,” he grinned. “Say, when can I see you again? Where do you live?”
I was taken aback and a bit frightened. What would my father think? “I live in Ridgewood, New Jersey,” I heard myself say.
“”Whew,” he whistled. “That’s a fancy place. I live in the Bronx. You ever been to the Bronx?”
“Not really. I’ve passed through it, though, when we go to Yankee Stadium.”
“I’ve seen Ridgewood, too, but just from a distance,” Bobby said. “But you know, the two places aren’t really that far apart. Maybe twenty-five miles, tops. Why don’t you give me your phone number?”
Again, I was worried about my father’s reaction to him. I was fifteen. I had almost no experience dating boys. Bobby was six years older than I was, from the Bronx, and Italian. “Father will never let me go out with him,” I thought.
“So, where are you staying in Atlantic City?” Bobby asked.
“Oh, we’re not staying here overnight. My parents are coming to pick my sister and me up in a little while.”
“Aw shucks,” Bobby said. (Yes, he really did say, “Aw shucks.”) “I thought I’d get to walk you to your hotel in the moonlight. Can I have a rain check?”
My parents showed up a few minutes later, and I had to leave. Bobby walked me to the stairs to say goodbye, his arm around my waist. He gave me a tight squeeze and winked. “I’m sure glad we met, Beth, and I’ll call you soon. I have a meeting with Dick Clark after this party. Wish me luck. I’ve just got to get this record played on Bandstand.”
“You will,” I said. “Believe me, you will.” At that moment I had a vision of all the regulars on the show dancing to Bobby’s music. I didn’t tell him, though. I had learned to be cautious about telling anyone about my visions of the future.
“Who was that guy?” whispered my twin when we got into the car.
“His name’s Bobby,” I whispered back.
“He’s kinda cute, but isn’t he Italian? And that means Catholic, too, I bet. Dad will never let him into the house.”
“I know. Anyway, he probably won’t call. He likes Justine.”
“Don’t they all,” Priscilla said, chuckling.
“Even if I never see him again,” I thought, “I did get to dance with him. I just know he’s going to make it big. His name will be known all over the world. Sure do wish I could have heard that song, Queen of the Hop.
Early one Sunday afternoon, two weeks later, Bobby called. Only another fifteen-year-old girl could possibly understand how excruciating those two weeks had been. “Hi, Dreamboat,” he said, “what are you doing? Need some company?”
My heart started its aeronautics again. “When?” I asked.
“How about an hour?” he said.
Shaking with happiness and fear, I ran to ask my mother whether Bobby could stop by. “Oh, what will your father think?” she said. “Well, all right, but make sure it’s after dinner. Your father is out at a church meeting, so we can’t eat until three o’clock.”
I ran back to the phone. “Make it four o’clock,” I said.
“I have a real clunker of a Chevy, and I only hope it will make it across the bridge. Don’t be upset if I’m a little late. I’m leaving in a few minutes so I’ll get to see your pretty face before dark.”
Dad got home late, and we sat down to dinner at three-thirty. Ten minutes into the meal, the doorbell rang. “Who’s at the door this time of day?” my father growled. Mother hadn’t told him that Bobby was coming. Dad, scowling, went to the door and ushered Bobby into the living room.
When Dad came back to the table, I asked why he didn’t invite Bobby to come in and sit with us. He leaned over, looked at me, and said in a voice Bobby couldn’t help hearing, “That kid will never be good enough to sit at our table.”
“Really, dear,” Mother said, “that’s so rude of you to say.”
“I don’t care,” Dad said. “He doesn’t belong here, and he’s too dumb to know about rudeness. He’s Italian and from the Bronx. What kind of education or manners could he possibly have?”
I wanted to crawl under the table. Dad ate slowly, lingering over the meal until I was squirming. Finally Mother said, “Go in and see your young man now, Betty Ann, but you cannot go out with him in that car. We don’t know what kind of driver he is.”
Quietly, with my head bowed, I went into the living room, and Bobby rose from his chair. “Hello, Beth,” he said, “thanks for letting me come by. You sure do have a nice home.” He held out an unwrapped box. “I brought you this because you told me you collected Storybook Dolls. It’s the one from Spain. I picked her out because I liked the colors of her outfit.”
Hurt and embarrassed, I didn’t know what to do for a moment. Bobby looked so vulnerable standing there and holding the doll he had bought for me. “Hi, Bobby,” I finally said. “Were my directions okay?”
“Great,” he said. “I came to your house like a beacon light.”
Suddenly Bobby walked into the dining room. “Mr. Reich,” he said, “may I take your daughter for a walk? We’ll just be outside, walking around the house. I won’t take her off your property.”
“Fine,” my father answered, not looking at him.
We went out the front door, and Bobby took my hand. “Look, Beth, I would never, never cause you any harm. I know I’m older than you are and all that, but how can I see you? You’re great, and I’d like to get to know you. You seem to know so much about music. I promise I’ll never harm a hair on that pretty head. You’ll learn that you can trust me. I believe in honesty and being direct. I hate the games they play in show business.”
“I’d like to see you too,” I answered, “but you saw what my father just did.”
“Why don’t you come in to New York?” Bobby asked. “I know you don’t drive, but there must be a train or a bus around here someplace. So let’s make a plan. You come to New York, we can find a place to have lunch, and I’ll have you back by sunset. How’s that? Can you come in next Saturday?”
Bobby and I walked around the yard for a while in the early spring air. We talked about his plans for his career and my dreams of acting in the theater. He lifted my chin and looked into my eyes. “You are so beautiful,” he said. “Don’t let your family stop your dreams. I’ll call you this week to set a time and place for us to meet in the city.” With that, Bobby drove off, his car sputtering and spurting its way down the street. I prayed he would get back to the Bronx safely. That was the only time Bobby Darin ever came to my house.
I met Bobby in the city many times. Sometimes we just went to a restaurant and sat around talking with singers and musicians like Connie Francis, Frankie Valli, or some of Bobby’s other friends. The most common topic of conversation seemed to be getting big breaks: whether they would ever come, when they would come, how we could get them to come, how we could recognize them when they came, what we would do when they came, and how other entertainers got them.
In the fall of 1958, Bobby called and told me he was working on a new song. “I’m writing it about you, Dreamboat,” Bobby said, “and I’ve got a really good feeling about it. The tempo is kind of like a cha-cha or the new calypso dance you’re doing on Bandstand. Every time you hear it, I want you to think about me thinking about you.” Then he began to sing:
Every night I hope and pray
A dream lover will come my way.
A girl to hold in my arms and
Know the magic of her charms,
Because, I want a girl to call my own.
I want a dream lover, so
I don’t have to dream alone.
The following February Bobby played the demonstration recording of Dream Lover to me over the phone. He was doing his own piano accompaniment, although Neil Sedaka played on the version that was finally released. The demo was imperfect and rough, but it was marvelous. I still remember it clearly, and I prefer it to the smoother, more technically perfect final version. Dream Lover was released in March, 1959. It was an instant hit. My vision of seeing the kids on Bandstand dance to his music came true over and over again as Bobby’s star rose.
I also went along to some of his recording sessions. He would ask me what I thought about his work, and he actually listened to what I had to say. His voice, how can I describe it? He made it seem easy, that voice that could go from a whisper to a shout so deftly, that ability to sing almost any kind of music. He could enter into a song and find its heart. As time went on, I kept after him to do an album of classic standards. “I think it would be something good for you, a new direction. I sense it would be a good move since you’re so versatile.”
In September I got another call from Bobby. “Guess who I just met,” he said excitedly.
“No, Dreamboat, George Burns.”
“George Burns? What does he have to do with music?”
“He doesn’t, but he wants to take me to Vegas.”
“Las Vegas? Night club work?” I asked, surprised. “Do you think you can keep up with the pace? Is it what you really want?”
“I need to stop doing so much teen stuff and break into the adult music market.”
“Oh my, Bobby, I’ll miss you.” It took me a little while to collect myself. Then I teased, “Have you begun to choose the songs for your new album of standards?”
“What do you think of That’s All?“
“A Sinatra song? They’ll think you’re a wannabe. I know you can do a fine job with it, though. Anything else? Anything with a beat?”
“Well, I’ve been practicing a few. Do you know anything from the Threepenny Opera? It’s originally from Germany, but an English version is playing Off-Broadway.”
“Now you’re talking. Yes, I know the Threepenny Opera.”
“What’s your favorite song from the show?”
“Mack the Knife,” I said immediately, “but you could never do a song about a murderer.”
“You know,” Bobby said, “you’re a funny kid. You’ve got a sixth sense. I’ve learned that about you. I’ve decided I’m going to do that standards album. I’m even writing a new song for it called That’s the Way Love Is. But I’ve decided that Mack the Knife will be the first song on the album. Remember that, Dreamboat. I just hope I don’t lose my record contract because of it. If I can get that album done before December twenty-fifth, consider it my Christmas gift to you. Gotta run now. Take care of yourself and know that a part of you is always with me.”
Bobby Darin went to Vegas with George Burns, and Burns became a sort of father figure to him for the rest of his life. Bobby had never known his own father, and it makes me happy to think that he finally found someone who could at least partly fill that void.
The album Bobby and I talked about, titled That’s All, was recorded a few days before Christmas, 1958, and was released in the spring of 1959. Just as Bobby had promised me, Mack the Knife was the first track. No one thought the song would be a hit. His producers tried to talk him out of doing it, and Bobby was nervous about it too. No one expected the fireworks of popularity and praise that it engendered when the album hit the streets; nor the two Grammy’s Bobby got, one for Best New Artist and the other for Best Record of the Year. No one except a teenager from New Jersey, who had seen it even before the song had been officially chosen.
It was four years before I saw Bobby again. The calls still came, but not as often. He had married the actress Sandra Dee in 1960, and after that he spent most of his time on the West Coast. He did, however, play the Copacabana nightclub in New York several times a year. I went to see him on a Saturday night in 1963. The place was packed, and my seat was in the top ring of tables. I thought he’d never see me in such a crowd, so I left my name backstage, hoping I could catch him after the show.
The lights were just beginning to dim as we were seated. When Bobby came out in his tuxedo dancing to the tune of Mack the Knife, he had an mischievous smile on his face. I was laughing and enjoying the moment and feeling proud to know him. Then I realized that he was walking toward me. Up the steps he came, first ring, second ring, then up to my table, where he held out his hand to me, all the while singing, “…Oh, the line forms to the right, babe, when ol’ Mack is back in town.”
Tears streaming down my face, my knees almost buckling out from under me, I took his hand and walked into the spotlight and down the steps with him to the stage. Still singing, he motioned for me to have a seat. After the first set, he introduced me as a dear friend as well as one of the twins from American Bandstand. He even had me take a bow. That was the last time I saw him.
In one of the last telephone conversations I had with Bobby, he asked me to promise him something. “I want you always to remind Paul Anka and Dick Clark how much they mean to me. Dick gave me more than one break, and he’s a wonderful friend. Paul and his creativity have always inspired me. When you see them, Dreamboat, say ‘Hi’ for me.” I gave him my word, and to this day I always do tell them “Hi” from Bobby. It was in 1973 that he died following heart surgery.
Bobby believed that he would never see his twenty-fifth birthday. I think he felt forever rushed, pushed, as if he had to accomplish all the things he wanted to do in a hurry. His desire to achieve all he could, his great energy, and his talent carried him twelve precious years past his expectations.
Our relationship was laughably innocent by today’s standards: some kisses, some dancing, many long talks, and, of course, some looking deeply into each others’ eyes. I miss him still. Whenever I am walking along a beach in the moonlight, if I listen for a while, I can hear Bobby’s voice on the night breeze. At first faintly, then clearer and clearer, the familiar words come back:
Somewhere beyond the sea,
Somewhere waiting for me,
My true love stands on golden sands
And watches the ships that go sailing.
—Beyond the Sea, Charles Trenet and Jack Lawrence
©2012 Visions of Reality
All Rights Reserved