A Real Gone Year
“Impossible!” says Tony. “Never!” Marlene tells me. Even our director Ed Yates has his doubts. The crowd in the “American Bandstand” office keep trying to tell me a whole year can’t pass by in just five minutes. That’s okay. Let them all be old-fashioned. They can’t kid me, because I know 1958 took just that long to spin by on the turntable.
1959, with no respect for its elders, isn’t giving the old year much of a chance to say goodbye. Right here on my desk are about eighty new record releases . . . some dozen more have just been filed away . . . and three are on the spindle waiting for the Everly Brothers’ latest to finish its turn on the record player. But before I flip that page on the calendar there’s a lot of 1958 still filling the air with excitement—and with so much music you’d think they’d run out of names for the new songs and singers. Natch, they don’t. But somebody’s imagination was working overtime when they named that singing team “Dicky Doo and the Don’ts.” And my nomination for the absolutely wildest song title—once I’d learned to pronounce “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu”—was a little number called “There’s a Fungus Among Us.”
Gosh, it really has been an exciting 365 days. It’s been fun, too. That’s probably the reason it all flew by like a flash. For instance, some seven hundred hours of television (almost four hundred and twenty on ABC-TV) went like—well, like that. “That’s” usually a finger snap on TV, but in print—you know what I mean. Then on ‘ American Bandstand” and on our Saturday night show we’ve welcomed over eight hundred guest stars to TV. Add another two hundred or so from our personal appearances around the country and we’ve got over one thousand of the nation’s record artists signed into our 1958 guest book. Sure makes us proud and happy to have our friends pay us a call.
I guess if I were really pinned down I’d have to admit that saying “Hi” to all of those really nice people would be near the top of my list for “Biggest Thrills of 1958.” But think real quick now, what is the top—the most? I see you’ve been paying attention, and you are so right. That treasured little top spot I reserve for the privilege of joining you on “American Bandstand,” and on our Saturday- night “Dick Clark Show.”
They don’t build studios the way we like them anymore. We’d like to have one big enough—and near enough—to have all of you with us in person, but I think I’ll put that on the list of my projects for the New Year. Since it’s kind of tough for us all to get together at once, I’ve been using some of those 1953 hours to meet you in your own back yard.
I think my first big “out of town” engagement early this year would be my pick for the one with the happiest ending. Before that, all of my personal appearances had been around our WFIL-TV home area. We’d been on the ABC-TV network for several months when I was asked to appear in Worcester, Mass , at a giant youth party sponsored by Catholic Charities. I wanted to go in the worst way, but I started to get the jitters wondering if many of the fellows and girls up that way watched our show. And if they did watch the show, I wondered how many would even bother to turn out to say “Hello” to yours truly. On the drive up after the Sunday, morning show I kept wondering, and wandering off into space (I wasn’t driving, so I could do it) and all I could imagine was standing up on the stage staring out at an empty baseball field. I’ll tell you I was really giving myself sixteen different kinds of fits.
Maybe it’s better that way, because what really happened melted me. A warm friendly greeting from a turnout that jammed just about every corner of the arena put a solid lump of sentiment right up around my tonsils. It’s hard to put into words a feeling like that. You’re hoping a few friends will turn out and then you find all of them on hand. You know what I mean, it really makes you want to knock yourself out for them. Well, everybody onstage that night had that feeling. That was an inspiration to me, and I’ve often thought about it since, when we’re doing the show from another city, or when I am appearing as a guest on another television show and might start getting nervous about how things will go.
That trip to California to put on the show in Hollywood Bowl sure stands out on my calendar, too. It was hectic, but a lot of fun, to get the Clark gang together in Philadelphia on Friday night right after “American Bandstand,” then head for the airport and the fabulous West Coast. Wow, that really took split- second timing. Sightseeing in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Los Angeles sure hit the spot with me. Then came the show and the chance to meet our California friends. It was sure a real gone time.
Then another time, early in the summer, we packed up after the show, stowed our records in the plane, and headed for the real deep South. Ah, Miami. That was the first time we had taken our Saturday night show on the road, and let me tell you it seemed to me as if we were moving an army.
There we were, sitting in the office one day, when the phone rang. “How would you like to do the show from Miami two weeks from now?” a man said.
“Great!” everybody answered.
“Okay, we do it from Miami,” he told us.
“See,” we thought, “nothing to it. We re on our way to Miami.” But then the fun began.
“Miami, here we come!” Almost two weeks later, that was our cry. But in the meantime we had all learned a lot about packing, rehearsing on the run, flight schedules, booking hotel rooms for our show people, and I guess about six hundred and twenty thousand other things that come up when you decide to take a network show on the road. It was madness, but everyone worked so hard, and the people in Miami were so friendly and helpful, that the show went smoothly and we ended up having a real ball. Working together on something like that is a real thrill—though tough on Tony’s fingernails—and the valuable lessons we learned make that another bet for 1958’s favorite memories list. Of course I could go down the line, and I guess each time we visit one of your towns it’s a big thrill for us.
But that calendar flips by, and comes to that mid-summer afternoon when we went through just about the most dramatic afternoon ever on “American Bandstand.” Maybe you were watching that afternoon when Pat Molitierri, a runner-up in our dance contest last year, suddenly began complaining about a pain in her side while she was dancing. Her partner mentioned it to me. and I asked Tony to talk to Pat while I introduced the next number Then we had an off-camera conference. “It Pat has such a severe pain,” I said, “maybe a doctor should check it.”
Just about then the pain became so bad that Pat couldn’t walk. Tony had to carry her to a hastily-called car and then drive on to the nearest hospital. Luckily, there was one just a few blocks away.
Well, as you know, the show must go on. I went back up to the podium and continued the show, but all the while I was wondering what was happening at the hospital. The minutes seemed to drag, and I guess everybody in the studio felt he or she was part of the drama. When the program went off the air, we made a dash for the office and the telephone. Tony put the call through. “The doctors are giving Pat a checkup,” he reported, “and they think there’s a possibility of appendicitis ” More time went by, and another phone call . . . it was appendicitis, an acute case and they were going to operate right away.
You can imagine how we all felt. Here was one of our friends suddenly whisked from the dance floor to the hospital operating room. Pat’s mother was at the hospital and when the operation was over she was one of the first to know that it was a success. By eight o’clock that evening, Pat was resting comfortably and I left the office for home cheered by the fact. The next afternoon on “American Bandstand.” I made an announcement “Pat’s doing fine after her operation,” I told all her friends, “and we hope she’ll be back with us real soon.”
If you heard me, then you probably shared our happiness, but for one man up in Canada the news was almost too much. His name—Mr. Molitierri.
Pat’s father had been driving a bus up through New England and into Canada while all of this had been going on. When he came to the end of his run, he stopped at a restaurant to enjoy a piece of pie and a cup of coffee. They had our show on the television set, and when I started talking about Pat having appendicitis, about the operation, and her start on her recovery, well, Mr. Molitierri just couldn’t believe his ears. It took a long-distance call to Philadelphia to assure him he had heard right. Then, in less time than it takes to say “omigosh!” he was driving the first bus back to Pat. It was one happy reunion, believe me!
Oh yes, there have been some dramatic moments. Not all of them were quite so serious, though. For me the worst crisis came about forty seconds before I was supposed to do a commercial. Oops! I practically shouted, and right on camera, I don’t have all my script for the commercial! Now don’t laugh. To a guy or gal in radio or television, that’s like being caught alone at fifty-thousand feet without a parachute. I almost went through the floor. I knew that nobody could get me the extra page in that short time, so I picked up the phone on the podium, got through to the control room where Tony had the producer’s copy. While I held the phone to my ear, he gave out with the words of the script and I repeated them on the air. Fortunately for me, the cameras were taking the picture of the product and not me, so I could get away with it and nobody ever knew. At least nobody ever griped and I guess sometimes that’s almost the same thing.
It has really been a tremendous year, this 1958. Its saddest moments came when I lost my dachshund, Louie. Anybody who’s ever owned a pet knows how I felt then. I was real glad to be so busy.
So many things were happening, like the “Bandstand’s” first birthday, and the annual dance contest which Bob Clayton and Justine Corelli won. And when I start trying to pick the top record of the year, I can’t help but think it’s been a great year for a lot of recording artists.
The top record has to be “Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu,” and that means Domenico Modugno, who really shot to the top like a thunderbolt. Right up there close to “Nel Blu” is “It’s All in the Game,” and what a boost to Tommy Edwards’ career that disc has been. Another great name in the music business who can look back on the past year with a grateful sigh is Cozy Cole. A real great drummer for many years, Cozy’s waxing of “Topsy Part Two” was almost the smash novelty of the past twelve months. I think I’ll call it the real sleeper of 1958.
The novelty record for the year? That’s a tough one. Or maybe it isn’t after all. What else could qualify in a year when a fellow named Sheb Wooley came out with an item named “The Purple People Eater”? That definitely gets the brass ring, the gold record, or the what-have-you of pop music.
It’s been a real good year for a host of our friends—Rick Nelson, Pat Boone, the Everly Brothers, the Ponytails, Jimmy Clanton, Perez Prado and “Patricia,” Peggy Lee and “Fever,” and so many more I could get to sound like a musical telephone book.
And that’s how fat my scrapbook for 1958 is—as overweight as a New York phone book. I only hope I can find enough pages left over for Christmas.
See you next month. Oops, next year!
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JANUARY 1959