Personal Memories of Dick Clark

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

                  When I

read late Wednesday that American television legend Dick Clark had passed away at age 82, I thought, like so many of us Baby Boomers, of the times watching “American Bandstand” on the old black & white every weekday just as we’d get home from school. Perhaps if “Bandstand” was your only source for Rock & Roll in the early 60’s, you might have thought Chubby Checker, Fabian, Frankie Avalon, & Bobby Rydell were top of the game, and Elvis was a supporting player, if only for the amount of airplay and personal appearances they all made on the show. (Neither Elvis nor The Beatles EVER appeared.) Thankfully, the English Invasion squelched all that, and soon after, the show moved to Saturdays and to LA, away from its Philadelphia base where the above acts all came from. Dick Clark’s career merely expanded from there to include game shows, prime time comedy/variety shows, and for most of his last 30 years, New Years Eve specials that I never saw because, in addition to working every New Years except one between 1970 and 2008, I thought the idea of watching other people on TV whooping it up was a ludicrous one.

                        I looked at the celebrity photo montage on my wall Wednesday night, featuring celebrities that me and/or my partner got to meet and hang with during our “almost famous” days, many of whom are no longer with us. Moving clockwise, there are photos of us with John Belushi, Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry Garcia, Wolfman Jack, Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol, San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, Harvey Milk, and in the middle of the montage, Dick Clark. The big difference between the Clark photo and all the others, whether living or dead, is that it was taken in MY HOUSE!

                        So what was Dick Clark (and his business partner Al Schwartz) doing in my house? The photo was taken in January, 1980, and Clark and his wife had gone to see us in late 1979 at the late lamented Studio One Backlot Cabaret in West Hollywood. After the show, he came to our dressing room to introduce himself, and there he was larger than life, doing a bit of a soliloquy for us and a couple other friends before finally saying, “Oh by the way, I’m Dick Clark,” to which we all went “Duh.” What was blossoming in his head was more expansion of his empire to include late-night television, which he would have to later settle for only conquering one night a year. He had heard that NBC was strongly considering pulling the plug on “Saturday Night Live,” which was faced with the remaining original cast all planning to leave, and struggling with Belushi and Dan Aykroyd already gone. He had proposed to them a sketch show with the working title, “The Cheap Show,” in which everything was meant to look low-rent, and he thought our act, Rick & Ruby, was perfect for the show he had in mind. 

                        Our manager kept in close touch with Clark and Schwartz over the next couple of months, and it was agreed that the two would fly up to San Francisco and meet our whole gang for dinner. Since my then-wife owned a classic Victorian house, it was agreed we’d all meet there, and I SHOULD remember what we ate, but it’s been 32 years. Just the thought of hearing the doorbell ring and going to answer it, and seeing that he really was there just blew me away. I remember wondering if any of the neighbors had noticed. In the course of the evening, we got him a bit tipsy, he told old rock & roll stories, even swore a couple of times, and at one point I remember him asking me how I got the name Rick from Brian Seff. My god, I thought, Dick Clark has just referred to me as Brian Seff! Take that, all you dickheads who bullied me in high school! 

                           Showing him my record collection was another treat, as he asked, “Do you have ‘Teasin’ by The Quaker City Boys?” I pulled out my copy of the old 1958 Swan Record #4023, showed it to him, and he said, “Yes, I had just BOUGHT that label at the time, and that was my first hit.” Reveals a lot in perspective, for when the “payola” investigations began in 1960, Clark was under suspicion for the amount of Swan releases that were played on “Bandstand,” some of which never even made the national charts. Clark had already divested himself of all his auxiliary enterprises by then, so he came out of the hearings with reputation and job intact, unlike some of his colleagues. Too bad he couldn’t hang on to it a while longer, for Swan Records’ last gasp was the American release of The Beatles’ “She Loves You.” He had to be satisfied with the measly millions he had, not to mention the 200 or so he’d eventually make.

                          Clark and Schwartz managed to fly back to LA that night, and we were all murmuring among each other, “Who do we tell first?” The photo of me, Ruby (Monica Ganas) and Raoul (Joshua Brody) our keyboardist with Clark remains with me, but unfortunately, we only saw him a couple more times. Like so many great ideas, Clark’s late-night entry never got beyond the idea stage, for NBC decided to let “Saturday Night Live” continue, even with an all-new cast and producer. The new “SNL” was a bona fide disaster from which it took years to recover, but it did launch the career of Eddie Murphy and many others would follow. NBC has stuck with it through quite a few near-disasters over the last 32 years. I haven’t watched it for probably the last 20, but apparently they still get it right once in a great while. 

                           The failure to get “Cheap Show” off the ground was the first of several disappointments that 1980 would bring, but I always try to remind myself that, if any of the many offers had come through and we’d gotten famous, it would have created a whole series of new problems that would have easily dwarfed the mere spectre of non-celebrity. By the time we’d relocated to LA in 1981, many of the moguls and wanna-be’s that promised us so much had merely moved on to other interests. We still did quite a bit in that first year, and some of those things we did have survived on YouTube.

                       It’s sad to see anyone face mortality, and it just brings it all closer as I get older and see my lifelong friends facing it. I’ve remembered all of my favorite show biz encounters/stories over the years despite the copious amounts of drugs and alcohol. Though there would be other celebrities at my various abodes over the years, the passing of Dick Clark reminded me of that special night. Thanks for ALL the memories, Mr. C.    




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