By KATHY MATHESON
PHILADELPHIA — Dick Clark may have worked in bigger cities over the course of his long entertainment career, but it was his time in Philadelphia that made him a household name.
Clark, who died Wednesday at the age of 82, hosted the wildly popular “American Bandstand” show at WFIL-TV in west Philadelphia in the 1950s and `60s. It became a cultural touchstone for legions of teenagers eager to hear the newest pop music and see the latest dance craze.
And though he later moved to Los Angeles and served as the longtime host of New York’s annual year-end festivities in Times Square, Clark never forgot his roots in the City of Brotherly Love, said Lew Klein, an early executive producer of the show that became an institution.
“He was a very loyal person and he never lost his appreciation for the good luck that Philadelphia gave him with the visibility of `Bandstand,’” Klein told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
They first met in 1952 when Klein, then a programming director, interviewed Clark for a job as a disc jockey in Philadelphia. Clark had recently graduated from Syracuse University and was “youthful, understood the music that was popular, (was) very articulate and extremely personable,” Klein said.
Meanwhile, a local show called “Bandstand” began airing the same year on WFIL-TV. Klein moved Clark over to host the show in 1956, when original host Bob Horn was fired. The program made its national debut as “American Bandstand” on Aug. 5, 1957.
“We were like the trendsetters of the time,” said Steve Colanero, a regular dancer on the show for about two years. “We were too young to realize how much of an impact we had.”
WFIL-TV sat at the corner of 46th and Market streets, where crowds of well-dressed boys and girls lined up in hopes of getting on the show. Only kids between 14 and 18 were allowed in, but Colanero admitted Wednesday that he was only 13 when he began appearing in 1959.
In addition to dancing, Colanero said he often led the musical acts from the dressing room out to Studio B. He said he was thrilled to meet Bobby Darin, as well as Sammy Davis Jr. and Nat King Cole.
Colanero, now a 66-year-old retiree in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., also recalled running into a disguised Clark on the elevated train. A taxi strike had apparently led the host to take public transportation to the studio, and Colanero said he didn’t recognize Clark when he called to him on the train.
“He was in a full beard,” recalled Colanero. “He says, `It’s me, Dick.’”
The show moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in 1964. Clark later became one of the nation’s most recognized broadcast personalities and a major show business entrepreneur.
Yet Philadelphia boasts troves of Clark – and “Bandstand” – related memorabilia. Klein, who went on to become a longtime broadcast executive in the city, just last week donated his papers to Temple University, a collection that includes early pictures and videos of “Bandstand.” The original door to Studio B – autographed by Clark – is on display at WPVI-TV, the descendant of WFIL that is now in a new location.
The original WFIL building has become The Enterprise Center, an incubator for entrepreneurs. It opened in 1997 on the 40th anniversary of the first national broadcast of “Bandstand,” according to president Della Clark. She is not related to Dick Clark.
Outside, a historic marker tells the story of the show’s rise to national prominence, while memorabilia fills a conference room inside. Studio B, which is largely preserved and decorated with additional mementos, serves as a function room. There’s still a satellite dish on the roof, she said.
Della Clark said Wednesday that the building’s new mission seems appropriate considering Dick Clark’s successful business career: He produced shows including “The $25,000 Pyramid,” `’TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” and the American Music Awards.
His death, she said, “reminded me of the stewardship responsibilities of keeping this flame alive in terms of the birthplace of `American Bandstand.’”
Musicians with Philadelphia roots also praised Clark and his legacy. John Oates, of the pop duo Hall & Oates, told the AP in an email that Clark was more than just the host of “American Bandstand.”
“With an understated on-air presence, he made the kids and their music the stars of the show,” said Oates. “His genius was in his ability to use the power of television to help define how American teenagers saw themselves.”
Associated Press writers Alex Brandon, Matt Moore and Ron Todt contributed to this report.
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