Dick Clark, “America’s oldest teenager,” was my first baby sitter.
My early years (1958 to 1962) were spent on Berwyn Avenue (a street off of Bailey Avenue) in Buffalo in a rented upper of a two-family house. Summers were very hot in that upstairs dwelling. Only businesses and the wealthy had central air conditioning. Dad worked on call for the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad. Mom stayed home with me. We did not have many luxuries. When Mom needed to do the laundry, there was a common washer in the basement.
Clark never had to commute to my house. He was in our living room, courtesy of our black-and-white RCA television. While Mom did the laundry, I was left alone in my playpen, to watch “American Bandstand.” Captivated by Clark’s tone of voice and charm, I was among his youngest fans. He had me mesmerized by the musical talent he showcased.
Mom knew I was safe. Escaping my playpen was never a consideration. When teenagers on the show were asked to give their opinions of new songs, many exclaimed, “It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it.”
That statement was something I understood as a toddler. I eventually was singing along to the easy refrains of rock ‘n’ roll. I loved the dancing. The Twist was my favorite: “… just like this, come on little miss and do the twist …” The Pony let me jump around and swing my arms, while the Stroll made my playpen feel bigger than it was. In my imagination I, too, was dancing on national TV.
Now I dance my version of “Sweating to the Oldies,” made famous by Richard Simmons, or march along to “The Morning March” that the new WNED host Peter Johnson has initiated.
Everyone on “American Bandstand” was polite. The hairstyles, while moppish on the men, were neatly cut. Despite the fact that this was early rock ‘n’ roll, the band members always wore suits or at least sport coats or jackets. Most of the men wore ties. Women wore dresses, although they were short. Mom didn’t have to worry about bad language or displays of violent tempers, as is the case of many television programs today.
Television shows of the 1950s and 1960s featured strictly Caucasian families – “Father Knows Best,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” “Leave It To Beaver” and “My Three Sons.” Clark was among the first to bridge the gap by recognizing that music is a universal language and was not subject to racial discrimination. Many performers, like Ernest Evans (aka Chubby Checker), had their careers enhanced by Clark’s altruistic nature.
On Dec. 31, 1972, his “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” appeared. I preferred Clark to Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. I admired Clark’s spirit in continuing to appear on New Year’s Eve even after he suffered a stroke. I believe music was his reason for living. And no one will be able to replace him.
As a fan, I could not resist buying the Life special magazine dedicated to his memory, which appeared shortly after Clark died on April 18. The magazine is a compilation of stories and photos, but without the sound of his voice or the background music, it only begins to capture his personality.
Dick Clark will live on in the minds of many baby boomers like me. But how many people can say he was their first baby sitter? I will always cherish that memory.