Thursday, April 19, 2012

From Bandstands to Pyramids

There was some cruel irony toward the end of Dick Clark's life.

Clark, the TV producer giant who passed away yesterday at age 82, seemed to be ageless for decades. Many a crack was made about Clark's youthful-looking face and how he looked no older in 1975 than he did in 1955.

It was true. Clark's full, bushy head of hair and twinkling eyes were TV staples almost from the moment he started a local show based in Philadelphia named "Bandstand," way back in 1952.

The name later was changed to "American Bandstand" as the show grew in popularity and went national.

Clark eventually branched out to game show producing, which made a mint for colleagues like Merv Griffin and Ralph Edwards. Clark made a mint, too, whether behind the scenes or in front of the camera, hosting shows like "The $10,000 Pyramid," which later upped its title ante to $25,000.

But "American Bandstand" was always his baby and the show Clark was most closely associated with until he helped us ring in the New Year back in 1972 . It didn't hurt that fellow industry giant Barry Manilow penned and sang the official "Bandstand" theme song.

Through it all, Clark's ageless looks were his trademark.

That's why I say cruel irony invaded, toward the end.

Dick Clark didn't age for over 40 years, then all of a sudden he became old faster than bananas left on the kitchen counter.

A stroke was the main culprit, robbing him of much of his coherent speech and severely contorting his face, which wasn't so young-looking anymore.

It was wince-inducing, watching Clark gamely try to make it through the countdown to the ball dropping in Manhattan on recent New Year's Eves. He was difficult to understand, his voice was like sandpaper, and you half wished Dick would have gently backed away from "Rockin' Eve" duties entirely.

But easy for me to say when someone who had cameras and microphones coursing through his blood for just about his whole life, should call it quits.

Clark didn't age for decades, then aged all at once, it seemed.

This is another legend leaving our midst, make no mistake about it. Just because the recent Dick Clark wasn't the Dick Clark we remembered---physically---doesn't mean his place in television history is any more threatened.



Clark's production company brought us hundreds of thousands (at least) of hours of TV enjoyment. He didn't host them all---he couldn't, possibly---but he was as integral as one could be to their creation and longevity.

Clark took a small gamble back in 1998 when he put Donny and Marie Osmond back together, this time as talk show hosts. Would the nation watch the brother and sister tandem in a different milieu than their more customary variety show one?

They did, and the show lasted two strong seasons. Another Dick Clark success story.

Clark was also marvelous as host of "Pyramid," and you could tell that he had emotional investment in the show and was closely involved with the game's rules and format. When contestants would play for the "big money," one-on-one with a celebrity with that big pyramid board flipping its squares above as the clock ticked, it was Clark who set the stage with his last-minute instructions and his famous, "Ready---GO!"

It was also Clark who would gently remind the contestants of where they erred and how they could have done it differently. Always with empathy, never with smarm.

Dick Clark never got old, until the very end.

You can't say the same about his legacy; that truly is timeless and will never age.

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