The thing that fascinated me about him was how he could always mold himself into whatever he needed to be at whatever job he was doing. I studied him in person for tapings of the Pyramid show, which filmed off Broadway at a little TV studio near the Ed Sullivan Theater. Clark would host the program and I was always impressed by how he would know when to ratchet up the tension, to good-naturedly rib a celebrity, focus and calm the contestants as they played, and had fun the whole while.
He was also brilliant at interviewing and that talent was apparent on "American Bandstand." He, very much like Johnny Carson, could chat with anyone, be they kids from the audience ready to "Rate A Record," some fledgling band trying to make it or with the bona fide superstars that he spoke with on the show or at The Golden Globes, one of the two award shows he produced, along with the American Music Awards.
There was always a kind of down-to-earth and homespun sensibility about him. This was a guy you could sit on the back porch and have a Dr. Pepper with, maybe play a game of checkers or listen to a baseball game on the radio. I suspect he would never admit which team he wanted to win!
And then there were all those New Year's Eves. I can remember Guy Lombardo being on the television, which was the same thing as having Lawrence Welk play your party. But then Dick Clark came along to save us! Actual music we liked and wanted to hear! Lombardo quickly faded away once Dick Clark arrived!
Looking at it now, Lombardo's exit from the New Year's scene was a bit more dignified than Dick's, unfortunately. It was painful these past several years to watch one of the most successful voices in television history struggle to count from 10 to zero.
On the other hand, maybe we should have more people like Dick visible on screen, to call attention to these issues, to remind people that everything on television isn't perfection. In that sense, it was good we had those last few visits. Michael J. Fox. Muhammad Ali. The Muscular Dystrophy telethon. The Special Olympics. Sometimes we need reminders how important people are and how fragile they are. Life is rarely as neat as it is depicted on television.
As my little tribute, here's his rarely heard (and borderline propaganda) recording from 45 years ago.... yours to listen to or download, courtesy of our friends at WFMU!
RIP, Dick Clark.
Dick Clark - "An Open Letter to The Older Generation"