After waiting outside on Market Street in the heat and cold and rain, kids lucky enough to get into American Bandstand were anxious and excited. Walking through the doors to Philadelphia's WFIL-TV's Studio B, where teenage life and music were all important, was like walking into Oz. The light, cameras, and music made the studio a magical place. There was, as with any television show, a lot of illusion. Television was still a relatively new medium in 1957, and studio was crude by today's standards. The cameras and lights were large, bulky, and hard to move, making trick shots of kids dancing virtually impossible. The studio was cold, the lights were hot, the music was loud, and the floor was hard. Girls wore sneakers or flat shoes to save their feet from soreness from the cement floor. But the kids were oblivious to the physical discomfort; they were the stars of the first TV show to feature real teenagers.
American Bandstand was the first national TV show to feature teens off the street. Carmen MonteCarlo and Charlie Zamil were two high school students who danced on the show five times a week. Bandstand dancers were local Philadelphia kids fourteen to eighteen years old, mostly from two high schools, West Catholic and South Philadelphia who came to dance and to be seen dancing every afternoon from 2:30 to 5:00 P.M. It was after-school fun, way for teenagers to express who they were and, for a nationwide teen population with nine billion dollars to spend in allowance money, Bandstand was the showcase for latest records, the hippest fashions, and the newest products The teens watching at home finally had a show that they felt part of, learned from, and measured themselves against. Vera Badamo, who grew up in Brooklyn Hills in the fifties, remembers how "wonderful it was to come home everyday and tune in Bandstand and see Italian kids, just like me. You never saw them on regular TV. And, to see some of them wearing Catholic school uniforms was extraordinary. I realized the kids in Philly were just like kids in Brooklyn."
Lou DeSera, a teen who appeared on American Bandstand several times a week was loved for his slicked-back, pumped up pompadour. In the late fifties, Philadelphia boys were split on how to wear their hair. South Philadelphians styled it high and shiny; North Philadelphians, inspired by TV's Peter Gunn, wore their hair short and to the side. For guys, tweed jackets, button-down shirts, and thin patterned ties were the uniform.
When American Bandstand went national on August 5, 1957 it had lined up affiliates on a small network of sixty-seven stations. A map of the United States in the studio was dotted with affiliate flags. By the end of the first year the show was seen in 4,00,000 homes and local stations were clamoring to come aboard. American Bandstand was much as a neighborhood dance as it was a national television show. Dancing was an integral part of the life in Philadelphia, the city that starts the New Year dancing up Broad Street in the centuries-old Mummers' Parade. The rest of the there were dances everywhere, from St. Alice's School where more than 2,000 teens gathered on Friday and Sunday nights to the very small VFW dances in Southwest Philadelphia where twenty people might show up.
Dick Clark's world was records - playing them, producing them, promoting them, and even pressing them. During the fifties, both the 45 RPM and rock 'n' roll had a metric rise that would change popular music forever. Until the, the recorded music was primarily heard on heavy, awkward, and breakable 78 RPMs. The 45 made the 78 obsolete; it was light, small and practically indestructible. And because it was cheaper to manufacture, it gave independent record companies a fighting chance in the industry. Rock 'n' roll was born with the 45 RPM. Teens could easily carry the cheap, seven-inch disks to parties. In 1957, 45s cost 69 cents in Philadelphia, and in many places., if you bought six, you got one free. Because Dick moved with the times, by the end of the decade he owned or had interests in thirty-three companies associated with the business.
Dancing in the 1950s was an extension of the pre-war dances, couples touched; boys led and the girls followed. But within the prescribed formats, individuality reigned, Pat Molitierri demonstrates her expertise in Jitterbugging, the most polar dance on the early Bandstand shows. Each dancer had his or her particular style of Jitterbugging, but Pat's was the most unique - she bounced. One of the most popular teens on the show, she had her own advice columns in several teen magazines
When the kids on American Bandstand were not Strolling, or Twisting, or Chalypsoing, they were usually Jitterbugging. The Jitterbug was a Philadelphia staple, and there were many variations as there were Philadelphia neighborhoods. The dance began in the 1920s in the bars of Harlem and took the steps from the Shag and the Charleston. Although dancers did wild improvisational solos as part of the Jitterbug, it was essentially a partner dance. In 1927, the solos gave rise to a new variation, the Lindy Hop, named after Charles Lindbergh, who had just made his historic solo flight across the Atlantic. The Jitterbug gained wide popularity in the thirties when Swing was at its peak. During WW II, U.S. soldiers took the dance around the world and it was recognized as quintessentially American
Few things are as much fun for teenagers as dancing. It's a chance to show off and be noticed. For the teens on American Bandstand like Barbara Marcen, it was a chance to be seen by millions The dancers, especially the regulars, were always jostling for a spot in front. "we were brats about it," remembers Arlene Sullivan. We wanted to strut our stuff in front of America," says Bunny Gibson. "But," says Carole Scaldeferri, "Dick didn't want us hogging the camera." "he used the studio mike to get us away from the front. You'd be dancing, and all of a sudden you'd hear Dick's voice telling you to drop back to the rear," says Kenny Rossi. Myrna Horowitz says, "Dick wanted to give everyone a chance. I didn't like dropping back, but I understood it."
Arlene Sullivan and Kenny Rossi danced together n American Bandstand for a little more than a year. At the height of their popularity, they received as many as 500 letters a day. Arelene, whose mother was a devoted fan, claims she danced on the show "to get my mother's attention." Within three months, Arlene was a regular appearing five days a week. "I was always surprised," she says," that people wanted my autograph. I danced on a TV show; nothing I did was different than kids were doing in their basements. But maybe that's why we were so popular. We were them, and they were us."
Justine Carelli was American Bandstand's girl next door Always conservatively dressed and neatly coifed Justine was the girl that every mother wanted to see her son marry. She first danced on the show when she was only twelve, two years younger than the rules allowed, thanks to her sister's birth certificate and make-up. Justine was an instant hit; in a few weeks she was a regular. When Justine met Bob Clayton and they started dancing and dating her popularity soared - the two personified the innocent lyrics of the songs they danced to.
Danny and the Juniors, who appeared on the American Bandstand' anniversary show in 1958, was a group of four teenaged boys whose members went to John Bertram High School with some of the show's regulars. Danny and the Juvenairs sang on the street corners until Artie Singer of Singular Records heard on of their songs "Do the Bop." He took them to Dick Clark, who realizing was on its way out as a dance craze, suggested they change the lyrics. The song got a new title, "At the Hop"(1957), which over night became a number on hit. The group's "Rock and Roll Is Here To Stay" (1958) became a teen anthem later that year
The first Record played on the premiere network installment of American Bandstand was Jerry Lee Lewis' call to action, "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On". His sharp clothes, animated performances - Lewis was known for kicking the piano stool from under him, playing the piano standing up, banging out chords, rocking from side to side, and wildly tossing his hair - electrified audiences. The success of "Great Balls of Fire" sent the dapper singer's career into the stratosphere.
With thirty five records to play, the producers of American Bandstand were constantly searching for new material. Clark met in his office with representatives of the record industry to keep apprised of the latest releases and the newest singers and groups. But in 1959, following the scandalous revelations that Charles Van Doren had been given answers while a contestant on the popular TV quiz show Twenty-One (1956-1958) questions were raised about the honesty of the record industry. Investigators alleged that deejays accepted bribes to play certain songs, otherwise there was no way to explain why many rock and roll songs had become popular. Being the number one deejay in the country, Clark was called to testify at the 1959-1960 Congressional hearings on payola. He swore he never took money or gifts, but he was still forced to give up his interests in the record business