In September 1958, a teenager named Billy Jay Killion, outraged after his mother refused to let him watch American Bandstand, shot her dead. Back then, millions of teenagers were addicted to rock and roll with a monomaniacal intensity that frightened parents almost as badly as drugs frighten them now, and Bandstand’s Dick Clark, a 28-year-old disc jockey with the face of a choirboy, was the nation’s leading pusher of that uncontrolled substance. Weekday afternoons on Philadelphia’s WFIL-TV, Clark spun hot new platters (“Lonely Teardrops,” “Great Balls of Fire”) while superstars of the new sound (Chubby Checker, the Beach Boys, the Shirell?s) lip-synched for the camera and a moiling mass of adolescents shook, rattled and rolled to the Big Beat. Watching them on ABC all over the U.S., 11 million kids clipped on their virgin pins, smoothed their DA haircuts, kicked back the carpet and bounced to the Bop.
Clark was the Pied Piper of the Brylcreem Generation, the Great Disctator of Pop Culture. He pretty much invented teenagers as a social unit, and when he plugged a song on Bandstand, the record was more than likely to go gold. When he featured a performer, even a minitalent like Fabian, the cat became a star. When he cooed commercials for zit cream, sales flipped off the graph. One week he got a million letters, a television record, and every year he made more than a million Eisenhower dollars. After 33 seasons, Clark is still Bandstand’s silk-smooth deejay—that’s the longest star turn in TV history. Until recently, he emceed shows on all three networks—Bandstand on ABC, TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes on NBC, The $25,000 Pyramid on CBS—and on the side he hosted The $100,000 Pyramid for syndication. Now 59, he runs dick dark productions, turning out theatrical films (Backtrack), TV movies (Elvis!) and prime-time specials (The American Music Awards). In 1986, Forbes magazine said his net worth was $180 million. Not bad for a kid who started out doing shoe shines on the sidewalks of Mount Vernon, N.Y., for 3 cents a shoe.