Dick Clark Productions writer and former Billboard columnist Fred Bronson remembers the “American Bandstand” leader and his profound influence on the music business – following is an excerpt, approximately one-sixth of Bronson’s full article. To see the entire article, along with our Clark tribute package and much more, head here to purchase the issue (digitally or the printed magazine), and head here to subscribe to Billboard.
I came to Dick Clark Productions in 1984 to work on a radio show, and was soon moved into TV production, beginning with working as a researcher on a TV special marking the 33 1/3rd anniversary of “American Bandstand.”
One day, Dick’s producer Larry Klein came into my office and said, sternly, “You better say yes!” I had no idea what he was talking about, but I said, “Yes!” Yes to what? Yes to my first TV writing assignment for the company. I was to go to Philadelphia with the two of them and write Dick’s three-hour live commentary for ABC’s coverage of Live Aid.
That’s where they wanted to start me? On a history-making three-hour live show? I had already said yes, so I was (thankfully) committed. Dick and I spent the evening in a small press box high atop JFK Stadium with a man holding cue cards and a camera crew. And somehow it all worked, was highly successful, and Dick had very kind words for me at the afterparty.
Not long after, I had finished a book I’d been working on, “The Billboard Book of Number One Hits,” and given Dick a copy. I had an idea that the book should be a TV special. I walked into Dick’s office, sat opposite his desk and told him so. He immediately replied, “How fast do you want it to happen?” I said, “Fast!” He picked up the phone and called the president of the company. He told him, “Make a deal with Fred Bronson. We’re going to turn his book into a special.” The entire transaction took about three minutes.
In May 1986, we taped “America Picks the Number One Songs” for ABC at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles. Barbara Mandrell was the host, joined by co-hosts Frankie Avalon, Tony Orlando and Dick himself. As the writer and co-producer, I distributed 100 tickets to family and friends, who were seated all over the theater. When Dick came out to warm up the crowd and mentioned that the special was based on my book, there was thunderous applause from all directions. I knew I was in trouble. Sure enough, Dick cornered me backstage. “That better not happen during the taping!” he said. So I quickly ran around the theater, warning all 100 of my guests not to applaud when my name was mentioned.
In 1996, Dick made a deal with Harper Collins to write a book about “American Bandstand.” He asked me to write it with him. We spent the summer doing one-hour interview sessions in his office. I’d arrive with my tape recorder and tell him the topic of the day – like, the ’50s, or civil rights, or the disco era. It’s one of my favorite summers, sitting with him at the large conference table in his office, doing hours and hours of interviews, because he decided for the first time to open up about a lot of topics he had never discussed before. He always wanted to remain neutral about certain things because he wanted everyone to like him, but at this point in his life, he said, he decided, what the hell, why not?
Shortly after that summer, I was sitting in Dick’s office for – well, I don’t remember for what. But what I do recall is that his telephone wasn’t working. He was trying to make a call and finally got so frustrated he picked up the phone and threw it across the room, smashing it to pieces. It was obviously time to leave. A few minutes later I bumped into him as he was coming out of Larry Klein’s office. He looked sheepish, and he apologized for getting so mad. I told him it was no big deal and I hoped he got a new phone soon. We both laughed.