Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Dick Clark, "the oldest living teenager" has died at the age of 82. I never fully understood his appeal, but I remember my grandfather truly disliked him. My grandfather blamed Clark for ruining music and being involved in payola in the 1950s. It is where Clark first made his fortune...

He's been called America's Oldest Living Teenager, but behind his famously boyish demeanor, Clark was a razor-sharp businessman—sharp enough to be accused of questionable practices during the early years of rock and roll, yet smart enough to set those practices aside when public scrutiny demanded it. On April 2, 1960, Dick Clark concluded his second day of testimony in the so-called Payola hearings—testimony that both saved and altered the course of his career. If Alan Freed, the disk jockey who gave rock and roll its name, was Payola's biggest casualty, then Dick Clark was its most famous survivor.

It may be difficult for those who first encountered Dick Clark in his TV Bloops and Blunders days to understand the power he once wielded from his platform on American Bandstand, but it was great enough in the late 1950s to make a star out of nearly anyone he chose, from Connie Francis to Fabian. It was also great enough to attract the attention of the House Committee on Legislative Oversight—the congressional subcommittee investigating the Payola scandal. At the Payola hearings, Clark would testify to holding an ownership stake in a total of 33 different record labels, distributors and manufacturers that all profited handsomely from the rise of Clark-anointed stars like Danny and the Juniors and Frankie Avalon. One of the companies in which Clark had a financial interest was Jamie Records, the label that made Duane Eddy famous and returned a tidy profit of $31,700 to Clark on an initial $125 investment. "Believe me this is not as unusual as it may seem," Clark told the Payola committee. "I think the crime I have committed, if any, is that I made a great deal of money in a short time on little investment. But that is the record business."
More important than any denials issued by Dick Clark during his Payola testimony was the fact that over the preceding months, he had—at the direction of his network, ABC—divested himself of all of his ownership interest in music-related businesses and in the roughly 150 pop songs from which he earned royalties as a credited "songwriter." This action, in combination, perhaps, with his good looks and famously ingratiating demeanor—the New York Times called the then-30-year-old Clark "smooth, slim and youthful on the witness stand"—led Congress to give Clark a pass while encouraging prosecution of the uncooperative Alan Freed. "Obviously you're a fine young man," is how committee the committee chairman, Representative Oren Harris (D-Arkansas), concluded the hearings held on this day in 1960. "I don't think you're the inventor of the system, I think you're the product."



  1. Very interesting. I knew Clark primarily as the host of "Pyramid" (plus of course "Bandstand" which never interested me much) and as a sometime actor in some interesting 1960s material, including "The Young Doctors" and my beloved "Perry Mason: The Case of the Final Fadeout".

    I have some acquaintances who are saying that New Year's Eve won't be the same with Clark's passing. For me New Year's Eve hasn't been the same since the 70s when Guy Lombardo died!

    Again, thanks for the interesting background. I think it's time to rewatch "The Young Doctors".

  2. Ah, Dick Clark is dead. I thought he might live forever. The whole Payola scandal has long been forgotten by those in the media. Some people are defined by scandals and some overcome them--Clark definitely overcame his.

  3. Dick Clark was a greedy pos. There is a documentary floating around about his true character. I saw it on PBS.
    Alan Freed was crucified because he let the black kids on his show. Never about payola.Try to see that documentary.