By Maria Schulz
When I heard that Dick Clark passed away on April 18, I wasn’t that surprised. Yes, I knew it was coming, and I venture to guess everyone else did too (including him). But even so, it makes you stop and think about all the ways that a person who you never even knew has touched your life.
I liked Dick Clark. I first “met” him and knew him as the calm, reassuring presence on American Bandstand. I could understand why he was called “America’s oldest teenager” since he looked eternally youthful and always seemed pleased to introduce new acts like John Cougar and Madonna, even though people from my parents’ or grandparents’ generation might like to die first.
Saturday mornings watching American Bandstand was a ritual that began once my morning cartoons and H.R. Puf-n-stuff were over. Sometimes I would get very excited to see the new bands appear, or delighted when I recognized someone who was on.
I got a big kick out of watching the teenagers dancing, and my brothers and I would imitate their dance moves (always good for a laugh). Sometimes we’d switch to Soul Train and really dance along. How sad that Don Cornelius is gone too. Maybe they can host a dance show together in the great beyond!
Besides American Bandstand, of course there was the $10,000 Pyramid. Dick Clark had a quick smile, an easy laugh and the perfect attitude for this show. I loved watching the celebrities and the contestants, and of course shouting out answers and playing along.
In the late ‘70s, my cousin Diane was a champion Pyramid player. She was so good that she even won a spot on the show (now called the $20,000 Pyramid) as a contestant in the summer of 1979. We were very excited for her, and even more excited by the fact that my mother decided to take Chris and me along to cheer on our cousin.
We stood outside the Elysee Theater on West 58th street and tolerated the steamy weather, the blaring horns and the rank summer smells and dreamed of actually meeting Dick Clark.
“If I win, I want you all to come up!” Diane said.
So, Chris, Mom and I walked through the studio doors with some of Diane’s relatives from her mother’s side, and waited gamely for the show to begin. We clapped, cheered and laughed at the warm-up banter with the show’s producers and waved furiously when Dick Clark came out to say hello to the crowd. We sat through a couple of other episodes that were being taped before Diane finally came on.
When her episode started, we had no doubt that Diane would win. Then we would race up to the winner’s circle, be announced as relatives, and meet Dick Clark. Whooo-hooo!
Diane had several board game versions of Pyramid and played them constantly in preparation for her big moment. Since she is very smart and a teacher, we had no doubt that she was prepared. My introduction to Dick Clark seemed imminent.
Unfortunately, my cousin’s celebrity contestant, Elaine Joyce, and John Schuck, her adversary’s partner, did not get the memo.
Back in those days, Elaine Joyce made the rounds on The Love Boat, Fantasy Island and every game show on TV. She was a frequent flyer on such shows as Match Game, Password, Tattletales, and yes, Pyramid. She wasn’t great, but she wasn’t the worst celebrity either. Since Diane was such a strong partner, I figured she would win anyway.
Of course, this was another occasion when I discovered that you couldn’t always be right about these things.
From the get-go, Elaine and Diane were not clicking. It was like Elaine was speaking Cantonese and Diane was trying to communicate with her in French. Meanwhile, John Schuck (who was starring on Broadway at the time as Daddy Warbucks) seemed to have a telepathic connection with his partner. All his contestant had to do was look at him and John would say answers like “The Taj Mahal,” or “rosebud.”
In no time flat, John Schuck was uttering the winning answer with a look of smug, devilish glee, and Dick Clark was politely thanking Diane for playing.
As the theme song played and J.S. and his contestant were ushered over to the winner’s circle, Chris leaned over to me and said, “So…I guess we’re not going to meet Dick Clark?”
My cousin was sent packing with a lovely parting gift of something like a year’s supply of Tang and another $20,000 Pyramid board game. I wonder if she still has it?
I never blamed Dick Clark for the outcome. Elaine Joyce was another matter.
I guess I wanted to be formally introduced to Dick Clark since I felt like he was always at our house on New Year’s Eve. I remember the very first year that Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve was on. It was 1972, and he was being put up against Guy Lombardo and his big band. My grandmother and Uncle Sal thought this was heresy. “He’ll never replace Guy,” they said.
Still, later that night, we put on Dick Clark and watched him talk excitedly about the crowds in Times Square, the anticipation of another year starting fresh, and the buzz and electricity of the acts that performed. This was a strange new world for me, and the first year I was allowed to stay up until midnight. I was so excited to say, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…HAPPY NEW YEAR!” with Dick Clark as my guide.
This ritual stayed in place for so many years that it became a part of me. It’s as much a part of the New Year’s celebration as kissing my Mom, Dad, brothers, grandmothers, uncles, aunts and cousins was, and now my husband, girls, father, brothers, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, and friends is today.
When Dick Clark had his stroke, I thought his countdown days were over. No one was more surprised than me when he came back just one year later. It was painful to see him struggling to speak at first, but then I thought: what an amazing person! He must have worked so hard to come back. My grandmother had a devastating stroke that affected her ability to speak, so I had an idea of what courage it must have taken to get up in front of millions of people and lead the countdown with his disability.
I never loved Dick Clark the way I loved James Garner. (Whew! I bet Jimbo just heaved a great big sigh of relief over that one). I didn’t have photos of Dick Clark hanging in my room (weirdo that I was) or get excited about seeing him the way you would if your old heartthrob came on the television.
Dick Clark was more like a pleasant, distant cousin who you see maybe twice a year. You always enjoy his company when you’re with him and wonder why you don’t see more of each other. And you are sad when you hear he’s died.
Thank you, Dick Clark, for making so many fond memories for me. From American Bandstand to Pyramid to New Year’s Eve, the party was always better and more exciting with you leading the way.
I can’t think of New Year’s Eve without remembering how our dining room table was laden with goodies. So here are a couple of recipes that honor Dick Clark’s memory because they’re smooth, velvety, and fun to have around.
Fun and smooth—just like Dick Clark.
Philly Cheese Steak
A nod to where Dick Clark got his start!
Easy Red Velvet Cake
Simple to make, with a velvety texture—reminds me of Dick Clark’s style and just as enjoyable.
So, Hungry Lifers…what’s your favorite Dick Clark memory? What do you remember most about him? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!