Well, I saw Uncle John with bald head Sally
He saw Aunt Mary comin’ and he ducked back in the alley.”
“Long Tall Sally,” Little Richard
Dick Clark passed away at age 82. The host of “American Bandstand” during my teen years, he appeared ageless until he suffered a stroke eight years ago. At least two reports claimed that he introduced Americans to Elvis Presley, which I was 99 percent certain was false. Sure enough, Phil Arnold mentioned on his Elvis blog that Clark’s biggest regret was not having Elvis, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones on his show. Matt Lauer asked one of his friends about the charge that Dick favored bland imitations of true roll and roll rather than the genuine thing, teen idols over rhythm and blues great, but thanks to him I was introduced to Little Richard, Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns and many other black artists who were able to cross over into the mainstream. A Philadelphia suburbanite, I was never on his show but attended a dance at Willow Grove amusement park where he brought along local singer Mary Swan, whom he also promoted. I danced with her briefly until someone else cut in. I still have a .45 of Mary singing “My Heart Belongs to Only You” on Clark’s Swan label, so I contributed in a tiny way to Clark becoming one of the wealthiest men in show business. Alas, poor Mary Swan’s career never took off.
Phil Arnold shared this memory with his readers: “In 1960, when I headed off to college, American Bandstand was a huge national hit. I spent my freshman year at one of Penn State’s commonwealth campuses in the little town of Mont Alto. By chance, I ended up with a roommate also named Phil. He was from Philadelphia, right down in the city, not out in the burbs like me. Within walking distance of our campus was a state park with a picnic area featuring a large wooden pavilion. Every Saturday night, they held dances there, and lots of local girls showed up. Phil and I both loved to dance, so we never missed a Saturday night dance at the pavilion. I remember the first night overhearing Phil talking to a pretty girl. He told her his name and said he was from Philadelphia. Immediately, the girl’s eyes widened and she said, “Oh, have you been on American Bandstand?” Phil replied, “Oh, yeah. Lots of times.” That did it. Phil had hooked his girl for the night. When I got the chance, I asked him if he had really been on Bandstand. He winked and said, “Nah, but it worked, didn’t it?” Later, I tried to get something going with a cute little blond. When I told her I was from Philadelphia, she reacted just like the other girl, “Have you been on American Bandstand?” You can guess what my answer was. So, thank you, Dick Clark, for your part in making my first social experience in college a success.”
Leafing through the Spring/Summer issue of Spirits, which I picked up the other day, I found an art piece called “Thunderbird” by Seamus McColly (Fred’s son and Sarah’s brother), who penned this blurb about himself: “His future goal is to write comic books. He tends to draw a lot, and when time and resources allow, he makes puppets.” How charming. Editor-in-chief Mariah Hamang contributed two excellent poems one, “Still Just East of Gary” about an old two-room apartment with “stained, sagging floors” and memories of “every lonely tenant’s lingering dharma.” In “The Professor” Mariah writes” “Your tag is flapped out of your casual flannel denim on Monday, probably from your latest encounter with a urinal, although you have a great head of coarse, silver hair, and a very fashionable PhD.”
I spent most of Thursday morning watching a 1989 interview I did with Jack Buhner, who headed IUN for 15 years beginning in 1954 and who is returning next month to participate in an unveiling of a time capsule, discovered when the campus’s first building, Gary Main (Tamarack Hall) was demolished. I jotted down the times for seven short quotes, which hopefully will be included in a short documentary about the early days of the Glen Park campus.
Jonathyne Briggs loaned me a documentary about the Flaming Lips entitled “Fearless Freaks.” I was wearing a t-shirt Jim Migoski gave me featuring goalie helmets of the Flyers and Penguins. Jon was surprised and disappointed I was a Philadelphia fan until I told him where I grew up.
Final Jeopardy was tricky. The category was, “He was President When . . . .” The event was the Jets winning Superbowl III. I knew it was LBJ, as did just one contestant, while a rival answered Nixon, who assumed office January 20, 1969, eight days later.
I skimmed through to the last chapters of “Mockingjay,” which did not hold my interest like Suzanne Collins’s first two books. Still I was eager to find out how the saga ended.