One of Clark's most telling ventures was in the awards show sector.
American Music Awards. The AMAs, unlike the Grammys, judges its winners based on sales data and public surveys, which seemed to suit Clark's old "Bandstand" tradition of letting the kids grade the songs.
The AMAs became a template for Clark; his production company's banner flies now over the Emmy Awards, the Golden Globes, the Academy of Country Music Awards and the Family Television Awards.
Clark returned again and again to the legacy of his beloved "Bandstand" with numerous archival projects and tie-ins, including television specials, home video compilations and even a small restaurant chain that includes "American Bandstand" airport eateries in Indianapolis and Newark, N.J.
In 1981, with "Bandstand" entering its twilight, Clark told The Times that the show was No. 1 on his personal career countdown. "I feel about 'American Bandstand' the way I would about a member of my family. I'm sentimental about it. It was the beginning of everything for me."
Thirty-seven years after its founding, Dick Clark Productions Inc. was sold in 2002 for $136 million to a group of private investors. Clark stayed on as chairman and chief executive.
Clark's workload never let up until his stroke, which he suffered at his Malibu home. As much as his face and voice were instantly recognizable to television watchers, within the industry itself it was Clark's drive and demanding ways that defined his persona.
A "tyrant with a stopwatch" was the appraisal of one longtime employee who had weathered many of Clark's scoldings in the stage wings over a show portion that ran too long or too short or otherwise failed to meet his expectations.
"Can I be a mean mother? That's absolutely true," Clark told The Times in 1981. "My temper has gotten a little bit better but it's still notorious. I have no patience. If I have something on my mind, I blow up. It's my way of keeping sanity."
That temper fueled an especially public feud with C. Michael Greene, the former chief of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences and the guiding hand behind the Grammys. The Grammys thundered past the American Music Awards in ratings during Greene's tenure, and one of his tactics was spreading the word that any artist who performed on the AMAs would be banned from the Grammys. Clark responded with public rage and a lawsuit. Clark dropped the suit when Greene left the academy post in 2002 after a successful but tumultuous 13-year reign.
The stories of Clark as a backstage ogre are numerous, but there are also numerous tales of envelopes of cash made for employees or former colleagues in need.
Richard Wagstaff Clark was born in Mount Vernon, N.Y., on Nov. 30, 1929. Thirteen years later, he was in the audience in a New York City theater where Jimmy Durante and Garry Moore were broadcasting a radio program. On the spot he decided that he wanted his own future to include a microphone and an audience. His focus even as a teen was enough to sway his father into a career turn of his own.
"When he found out I wanted to be in radio he quit his job," Clark once said on CNN's "Larry King Live." "He was in the cosmetics business. And my uncle was opening a radio station and he said, 'Dick' — my father Dick — 'come on up and run this place. It needs a good sales manager and you can do it hands down.' So [my father] is thinking he's a little fed up with New York City. And he moved upstate. He was thinking, run the radio station and maybe help the kid and, lo and behold, he did."
The station was WRUN in Utica and Clark's family connection was enough to earn him a job in the mailroom. Soon, though, he was on the air handling news bulletins and weather reports. He was 17 when he finally found an audience, albeit a modestly sized one.
Clark studied advertising and radio at Syracuse University, and he took equal interest in the handling of ledgers and on-air interviews. By 1952 he had moved to the far more dynamic Philadelphia market and was honing his craft at the WFIL/WFIO radio and television stations. The TV station's afternoon slate of shows included a dance show called "Bandstand" with a host named Bob Horn who was popular with sponsors — until his 1956 drunk driving arrest.
The smooth-speaking and youthful-looking Clark was handling a similar radio program called "Caravan of Music" and had made his television debut as the unlikely host of a country music show stuck with the name "Cactus Dick and the Santa Fe Riders." Clark had already aspired to make the leap to "Bandstand," according to John A. Jackson, author of "American Bandstand," a book on Clark's empire. The book cites a peer of Clark's who said the young broadcaster coveted the rock 'n' roll show: "I'm gonna have that show and that's all there is to it. That will be mine."
Clark did get the show, and it turned out to be a historic promotion for him and for rock 'n' roll.
The show was a hit locally and Clark enjoyed working with the young fans who would come on the show to dance. He chatted them up with a comfort that set the show apart from others of its ilk that came off as condescending or clumsy.
The music was not his favorite — he had been a jazz aficionado — but he saw its growth potential. In 1957, he heard in the office that the ABC network was looking for a new Sunday program, so he went to New York City with a kinescope copy of "Bandstand" and met with executives Dan Melnick and Jim Aubrey. (The latter would go on to be chief of CBS.) Melnick saw something in the simple formula that might click with kids watching on the weekend, and a memo he penned earned "Bandstand" a seven-week trial on the network.