October 4, 2002
American Bandstand is back!
By TOM WILLIAMS
American Bandstand is hot again!
More than 17 years after the show last appeared on network TV and nearly 40
years after it moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, Dick Clark's dance
show seems to be everywhere.
Earlier this year, an anniversary show got good network ratings. The hottest
new hit on Broadway - "Hairspray" - is called a Bandstand-like show. The
newest drama on NBC - "American Dreams" - spotlights a teenage girl in
1960s Philadelphia who becomes a regular dancer on Bandstand. And, if that
isn't enough, a new American Bandstand slot machine is taking in quarters in
both Atlantic City and Las Vegas.
For more than 20 years of its network existence, Bandstand was a taped
weekly show from Los Angeles, complete with the outlandish costumes and
dance moves you would expect to find in Hollywood. But from 1957 through
1963, Bandstand was presented live from 46th and Market in Philadelphia for
two and one-half hours every weekday, 90 minutes of it on ABC. That was
when Bandstand was truly Bandstand.
Actually, the show began in 1952 with Bob Horn as the host. When Horn had
problems with the law, producers looked for as clean cut a replacement as
they could find. Enter Dick Clark.
But, if Horn and his dancers had not been successful, the show probably would
have been cancelled, instead of casting a new host. Mary Ann Colella danced
on that early version from 1952 through 1956.
"We had record hops all over the place," she remembered, "and they were
always packed. All of us dancers would travel to Dorney Park, Allentown and
to the Chalfonte Haddon Hall in Atlantic City. It was when we'd get out and
meet the kids who watched the show that we realized how popular it was."
Arlene Sullivan was one of the most popular dancers in the show's history.
Now living in Ventnor and dealing black jack at the Taj Mahal, Sullivan
remembered watching the show before she became a dancer.
"I watched it with my mother and really became interested," she said. "I tried to
get on a few times but didn't make it. Then I met Justine Carelli at a party -
she was one of the most popular dancers on the show - and she helped me
A few years later, Sullivan and her dance partner, Kenny Rossi, were at the
Yeadon Swim Club, attracting a throng of screaming teenagers. Watching this
scene was 13-year old Kathleen "Bunny" Gibson.
"I asked my girlfriend who they were," Gibson said, "and she was amazed that
I didn't watch Bandstand. I started watching right away and practiced the
jitterbug with my refrigerator door. When I was good enough, I got all dressed
up and managed to get in, despite the fact that I was not yet 14, the minimum
age. I picked that first day because Bobby Rydell was going to be on the
Gibson, who is now an actress and model living in Los Angeles, became part
of a popular Bandstand dance team with Ed Kelly. "The guys had to wear a
jacket and tie," said Kelly, who lives in North Jersey and works at a New York
City law firm. "It was very important to Dick Clark that we look respectable and
That paid off. Music historians credit the reluctant acceptance of rock and roll
by the older generation to Bandstand, with its clean-cut host and well-dressed
dancers, and to Ricky Nelson, the cute little boy who grew up on TV's Ozzie
and Harriet and then became a big rock star himself.
Bandstand was so popular in the Philly years that the photos of the dancers
were often seen on the front page of the top teen magazines next to Elvis,
Frankie and Annette. "I still have a lot of those magazines," said Sullivan. "It
was really amazing."
Once, when Annette appeared on Bandstand and was at the autograph table,
Sullivan approached her for an autograph. "I should be getting your autograph,
Arlene," the recording and movie star said. It was the beginning of a friendship
between the two.
"I just found out a few years ago," said Kelly, "that an average of eight million
people would tune in each day. We never realized it was that popular. We
never thought about that."
But dancing on the show was not always fun and games.
"I usually ate lunch by myself in school," said Gibson, "and I actually had to
transfer out of St. Hubert's because of threats made against me."
"Many of us were not treated well," Kelly added. "There were kids out to hurt
us and, occasionally, they succeeded. Some just thought it wasn't cool to be a
dancer, others were probably jealous of the attention we got. Many times I
would sneak home through back streets, trying not to be seen."
And some of the dancers went through a lot just to get to the show. It turns
out, while most red-blooded teenage boys were rushing home from school on
the bus to watch the beautiful Bunny Gibson dance, she was also rushing on a
bus, with one twist.
"We had moved to New Jersey and I attended Holy Cross High School,"
Gibson said. "That put me nearly 90 minutes away from Bandstand. So, I'd
catch a bus out on Route 130 and change from my oxfords and gray school
uniform into my Bandstand clothes right in the back of the bus."
Sound familiar. Well, in the first episode of NBC's American Dreams last
Sunday night, you saw two girls doing just that. "That show brought back a lot
of memories," said Sullivan. "For instance, my father didn't like the idea of me
dancing on Bandstand, just like the girl in the show. And, when that girl got all
excited about being in the studio the first time - that was me! I reacted just like
If you missed the first episode of American Dreams, it will be re-shown Sunday
night at 7, right before the second episode at the series' regular time of 8 p.m.
The original regulars of Bandstand also spent a lot of time among us here at
the Jersey Shore. Kelly would vacation in Wildwood and, with his family, visit
Lucy the Elephant in Margate. He and Gibson also came down to Ed Hurst's
summertime dance show on the Steel Pier.
"We'd get mobbed by fans who recognized us," said Gibson. "I'm not sure the
dancers on the Steel Pier show liked that very much," said Kelly. "They gave
us a hard time."
Sullivan, who still demonstrates her moves at Jerry Blavat's dances at the
Marina, remembers going to Wildwood with Rossi and visiting the Atlantic City
boardwalk, especially at Easter. Wherever they went, they drew big crowds of
admirers. "I remember seeing Bobby Darin for the very first time in Wildwood,"
"There were also parties in Sea Isle City at Frani's house," said Gibson. "We
had a lot of fun there." Frani is Frani Giordano, another of the show's most
popular dancers, whose family owns a produce business in Philadelphia and
once had a large vacation home on the bay in Sea Isle, which has since burned
"We had such great times in Wildwood," said Colella, now Mary Ann Baker.
"We'd come down and get a room for $3 a night. But there is one night that
"I can't remember the name of the pier we visited but it was toward the Crest
and it has since burned down. We saw a sign advertising 'Free Spaghetti
Tomorrow'. Since my friends and I had little money with us, we came back the
next day and asked for the free spaghetti. The guy asked us what the sign
said. We read it to him and he started singing 'There's no tomorrow'. The whole
thing was just a come-on. We laugh about it now but it was embarrassing
The original dancers from Philadelphia and South Jersey were what made
American Bandstand the hit that it was. Oh, you could say that they just
happened to be in the right place at the right time. After all, there weren't
nationwide auditions for dancers. But you could say the same thing about Dick
Clark. He took his opportunity and turned it in to mega-millions.
The dancers made the most of their time in the spotlight, as well, by creating
amazing memories. If you grew up watching the show, you'll know most of
them by their first names. In addition to Arlene, Kenny, Justine, Frani, Mary
Ann, Bunny and Ed, there was Carmen, Ivette, Ro, Carole, Pat, Geri, Lorraine,
Mike, Joyce, Charlie, Myra, Doris, Janet, Bill, Jimmy and the Beltrante sisters.
These were kids who liked to dance and did it well. But it was more. The
charm, style and personality that they brought into homes across America
every afternoon has never been equaled. There were no magazine stories about
the dancers from Los Angeles, after the show was moved. It was the Philly
kids whom America loved.
The Philly Bandstand regulars have gone on to do many different things with
their lives. Some have died. But, in those 10 or 12 years that they danced in
that hot, cramped studio at 46th and Market, they became a permanent part of
America's pop culture in the 20th century.
And now, as American Bandstand memories comes alive again during the 21st
century, their influence is still being felt.