ALBANY — For those of us whose teen years spanned the late 1950s and early 1960s, our weekday routines were similar: Rush home from school, change from our school clothes into our play clothes and turn on the TV to watch “American Bandstand.”
Hosted by Dick Clark, the show played the nation’s most popular rock ’n’ roll songs and had a major guest. Equally as important to the show’s success was what the “regulars” were doing.
Were teens Bob Clayton and Justine Carrelli dancing together? How about Arlene Sullivan and Kenny Rossi?
The regulars were as much a part of the “American Bandstand” experience as Dick Clark and the music.
Sullivan and co-authors Sharon Sultan Cutler and Ray Smith are reviving the bandstand memories from that era with their book, scheduled to be released next month titled “Bandstand Diaries: The Philadelphia Years 1956 to 1963.”
According to Cutler, the book consists of 11 chapters and contains interviews with more than 60 Bandstanders.
It was Cutler’s brainstorm more than 2 1/2 years ago to do the book.
“A regular ‘American Bandstand’ viewer, I had unwavering curiosity about what happened to the show’s regulars both during and after the show. I also felt that many, many other ‘American Bandstand’ fans wanted to know what happened to them so I decided to do the book,” the 69-year-old first-time Chicago author explained.
The show started in the early 1950s with Bob Horn as the host. He was fired in July 1956 following a DWI arrest and replaced by Clark.
On Aug. 5, 1957, it was transformed from a Philadelphia show to a national show and the name changed from Bandstand to “American Bandstand.” Jerry Lee Lewis was the first guest on the national show.
The show moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles in February 1964 and remained there through its last season in 1989.
“It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get the book done, but I think people will like it. It’s loaded with information about those Bandstand years,” Cutler said.
She revealed that while a few of the Bandstand regulars refused to be interviewed for the book, overall there was excellent cooperation.
Cutler and Sullivan did not know each other before Cutler contacted her about the book.
“Arlene and I met on social media and we then arranged for a face-to-face meeting in Atlantic City in May 2014. That’s when we decided to collaborate on the book,” Cutler noted.
Sullivan, who was one of the superstars among the “American Bandstand” regulars, has fond memories of her relationship with Rossi on the show.
Kenny was only on the show for 1½ years before he had to leave because he made a record, which broke an “American Bandstand” rule.
“When I first saw Kenny at the show, he was sitting in the bleachers and seemed a lot like I was — kinda shy. … I went up to him and asked him if he wanted to dance and he said, ‘Yes.’ That’s how it started,” she said. “I told him later that day that I’d see him on the show tomorrow and he said, ’I don’t know if I can get in.’ I told him not to worry about it because I could get him in.”
That’s how one of the best-known couples on “American Bandstand” came together.
Sullivan’s popularity reached amazing proportions. She averaged receiving 100 fan letters a day with a peak of 300. She also had multiple fan clubs.
“There was no way I could answer them all, but I tried to answer as many as I could,” Sullivan recalled. “Some wanted to know about dancing, some wanted dating advice and others just wanted an autographed picture.”
Sullivan noted that rock ’n’ roll was not a music staple in her home. “My father was Irish and my mother was Italian and they preferred listening to popular singers of the day like Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney and Doris Day. They loved dancing so maybe I got my love of dancing from them,” she said.
But she said her parents had no objections to her appearing on “American Bandstand.”
When asked if she had to endure jealousy from friends or other regulars on “American Bandstand” because of her immense popularity, she replied, “Not at all. I had no self-confidence and didn’t think of myself as particularly good looking and I certainly was not a fashion plate, so people really didn’t have much to be jealous about.”
She was, however, surprised to learn that she was as popular as the singers of the day.
“Frankie Avalon told me that everywhere he went during that time period that fans would ask all about us,” she said. “He would always tell us how popular we were.
“Paul Anka also was one of my favorites. He asked me to call his sister, which, naturally, I did. When his family moved to New Jersey, I was invited to visit them at their house.”
Sullivan said that she probably had the closest relationship with Annette Funicello. “She was one of the nicest people I ever met and was one special person. … We would spend weekends together when she came East.”
As for Clark, Sullivan said, “He was OK with us, but not very friendly. … He was friendly to a degree, but kind of standoffish”
The 73-year-old Sullivan has lived in Ventnor, N.J., a suburb of Atlantic City, for the past 24 years and still goes dancing one night a week at Jerry Blavat’s dance shows. Known as the “The Boss with the Hot Sauce,” Blavat, 76, is an iconic Philadelphia disc jockey who has been a major influence in promoting oldies music on the radio and with dances.
“The dances bring back memories of my ‘American Bandstand’ days. I really do enjoy the dances, but I don’t particularly like living in the past,” Sullivan said.
After transferring from John Bartram High School during her senior year, Sullivan graduated from St. Monica’s High School in Philadelphia in 1960. Sullivan then worked for Dunn & Bradstreet and later in sales for the Warwick Hotel during the 1960s. She then became a Black Jack dealer with various Atlantic City Hotels before retiring in 2011.
Sullivan and Smith, an occasional “American Bandstand” dancer, attended Bartram High School in Philadelphia at the same time, but never meet until 40 years later when he was working on a book for Clark and had to interview Sullivan.
Barry “The Old Rocker” Levine is an entertainment writer for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at email@example.com.