Bandstandland: How Dancing Teenagers Took Over America and Dick Clark Took Over Rock & Roll

The Book

American Bandstand, one of the longest-running shows in television history, spotlighted well-scrubbed, properly dressed dancing teenagers on every show. They mirrored the show’s perpetually youthful host, Dick Clark, who spun the music Clark often described as the “soundtrack to our lives.”

These are the memories Clark carefully nurtured as he crafted the alternate teen universe of Bandstandland during the formative years of American Bandstand, from 1952 to 1964. Bandstandland was a mythical creation by Clark, who saw the show as a springboard to immense wealth rather than a tribute to teen culture.

Clark was a relentless businessman who once had ownership stakes in 33 corporations, most created by him. He created rules to keep black teens off the show, promoted the teens that danced on the show when it served his purposes and banned them when it didn’t and effectively turned American Bandstand into his own personal infomercial.

Bandstandland sheds light on the little-known backstory of the TV program that was America’s top-rated daytime television show in its heyday and enjoyed a 37-year run from 1952 to 1989.

The Author

Larry Lehmer was a newspaper reporter and editor for 40 years, including 24 years at The Des Moines Register. During his time as a senior editor at The Register, the paper was named one of the country’s top 10 newspapers by Time magazine. During his newspaper career, Lehmer was a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters & Editors. He is a graduate of the American Press Institute in Washington, D.C., and a former member of the Association of Personal Historians.

Lehmer is also the author of The Day the Music Died: The Last Tour of Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, which was nominated for the 1997 Gleason Music Book Award. As a result of that book’s success, Lehmer worked with the E! cable television network in producing an episode of its Mysteries and Scandals series, was a contributor to a VH1 documentary on Buddy Holly and was a featured subject on the ID-Discovery Channel’s The Will: Family Secrets Revealed program on Ritchie Valens.

He lives in Urbandale, Iowa, with his wife, Linda.

My Thoughts

This is a very complete story of the American Bandstand years, which were magical to those of us of a certain age. The book covers all the seediness behind the show, and of the greed of the prime movers, including Dick Clark himself.

I enjoyed the innocence and fun of learning the dances on our linoleum floor at home. And teaching a younger cousin to rock and roll in our grandparents’ basement, where was where we cousins ended up during clan get-togethers. I’d forgotten until he reminded me. One wall in next to our bopping was lined with jars of Grandma’s home-canned fruits and vegetables.

 

12 comments

  1. Sometimes you just want to hang on to the innocence. I have not read the book, probably will not. Like you it was an introduction to dance from kids in the big city to my rural surroundings. We all had our favorite dancers who we looked for on each episode. Thanks for sharing about the book.

    • The author leads the local nonfiction writers’ group, so wanted to check it out. It’s very thorough, but sure took some of the magic out of those memories for me. I’ll just have to remember when I taught a younger cousin to dance rock & roll in our grandparents basement, which is where we cousins ended up during clan get-togethers–with Grandma’s jars of canned fruits and vegetables lining the wall.

  2. Interesting. I was that guy in Middle School, that at the dances in the gym … where the guys lined one side and the girls lined the other Waiting for someone to make the first move … to make the first moved. I always loved to dance!

  3. Growing up in New York City, I had a chance to attend a live teen TV show. The live guests that day were Debbie Reynolds and Danny & the Juniors. And of course I watched “Bandstand”.

  4. I didn’t realize that there was a distasteful backstory to American Bandstand. I realized that I was getting old when I would say, “It has a good beat, and you can dance to it,” and the person I was speaking to had no idea I was making a pop culture reference.

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