Toledo woman worked on three Dick Clark showsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Barbara “Bobbie” John paused for nearly a minute when asked to recall her favorite memory of Dick Clark.
The 86-year-old Toledo woman was a personal friend to Clark for more than 50 years, having worked on three of his shows, including a Saturday night version of “American Bandstand” in New York City. She also worked on his music show “Where the Action Is” and created a music show called “Swingin’ Country” that he produced.
Clark died April 18 of a heart attack at a Santa Monica, Calif., hospital, a day after he was admitted for an outpatient procedure, according to his spokesman. He was 82.
Her favorite memory, she finally decided, was when she once called Clark, years after they had last spoken, asking for some old TV clips for a project she was working on.
“I hadn’t seen him in at least 10 years, but it was like we had talked two days before,” John said. “It wasn’t like, ‘I vaguely remember you.’ There was no hesitation. He said, ‘Sure, come on out. Anything in the library is yours.’ That to me personified him.”
John also treasures a letter she received from Clark in 2010 in response to a package of memorabilia she sent to him.
“I wrote quite a long letter reminiscing with him and he answered back,” John said. “His handwriting is wiggly, but he did it. It’s a lovely letter. The fact that just two years ago, he took the time to answer my letter and we’ve been in touch. That’s something. That’s a treasure.”
The typewritten letter with a handwritten signature reads: “It was great to hear from you, Bobbie. Thank you so much for sending along the script, album cover, credit crawl from ‘Swingin’ Country’ and picture of Debbie [her daughter]. You sure brought back a flood of memories! Thanks once again. I really appreciate your thoughtfulness. Sincerely, Dick Clark.”
America’s oldest teenager
Known for his youthful appearance, Clark produced and hosted a number of television shows, most famously “American Bandstand,” which aired for more than three decades starting in the early 1950s.
He also produced and hosted the year-end countdown from Times Square on “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” a role he continued in part even after suffering a massive stroke in 2004 that affected his ability to speak and walk. Clark’s handpicked successor, Ryan Seacrest, became the main host.
Among John’s other “treasures” from her time with Clark are a typewritten script from one of the early New York City shows.
Clark hosted “American Bandstand” five days a week in Philadelphia and then filmed a Saturday night show at The Little Theater off Times Square in New York, officially called “The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beech-Nut Show” after its sponsor, Beech-Nut Gum.
John served as assistant to the producer, typing scripts and song lyrics for ABC to approve, as well as prepping the performers.
“Tony Mammarella booked the talent, but I had to make them presentable for TV,” John said. “They were all unknowns. I took Connie Francis and her hovering father shopping to buy her first formal to wear on the nighttime bandstand. I took Frankie Avalon shopping and tried to pick his brain about what looked good to him. I was the one who ended up deciding on white shoes and V-neck sweaters.”
A graduate of Libbey High School and Bowling Green State University, John went to New York City to “seek her fortune” several years after getting a divorce. She had been living in St. Louis, working as a writer and producer at a local radio and television station to support her two daughters. After five years there, John left her daughters with her mother in Ohio and moved to New York City.
Unable to find a job right away, she lived in a YWCA dorm room and sold jewelry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art before catching her big break — an interview with Charles Reeves, executive producer of Clark’s Saturday night show.
She met Clark for the first time when she and producer Louis Heyward went to Philadelphia to watch “American Bandstand.”
“I didn’t know anything about pop music and he didn’t either. Neither one of us really knew how we got hired,” John said. “We decided we’d better see what ‘Bandstand’ was all about. So he took me on a train trip to Philadelphia and that’s the first time I met Dick.”
John said she remembers Clark as kind, generous and honest.
“He was a gentleman,” John said. “He was very undemanding. He didn’t hover over your shoulder or make many suggestions or say, ‘That won’t work.’ He hired people because he believed they knew how to do the job. I have tremendous respect for him.”
After leaving the Saturday night show, John developed game shows with actor, comedian and ventriloquist Paul Winchell. However, their work was halted due to the payola scandal, which shut down production at major networks, so John moved to California, where there was an opportunity to air the shows on an independent station unaffected by the scandal.
Soon after, Clark moved to California as well. He wanted to get into game shows, but didn’t know where to start.
“He asked people all over Hollywood, ‘How do you learn to do this?’ and three different people told him to talk to me,” John said. “I was producing [country music show] ‘Melody Ranch’ for Gene Autry at a local station in LA and Dick hired me away from that.”
Although Clark later got into game shows, he and John started working together on a music show called “Where the Action Is.” John was the talent coordinator, booking performers, scouting locations and deciding when songs would air.
When Clark decided his next project would be a show featuring country music, he asked John to develop a concept.
“All these reports that say he stayed current, he stayed ahead of the times, they are very true. He knew country music was going to happen, so I created a show called ‘Swingin’ Country,’” John said. “It was typical Dick Clark. He sold the show [to NBC in New York] and then came back and said, ‘OK, what are we gonna do?’ So we built the show.”
The show featured Rusty Draper as host and Roy Clark as band leader.
“I don’t remember how I found Rusty. He was working at a country club in Lincoln, Neb.,” John said. “Roy Clark should have been host. The network turned him down, but I talked his manager into letting him come on the show as band leader. That was his introduction on national television and in four weeks he really was the star. That was the kickoff of his major career.”
John’s connections to country music were solidifed when she served as Johnny Cash’s manager for seven years.
“Swingin’ Country” was credited as “Created by Dick Clark and Barbara John.”
“I had a big fight with Dick about it,” John said. “I said my name should be first. He said, ‘No, I’m better known.’ I said, ‘That’s why my name should be first, so I get to be better known.’”
John sued Clark over it; his name stayed first, but he gave her $100, she said.
“He and I have laughed about it since,” she said.
Staying in touch
John periodically stayed in touch with Clark after the end of their working days.
“I heard he still came to the office every day, even after his stroke,” John said. “He kept his finger on the pulse of everything.”
On the evening of April 18, John watched “American Idol,” where host Seacrest offered a short tribute to his mentor.
“You could tell Ryan’s face was just tight. That had to be the most difficult show he ever did. Dick signed off every show he ever did with a salute and a ‘So long’ and that’s what Ryan Seacrest did. He ended with the salute and said ‘So long, boss,’” John said, her voice cracking. “I didn’t cry when I heard the news. I wrote both my girls immediately and said, ‘I’m not sad. I’m glad he didn’t have to suffer anymore.’
“On all three shows, I felt I worked with him, not for him.
He never came on as, ‘I am the boss.’ I feel privileged to have worked with him.”