Showbiz mogul Dick Clark under harsh spotlight in documentary

Thu Sep 24, 2009 9:03pm EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As ailing showbiz mogul Dick Clark prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday in November, a new documentary threatens to tarnish his image by recounting his controversial beginnings.

"Wages of Spin," a project that took independent filmmaker Shawn Swords almost four years to make, focuses on Clark's early days in the 1950s as the host of "American Bandstand," the iconic TV show in which teenagers danced to songs lip-synced by some of the biggest pop stars of the day.

The show, which was must-see TV for millions of youngsters every week day between 1957 and 1963, gave artists a national platform that was unavailable elsewhere. It accordingly made Clark one of the most powerful figures in the music industry since the wholesome TV star decided who appeared on the show.

A congressional probe in 1960 revealed that Clark had interests in dozens of companies that could profit from "American Bandstand," including labels, record-pressing plants, and a talent-management firm.

He denied taking "payola" -- kickbacks in exchange for airplay. But the probe learned that he has been assigned the copyrights to at least 143 compositions, including such monster hits as "Sixteen Candles" and "At the Hop." Such songs received preferential treatment on the show. Payola was not illegal then, and is barely regulated today.

Moreover, Clark demanded that the young performers turn over to his own company the union-mandated fees that they received for their appearances, saying that the low-budget show could not afford to make such payouts.

"He's definitely an alpha villain," Swords said in a recent interview. "I'm not saying this man was consummately malevolent, just his business practices and the depth of his avarice and self-enrichment. I really think the man's place in pop music history needs to be re-evaluated."


<p>Dick Clark stands onstage during a tribute to him at the 58th annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles August 27, 2006. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>