Pulitzer Prize–eligible magazine The National Enquirer broke an old but interesting story this week about Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. The ultra-wholesome image cultivated by Clark and his producers was unsurprisingly the result of behind-the-scenes pruning, as Clark would frequently conduct “witch hunts” to “purge gays from the ranks.”
After taking over Bandstand from original host Bob Horn, who had been locked up for drunk driving (and had also recently been acquitted for statutory rape), Clark built the show into a platform for himself as a host, as well as a way to introduce rock and roll to the suburbs through the medium of television. Clark has been credited with inventing modern youth culture, but also of being a cold and calculating media gangster who was backed into selling his payola shares during an investigation by the United States government in 1960.
Many of the show’s male dancers were apparently gay, but had to remain extremely secretive about it lest they be ferreted out by producers and forced to resign. Tyrannical policies like these were extremely typical for the ’50s and early ’60s, and their acceptance was so widespread that gay dancers did not even want to risk talking about it until now.
Former Bandstand regulars Frank Brancaccio and Eddie Kelly talked to the Enquirer about what really went on behind the scenes at the show. Both Brancaccio and Kelly refer to themselves as loners and misfits, who say that being on Bandstand gave them a place to feel comfortable being themselves. Well, as much themselves as Clark would allow.
Although it was hush-hush, both men estimate that a lot of the male Bandstand dancers were gay, and that the homophobic straight guys they knew were well aware of this and would hurl slurs at them as they walked around public parts of town.
Kelly, now in his seventies, talks about how producers tried to bust gay dancers at popular cruising spots: “Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square was known as a meeting place for homosexuals. If you were seen in the square, you couldn’t go on Bandstand. So most of us really stayed away.”
The rest of the story: Dick Clark and American Bandstand’s Behind-the-Scenes Anti-Gay History