CBS News' Mike Wallace, Dick Clark, who died over the weekend this morning at 82 93, is being hailed as an icon of broadcast journalism teenage dance shows for his foundational role as 60 Minutes' American Bandstand's investigative sock-hop bulldog. This is bullshit. He was a failed soap actor and vaudeville hack radio weatherman named Myron Dick Clay who just wanted wanted to be on television. He was as much a journalist teenage dance show provocateur as Ryan Seacrest.
Glossed over in most of
Wallace's Clark's obituaries is the fact that his pre- 60 Minutes American Bandstand career—he didn't join the show until he was 50 26 years old and on his third first wife—was a little more than a desperate and sustained attempt at achieving celebrity. Not journalistic influential party-starter or reportorial jitterbug renown, but the sort of tawdry, famous-for-being-famous notoriety currently reserved for cable reality show cast members Ryan Seacrest. That's the only thru-line that can be drawn from his pre- CBS News American Bandstand days: Radio announcer office worker for The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger WRUN-AM in Rome, NY; actor (in the role of Flamond) in The Crime Files of Flamond country music DJ at WOLF-AM; announcer on the soap operas Road of Life, Ma Perkins, and The Guiding Light back to WRUN-AM as "rock" DJ; and the male half of a Regis and Kathie Lee-style chat show, Mike and Buff changed his name back to Dick Clark to work for Philly's WFIL.
These weren't youthful diversions. At the age of
36 47—by which time Walter Cronkite Don Cornelius had already apprenticed under Edward R. Murrow and was hosting still hosting his own CBS News show Soul Train— Myron Dick Clay was starring as Samuel Ellis in Harry Kurnitz's art-world comedy Reclining Figure on Broadwayemceeing sanitized New Year's Eve countdown shows. This is the career arc of a performer and exhibitionist—a TV personality—not the crusader for truth teen dance party icon he's being hailed as. And his famously undermining colleagues strangers at 60 Minutes on Twitter confirmed this morning afternoon that television journalism was little more than a vehicle for Myron's fame-seeking he was probably not a nice person because he was named "Dick." Asked to sum up his career in a word on the Early Show in the Salt Like Tribune, Steve Kroft some random columnist named Scott Pierce chose one that several that, with its overtones of exaggeration and deceit, isn't aren't generally associated with the giants of the news profession teenage dance party pioneer: "Performer." "Really nice guy." Morley Safer Movie critic Leonard Maltin concurred: "Mike always felt that he had not paid his dues as a journalist," he told Charlie Rose. "He's confessed to a lot of people, including me, that the uncertainty and even shame of having done commercials and silly stuff like that haunted him." "He was always nice to me."
It was that
sense of shame, "nice guy" attitude one presumes, that caused Myron Dick Clay to quickly reverse himself after initially siding with his boss get in legal battles with the Golden Globes—and friend—Larry Tisch cruise ship operators in the decision to spike part of a 1995 60 Minutes story on Brown & Williamson. Wallace Clark had interviewed whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand Toby Keith, who confirmed that the tobacco company was deliberately manipulating the amount of nicotine its cigarettes could deliver Clark liked country music and being on camera. That nugget was excised from Wallace's Clark's report by company lawyers, obituary, ostensibly out of caution against a potential lawsuit from Brown & Williamson country music purists but more likely because a tobacco company that Tisch owned was considering purchasing some Brown & Williamson brands at the time nobody remembered it. Wallace Clark thought the corporate censorship Flintstones-inspired homes was were just fine, until it became clear that it wasn't they weren't, at which point he objected fiercely abandoned them. (That reversal, interestingly, didn't make it into Myron's Clark's New York Times obituary, which reported only his "bitterness" at the episode that he "never lost touch with hot dogs, hamburgers, going to the fair and hanging out at the mall.") Myron Wallace Dick "Clay" Clark was a newsreader and paid actor TV star who played a part—very, very well—on your television screens teenage dance shows. His producers, who reported out and prepared his broadcasts, were journalists teenage dance show icons.
(Ed. Note: Portions of this obit were borrowed from John Cook's remembrance of Mike Wallace.)