Friday, April 20, 2012

Good Ol' Dear Ol' Dad - The Exception that Proves the Rule

It's been a while, but here's the second installment of "Good Ol' Dear Ol' Dad", with guest writer - My father!

"The passing of Dick Clark this week at age 82 may constitute final and conclusive proof for human mortality.  In Philosophy 101, many of us were taught the most basic of logical syllogisms:

1.     All men are mortal.
2.     Socrates is a man.
3.     Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

For several generations of TV viewers and music lovers, Dick Clark added a new twist to deductive logic by seeming never to age.  So the syllogism came to read something like this:

1.     All men are mortal.
2.     Dick Clark is immortal.
3.     Therefore, Dick Clark is not Socrates.

Clark with the A.B. audience.
Clark is probably best remembered as the host of the TV show “American Bandstand,” which earned him the sobriquet of “America’s oldest teenager.” The moniker proved to be prescient in terms of Clark’s eerie agelessness—a “fact” that it’s tempting to hypothesize subliminally convinced his mainly baby-boomer audience that they, too, were perhaps indestructible, but this is not something I’d presume to lay at the feet of the perpetually boyish Clark.  And, though I clearly remember seeing “Bandstand” in the early sixties as a child, I will leave its virtues and vices to other commentators.  (The program did give me an opportunity to play a puerile practical joke on some visiting teenage girl cousins one summer afternoon, circa 1962; I leaned out the back door to yell out to them in the yard where they were chatting with a neighborhood friend, “Quick!  Chubby Checker is on ‘American Bandstand!’” The three screamed and ran into the house so fast that one of them lost the tip of a high heel in the grass.  As penance for my prank, I was made to help in the fruitless search for the heel tip after they learned to their dismay that Checker was not in fact on Clark’s program that day.)

Collage of Clark from 1950s-1990s
Clark’s seeming changelessness became something of a national touchstone, and his name became synonymous with eternal youth.  I recall my brother at a family reunion some 20 years ago referring to a cousin and contemporary of ours, who had remained seemingly unchanged in the years since we had last seen him, as, “The Dick Clark of Bedford, Pennsylvania.”

Clark, on the Pyramid
In the course of his long career as a TV host and producer, Clark emceed one of my favorite game shows, “The $100,000 Pyramid.” That program had two teams, each consisting of a celebrity guest and contestant partner, vying to guess a category of things from a list of component parts.  In the lightning round, one team member had to get the other to correctly identify six progressively trickier categories in the space of a minute.  (Contestants often sat on their hands, as they were prohibited from gesturing to provide non-verbal clues.)  It was a good, lively, brain-teasing show.  Arguably the best part, though, was when, at the end of a lightning round where a team had failed to guess all the categories in the pyramid, the suave Clark would cross over to the bull pen where the losing team was seated, perch one leg on the step up, lean on the railing, and in a kindly manner lead the contestants through a few additional clues to help them come up with the answer they’d missed—often suggesting a couple of clues they hadn’t thought of—enabling them, if not to win the jackpot, at least to save face.  In that sense, Clark, ever diplomatic, taught millions of Americans the value of losing gracefully.

Clark aged only when he suffered a debilitating stroke, but then, once again, became the exception that proved the rule by fighting tenaciously back against stroke-related paralysis and speech impediments to continue as an on-air TV host, most notably as the anchor of the annual TV coverage of New Year’s Eve in Times Square, right up to the current year.  Though visibly older (but still not within binocular distance of his chronological age), measured of speech, and only a trifle frail looking, he still exuded a certain brio that made him “America’s youngest senior citizen.”

You could not help but root for such a trouper. - Good Ol', Dear Ol' Dad"

Our thoughts go out to the Clark family.

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