American Bandstand hid that some of its teen stars were gay in the 1950s and '60s, alleges a new self-published memoir by two former dancers who are now openly gay.
Filmed in West Philadelphia from 1952 to 1964 at what was then ABC's WFIL station studio, Bandstand featured teenagers paired off into heterosexual couples dancing to Top 40 tracks of the day. New memoir Bandstand Diaries alleges that many of those teen dancers were gay.
Written by Ray Smith and Arlene Sullivan, who was part of the popular “Arlene and Kenny” dance couple, the memoir dives deep into the Philly days of Bandstand, and claims that host Dick Clark wanted to keep the show’s dancers’ sexual orientation a secret from the audience for fear of cancellation.
The National Enquirer reported a similar story in 2014. Former castmembers Frank Brancaccio and Eddie Kelly told the publication that "most of the males were gay."
“I knew I was different early on, but being with all these [Bandstand] friends, I came to terms with my feelings,” Sullivan, now 74, recently told the New York Post. “I kissed a girl, and I liked it!”
Smith, who knew he was gay before joining the show’s cast, said he was “shocked” to learn many of his fellow dancers were gay as well. Smith, in fact, told the Post that “most of the guys on Bandstand, so many of them, were gay.”
The pair alleges that Clark, who hosted the show from 1956 until its final season in 1989, was so “determined” to keep the lives of the show’s gay dancers a secret that he used Bandstand production staff members to spy on teens in Rittenhouse Square and other Philadelphia hangouts associated with gay culture to determine which dancers were homosexual.
“Parents across America would never, NEVER have allowed their kids to put Bandstand on” had they known its dancers were gay, Sullivan writes.
However, whether gay or straight, Sullivan told the Post that cast members regularly dealt with harassment, which the Post writes “happened all the time.” In one example from Sullivan, she recalls a time when her dance partner, Kenny Rossi, a straight teen, was attacked in North Philadelphia.
“One time, Kenny and I went to visit one of the other regulars up in North Philadelphia, and we were leaving her apartment and were headed to the El, and I heard car doors slamming, and I looked back, and all these guys were coming up the steps, and they started beating up on Kenny,” Sullivan told the Post. “I was trying to hit them over their heads with my pocketbook, but they just wouldn’t give up. Finally, we got away and jumped over the turnstile. They were hurting him. It was horrible.”
Sullivan also said she had witnessed a fellow gay dancer “thrown onto the El tracks” outside the Bandstand studio. Another Bandstand cast member, Sullivan says, was once “dangled over an elevator shaft.”
Sullivan kept her true sexual identity hidden while part of the show. Sullivan says she went to straight clubs to hide her orientation, and dated men including Danny Rapp of Danny & the Juniors. She even married a man when she was in her early twenties, but “called my dad and asked him to come get me” after realizing she couldn’t live that way.
Now Sullivan has a live-in partner, and still dances despite suffering multiple strokes. As the Post reports, Sullivan says she goes weekly to a dance thrown by The Geator with the Heater himself, Jerry Blavat. Blavat himself is a Bandstand original; he debuted on the show in 1953.
Bandstand Diaries, which bills itself as the book “you waited over 50 years to read,” is out now, and can be purchased online.