‘Bandstand’ marks 50th anniversary

Burlington County Times

Danny and the Juniors perform “At the Hop” with members of the CAPA Dancers yesterday in Philadelphia as they celebrate the beginnings of “American Bandstand.”


Bunny Gibson (right) dances the twist with Chubby Checker yesterday during a ceremony in Philadelphia yesterday to unveil a mural marking the 50th anniversary of “American Bandstand.” Behind them are Jerry Blavat and Connie Francis.



SOUTHAMPTON — Kathleen “Bunny” Gibson pulled out old photographs and magazine articles and began reminiscing.

Gibson, a former Willingboro resident, was a regular dancer on the popular television show, “American Bandstand,” from 1959 to 1962.

“My fan club was only 25 cents to join. Elvis’s was a dollar!” Gibson said Wednesday at her daughter’s home in Southampton.

The fact that she once had a fan club still amazes the 61-year-old. So does the fact that her then-peers once rushed home from school so they could watch her dance on the show hosted by Dick Clark.

The 50th anniversary of “American Bandstand” was recognized Thursday at The Enterprise Center on Market Street in Philadelphia, where the show was taped from 1957 to 1964, when it moved to Los Angeles.

Gibson flew in from her home in Marina Del Rey, Calif., earlier this week for the unveiling of a mural that was installed in the original studio.

Gibson, along with dancing partner Eddie Kelly, and several other “Bandstand” regulars, are depicted on the mural.

 “That’s how I would like to be remembered,” Gibson said of the mural. “Kids from future generations will always see me on the mural, smiling and dancing.”

The event was emceed by well-known Philadelphia personality Jerry Blavat. Chubby Checker, Connie Francis and the others were among the 150 people who turned out yesterday at 6:30 a.m. to dedicate the 30-by-11-foot mural.

The ceremony was held early so it could be taped for ABC-TV’s “Good Morning, America.”

Artist Diane Keller spent a month designing the mural, and another month painting it. It was a tight schedule to get it ready for the 50th anniversary of the show’s first national broadcast and the 10th anniversary of The Enterprise Center’s opening.

Many of the performers came by the studio and helped Keller as she painted their outfits and their shoes, which often couldn’t be seen in photographs.

“I still feel like I’m 16 and I’m still on ‘Bandstand’ in many, many ways,” Gibson said. “People ask me how I keep so effervescent and bubbly and I say it’s because I love music and I love rock and roll and I dance. You don’t ever want to lose the little kid inside you.”

Gibson lived in Willingboro for about two years and attended Holy Cross High School in Delran.

After school, she said, she would catch a bus on Route 130, change from her school uniform into her “Bandstand” clothes, and make it to Philadelphia in time for the start of the show.

Dancers had to be 14 to be on the show, but Gibson was 13 when she made her first appearance. She said she put on lots of makeup to make herself look older.

“I loved the music and I practiced my dancing and it changed the course of my life,” she said.

Gibson said it was sometimes difficult to cope with the sudden fame because the fans were interested in details of her personal life. She also experienced jealousy and resentment from classmates.

“I don’t think any of us truly realized the scope of it,” she said.

Gibson married Don Travarelli when she was 16. She said Travarelli, who also lived in Willingboro, contacted her after seeing her on the show. He got her number from another dancer when he visited the set.

Travarelli passed away 17 years ago. Gibson had two children with him: Angel, who lives in Florida, and Maria Weiss of Southampton.

Gibson’s granddaughter, Nicole Weiss, will be a freshman at Seneca High School in Tabernacle in the fall. She accompanied her grandmother to yesterday’s early morning dedication.

“I can’t imagine myself walking on to that set and dancing,” Nicole said. “The show was groundbreaking and it’s amazing to think my grandmother was part of that.”

Gibson, who went on to appear in films and numerous television shows, still acts and has been an adviser and choreographer for several stage productions. She also does a one-woman show at schools around the country and teaches different dances to students.

Gibson said she’s proud of the impact of “American Bandstand,” which ran until 1989, on pop culture.

“It’s the grandfather of MTV,” Gibson said. “Dick (Clark) called us the first reality stars.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Email: emoorhouse@phillyBurbs.com

August 7, 2007 10:54 AM