Star is in the eyes of Miss Bunny

By Diane Prokop

Times Staff Writer

In their late-1950s heyday, American Bandstand dancers, including Northeast High School alum Kathleen "Bunny" Gibson, graced the covers of fan magazines right alongside the rock 'n' roll greats who were featured on the show that Dick Clark hosted in Philadelphia and Los Angeles for more than 30 years.

In 2007, the strollers and jitterbuggers from the legendary TV dance show got together at the old Channel 6 studios - their old stomping ground at 46th and Market streets in West Philadelphia - to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the show's debut and the dedication of a mural capturing their images for the ages.

Many of the dancers gathered again last November at Clark's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame to celebrate the 80th birthday of "America's oldest teenager."

Clark, who suffered a stroke in 2004, wasn't in attendance but his wife and children, along with Clark's Bandstand family from Philadelphia and Los Angeles, gathered at Hollywood and Vine.

Gibson happened to notice a vacant star space near Clark's. Since February, she has been spearheading an effort to get the dancers their own star on the Walk of Fame.

"I've carried this torch all these years and wanted to bring sunshine to all the dancers. I've come to realize how much watching us meant to (everyone)," she said.

Though the show actually got its start in 1952, Clark took over as host five years later and Bandstand became a Philly institution until 1964, when the program was moved to Los Angeles. Gibson also wants to bring attention to those West Coast dancers as well.

"They are a rip-roaring group. They are the ones that developed the hand signals for 'YMCA'," she said of the Village People's 1978 hit.

Carol Scaldeferri Spada danced on the show from 1957 to 1961, and she supports Gibson's proposal and continues to be surprised by the enduring interest in Bandstand.

"I've kind of enjoyed it over the years. I thought for sure people in 2000 would have forgotten about it," she said.

Not so. A student from Haverford College recently contacted her while working on his thesis about the show.

Gibson likewise has been heartened by the overwhelming support she's received to date from celebrities and performers, including Dick Clark, Bobby Rydell, Chubby Checker, Fabian, Trini Lopez, Dick Richards of Bill Haley & the Comets, and dozens more.

"You were all such stars to the millions of people who watched 'AB' for all those years, and I should know," wrote Joe Terry, of Danny & the Juniors, on Gibson's Facebook page dedicated to the campaign for a Walk of Fame star.

Merrilee Rush, known for her 1968 hit Angel of the Morning, was happy to lend her support.

"I (used to dance) with my refrigerator, holding on to the door handle and practicing what I learned watching 'Bandstand'," Rush wrote in an e-mail. "Every school day I'd hurry home to turn on 'Bandstand' and watch my favorite dancers and hear the great music. Later, I appeared on the show three times and did other Dick Clark productions. Talk about a dream come true . . . ."

WOGL-FM 98.1 music director Tommy McCarthy also is behind Gibson's star quest 100 percent.

The impact of American Bandstand was as strong as, if not stronger than, MTV especially back in the early days when there were only four channels of television viewing to choose from, noted McCarthy, who was lucky enough to dance on the show for his 14th birthday.

Clark's show and the Bandstand dancers taught kids how to dance the jitterbug, the cha-cha-cha and how to slow dance, not to mention their impact on clothing and hairstyles.

"At a time when some areas of the country were calling rock and roll 'the devil's music,' the kids presented it as wholesome entertainment," McCarthy said.

After all these years, Gibson (who can be seen leading the conga line in Jennifer Lopez's new flick Backup Plan) is still a bit star-struck.

"I'm still like a teenager myself, being excited that I am Facebook friends with Dee Dee Sharp, Gary U.S. Bonds, Danny and the Juniors and Dick Richards from Bill Haley and the Comets," Gibson said.

Veta Gardner, wife of Coasters founder Carl Gardner, asked if Gibson would consider adding Bandstand performers to the star proposal. Gardner had written that while the Coasters, the doo-wop group who sang Poison Ivy and Yakety-Yak, were the first group inducted to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, they never received a sidewalk star.

"Looking at this list of such wonderful performers who gave so much to all of us with their music, we have to include them on our 'American Bandstand' star proposal . . . that is what feels right in my heart," Gibson said.

She has until May 31 to get the proposal to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the sidewalk tribute to some of America's most loved celebrities. The chamber's selection committee has five members who are experts in each of the Walk of Fame's five categories: motion pictures, television, radio, recording, and live theater/performance.

According to spokeswoman Ana Martinez-Holler, the organization receives 200 to 300 submissions a year and selects an average of 24, roughly three to four in each category.

Star-judging criteria include professional achievement, longevity of five years or more, contributions to the community and the guarantee that the celebrity will attend the dedication ceremony if selected.

If the American Bandstand proposal beats the odds and is approved for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it will come with a $25,000 price tag.

Gibson's not concerned. Radio personality Corky Warren, of Oldies 92.1 WVLT in Vineland, N.J., has pledged the first $1,000. She expects the dancers could hold fund-raisers to come up with the rest.

Just imagine that show.

If you're on Facebook, you can check out Gibson's star proposal page at www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=10150097418795111&ref=ts

Reporter Diane Prokop can be reached at 215-354-3036 or dprokop@phillynews.com

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