American Bandstand hid the fact that many of its teenage dancers were gay, former stars of the show claim.
Arlene Sullivan, now 74, is among them. Despite forming an on-screen partnership with Kenny Rossi, Sullivan knew she was a lesbian and ‘came to terms’ with it with the support of co-stars.
Many of the male dancers, some of whom were just 14, were also sleeping with each other but producers including Dick Clark were ‘determined’ to keep it a secret.
The dance hall show was a household favorite in the 1950s and 60s. Sullivan appeared on it between 1956 and 1963 when it was broadcast live in Philadelphia.
American Bandstand stars including Arlene Sullivan (far right) knew they were gay while appearing on the show but their sexuality was kept a secret to fall in line with audiences
‘Parents across America would never, NEVER have allowed their kids to put Bandstand on,’ she wrote in the book which The New York Post previewed on Sunday.
She and Rossi’s partnership was a selling point for the show. They took part in magazine interviews together and epitomized young love for wide-eyed audiences.
But behind the scenes, Sullivan had identified that she was ‘different’ and, with the support of co-stars, accepted she was gay. Rossi is straight.
Sullivan formed an on-screen partnership with Kenny Rossi (above together, right, in 1959) for a year and the pair epitomized puppy love. She claims she and Dick Clark (left) knew she was gay but hid it
The stars say host Clark, who also produced the show and propelled it to national success, knew they were gay but was ‘determined’ to keep it a secret
Arlene Sullivan, now 74 (left in the 1950s and right in a recent photograph), said she knew she was ‘different’ when she joined the show in the mid 1950s but that she identified she was gay with the support of co-stars
‘I knew I was different early on, but being with all these [‘Bandstand’] friends, I came to terms with my feelings. I kissed a girl, and I liked it!
‘In other parts of the country, if you were a gay kid growing up, you were probably the only one in town who was gay. But . . . we were like a little family together, and we all had something in common, and we all stuck together, and that made it easier for us.’
Ray Smith, he co-author who also danced on the show, told Post how when he joined as a teenager, he knew he was gay but was surprised to discover how many of his co-stars were having sex.
‘The one thing that really shocked me was that those boys who were 14 and 15 and 16 were sleeping with each other.’
Some former stars say that male dancers were sleeping together from the age of 14. Above, a 1957 episode
Smith also told how the show’s host and producer Dick Clark tried to underplay how many of them were gay for years after the show and told people when asked that one of the Philadelphia male teenage dancers had died of AIDS later in life when the number was much higher.
Sullivan and Smith describe their experiences on the show in their new book Bandstand Diaries: The Philadelphia Years
‘That really annoyed me because quite a few of the Philadelphia dancers on Bandstand died of AIDS,’ he said.
Clark hosted the show between 1956 and 1989 before handing over to David Hirsch. It ended that year after 37 seasons that were shown across four different networks.
It began in Philadelphia, where Sullivan and Smith joined, but became a national phenomenon in 1957, with youngsters across the country tuning in to learn the latest moves and watch their favorite couples.
The episodes were filmed in halls with gym-like bleachers lining the dance floors. Teenagers taking part reviewed the latest music and were also looked to to show off new fashion and hairstyles.
In 1963, the show moved to Los Angeles where it was pre-taped and aired weekly. Up until then it had been broadcast live five times a week.