Dancing with a star – remembering Dick ClarkBefore he was the iconic host of New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Dick Clark was just a guy hanging out with kids who loved to dance to rock ’n’ roll in Philadelphia. One of those kids was 14-year-old MaryAnn Cuff.
By: Crystal Dey, Alexandria Echo Press
Before he was the iconic host of New Year’s Eve in Times Square, Dick Clark was just a guy hanging out with kids who loved to dance to rock ’n’ roll in Philadelphia.
One of those kids was 14-year-old MaryAnn Cuff. She and a girlfriend would walk two blocks after school to the American Bandstand studio where Clark brought in bands and singers who would later become legends.
“Who knew at that time how big it would get?” said Carl LeGrand of Alexandria, husband of one of the American Bandstand dancers.
MaryAnn (Cuff) LeGrand retired to Alexandria. LeGrand remembers watching American Bandstand while attending high school in Kentucky.
“If we didn’t have basketball practice, us guys would be at a friend’s house learning all the latest dance moves,” he said.
In 1957, Clark introduced American Bandstand, locally aired in Philadelphia on WFIL, to a national audience. Cuff was an original dancer on American Bandstand from 1956 to 1961.
LeGrand graduated high school in 1952 and joined the military. In 1984, he was working for the Fort Myers Sheriff’s Office in Florida. LeGrand went into a Denny’s restaurant one day and recognized Cuff from American Bandstand.
“She looked like someone I ought to know,” LeGrand said. Another waitress told him that Cuff had danced on American Bandstand and it all clicked.
“You’re MaryAnn Cuff!” LeGrand said. “How’d you know that?” Cuff asked.
They started talking about the show, their shared love of music and dance, and in 1985 the two were married.
“I had a crush on all the girls on the show back then,” LeGrand said. “I was a teenager.”
He remembers MaryAnn was a bit taller than the rest of the girls and usually had to wait for a tall guy to come along to dance. During an American Bandstand holiday party, Clark announced it was ladies choice – Cuff chose none other than Dick Clark.
Everyone got a kick out of that, LeGrand recalled Cuff telling him. A photo shows Cuff and Clark dancing and almost equal in height.
“It’s such a classic picture,” said Carlya Lee, Cuff’s stepdaughter.
Clark’s book, Rock, Roll and Remember, has many photos of the original dancers. He returned to Philadelphia in 1976 for a reunion with the Bandstanders but Cuff wasn’t in the area.
Clark gave a book to Cuff’s mother, Anastasia, with a message for her daughter, “To MaryAnn: Here’s to the good ol’ days – Dick Clark.” Anastasia sent the book to MaryAnn.
Over the years, LeGrand met many of the friends Cuff made on American Bandstand. He was given the opportunity to dance with Arlene Sullivan – who he had the biggest crush on. While on the show Cuff dated another original, Lou Salino.
Cuff met a lot of famous people and got a taste of fame herself. Bandstanders were sent fan mail and Teen magazine did features on the original dancers. Cuff was featured in a 1959 issue and she had a hand in creating some of the dances that caught on nationwide, like the Stroll.
Fabian, Frankie Avalon, and Chubby Checker are all from Philadelphia. “Frankie Avalon’s mom would cook dinner for the Bandstanders,” LeGrand said.
The kids would hang out at Poppa Warner’s Soda Shop after the show. One thing they didn’t do was get into mischief.
“If Dick Clark saw them out when they shouldn’t be, he’d pick them up and take them home,” LeGrand said. “MaryAnn had a very high regard for him.”
Mrs. Cuff gave Clark MaryAnn’s phone number and address when she saw him in Philadelphia – he called MaryAnn that week. LeGrand said they kept in touch over the years. So much, that he had Clark’s personal secretary’s phone number, which he used to get a message to Clark in 2010.
Back when Cuff was waitressing she had sprained her ankle. The injury triggered reflex sympathetic dystrophy and a chain reaction of deteriorating health followed, LeGrand said.
MaryAnn passed away on December 2, 2010. Clark returned LeGrand’s call less than 10 minutes after he received the message.
“He was a great guy,” LeGrand said. “He never forgot where he came from.”