Text by Steve Cohen, Copyright 2020
American Bandstand’s Untold Story
When the TV program American Bandstand passed its 50th anniversary, there was no commemoration. That becomes understandable when you learn that its original host led a sordid life that included a sexual affair with a teenage girl.
The station, where I worked at the time, fired him. And everyone at ABC Television tried to ignore the program’s first years.
The program, starting in 1952, originally was simply named Bandstand. A similar program later went on the air in Baltimore, and that inspired a John Waters film and the stage musical Hairspray. It has a fictional plot about the racial integration of a 1960s teen television dance program, and it reminds me of my own experiences surrounding Bandstand in the 1950s. Our Philadelphia program had a history of racial exclusion that was more complex — and much more interesting. Bandstand had a lurid involvement with sexual assault that hasn’t been fully explored publicly, until now in detail in Part Two of this story.
The program’s first host was Bob Horn. Soon after the show went on the air, Horn met a 13-year-old girl at the station and they began a sexual relationship. This went on for almost three years, sometimes in a radio studio while Horn’s records were spinning on the air. Horn was arrested for drunk-driving on June 21, 1956 and was suspended from his broadcasts, then was forced to resign. The sexual relationship, however, was not revealed until later. The sex-with-minors angle was too shocking for public consumption, and the station didn’t dare to reveal it.
Fortunately for the station, the clean-cut Dick Clark was on staff and able to take over. With Clark, the program became more popular than ever. ABC gave Bandstand color cameras and launched it on its network of 67 stations in August of 1957. It became a national institution and Dick Clark a celebrity.
Cameraman Vince Gasbarro said: “Horn was old-looking. Clark looked like one of the kids.” (Horn was 40 when he left “Bandstand” and Clark was a babyfaced 27.) This is what Clark said about Horn:
“He was a man in his late thirties, was heavyset with a double chin, long, narrow nose and greased-back black hair. Off-camera his personality was abrasive, egotistical and aggressive. Most people around the station found him less than charming. I always thought Horn did a poor job relating to the kids. His conversation with them was stilted; he never associated with them as equals. I talked to the kids on the same intellectual level. From the first day, I established the most platonic of friendships with the kids. From the start I was also terrified because what had happened to Horn. I’ve never been sexually attracted to very young girls. It may not be the secret of my success but it sure as hell kept me out of a lot of trouble.”
There’s a dramatic difference between the description of Horn by his adult co-workers and what we hear from his teenage fans. According to show-business contemporaries of his, Horn was a “free-swinging, hard-drinking man” who smoked several packs of cigarettes a day. One singer who appeared on his show says Horn was “a loud-mouth smart-ass with an appetite for girls.” Other acquaintances use words like arrogant and self-centered. The Bandstand dancers, on the other hand, were fond of him.
He was born in 1916 and grew up in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Horn became a radio personality at Philly’s WIP, then moved to WFIL in 1951 because that station offered more money and because ‘FIL had a sister TV station (part of the ABC network) and Horn hoped for a future on television.
Walter Annenberg, who owned WFIL and the Philadelphia Inquirer and TV Guide, asked his station manager, Roger Clipp, in the summer of 1952 to “try a dance program aimed at teenagers.” The show would air immediately after school when kids were home without parental supervision. This was also a time of day when ABC didn’t feed any network product to the local stations, leaving WFIL with a time gap to fill locally. If ABC had not been the poorest of the networks, unable to provide daytime programs to its affiliates, Bandstand would never have been born.
Clipp contacted Joe Grady and Ed Hurst, the hosts of Philadelphia’s most popular afternoon radio program, The 950 Club on WPEN and offered them a deal to switch over to his station and be on WFIL radio and TV simultaneously. For seven years kids had been coming to WPEN at 1522 Walnut Street and riding the elevator to spend a couple of hours at their “club,” which was a small studio without windows. Some of the kids would jitterbug in an impromptu fashion while Grady and Hurst played popular records on the air.
In 1950 WPEN moved into a modern new building at 2212 Walnut Street. A big studio was on the ground floor, which WPEN used for the 950 Club in the afternoon and for Steve Allison’s talk program at night, while the station’s offices were on the second floor. In this new setting, a greater number of kids could dance while the music played. At WFIL they thought: What a wonderful idea for TV!
One television precursor was the Paul Whiteman TV Teen Club, on WFIL and the ABC television network starting in 1949, which also showed kids dancing. This, however, was basically a talent show and dancing was secondary. Also, the kids danced to Whiteman’s band, not to records.
“Clipp called Grady and me to his office,” Hurst related, “and asked us to start in two weeks. He said ‘Name your salary.’ So we asked our station manager for a release and he said he’d talk to the station’s owner. I was so innocent that I thought they wouldn’t stand in our way. The next day Bill Sylk — owner of WPEN and the Sun Ray Drug chain — called Walter Annenberg and said ‘If you steal my talent I’ll pull a million dollars of Sun Ray advertising out of the Inquirer.’ After that threat, WFIL withdrew its offer to us and that was the end of that.”
If Clipp couldn’t get those people, he nevertheless could steal their format. He picked his own employee, Bob Horn, and copied from WPEN the idea of teenagers in the studio. Horn’s radio program was called The Bob Horn Bandstand, which had a nice, alliterative sound. It reflected the fact that Horn played big band recordings by Harry James, Tommy Dorsey and other similar artists. So, when he went on TV, Bandstand was the obvious choice for a name.
This show debuted on television from 2:45 to 5 p.m. on October 7, 1952. Although Horn wanted to run it solo, Clipp insisted on copying the 950 Club format with two hosts, and picked a partner for him — the short, bespectacled Lee Stewart. He was born Lee Shulman and started his career as an ad salesman. It was thought that he could bring some of his clients on board as advertisers. Stewart had no charisma and eventually was dropped from the program.
At the start, the set was a three-fold flat and the camera zoomed in to focus on a record player. But soon WFIL built the set that became famous, which is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution, simulating a corner of a music store. Teenagers sat in rows on bleachers that were assembled on one side of the studio. A small table was next to the hosts’ platform, where guest performers would sit and sign autographs. Once or twice on each program, Horn would intone: “We’ve got company” and a recording artist would appear on the set to lip-synch to his or her record.
Horn developed a daily ritual of kids judging new records. He also came up with the idea of a teenage committee, because Horn wanted to insure that a core group of good dancers would show up every afternoon. These kids invented new dance steps and made The Bunny Hop and The Bristol Stomp popular. Horn was a pioneer when he made the youngsters the stars of the show, and when he gave teenagers a forum to set their own standards of music, dance steps and style. But when it came to rock ‘n’ roll music, he was not a pioneer at all.
Horn was from the old school, a radio announcer conversant with varied forms of music, from semi-classical to pop. Horn played mainstream singers like Doris Day and Frankie Laine. He also played show tunes and interviewed Harold Rome, the composer of the Broadway musical Fanny when it played its pre-Broadway try out in Philadelphia in 1954. Horn loved jazz, especially Dizzy Gillespie, Erroll Garner and Sarah Vaughan, and he produced Vaughan’s first Philadelphia concert. He gave special attention to local singers including Sunny Gale, Gloria Mann, Georgie Shaw and Micki Marlo. Horn signed some of them to his own record label which he started with the help of a group of businessmen and musicians including Nat Segall, Artie Singer, Bernie Lowe and Harry Chipetz. All of these singers were white, and their style was pop, not rock ‘n’ roll.
On each program, Horn listed the top songs of the day, although there was no scientific survey. The number one song was whatever he said it was, and it usually was whatever would bring him the most profit. He asked for, and received, whiskey, cash and women from record-promotion men. (My knowledge about this comes from the fact that I worked as record librarian at two Philadelphia stations while I was in school, and then was Night Operations Supervisor at WFIL.)
Horn asked his dancers to recommend new songs. Jerry Blavat, then a youngster on the committee, reports that he turned Horn on to “Sh-Boom” by The Chords, “Little Darling” by the Gladiolas and “Earth Angel” by The Penguins (all were black groups.) Horn bragged to song-pluggers that he “had to shove this music down the throats” of station management, but he was unjustly trying to claim credit for himself. Management was so happy with Horn’s ratings that they let him choose whatever music he wished; he didn’t need to “shove” those songs. When you place those new singers alongside older ones like Etta James, Roy Hamilton and Al Hibbler, you see a substantial list of black artists. The sad truth, though, is that the kids who danced to the records appeared to be almost all white.
At the very beginning, Horn’s Bandstand had some racial integration. One early photo shows the studio with an audience that was almost half black. Harvey Sheldon, a white high school student who later became a songwriter, reported that he jitterbugged with a black girl on the show in 1952 or ‘53 and no one said anything about it. “Bob was color blind,” Sheldon told me; “On the first shows there were black couples dancing on the floor along with white couples. Since he was a huge fan of jazz and so many jazz artists were black, there was no way Bob would allow the dance floor to be lily white.”
But then some people at the station worried that the program could become identified as a black show. “If we don’t do something, they’ll take over” was the expressed fear. These men were, you might say, realists. They felt that if the show was perceived as a Negro show, white teenagers would stay away. To avoid this, co-producers Horn and Tony Mammarella implemented two strategies.
First, they required that boys show up wearing suits and ties. The white kids, especially those who attended parochial schools, normally dressed this way while black kids did not. Dick Clark later wrote that he kept that dress code when he took over because “it made the show acceptable to adults who were frightened by the teenage world and teenage music.” Some observers might say that he was making the show acceptable to people who were frightened by the appearance of blacks.
Secondly, the producer started to require admission cards. Some blacks complained that these cards were sent mainly to all-white parochial schools, but I can’t find evidence of that. Dave Feldman, a Bandstand dancer, suggests one reason why so many of the kids came from Catholic schools: “They were taught that dancing was wrong, and especially that girls shouldn’t dance on television, so they did it to rebel.” Also, the closest school to the studio, geographically, was a Catholic one.
Catholic schools in those days were 99% white. Public high schools were more integrated — 72% white when Bandstand started, according to Philadelphia School District statistics, while blacks were 28% while Asians and Latinos were less than 1%. Consequently, if a majority of the attendees came from the Catholic schools, that made the audience overwhelmingly white.
People would phone the station if they wanted to attend, and callers were told there was a six-month wait. But inside the studio, at the end of each show, committee members gave out reservations for future programs. So if you got on the show once you were assured of returning, as long as they liked you, ahead of people who phoned in or wrote in. The teenage committee administered the reservation list. Horn personally selected the committee, and he happened to choose only white kids to serve on it.
So Horn, in a way, was the good guy who had no ethnic prejudice and who had blacks and whites in equal numbers in the early days of Bandstand. In this, he was ‘way ahead of his time and ahead of what’s seen in the show Hairspray. But Horn also was the bad guy who allowed blacks to be systematically excluded when it looked as if their dancing might dominate the show. All the photos from Horn’s last two years show nothing but white kids in the studio. Some people have criticized Dick Clark for keeping blacks out, but clearly the policy was started by Horn, before Clark.
Walter DeLegall, a black man who was a teenager then, said about the early days:
“I used to dance on the original ‘Bandstand.’ Believe it or not, at that time the show looked like a black blue-light basement party because our crowd would take over the floor when we showed up. Every day after school, we would head for the TV studio which was near my high school — West Philly High. Black kids from Overbrook High would come also. For the most part, the white kids from West Catholic and Roman Catholic, etc., were intimidated when we got on the floor. They wouldn’t get up unless the bunny hop was playing. Then my crowd all sat down.
“We would do dances like the slop, bop, slow drag and the grind, which originated in the black dance halls. The grind was a very sexy dance that you did on a slow record. I know the producers found it embarrassing.
“After awhile, the producers decided that they wanted to change the image of the show, so they created a new policy. To get in the studio, boys must be wearing a suit jacket and tie. Since no black students went to school dressed like that, we couldn’t get in anymore. The white kids had no problem with the new dress code. We stopped going and so did the black girls, for the most part.”
A black man who grew up a few years after that is Thomas E. Kennedy:
“I grew up at 47th and Haverford, two city blocks from the studio. Black kids were turned back at the entrance without any explanation. This soon became a potential explosive situation, so the studio created an admission system that required passes that were distributed prior to the day of the show. This system permitted the show to legally turn away anyone without the pass while at the same time maintain the lily white studio audience since the passes were only distributed at the all-white West Catholic High School For Boys and the all-white West Catholic High School For Girls.
“For those of you that question or challenge this please try and recall a scene from the shows in Philadelphia where the girls were not wearing Catholic school uniform dresses and the boys were not wearing the white shirt and tie Catholic school boys uniform. This is but one of the many bitter memories that I and many of the people that I grew up with have about American Bandstand.”
Henry Gordon said in 1995 as he looked at an old photo of the kids at Bandstand:
“Anything that looks like a black face in this picture is probably a white face in the shadows. No, the black people who went in that building were there to clean up, as cleaning people. We blacks watched from across the street. There’s an El stop there and we used to watch the kids line up. It was their thing. Segregation such as seen on Bandstand during the late Fifties and early Sixties was characteristic of American society during that time, when ‘separate but equal’ was still viewed as legitimate by many Americans.”
Black composer Leroy (“After the Lights Go Down Low”) Lovett is from an older generation and looks at things more benignly. He was 30 when Bandstand went on the air and says “Horn played some of our music, but mainly he aimed for a wider audience and the black kids didn’t get much out of it. They were more interested in stations that played r&b all the time,” and they stopped coming by their own choice.”
Deejay Jerry Blavat says: “Blacks didn’t go to public music events. Even when black artists like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino appeared in live shows, 95% of the audience was white. I went to Alan Freed’s concerts at the Paramount and black kids didn’t show up there either. I don’t know why, but black kids didn’t want to come.”
Doris Wilson was a young teenager when Bandstand was in Philadelphia. She says “there would always be a long line. And the blacks were in the back and by the time we were about to get in, it was full. Not being able to get in, that was a way of life then. So, you know, it was no big thing. At the time, I didn’t know it was racism to go somewhere and not get let in. Our parents didn’t teach us what was going on.”
Barbara Marcen, a white regular, remembers a day when one black teenager tried to slow-dance with a white girl. Some of the regular boys — all white — started talking angrily among themselves about how they’d like to beat up the boy after the show. Tony Mammarella had to calm them down.
Frank Spagnuola, a white Italian-American, was a Bandstand regular. He says that he would have loved to see blacks in the studio, “so I could learn their dance steps. But they weren’t there. I don’t think anyone kept them out; they just didn’t come.”
Bunny Gibson was a dancer on the show for two-and-a-half years in the mid-50s. She enjoyed seeing the TV series American Dreams, produced by Dick Clark in 2002, because it recalled one of the best periods in her life. “But I had to take a double-take when they showed black people in the stands,” she says. “That’s not what we experienced.”
When the program went on the ABC network, stations in the South, where racial segregation was the norm, objected to the fact that black dancers occasionally appeared on the dance floor. Although Clark was relatively new at his job, he took a strong stand and told the affiliates that he’d make no changes to meet their objections and so blacks did appear, but infrequently.
Paul Thomas is a black who started dancing on the show in 1961 and says that black kids occasionally came and there was some mixed group dancing starting in the early 1960s. Tallulah Dancier is a black woman who started watching the show around that time:
“I would hurry home and watch Bandstand as I did my homework. I never saw black people dancing on the show early on, but that didn’t faze me. I knew sooner or later I would get to go on the show. Before long there were black kids dancing as regulars and ‘American Bandstand’ was one of the few television shows where I would get to see black people as artists.”
By coincidence, on Saturday afternoon February 8, 1964, the day before the Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan, American Bandstand had its inaugural broadcast from Los Angeles, three thousand miles from its original home in Philadelphia.
When the program moved to California in 1964, it presented its first regular dancer who was black. But some things still didn’t change. Peggy Waggoner Names talks about her experience: “When I started dancing on American Bandstand in 1965, blacks and whites could dance, but not as couples. My friends Famous Hooks and Lori Montgomery were told they could no longer be dancing partners because of our racial difference.”
Hooks confirms the story:
“The producer told us very nicely that it was okay with him personally, but some stations wouldn’t like it, so please don’t do slow dances together. We thought it was unfair but we followed the rules. You had to line up at the end of each show and the producer picked whom he wanted to come back, so you had to please him. I danced there until 1972 and the policy remained the same. I brought a series of black girls with me so we could do the slow dances together.”
Hooks has a white father and black mother, while Montgomery is white. Hooks credits Dick Clark for personally choosing him to be a regular dancer on the show, the first black to gain that distinction.
From 1965 to 1967 Dick Clark also produced a show called Shebang which spotlighted a Mexican-American regular, Manuel Acosta, who slow-danced with a blonde white girl named Lynn. Maybe this break-through occurred because that show was not broadcast nationwide, but only in California. In contrast, when Acosta once appeared on Bandstand on the full network he was not allowed to slow dance with Lynn.
When Dick Clark wrote in his 1976 autobiography, “Bandstand was a segregated show for years. It became integrated in 1957 because I elected to make it so,” he was being outrageously simplistic.
A postscript was added a decade later in California. One day a group of American Bandstand dancers went to Harmony Park, a popular club in Anaheim, and got drunk. When Dick Clark found out about it he was furious and banished them from attending his show forever. Famous Hooks had known Clark for 40 years and says he never saw the man so upset. When I told Hooks the details about the fall of Bob Horn, he said it suddenly made him understand why Clark felt so strongly about drunkenness.
Watch for Part Two of our copyrighted story, which involves an election for District Attorney and the campaign’s emphasis on teenage sex with radio and TV personalities.
In this part of the story we’ll see what Bob Horn did that ended his career and also caused the ABC network and its Philadelphia affiliate to ignore the 50th anniversary of the program’s start.
Most acquaintances describe Horn as arrogant and self-centered, although none of the dancers on his show saw him that way. When Horn got busted, the teenagers were shocked. Stanley J. Blitz, author of “Bandstand: The Untold Story,” defends Horn against accusations of rudeness and says that Horn avoided friendships with co-workers because he had more experience and knowledge and didn’t need to learn from them.
Other deejays of that time, however, were more gracious than Horn. One example is Bob Menefee, the top-paid disc jockey at WIP. Menefee was a curmudgeon on the air. When I took over the programming of Menefee’s afternoon show in the summer of 1953, Menefee attacked me on the air. “There’s a new kid working in the record library,” he told his listeners, “and listen to the junk he picked for me.” Then Menefee came into the record room and said he hoped I wasn’t angry with him for making me the butt of his joke. It was just his shtick. He even went back on the air a few minutes later and said: “Hey, that record wasn’t bad after all.”
Horn, on the other hand, didn’t show such warmth to colleagues. His demeanor was haughty. Record promoters, the men who came around and asked disc jockeys to spin their products, told me that he was more demanding of payola than anyone at any Philly station. It was common for promo guys to give bottles of whiskey as Christmas gifts. Horn would tell them that he wanted cases of whiskey, and named his brands.
His career was brought down by a teenage girl, but she did not come from the studio audience at Bandstand. Mary Ann Colella Baker was a freshman at Hallahan Catholic High School who started attending in 1952 when Bandstand was new:
“Horn was a perfect gentleman, the nicest person,” she says. “He asked a bunch of us to be on a committee to act as examples to other teenagers, and he gave birthday cakes and Christmas gifts to all of us on the committee. When he ran dances out-of-town he always made sure that each of us had rides to get there and back. He took us fishing on his boat and introduced us to his wife and kids. If he did that stuff he was accused of, we never knew about it.”
Barbara Marcen Wilston danced at the show from 1953 to 1959. “I was asked to be a character witness at his trial and I testified that he never tried anything with us. He was going to cut a record with me singing on one side and my dance partner, Tom DeNoble, singing on the other side. Bob got one of his friends to write a song for me, “Since I Met Him at the Senior Dance,” and Bob paid for me to take singing lessons. Then he was arrested and we never made the record.“ She, like Colella, finds it hard to believe that Horn had an affair with a teenage girl.
“But what did we know?” says Colella. “We weren’t very worldly.” Both of these women admit they were naive kids who even gave out their home addresses to fans without fear of being stalked. Horn was kind and fatherly to these teenagers.
Cuz Bongiorno became a regular at Bandstand early in 1953. “Horn didn’t act like a star,” he says. “He was very friendly. He personally picked the kids to be on the committee by watching us dance and seeing how we got along with people. After you got a committee card you didn’t have to wait in line to get into the show. He also personally picked me up in South Philly and drove me to his record hops. He said ‘If you care enough to want to go to my dances, I’ll drive you.’”
Jerry Blavat started coming to the show in 1953 when he was only 13. “It became a second home for me, an Italian-Jewish kid from a broken family in South Philly. When I danced on TV people noticed me, and it led to my career in the business. Bob became like a second father to me. He’d take me home to spend weekends with his family in Levittown and in the summer I’d be the cabin boy on his boat at Stone Harbor.”
Dave Feldman also started coming in 1953. “Bob Horn complimented me on my dancing ability and for the way I dressed. He asked me to be on the committee and be an example for others. He took my friend Adam and me out fishing on his boat, along with some of his record-company friends, and asked us for ideas to improve the show. I never saw him drunk or rude or vulgar.”
Several of these men agree that they all were virgins then. “It was an innocent time,” says one of them. “I didn’t know anyone who had sex. Making out in the back seat or copping a feel is the most that any of us ever did.”
That didn’t compare with what Horn was doing. Horn led a double life that included activities his virginal dancers never dreamed of. I used to see Horn with the young girl, Lois, when she accompanied him to the station for his 11-to-midnight radio show. She was an attractive brunette who sat with Bob at a table in a small studio while engineers observed their behavior from behind glass. Horn usually brought an entourage of men with him to the studio, and sometimes additional girls. The men sat on chairs against the walls of the studio and the girls sometimes knelt in front of them and satisfied them. The engineers and announcers looked on with a mixture of envy and horror, and none of them reported what they saw to management.
The promotion men who hung out with Horn fed him records by new artists and Horn was open to their suggestions — partly because he knew it would help the show, and partly because he liked getting gifts from the song-pluggers. One of the gifts from them was Lois. These record-promo men knew of her, and got her into the station to meet Horn. These were the guys I met during my first job in radio, in the music library at WIP, and whom I saw accompanying Horn during his nighttime radio show when I later worked at WFIL.
When Horn was arrested for drunk-driving on June 21, 1956, hardly anyone aside from station staffers and music industry insiders knew about his sexual life, and it didn’t come to light even then. Still, within hours after his DUI arrest, Horn was suspended from Bandstand. Why did the station move so quickly to dump Horn?
Channel 6, WFIL, was owned by Walter Annenberg, whose newspaper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, campaigned against drunk driving, so he didn’t want to let Horn off lightly. The disc jockey might have gone back on the air after a few days, however, if the city’s district attorney hadn’t made a phone call to the station. Victor Blanc, the DA, was investigating what he called “teenage sex rings.” He phoned Lew Klein, an executive at WFIL who was a lodge-brother of his, and warned him not to reinstate Horn because “there’s more to the story; this is only the beginning of Horn’s problems.”
The district attorney phoned Klein as a personal courtesy, and to serve the public interest.
Annenberg asked Horn to confirm or deny that he knew the teenage girl who was cooperating with Blanc’s investigation. When Horn admitted that he knew her, Annenberg ordered him to resign from the station. Four months later, Horn was arrested on morals charges.
At his trials, Horn said that he first met Lois when she came to his office at WFIL one evening in 1954 and after that he saw her frequently at the West Philadelphia restaurant where he ate dinner. He admitted that he gave her birthday presents — a record player one year and one hundred dollars cash another year. Horn said he went to her home once for a party. When questioned as to why a married man would do this, Horn responded by saying that Lois knew many of his friends and “drifted into the same pattern as I did. She has an uncanny way of getting to know people. She isn’t reluctant or shy. She just walks up and introduces herself. I’ll bet she knows more artists in the business than I do.”
Horn described his pattern of hanging at a bar with song-pluggers and music publishers every evening after Bandstand finished, from 6 to 8 p.m., then going to a restaurant for dinner. He had a wife and four children, aged 2 to 7, at home, but visiting them would require an almost-two-hour round-trip to come back for his 11 p.m. radio show, so he stayed in Philadelphia. Lois testified that Horn took her to apartments where she willingly had sex with him, and she specified four dates starting in 1953 when she was 13. Horn produced alibis for those dates and Horn got a break when the judge refused to allow testimony about any other times. To discredit Lois’s reputation, the defense produced a man, with no connection to Horn, who testified that Lois once accepted money to have sex with him. A 1957 jury deadlocked, then a judge acquitted Horn at a second trial, this one without a jury.
Seven months after his first DUI incident, and just before he was to go on trial on the morals charges, Horn was charged again with drunk-driving when he sped his Cadillac the wrong way up a one-way street in North Philadelphia. Maybe he was on edge because the vice trial was about to start a few days later. In any event, he struck another car and left a 5-year-old occupant of that car paralyzed. He was convicted and sentenced to jail for that, but not for his sexual activities.
Horn ended his career working in Texas using a pseudonym. Because of the sex accusations, the drunk-driving and a jail term, there was no chance he’d get another chance on the air in Philadelphia. A family member revealed that one day Horn felt so depressed that he put a pistol in his mouth and his wife had to talk him out of committing suicide. In 1966, in Houston, Horn died of a heart attack at the age of 50.
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Despite Horn’s risk-taking, his sexual activities would never have come to light if it weren’t for two outside factors. One, a district attorney’s re-election campaign. And two, a scandal at another Philadelphia station. Let’s consider these other events in 1956:
The era was one of sexual repression. The Mann Act was law, barring anyone from transporting a person across state lines for an “immoral” act, even when it was consensual. People were routinely arrested when they drove across a state border and had sex. Oral sex was labeled an “unnatural act” and people went to jail for doing it.
Abortion was illegal, and scandalous. Some of the biggest headlines of the year concerned the Kravitz case in which an upper-class girl died during an abortion that was arranged by her mother so the girl wouldn’t bear a child out of wedlock. The mother was put on trial for manslaughter. Also in 1956 a 19-year-old model accused vocalist Joe Valino (a Sinatra sound-alike whose real name was Joe Paolino) of getting her pregnant then taking her to a doctor to have it taken care of. Valino was convicted of arranging an abortion and his singing career virtually ended.
In this climate, Philadelphia’s new district attorney decided to make sexual misconduct in broadcasting a public issue. District Attorney Victor Blanc was a friend of my father’s who appeared to be intelligent and reasonable. When I saw him socially, he did not seem like a zealot or a crusader. But he was an ambitious politician. He had become District Attorney when Richardson Dilworth resigned that office to successfully run for mayor in 1955. Now Blanc was running for election to a full term and he sought a hot campaign topic.
Blanc had a love-hate relationship with show business, and even got personally involved in it. A low-budget sexploitation film called “Models, Inc.” was distributed by Philadelphia film executive Jack Harris. (Harris is the man who, in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, produced the film “The Blob” one year later.) “Models Inc.” was based on a Senate investigation of modeling schools, and in its original form the film opened with a statement by U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver, who was running for Vice President in 1956. Harris replaced the Kefauver footage with a new opening that he shot with Vic Blanc talking into the camera and warning the public of the dangers of sex.
Harris also made the film’s title more suggestive by changing it to “Teenage Models, Inc.” Harris replaced the Kefauver footage with Blanc so he could get on the good side of the district attorney — especially since Harris distributed sexually-suggestive films. He certainly didn’t do it because Blanc had greater public recognition. Everyone in the country knew Kefauver’s smiling image; virtually no one knew the ordinary, middle-aged face of Vic Blanc.
Blanc tried to become a recognizable figure that year. He made national headlines when he shut down a Philadelphia movie theater that was showing Brigit Bardot’s “And God Created Woman,” charging that it was obscene. It was odd that Blanc replaced Kefauver in “Teenage Models, Inc” because Kefauver was the DA’s role model. The Tennessee senator had achieved national prominence when he waged a public crusade against crime bosses with televised hearings. Blanc decided to go on a crusade of his own and he chose entertainment celebrities as his target.
When Blanc’s campaign was launched, friends of Walter Annenberg hoped that the DA would find some dirt on WPEN’s popular night-time talk host, Steve Allison, because Allison often criticized Annenberg and the Inquirer. The Inquirer’s publisher supported the work of the House Un-American Activities committee and its crusade against “Communist sympathizers” in the entertainment field. In 1951 Ed Sullivan was so consumed with anti-Communist zeal that he wrote a lengthy accusation of choreographer Jerome Robbins for supporting “the Commie cause.” Sullivan’s home paper, the New York Daily News, thought the article was too angry and too personal and refused to run it, but the Philadelphia Inquirer published it on page one. Allison thought this decision was reprehensible and criticized Annenberg for it.
Allison differentiated himself from Bob Horn as a performer, saying he was not a disc-jockey but, instead, a man who discussed issues on the air. Allison coined a new name for himself: a “controversialist.” He was advertised as “the man who owns midnight.” Cardinal Spellman was once a guest on his program, and Philadelphia Mayor Dilworth appeared frequently. Allison’s show also attracted a different type. His 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. radio show took place in a club-like setting where food and drinks were served, so it was a magnet for playboys, for girls who wanted to taste show biz glamour, and men who wanted to arrange introductions and get some action.
People who hung out at WPEN learned that Allison had a yen for women who wore white, like waitresses and nurses. One of the regular attendees at the broadcasts was Bernie Jacobs, a man who ran a modeling agency. He usually brought some of his young clients with him and arranged dates — photographic and otherwise — for them. One night he asked one of his models to put on something white, then introduced her to Allison. This model, a 17-year-old mother named Dorothy who was separated from her husband, later testified that the “controversialist” took her upstairs to the record library after he signed off his show and they performed sexual acts on each other. Dorothy said that she did it willingly.
Allison said it never happened and Steve’s wife provided him with an alibi, consisting of a log she kept of his activities. It said that his guests that night were movie star Denise Darcel and crooner Johnny Desmond and that he went home immediately after the broadcast. This log was entered as evidence at Allsion’s trial, and it — combined with a parade of civic leaders and city officials as character witnesses — got Allison a not-guilty verdict. But Dorothy provided some shocking testimony, saying that she and Allison repeated their sexual acts on several other nights, and that he once asked her to drink some water and try to urinate on him. Jacobs took the witness stand and backed up Dorothy’s story.
After his dalliance with Dorothy, Allison allowed these men and girls free reign around the station. There were trysts of another Jacobs model and another WPEN announcer, and other girls had encounters with a publicist and a photographer, respected professionals who were in love with their wives and felt they were just having some harmless, job-related fun on the side.
Some of the Allison crowd got involved, also, with an aspiring model named Maxine. She was petite, less than 100 pounds, with a big bosom. She was 17 when I met her in 1956. The man who introduced us told me that she liked to pose for photos — the kind you could not take to your drugstore to get developed — and she would do some other things, but would not allow sexual intercourse because she had a boyfriend and didn’t want to cheat on him. This was her unique moral code. I found her to be a cheerful person, eager to please, up to a point.
A suburban dog breeder named James Worden frequently attended the Allison show and sometimes invited men and women whom he met there to parties at his estate, which he called Hound Dog Hill. Worden’s parties included nudity and sexual promiscuity. Dorothy — she of the Allison incidents — testified that she stripped and played “a game called 69″ with Worden’s wife at Hound Dog Hill while guests took photos of the two of them together. The partygoers at Worden’s place knew to stop short with Maxine when she attended, because of her strict rule. But at one gathering, one guy didn’t follow the rule and went all the way. Maxine went to the cops and hollered rape. Prosecutors decided there weren’t strong enough grounds to indict the man for that, but Maxine’s story about what went on at the party triggered Philadelphia District Attorney Blanc’s investigation of sex involving radio and TV personalities.
The DA spent considerable time and money on his probe, renting a center city storefront as an unmarked headquarters instead of using his own office in City Hall. It seems curious that a public official needed to rent a private headquarters, but Blanc felt that some city officials, if they knew what he was doing, would tip off their friends who were being investigated. Mayor Dilworth and his administration had a reputation for honesty, but the city’s officials did socialize with media people and Blanc feared that information about his crusade with leak out.
Blanc’s sting operation was hush-hush except for the private phone call that Blanc made to his friend at WFIL, towards the end of the investigation, to alert him to the Bob Horn problem. Blanc’s secret headquarters was at 1927 Chestnut Street while my father’s optical store was a block away at 1835 Chestnut. I didn’t know it at the time, but Blanc must have been on his way to or from his secret lair on some occasions when he stopped by to see my dad.
In the course of his probe Blanc discovered connections between many disparate people. For example, Bernie Jacobs, the man who ran the modeling agency and set Steve Allison up with his accuser, also arranged modeling jobs for Lois, Horn’s accuser. On one of those jobs Lois gave oral sex to one of the Allison crowd for $40 and on another job had sex with a man for a hundred dollars, all this when she was 15 and in the midst of her relationship with Horn. In addition, the girl who accused Joe Valino of arranging her abortion was one of the models who attended the Allison show and met men there. So, simultaneously, the DA was investigating Horn, Allison and Valino and people associated with them, and everything came to a head, so to speak, at the same time. The DA announced his indictment of Horn and Allison at the same press conference, in October of 1956. In all, 27 men were arrested. Blanc boasted that he had “smashed the ring in local aspects” and the FBI would clean up the interstate angles.
What were the results of this elaborate investigation? Well, Blanc won his election, and that was the reason for all this, wasn’t it? He defeated Republican Emil Goldhaber by a vote of 303,000 to 235,000. To put this in perspective, when the later-to-become-famous Ed Rendell was elected District Attorney in 1977 his vote total was much less than Blanc’s — only 212,000. On the other hand, Blanc’s total and Blanc’s margin of victory was not anywhere near what his predecessor, Richardson Dilworth, had achieved in 1951.
Other results: Some of the men were convicted of participating in “unnatural sex.” Others were charged with corrupting the morals of minors, but the judges in the majority of these cases decided that the men were dealing with girls who were already corrupted, so they either acquitted the men or gave them light punishment. One man, convicted and fined fifty dollars, went on to a career as a philanthropist and supporter of political candidates up to the 21st century. Allison and Horn were each acquitted, but neither one of them got their jobs back.
Coincidence played a major role in this drama of entertainment history. These happenings would never have become known if one man had just listened to Maxine’s restrictive instruction. A generation later, courts began to rule that a woman has the right to say no at any point in a relationship. Philadelphia’s broadcasting sex scandal of 1956 was an early object lesson. If only this man stopped where Maxine drew the line, then she wouldn’t have gone to the cops, then Horn would not have been investigated, then he would have remained on “Bandstand” and Dick Clark may not have become a star, etc, etc and so on.
I’ll close with a personal reminiscence. On the day that Allison was indicted, he was about to receive an award for public service from the City of Philadelphia. Bob Adleman, the public relations man for WPEN, arranged an elegant event at Longchamps Restaurant on Rittenhouse Square where Allison would accept the honor. After the indictment was announced, Adleman hastily wrote a press release to save the city from embarrassment. (I was in his office as he wrote it. Just out of school, I was apprenticing in public relations under his tutelage.) He announced that the luncheon was being postponed because there was a labor dispute at the restaurant and city officials didn’t want to cross any possible picket line. (There never was any picket line. That was Bob’s invention.) “The event will be re-scheduled later,” his press release said. Of course it never was. Bob was a PR pro who really knew how to spin a story. He later became a Hollywood screenwriter.
Disgraced in Philadelphia, the 41-year-old Allison found employment at radio station at WWDC in Washington. The station advertised, “Trouble’s in town, sporting the monicker of Steve Allison. Not nasty trouble. Sort of healthy trouble. Steve’s a one-man F. B. I., Fearless Broadcast Investigator. He tangles nightly with the bigwigs on every hair-raising issue.”
When Allison met the 19-year-old news editor of the station, Sam Smith, Allison explained why he had to leave Philly: “Look, all I did was put my cock in the mouth of some under-age girls. Show me a guy who hasn’t done that and I’ll show you a queer.”
Allison then moved to California. He died in Hollywood in 1969, age 53. Vic Blanc became a judge, then resigned when he developed mental lapses which would today be labeled as Alzheimer’s disease. He died in 1968 at the age of 71.
Editor’s Note: This is a repost with permission granted by the author, Steve Cohen. For additional access to Steve Cohen’s writings on art, theater, music, books and travel, click here: https://tonywardstudio.com/blog/gehry/
To access Mr. Cohen’s web site, click here: http://theculturalcritic.com