One of Syracuse University’s most famous graduates, Dick Clark ’51 started his broadcast career in Central New York and grew to prominence in Philadelphia as host of “American Bandstand.” But it was Los Angeles that offered the greatest opportunity for the visionary who would become legendary for building an entertainment empire that launched countless careers.
“LA remains the center of the broadcast industry, and Dick always wanted to support young people hoping for a career in entertainment,” says his wife Kari, explaining the reasoning behind the Kari and Dick Clark Foundation’s Forever Orange Campaign gift to significantly expand the University’s presence and impact in the entertainment field. Soon to be named the Syracuse University Dick Clark Los Angeles Program, the expansion of the SULA Semester includes new space for offices, classrooms, studios, additional academic programs, faculty and internships. The expansion aligns with one of the strategic priorities of “Leading with Distinction,” the University’s new academic strategic plan which seeks to make study away and study abroad opportunities more accessible to all undergraduate students.
“When Dad moved his company to LA, it flourished,” says Clark’s daughter Cindy, who graduated from the Newhouse School of Public Communications in 1986 and built her own successful career in television and film production in LA. “The expansion of the SULA program is a continuation of my father’s commitment to fostering new talent in the entertainment business. Seeing how the sausage really gets made—it’s just an invaluable experience.”
“Dad was always of the mind that nothing beats a practical hands-on experience in this business,” says Clark’s son RAC, who has produced thousands of hours of live event and entertainment programming and created Lion’s Heart Entertainment in LA. “You get to be in the belly of the beast.”
That’s why, about 40 years ago, Dick Clark met with University administrators and laid the foundation for SULA. He helped initiate the idea of a “Hollywood benchmark trip,” which started with fewer than a dozen students coming from Syracuse to meet with him in LA and visit production studios. Clark’s legacy of helping generations of students will endure as new students benefit from the incredible mark he left on the entertainment industry and through the family’s generosity.
“The entertainment business offers vast opportunities for students interested in careers in performance, production, drama, music, engineering, design, marketing, public relations, media, technology, business development and more,” says Chancellor Kent Syverud. “Dick’s legacy spans so many aspects of the entertainment world, which is captured in robust archives here on campus. Now, with this new gift, we will offer students unrivaled academic and experiential opportunities to explore interests in this evolving industry.”
All the Clarks take pride in the connection with Syracuse University. The Dick Clark Studios opened in the Newhouse School in 2014, with generous funding from the family. It provided cutting-edge facilities to train students interested in broadcast, television and film production. “My first time on campus was for the dedication of the studios,” says RAC. “I was just so proud to be his son.” When RAC’s daughter enrolled in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, he told her: “You are carrying a legacy that goes back generations.” Her mother, Eve Adair ’86, graduated with a degree in communications and is a successful director of live entertainment programming.
Though the world knows Dick Clark through his on-camera work, and watched him for four decades counting down the seconds to midnight as host of “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” Clark’s undergraduate degree was from the Whitman School of Management. It was his business sense, his work ethic and his commitment to innovation and excellence for which he is most remembered by those who knew him best.
“Dad was a ‘famous face’ but that was tangential to his work,” says RAC. “It was the means by which he started his production company. Everyone knew him as a host, but it was the business side that drove him.”
“It’s no exaggeration to say that Dick was a pioneer, boldly going into the uncharted waters of radio and television,” says Kari, who worked with him for more than 40 years. She remembers how he described going door-to-door in Philadelphia asking people if they would be willing to pay to watch football games in their homes, long before the advent of cable. “He was thinking that far ahead,” she says.
RAC recalls his father talking about how entertainment “would be piped into your home in a box. He predicted the beginning of streaming.”
Dick Clark was excited to share knowledge with Syracuse University students who came to LA to study or experience the industry, and with those who came to work for Dick Clark Productions. “He loved imparting advice,” says Kari. She says the many young professionals he helped train would say they went to Dick Clark University (DCU).
“There wasn’t a better run production company,” says Cindy. “The company was so buttoned up. Everyone learned how to do production right and do it well. It was all about preparation. It was the DC way.”
“Looks good, sounds good, on time, on budget,” says RAC. “That was the adage that permeated the staff and all the freelancers who worked there.”
For Dick Clark, that was an important part of everything he did to help others move ahead and find their own success. “Dick was always happy for people who worked on his shows to learn and then advance in their careers as graduates of DCU,” says Kari. “Now, there will be a real university program in LA that carries the Dick Clark name.”
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About Forever Orange: The Campaign for Syracuse University
Orange isn’t just our color. It’s our promise to leave the world better than we found it. Forever Orange: The Campaign for Syracuse University is poised to do just that. Fueled by more than 150 years of fearless firsts, together we can enhance academic excellence, transform the student experience and expand unique opportunities for learning and growth. Forever Orange endeavors to raise $1.5 billion in philanthropic support, inspire 125,000 individual donors to participate in the campaign, and actively engage one in five alumni in the life of the University. Now is the time to show the world what Orange can do. Visit foreverorange.syr.edu to learn more.