By Dan “Danno” Hanks
I grew up in Orange County, California, what is now referred as “The O C”. We lived on Balboa Island and were used to having Hollywood celebrities as neighbors. some of the regulars that I would often see at Hershey’s Market on the Island were, John Wayne, James Drury (The Virginian) & Buddy Ebsen of Beverly Hillbillies fame. But the most exciting thing to happen in the Summer of 1965 was that Dick Clark of American Bandstand was coming to town to film and entire week of episodes for his new show “Where the Action Is”.
He would be filming at Corona Del Mar High School & at some of the local beaches, and was looking for kids to be there for the background scenes. Even though I had graduated from Costa Mesa High School a few years earlier, I jumped at the chance to be on the show.
On hand would be Steve Alaimo as host, Paul Revere And The Raiders, Billy Joe Royal singing his hit “Down in the Boondocks”, and Mary Wells filming what would become one of the very first music videos. She would be singing “Two Lovers” in the school library. The director, Al Schwartz had all of us kids that showed up at the high school, stand in a line so that he could pick the ones out that he wanted for each scene. I was picked to play a boy in the library who is bouncing back and forth between the rows of books and flirting with his “Two Lovers”. All of the kids in town just couldn’t wait to see themselves on TV. Little did I know what a tremendous effect Dick Clark would have on my life, and that our paths would cross again beginning in 1992..
After high school and the navy, I drifted in and out of trouble, jail, and eventually prison would be my fate and the beginning of a life of crime. My life “committing” crimes came to and end in 1979 when I was released on an appeal bond from Terminal Island federal prison after a successful petition for a writ of habeas corpus. I wasn’t innocent, mind you, I just had found a loophole that got me out of prison. I vowed never to return. My “life of crime” however, was not over. Upon my release, I caught a bus to San Francisco. The day after my arrival, I spotted an ad for a private investigator job. When I applied, I told the owner of the agency all about my criminal past and that I had just been released from prison a few days earlier. He hired me on the spot and I became one of his top investigators.
I teamed up with one of his other investigators, Fred Valis, and we went on to start our own agency, Backstreet Investigations, which I still operate to this day.
Over the years, Fred & I would be involved in the solving of many notorious case and would eventually be featured on 60 Minutes as the guys who infiltrated the Gambino family’s bookmaking operations. As fate would have it, Dick Clark saw that 60 Minutes broadcast and decided that he would like to acquire our life story rights for a television series. In the meantime however, we had gotten hired as the in-house investigators for the television series Hard Copy. I had come up with an idea for a series of segments they called “Caught on Tape”.
It was during the hiatus from that show that I met with Dick Clark for the first time since that day at Corona Del Mar High School, some 28 years earlier. We were meeting to discuss the development of a show based on our lives. It was the be called “Vermin & Pestilence”, after the code names given to us by the FBI. I told Dick of our meeting before during the filing of “Where the Action Is”, and my music video with Mary Wells. Dick picked up the phone and called his video archivist, Jeff James. Twenty minutes later, he walked thru the door and handed Dick a copy of the clip which he gave to me.
Dick found out that we had produced the “Caught on Tape” and asked us if we would be interested in doing a series of one hour specials. The show would be called “Caught In The Act”. Ten minutes after Dick came up with the idea for the show, he asked us to follow him across the street to the offices of then NBC programming vice-president Don Ohlmeyer. We walked in unnanounced. The guard at the NBC gate does not stop Dick Clark. Dick asked me to explain the show and in less then five minutes we had a deal for a one-hour special. I started to tell Don Ohlmeyer more when I was interrupted by Dick, who said we had to go now. As we desended the stairwell, Dick leaned over to me and said “Listen kid, when you strike oil, stop drilling!” “Caught In The Act” aired on Wednesday, July 7th, 1993 and came in 18 in the weeks’ ratings. It was to be the beginning of a beautiful and lasting friendship.
Over the years, Dick would help me with both television projects, and my private investigation business. When work was slow, he would put in a good word to get me work. When Dick Clark called, people hired you. People paid attention to him. About a year after I went to work for Dick, I was at a karaoke club and saw an amazing year old girl with a four octave vocal range. Sara Niemietz (www.saraniemietz.com) who was visiting L A from Chicago. was amazing. I just had to introduce her to Dick. I handed her parents (Tim & Cheryl) the card you see above. The name Dick Clark didn’t mean much to a seven year old, but her mother called the next day and & invited them to come to Dick’s office. Dick picked up the phone and the next day, Sara had an agent & they moved to L A.
The day after Fred and I took care of the “personal matter”. We were summoned to Dick’s office and met in the office of Neil Stearns, Dick’s director of development, to discuss what shows we wanted to pitch. This meeting was Dick’s way of saying “thank you” for making a dangerous situation go away. Whatever show we wanted to pitch that day would be optioned. About ten minutes into the meeting, Dick picked up the phone and asked Kari to join us. She entered the room carrying two turquoise Tiffany boxes. They contained brass clocks, personally engraved with Dick’s signature and inscribed with the words “Many Thanks”. Dick said that Kari had suggested Dick Clark tour jackets, to which he replied, ” What are you nuts? I don’t want these crazy thugs walking around with my name on their backs”. After Dick left the room, Neil asked “What was that all about?” Continuing, “I’ve worked for Dick for twenty years, and I never got no stinkin’ clock!”
For a time, Backstreet Investigations was located on the second floor of the Dick Clark productions office. I only closed it down and started working from home after the death of my partner, Fred Valis.
And, on that occasion, almost 7 years to the day prior to his own death, Dick helped come up with the money to pay for Fred’s funeral.
Dick even wrote a letter to help me get a certificate of rehabilitation (the first step to a pardon) and get my own Private Investigator’s license, as I had been working all these years under the license of Fred Valis.
Dick’s door was always open to me I became his confidant, and he was mine. He was always there to give sage advise. His wife Kari and his personal assistant, Amy never stopped me to ask “Do you have an appointment”.
I was looking forward to seeing Dick & Kari the next time I was in town, but that chance never came. The day Dick died, I did not hear the news on television, but thru text that started coming in on my cell that read “Sorry for your loss”. What loss?, I thought, and then I ran to the television and saw the news. I tried to call Dick’s office, his cell phone, his wife, Kari and Dick’s assistant, Amy. All my calls were going to voice mail. I was in shock! “Dick Clark, Dead at 82″ the banner across the bottom of the screen read. I am not ashamed to say that I broke into tears and spent the next two days crying and trying to understand how the man who was going to live forever was now gone.
There will never be another like him, and I will miss him, but I will always have these memories.
………….. Danno Hanks