The following story comes courtesy of Communication Expert Joe Marrella, who’s been engaged by the likes of Apple, Disney, Hewlett Packard, and several other companies to train their employees in sales, marketing, and presentation skills.
Joe also directs plays and musicals and coaches acting for private students. I was introduced to Joe through Actress/Biscotti baker Natalie Stone, who appears regularly on Cucina Chatter with her segment “A Day in the Glamorous Life.”
Natalie, Joe, and budding actress Bella were my special guests recently on the show. You can download the entire podcast below. In the meantime, enjoy a sliver of Joe’s American Band Stand days. (btw, this is the Bella for whom Bella’s Biscotti is named.)
My Grandmother’s Smiling
Watching Bandstand was part of my Grandmother’s routine every day. She loved to watch the couples, follow their lives and select her favorites. For whatever reason, Arlene Sullivan was her favorite. So much so that all I heard from her again and again was, “Joseph, please ask her to dance when you go to the show, I love Arlene.”
Of course, I tried to explain to her that Arlene was going with Kenny; hence the phrase repeated hundreds of times on the show, “Here’s Arlene & Kenny.” One even mentioned years later in the movie, “Peggy Sue Got Married.”
Well, when your grandmother asks you to do something, especially something that is important to her, every grandson would obey. So with great nervousness, after all she received more fan mail in a week than most celebrities, I sheepishly approached Arlene one day on the show.
The moment I got closer, I lost my voice, my legs shook and my heart actually began to beat faster. Not only was I now only a few feet from a Bandstand Regular, known all over the country, but this young woman was truly beautiful…Elizabeth Taylor beautiful.
I know I asked her to dance, but I honestly don’t remember saying the words. However, I vividly remember her answer. “I can’t right now, ask my girlfriend Carole Gibson.” I left crushed!
The irony was that I knew Carole and I had already danced with her. We both attended South Philadelphia High School, as did Franny Giordano another well-known dancer and personality on the show. But my grandmother wanted to see me dance with Arlene and not Franny or Carole.
In my mind it would have been much easier to ask Franny, but then this story would have been years shorter.
Fast-forward several years and I stopped in the Holiday Inn at Fourth and Arch in Philadelphia to see a colleague, Fred Wahl, who was then VP of Marketing.
The first person I notice outside his office was Arlene Sullivan. I walked by and crisply said, ‘Hello Arlene.”
A few minutes into my visit, Arlene buzzes my friend Fred to ask who I was. I guess the way I said hello made her think we had met. Of course, we did but she could hardly be expected to remember that one moment in her life. God knows I never forgot that moment in my life.
After telling Fred the story, he asked Arlene to come in. I repeated the story for Arlene. She said she was surprised that she didn’t dance with me because she always tried to do so when she was free.
Nonetheless, we laughed and continued to chat about Bandstand days when Arlene got up to leave and said, “Joe would you like to dance?” My response was sarcastic and a bit vulgar. I wanted to tease her a bit. It was basically “Screw you.” She laughed and laughed.
Fast-forward a few more years and lo and behold, Arlene is working for another friend of mine. This time, Arlene is at Harrah’s as a Black Jack dealer. No, I’m not making this up.
After a few Black Jack hands and some lighthearted conversation, Arlene would ask, “Joe, would you like to dance?” My reply was always the same sarcastic answer. Again, Arlene laughed. We had now established the “running gag.” She would ask me to dance and I would tell her to “Buzz-off.”
Our next encounter is at the Cherry Hill Mall. She was with a friend and we stopped to talk. Of course, she related the original story to her and then all the additional meetings. This meeting was just a week after the opening of the movie “Peggy Sue Got Married.” I asked her how it felt to be mentioned in the movie using just her first name. Best of all, everyone knew who they were referring to on American Bandstand.
Just as we parted, Arlene asked, “Joe, would you like to dance?” After all these years, the question was the same as was my flip answer.
When the year 2000 approached, Dick Clark had a party at his new restaurant & grill in King of Prussia. He wanted to take a picture as the millennium approached. I went thinking this might be the night that Arlene and I get to dance. Alas, Arlene never came. We took the picture. It was a great shot.
A few months later, I received a call from Carole Gibson about a bandstand get-together at the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia. I wanted to go because I hoped it would finally be the night I got to dance with Arlene.
When I arrived, I saw Arlene. The first thing she said was, “This is the night, isn’t it?” I stammered, “Absolutely.” She then added, “Let me ask you when there’s a great song is playing.”
I heard a warm romantic ballad begin to play and knew this was the moment. She approached me and asked, “Joe, would you like to dance?” I finally answered, “Yes.”
I’ll never forget how she felt, how smoothly we danced, as if we had done so hundreds of times before.
She paused for a moment and said, “Joe, you’re an excellent dancer.” Grinning broadly, I replied, “Somewhere in Heaven, my Grandmother is looking down at us and smiling.”