Correction: This story was revised at 4:02 p.m., June 7, 2011, to state that Don Brown performed a pantomime of the novelty song “Mr. Custer” at a reunion for “The Dave Astor Show” in Portland.

PORTLAND – It was a weekly tradition.

Every Saturday afternoon when she was a girl, Kim Vansickle of Kennebunk remembers setting up trays in the living room to eat dinner with her family in front of the television instead of around the dinner table.

And the TV was tuned to “The Dave Astor Show.”

Between 1956 and 1971, “The Dave Astor Show (For Teenagers Only),” which was considered by many as Portland’s own version of the national sensation “American Bandstand,” captured the attention of Maine’s young people. On it, students from regional high schools performed dance routines and other acts.

“I was too young to be on the show,” Vansickle said, but she said she recalls watching her sister Joyce Davidson as one of the show’s regulars.

On Saturday, “The Dave Astor Show Reunion,” hosted by the Maine Historical Society at Port City Music Hall, offered an afternoon of nostalgia for Vansickle and the 200 or so people in attendance. The 91-year-old Astor was the featured guest, receiving hugs and kisses in between accolades from those who were on his show or remember watching from home.

“He’s such an incredible mentor,” Vansickle said. “Our kids miss that today.”

During the 15 years the television show aired locally, Astor welcomed students into his home for rehearsals and expected nothing less than a professional performance. Each one-hour episode featured lip-synched musical performances and choreographed dance routines by a dozen or so teenagers who appeared regularly on the show and a select groups of students invited from schools across the state.

Nella Walters was a regular on the show in 1963 and 1964 while she was a student at Portland High School. She would pantomime famous performers like Connie Francis and Brenda Lee.

“It gave me confidence and self-esteem,” Walters said.

She grew up in a very poor family and being selected to appear as a regular on the show made her realize what she could accomplish. Walters said it taught her to be accepting of everyone, especially the underdogs.

“My whole life, I’ll have that to hold on to,” she said.

Don Brown, who is now a morning-show radio personality for WABK in Augusta, credits his career to Astor.

“He taught me poise and to be proud of what I do,” he said.

Astor also taught Brown, a Thornton Academy graduate, how to channel his energy into comedy.

Brown was a regular on the show from 1957 to 1961. He would warm up the audience before shows with various comedic acts and performed pantomimes during the show, like “Mr. Custer,” which he did on stage Saturday.

“You were a better person if you knew Dave Astor,” he said. “The show was a big part of everybody’s lives.”

After screening a video tribute to the show and sharing memories with the crowd, Astor sat on stage greeting a line of people who were influenced by the show.

Said Astor: “It’s an absolutely incredible experience.”

Even as everyone at the reunion paid tribute to the man who created the show, Astor remained humble. He may have been the producer, but said the show was the teenagers’ production.

Maine Historical Society Executive Director Richard D’Abate said the organization realized how strong people felt about “The Dave Astor Show,” but they didn’t expect how “emotionally overwhelming” Saturday’s reunion would be.

“The extraordinary thing is how broad his reach was,” D’Abate said. And that it wasn’t just about the entertainment, but also instilling morals in a generation of teenagers.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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