From doo-wop to 'I do.' What started with 'American Bandstand' ended with a marriage vow
Jim Miller was a junior high school student who loved watching "American Bandstand" after school. When he spotted Justine Carrelli he was immediately smitten. More than a half-century later, they were married.
This is a love story 55 years in the making, and you can thank the teen dance program “American Bandstand” for it.
Justine Carrelli-Miller wasn’t even a teenager in 1956 when she used her sister’s birth certificate to get on “American Bandstand.” The show was live five days a week from Philadelphia, Dick Clark had yet to become the host and it had yet to go national.
The rule was you had to be 14 to get on the show. Justine was 12.
Justine’s friends, who were the same age, got into the show one day, but she was turned away.
“I got stopped at the door and said to the cop, ‘but Lucille and Diane got in and they’re in my class,’ ‘’ she said.
“I’m sorry young lady, you don’t look 14 to me,” was his answer.
Justine went home humiliated, but her mother suggested she take her older sister’s birth certificate to the show the next day.
Justine got in, and along with her dance partner and soon-to-be-boyfriend, Bob Clayton, became one of the show’s most popular couples. They won the first jitterbug contest when the show went nationwide in 1957.
“The whole thing was like a grand party,” she said.
Jim Miller was in junior high, living on Long Island, New York, when “Bandstand” became a national hit. Sometimes, he would come home from school and turn on the show.
“Justine was the one who caught my eye,” he said. “I was smitten by her. If she was on I watched it, if not I would do something else.”
Jim didn’t know that Justine lied about her age when introduced for the spotlight dances. He thought she was at least a couple of years older. It turns out she was only 10 months older.
“They don’t look at middle school kids or junior high kids,” he said. “I figured I had no chance in hell, but I was smitten by her the same way I was smitten by Marilyn Monroe and actresses like that. She was in that category.”
Adulthood crashed the party.
Justine became a singer, moved to Las Vegas, married her bandleader, had two sons, divorced 15 years later, became a real estate agent and moved to a small town in northwest Arizona.
Jim joined the military, went through several jobs after getting out, got married, had three kids, became a widower at a young age, spent 23 years working in San Diego and moved to Venice, Florida to retire.
He sometimes wondered what happened to Justine, especially around New Year’s Eve when he would watch Dick Clark host his special. Then Dick Clark died in 2012.
“When Dick Clark died it came to mind what happened to Justine, again,” Jim said. “And now we have computers. So I went on the computer and Googled Justine Carrelli.”
He found her selling real estate in Dolan Springs, Arizona, population 1,989. He had no idea if she was married. He called her but when he received a recording he hung up without leaving a message. She saw the hang up and returned the call, thinking it might be an interested buyer.
Jim explained he had been a fan and wanted to have lunch with her on his way to California. Justine said yes.
“I had met other fans along the way,” she said, “but not that I’d had lunch with them.”
Jim’s biggest surprise when meeting her?
“I was surprised how short she was,” he said.
The lunch was a success. They went back to her office to look at old photos on the computer. The afternoon soon turned into the cocktail-hour, so they went out for drinks.
The evening ended awkwardly.
“We didn’t say anything about meeting again,” Justine said.
Jim, on his ride back to his hotel room, decided he wanted to see her again, so he phoned her, and they arranged to have lunch the next day.
On their drive to lunch, Jim asked what was on her bucket list. She said to go to Hawaii.
“That was funny,” Jim said, “because in April it’s my brother-in-law and sister’s anniversary and we are planning to go to Hawaii. She blurted out ‘count me in.’
“So, I guess that was the part when I knew that it wasn’t going to be a one-time meeting.”
She visited Jim in Venice that Thanksgiving. He introduced her to his sister and neighbors, who remembered her from “Bandstand.”
“That was the start of our romance,” Jim said.
They got married in 2014, something both said they would never do again.
Justine turns 80 next year and Jim 79. They split their time between Dolan Springs and Venice.
Jim is still smitten 65 years later.
“He still treats me like I’m the queen of the hop,” Justine said.
Copyright 2022 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.