The Bobby Darin Story
Thanks to numeorus requests to permanently post our Bobby Darin Series (first distributed via our FORGOTTEN HITS Newsletter back in 2003), you now have access to our research, modified to better fit this web page format (and restrictions thereof). When I first sat down, determined to write a piece on BOBBY DARIN, it was more of a personal challenge to myself, as I didn't know a whole lot about the man at the time and wasn't particularly a fan of his music. (In hindsight, I guess I liked most of his popular stuff and simply wasn't familiar enough with the rest of his material to even have been entitled to an opinion!) I wanted to see if I could put together a long-form piece on an artist that had a great (yet often misunderstood) impact on the music scene simply as an observer ... present a bio (with no emotional ties) and feature some music that I, too, had just recently discovered ... in a way, take you on the same musical journey that I had just traveled and, along the way, allow you to discover a few new things about the man and his music for yourself.
Truth be told, the project took MONTHS ... in fact, it never seemed to end ... some literature I read for a second, third and even fourth time in an effort to get all my facts straight. In all honesty, it became overwhelming. No matter HOW many times I thought that I'd finally finished it, I just kept going back to fine-tune and tweak it one more time. It some point, it got totally out of hand ... frustrated, I simply abandoned the project and didn't run it, as originally intended, in my online FORGOTTEN HITS music newsletter.
Part of my feeling was that, as close as I had grown to this project, this was probably more BOBBY DARIN than most folks on our regular list could stand. The concept of running A MONTH OF BOBBY DARIN struck me as something that many folks on the list would probably tune out.
But then the much-heralded bio-pic BEYOND THE SEA was FINALLY released in theaters. (This movie was "right around the corner" two years ago when I first began working on this project!) Suddenly, I felt challenged again ... if I didn't get it out now ... BEFORE the movie hits ... I would forever be aaccused of riding the coattails of the film. (In that you are reading this series now ... many years AFTER the movie was been put into wide release ... it is important to remember that my original intent was to better help "prepare" my reading audience for the film ... generate some interest in Darin's career. My hope at the time was that once they read the WHOLE story, even if they weren't necessarily BOBBY DARIN fans initially, the series might inspire them to check out the film. Apparently, my motives were successful ... if you check out some of the COMMENTS I received after the series ran, you'll see that this is EXACTLY what happened! As such, THE OFFICIAL BOBBY DARIN WEBSITE was happy to offer my ramblings to other visitors to their website seeking more information about the great career of BOBBY DARIN ... and excerpts from this series were posted there for years.
Posting this now ... ten years AFTER the release of the film ... only serves to remind me that making this movie was a labor of love for actor KEVIN SPACEY (who portrays DARIN ... was a HUGE fan ... and even sings all the tunes himself!) Having not seen the film myself in advance of preparing these articles, I looked at this as a challenge of getting the REAL story out there and filling in some of the blanks that might exist within the context of a two hour film. Within the confines of FORGOTTEN HITS (often running extended series devoted to a single subject or artist), this seemed like the perfect forum to explore the life and career of BOBBY DARIN. (Besides, if this series converts just a few more BOBBY-fans ... or lends credence to his accomplishments and contributions to the history of pop music ... or gets a couple of people to check out some of DARIN's films or pick up a BOBBY DARIN CD ... or gets you to view DARIN as the great innovator and interpreter of song that he was ... then all this time spent will have been well worth it.)
Within this special BOBBY DARIN series you're going to read a WHOLE lotta BOBBY DARIN information. When it first ran in newsletter form, we were also able to feature a whole lotta BOBBY DARIN music ... this website doesn't allow us to do that, however ... but hopefully along the way you'll feel inspired to check out some of these great tracks on your own, many of which you may not currently be familiar with. Along the way, we hope to introduce you to a side of the man you weren't familiar with, sharing some GREAT music and Bobby Darin factoids that you may not have heard before. (Special thanks to Bobby Darin's Webteam, who run the Official BOBBY DARIN website, STEVE BLAUNER, who was SO instrumental throughout BOBBY's career, and official BOBBY DARIN archivist JIMMY SCALIA, who helped us to obtain some of the rarest BOBBY DARIN musical material out there, we were able to offer up a VERY insightful look at the magic and music that made up Bobby Darin's career. I thank all of you again ... you helped make this a better piece than I ever could have done on my own.)
ONE FINAL CONFESSION: After the amount of work that I poured into this project, once the BOBBY DARIN piece finally ran, I have to confess that in hindsight, it might have been easier to write a 300-page book on the subject rather than to try to scale down this much information and insight into a readable, digestible FORGOTTEN HITS piece. (Writing FORGOTTEN HITS always presents the challenge of finding the right balance ... enough information to keep it interesting ... yet not TOO long to risk losing your interest ... accessible enough that even the most casual fan might still discover ... or rediscover ... a song buried way back in a memory bank somewhere or a new piece of information they were unfamiliar with before ... yet still detailed enough that even the most seasoned music fan might learn something new about a given song or artist. Finding that balance is often difficult ... and coming up with material that'll actually make you WANT to open our mail or visit our website everyday is even tougher!)
However, writing a 300 page book is totally unnecessary, as three GREAT books already exist and were invaluable during my research for this article. BORROWED TIME: THE 37 YEARS OF BOBBY DARIN by AL DiORIO, DREAM LOVERS: THE MAGNIFICENT SHATTERED LIVES OF BOBBY DARIN AND SANDRA DEE, written by their son DODD DARIN and THAT'S ALL: BOBBY DARIN ON RECORD, STAGE AND SCREEN by JEFF BLEIEL are all books you should devour if this piece piques your interest at all ... I couldn't have written it without them. In addition, two new books about BOBBY DARIN were released in November, 2004, in an attempt to coincide with the release of the film. (BOBBY DARIN: A LIFE by MICHAEL SETH STARR and ROMAN CANDLE by DAVID EVANIER.) In between, long time friend (and one-time musical arranger) STEVE KARMEN also released a fascinating book recalling BOBBY's very first nightclub road trip. (KARMEN himself has gone on to achieve critical acclaim as a jingles writer ... he's responsible for the whole I LOVE NEW YORK campaign as well as FOR ALL YOU DO, THIS BUD'S FOR YOU and HERSHEY, THE GREAT AMERICAN CHOCOLATE BAR.) It's fascinating reading showing the development of a nervous but confident kid who would go on to become a musical superstar ... and it, too is highly recommended.
THE MUSIC: This website doesn't allow us to post music ... and, rather than post a bunch of links to take you away from THIS site in order to view video clips, we have instead posted numerous YouTube clips on our daily site ... just scroll back to January 2nd and January 3rd, 2016, to view Bobby in his prime ... and to listen to other influential tracks.
And now, at long last, let's get on with the show!!!
Forgotten Hits Presents THE BOBBY DARIN STORY!!!
THE BOBBY DARIN STORY
BOBBY DARIN lived his life as the death-sentence it eventually became. Ever-aware of the timetable hovering over him, BOBBY lived his life to the fullest in the short time he had here with us.
Born on May 14, 1936, as WALDEN ROBERT CASSOTTO, poor young BOBBY had a sickly childhood. At three, he fell and broke his leg. Between the ages of eight and twelve, he would battle rheumatic fever FOUR TIMES. He spent much of his early years at home in bed (and developed a passion for coloring books!)
As a child, he was told that he would never live to see the age of 16. When he passed that milestone, they said he'd never hit 30. At 34, he was finally having the heart surgery that his doctors had recommended for the past 15 years.
Living his entire life on a timetable of making it big by the age of 25 (with little hope of living past 30), BOBBY was a driven performer who would let nothing stand in the way of his success.
DARIN had great aspirations to make it in either music or the movies. (Eventually he'd succeed in both media.) One of his first idols was DONALD O'CONNOR (who he would later work side-by-side with on his television series and in the movies.) BOBBY felt that he could do it all ... music, acting, comedy ... and his determination to make it in the short time he knew he'd have often came across as cockiness, brashness, conceit and ego. Deep down, BOBBY knew that if he was ever going to make his mark, he'd have to do it quicker and bigger than anybody else. He was well-aware of the time-table the doctors had set for him as a child.
In his Junior Year of High School at Bronx Science, BOBBY put together his first band. Playing drums, he teamed with schoolmates EDDIE OCASIO, WALTER RAIM, DICK BEHRKE and STEVE KARMEN, and together they played everything from big band music to fox trots and cha-chas. For their first performance, they were paid 20-cents and a stick of gum each! (By the way, BOBBY's contemporaries fared pretty well, too ... RAIM and BEHRKE both had successful careers in music, often working with DARIN as musicians and / or arrangers during his Vegas years ... and KARMEN went on to write jingles, including the I LOVE NEW YORK campaign!) Tempted by these newfound riches, the band persevered and, by summer were performing in the Catskills. It was here that BOBBY DARIN got hooked on show-biz and set a personal goal that he would often have thrown back in his face by critics: BOBBY said that he wanted to be a legend by the age of 25 ... an all-around entertainer ... singer, dancer, actor, film star, comedian ... the best all-around entertainer in the business. He simply wouldn't settle for less.
BOBBY started doing some theater work. He first adopted the stage name WALDEN ROBERTS and made several appearances under that name. (He also appeared as ROBERT WALDEN!) He even had publicity photos made, on the back of which he listed a VERY impressive number of theatrical credits ... most of which he had never actually appeared in! BOBBY was determined to make it and this little trick seemed to be working ... he was suddenly landing acting roles.
By the mid-1950's, he began writing songs with another Bronx Science High School graduate, DON KIRSHNER, who was also acting as BOBBY's manager at the time. Starting with jingles and then moving on to pop tunes, the duo approached talent manager GEORGE SCHECK, who placed a few of their songs with artists like LAVERN BAKER, rocker GENE VINCENT, BOBBY SHORT and, eventually CONNIE FRANCIS, who SCHECK also happened to manage. None of these songs were hits, but BOBBY and DONNY felt that they were on their way.
One day, they walked into SCHECK's office with a new song they had written called MY TEENAGE LOVE. SCHECK thought it was good enough to cut a demo and sent BOBBY upstairs to have it done. When he returned, however, to play back the tape, it was BOBBY's voice coming over the speakers. At first SCHECK seemed angry, demanding to know who's voice was on that tape. When DARIN finally admitted it was his, SCHECK told him to "Start thinking of a professional name ... because in a week, you're going to need one for your recording contract."
The legend goes that BOBBY had seen a neon sign at a Chinese restaurant offering Mandarin food ... and that the "man" lights were burned out ... when he saw only "darin" in lights, he decided that BOBBY DARIN would make a GREAT stage name! (Another far less interesting version of the story says he simply picked the name out of a phone book!) In any event, he'd need it soon ... SCHECK signed him to DECCA RECORDS just THREE DAYS after hearing his demo of MY TEENAGE LOVE. He also became his personal manager.
The first song that DARIN cut under his new name was the LONNIE DONEGAN skiffle-hit ROCK ISLAND LINE. Just to show you how fast things moved back then, four days later BOBBY was appearing on STAGE SHOW performing ROCK ISLAND LINE before a national TV audience! (STAGE SHOW was produced by JACKIE GLEASON and was hosted by THE DORSEY BROTHERS. ELVIS PRESLEY made his National Television Debut on this program the week before BOBBY DARIN appeared!) Amazingly, he had only recorded the tune a few days earlier ... and was SO nervous for this performance that he wrote the lyrics in the palm of his hand. If you've ever seen this clip on the A&E BIOGRAPHY profile of BOBBY DARIN, it's a classic ... he's singing his heart out in the close-ups but in the full-body camera shots, he's looking into his hand, reading the lyrics out of his palm! Unfortunately, he was so nervous that night that his palms were sweating and midway through the song the lyrics were one big blurred mess! In the same A&E special, you see DARIN appearing on the GLEASON show several years later, talking about his first big showbiz break, with "The Great One" reassuring BOBBY that he "did fine!" It's hysterical!
BOBBY DARIN on STAGE SHOW, 1956
Bobby talking about his appearance on the Dorsey Brothers Show (circa 1959) (Bobby also talks about that appearance here in 1972.)
BOBBY's appearance on STAGE SHOW was sandwiched in between two appearances by a very young ELVIS PRESLEY ... and soon, the teenage rock and roll boom was in full swing. However, by comparison, BOBBY's appearance went virtually unnoticed. That wasn't enough to stop him, 'though ... in fact, he began billing himself as BOBBY DARIN from STAGE SHOW ... and the bookings started to roll in. Shortly thereafter, during an appearance at The Safari Club in New York, he stole the show from headliner DELLA REESE ... and, eventually took over top billing!
BOBBY's new manager GEORGE SCHECK worked hard to break the career of a young new singer he had discovered named CONNIE FRANCIS (CONCETTA FRANCONERO). Her father was an intimidating man who wasn't about to let ANYTHING stand in the way of his daughter's career. But this didn't stop BOBBY DARIN, who fell head-over-heels in love with CONNIE. In fact, he started to tell people that he wanted to marry her and that, not only would she make the perfect wife, but also the perfect mother for his children! (According to CONNIE FRANCIS, BOBBY actually proposed to her prior to EITHER of them ever having a hit record.) MR. FRANCONERO would have NO part of this and ordered SCHECK to break the two of them up or risk losing CONNIE as a client. (He also, at times, threatened to take matters into his OWN hands and, at one point, reportedly even came after BOBBY with a gun!)
CONNIE, of course, would go on to have an incredible career, placing over 40 songs in the National Top 40. (That's nearly TWICE as many Top 40 Hits as BOBBY managed!)
One of BOBBY's faults (and it would stay with him his entire life) was that he had to be the STAR and bread-winner of the family ... any woman who had any TRUE feelings for him would be expected to give up her own career and dreams and sit in the audience each night to watch her husband perform. She'd stay at home and raise a family. He was so determined to make it ... and make it big ... that he couldn't even imagine someone else having the same dreams, aspirations and determination to do so. (He would later face a similar situation with singer JOANN CAMPBELL. In fact, as you'll see, even a red-hot movie star like SANDRA DEE had to put her career on hold to satisfy her demanding husband.)
As proven by CONNIE's enormous success, she DID have the same determination (and talent) that BOBBY had to make it big in show business. In hindsight, had they married, we may have been cheated out of a tremendous talent ... and it probably wouldn't have lasted. CONNIE wasn't about to give up the dreams she worked so hard to achieve. And, believe it or not, as a pre-emptive measure, GEORGE SCHECK finally told BOBBY that he was dropping him as a client! Once successful, BOBBY and CONNIE remained close "professional" friends forever, even co-hosting the HEART-TO-HEART telethon for the American Heart Association as the King and Queen of Hearts! In 1959, they appeared together on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW and sang a couple of duets. Ironically, CONNIE even recorded MY TEENAGE LOVE, the demo we told you about earlier that BOBBY recorded which launched his career! (She also cut his composition MY FIRST REAL LOVE, which was released as her fourth MGM single ... and the backing group credited on the record, THE JAYBIRDS, was, in fact, BOBBY DARIN!
BOBBY was now back out on his own again. Feeling that his career was headed nowhere (and knowing that he was about to be dropped from DECCA RECORDS), he approached AHMET ERTEGUN of ATLANTIC RECORDS about a record deal. He brought in a self-produced demo of I FOUND A MILLION DOLLAR BABY IN A FIVE AND TEN CENT STORE and ERTEGUN agreed to re-record it and release it on ATLANTIC RECORDS. (ERTEGUN was always on the look out for new rock-and-roll talent and, at one point, even joined in the bidding war to purchase ELVIS PRESLEY's contract from SUN RECORDS!) BOBBY became the first WHITE artist signed by the ATLANTIC family of labels and ended up on their ATCO subsidiary. He was taken under the wing of ATLANTIC RECORDS' co-founder HERB ABRAMSON.
The single MILLION DOLLAR BABY was released and, immediately, went nowhere! However, at about this time, BOBBY met legendary disc jockey MURRAY THE K, (MURRAY KAUFMAN), who, like ALAN FREED, was putting on teenage rock shows all over the New York area. He quickly booked BOBBY at THE APOLLO THEATER in Harlem, opening for such legendary black acts as BILLY WARD AND THE DOMINOES, THE FIVE SATINS and THE CHANTELS.
Singing songs by other black artists like FATS DOMINO and one of his idols, RAY CHARLES, along with his MILLION DOLLAR BABY non-hit, BOBBY won over his audience. He soon hit the road and polished his act ... BOBBY was becoming QUITE the stage performer!
A couple of other ATLANTIC singles failed and soon BOBBY was in jeopardy of losing his recording contract again. He knew that time was running out and the pressure was on, so he went out to try to sell himself to another record label. This time it was BRUNSWICK RECORDS (ironically, a subsidiary of DECCA!) who responded but, due to BOBBY still being under contract with ATLANTIC, they decided to release a single under the name of THE DING DONGS. It looked like BOBBY's next release would be his own tune, EARLY IN THE MORNING. However, before this single hit the streets, fate was about to step in.
While that single was being readied for release, BOBBY was down to his last shot at ATLANTIC. One day, at MURRAY KAUFMAN's apartment, MURRAY THE K received a call from his mother JEAN MURRAY, who also just happened to be a songwriter. Over the phone, she suggested the song title of SPLISH SPLASH, TAKE A BATH. KAUFMAN groaned and then laughed ... nobody could write a song with THAT title ... and went off to take a shower. The ever-determined BOBBY DARIN said that HE could write a song with that title and, less than an hour later, had composed his first hit record!
DARIN knew that he had captured the teen sound and excitedly took the song to ATLANTIC. Virtually EVERYBODY there hated it ... co-founder HERB ABRAMSON, who had produced all of BOBBY's ATLANTIC releases to date, said he'd take a pass. JERRY WEXLER, one of the greatest ears in music history, called it garbage. But AHMET ERTEGUN decided to produce the record himself and when they were done, BOBBY felt that, while it may not be a great song ... or even a great recording ... it WAS what the kids wanted to hear in 1958. He was right ... SPLISH SPLASH shot up the charts, eventually hitting #2 in Cash Box Magazine. (It peaked at #3 in Billboard). BOBBY was on his way. (ERTEGUN wasn't taking any chances on DARIN's last chance, however ... at a recording session already booked for MORGANNA KING, AHMET brought the musicians in a little early and had her rhythm section back BOBBY on three tracks, trying to capture more of the excitement BOBBY had shown him while banging on the piano outside ERTEGUN's office ... something he felt HERB had been unable to capture on record at this point. In 90 minutes, DARIN cut three tracks, including both SPLISH SPLASH and QUEEN OF THE HOP, his first two Top Ten Hits! Time well-spent indeed!)
DIDJAKNOW?: We told you that BOBBY DARIN was the first white artist signed to the ATLANTIC RECORDS family of labels. But, after hearing his recording of SPLISH SPLASH, quite a few people thought that he must be black! (SPLISH SPLASH actually went all the way to #2 on Billboard's R & B Singles Chart, besting its Billboard Pop showing!) The fact that ATLANTIC RECORDS was one of the biggest labels promoting black artists didn't hurt ... in fact, one label rep later commented that it was a good thing they hadn't put BOBBY's picture on the cover of record ... it probably helped it sell more copies!
Just prior to the release of SPLISH SPLASH, BOBBY was performing at one of DICK CLARK's Record Hops. (DARIN first appeared on AMERICAN BANDSTAND back in 1957, performing his non-hit DON'T CALL MY NAME ... in fact, he and CLARK would remain friends for life.) He played CLARK an advance pressing of SPLISH SPLASH and asked him what he thought. CLARK told BOBBY that he had FINALLY done it ... the record was going to be a smash ... and immediately signed him up for another appearance on AMERICAN BANDSTAND.
As soon as SPLISH SPLASH hit the charts, BRUNSWICK rushed out EARLY IN THE MORNING, trying to cash in on DARIN's hot sound. However, due to contract stipulations (and the common sense that ATLANTIC would most certainly sue them if they tried to release a record with BOBBY DARIN's name on it), they chose to release the single as THE DING DONGS. Nobody at ATLANTIC RECORDS was fooled ... they KNEW it was BOBBY on the recording, and quickly put a halt to the release and purchased the master for their own label. So as not to conflict with the momentum of SPLISH SPLASH's chart performance, ATLANTIC released the tune as being by THE RINKY DINKS!!! EARLY IN THE MORNING finally peaked at #24 on the Billboard Chart. Still believing the song was a hit, DECCA released a nearly identical arrangement and had their OWN teen sensation BUDDY HOLLY record a version, which was quickly released on the CORAL label, striking while the iron was still hot. BUDDY's version peaked at #25 in Cash Box! (Incredibly, HOLLY, known for composing some of the greatest music ever to come out of rock's early years, would have hit singles with songs written by fellow teen idols BOBBY DARIN ... EARLY IN THE MORNING ... and PAUL ANKA ... IT DOESN'T MATTER ANYMORE ... early in his career!) Amazingly, the B-Side of BOTH the DARIN single and the HOLLY single was NOW WE'RE ONE ... another BOBBY DARIN original composition! (By the way, an original BRUNSWICK pressing showing THE DING DONGS as the recording artist is worth well over $100 today!) Once it became common knowledge that EARLY IN THE MORNING was really a BOBBY DARIN record, later pressings showed the artist as BOBBY DARIN AND THE RINKY DINKS.
During the same recording session at which he cut SPLISH SPLASH, BOBBY also recorded his follow-up smash QUEEN OF THE HOP, a #9 hit in the Fall of 1958. A couple of other rock hits followed: PLAIN JANE hit #30 in early 1959 and DREAM LOVER, perhaps BOBBY's greatest composition, went all the way to #2 in June. (In fact, a quick listen to the demo for DREAM LOVER pretty much confirms that BOBBY knew EXACTLY what he wanted before he ever set foot in the studio.)
DIDJAKNOW?: Despite any implied competition between the two, BOBBY DARIN did several dates in early 1959 with BUDDY HOLLY AND THE CRICKETS ... and was even invited to join them on their fateful winter tour ... BOBBY had to decline because of previous committments. (In hindsight, none of Bobby's health issues would have had any impact on the outcome of that flight.)
DIDJAKNOW?: BOBBY DARIN toured with a virtual who's-who of late '50's rock stars ... besides BUDDY HOLLY, he also hit the road with FRANKIE AVALON, THE COASTERS, DUANE EDDY, DION AND THE BELMONTS, JIMMY CLANTON, girlfriend JOANN CAMPBELL and CLYDE McPHATTER.
DIDJAKNOW?: That's fellow '50's teen pop star NEIL SEDAKA playing piano on BOBBY DARIN's hit DREAM LOVER ... as well as its B-Side BULLMOOSE. For anyone on the list who might think that BOBBY DARIN couldn't rock, you need to give a listen to THIS track!!! If you think BOBBY's vocal is a little bit inspired by JERRY LEE LEWIS, check out SEDAKA's piano banging ... when have you EVER heard NEIL play like this before?!?!?!
Despite all this pop chart success, BOBBY wanted more. The truth is, in his heart, BOBBY didn't believe that rock and roll would last. Like many of the older generation, he felt that rock was just a fad that would eventually peter out. (Keep in mind that by 1959, ELVIS was in the army, BUDDY HOLLY had died in a plane crash, JERRY LEE LEWIS had already been forsaken by his fans after marrying his cousin, LITTLE RICHARD had left rock and roll for the church and several new poster-boy teen idol wannabes like FABIAN, FRANKIE AVALON and BOBBY RYDELL were now prominently on the scene.) BOBBY knew that the key to a successful, long lasting career was to capture the hearts of the older audience as well ... and if he could take the kids along with him, all the better.
DARIN would be criticized throughout his career for using rock and roll as a stepping stone to a bigger musical career. (Several rock and roll purists feel that Darin should have never been inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.) Indeed, some of his own comments early in his career would indicate that he wasn't particularly fond of the genre ... but there is no question that he could write it and sing it and connect with the young teenage audience. (After recording SPLISH SPLASH, BOBBY told long-time friend RICHARD BEHRKE, "You'll vomit when you hear it.") He always said that it wasn't a great song ... but that it captured what the kids wanted. Lyrical references to PEGGY SUE and GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY insured its place alongside these other early classic rockers. He as much as admitted to his master plan in an interview with DOWN BEAT MAGAZINE in 1960: "PAT BOONE was using rock and roll as a device ... which is all well and good. It's exactly what I did."
There was no question that BOBBY wanted to branch out and do more musically. When he first talked about doing an album of standards, his contemporaries told him it was career suicide. Close friend DICK CLARK pretty much spelled it out for him ... he would lose his audience and alienate his fans if he even TRIED to change his style. BOBBY felt that if he simply stuck with rock and roll, he'd just be one of a thousand other singers ... but if he could continue to polish up his stage act ... and reach a broader, more mature audience, he could take his career to levels never even dreamed of ... and sustain a much longer lasting career than any flash-in-the-pan rock star.
DARIN was determined to prove the cynics wrong. Despite all the advice he received to the contrary, he went in and cut the standards album he wanted to make. With that thought in mind, THAT'S ALL, for all intents and purposes, may very well have been the very first concept album. BOBBY wanted to show his versatility as an artist and when the unlikely pop / rock candidate MACK THE KNIFE was selected as his next single, it blew the lid off EVERYTHING else that was out at the time. It shot straight to #1 and stayed there for nine incredible weeks. Besides several other previous chart appearances (most often as THE THEME FROM THREEPENNY OPERA or MORITAT), BOBBY made the song his own ... to the point that every "eek" he ad-libbed in the studio have now become permanently etched as part of the lyrics ... you end up singing along with each and every one of them every time you hear it. RICHARD WESS did an INCREDIBLE arrangement and the song took on a whole new life of its own. MACK THE KNIFE was a radio SMASH, crossing over to ALL genres of music ... even the JAZZ stations played it!
BOBBY was rewarded a few months later when he was nominated for four Grammy Awards. In the Music Industry's second-ever (and first televised) ceremony, MACK THE KNIFE was nominated for Best Arrangement. (RICHARD WESS lost to BILLY MAY, who had done the arrangement on FRANK SINATRA's hit COME DANCE WITH ME.) DARIN and SINATRA (and the same two songs) faced off again in the Best Vocal Performance Male category and SINATRA also won THAT award. But then BOBBY rebounded with the Best New Artist award and topped off the evening by winning The Record Of The Year Award for MACK (which just happened to beat SINATRA's HIGH HOPES recording.) By now, the comparisons to FRANK SINATRA had really started to escalate and would follow him for most of the rest of his career. (How ironic that these two crooners would go head-to-head in so many categories at that year's Grammy Awards!)
At the end of the evening, whether he was pumped up by the excitement of the day's events or overcome by his own massive ego, exhilaration and / or exhaustion, BOBBY made a comment that would haunt him for the next several years. When pressed by UPI's VERNON SCOTT about challenging SINATRA in all four categories (and winning in two), DARIN reportedly said "I hope to surpass FRANK in everything he's done." Soon newspapers all over the country were talking about the cocky young kid with the big mouth, who was WAY out of line for even hinting that he deserved to mentioned in the same breath as OLD BLUE EYES ... despite the fact that those same newspapers had been playing up the comparisons for months already.
While DARIN would spend the next several years denying or down-playing the remark, SINATRA refused to comment. In hindsight, it seems to have been more of a feud fueled by the press than anything personal between the two artists. Photos circulated of SINATRA and DEAN MARTIN using a BOBBY DARIN album cover as a dartboard .... but the truth is that DARIN was close with fellow rat-packer SAMMY DAVIS, JR., most of his life. (In fact, the liner notes for BOBBY's big crossover album, THAT'S ALL, even reprinted a telegram sent by SAMMY DAVIS, JR. stating "I've just heard the dubs for your new album. What can I say? They're so good I hate you! But seriously, Bobby, I think the album's another step in a career that I feel will last a long time.") BOBBY also remained on excellent terms with SINATRA's daughter NANCY and her then-husband TOMMY SANDS. There are even reports that suggest that after SINATRA broke away from CAPITOL RECORDS to form his own record company, REPRISE RECORDS, BOBBY was approached about jumping ship from ATLANTIC to record for OL' BLUE EYES. (DARIN reportedly turned down the offer, feeling he'd be the lost, forgotten artist amongst SINATRA's rat-pack pals also signed to the label ... in fact, BOBBY signed with CAPITOL to record alongside his other idol NAT KING COLE, hoping to fill some of the void left by SINATRA's departure!) Another well recounted incident tells that after one of BOBBY's nightclub engagement, JERRY LEWIS approached DARIN and told him that he was all alone in the league ... FRANK, DEAN, SAMMY and JERRY were all several years older ... and NOBODY else was doing what BOBBY was doing ... he had the whole arena to himself. The only one who could louse it up for him was BOBBY himself ... otherwise, there was NOBODY out there that could touch him. BOBBY took the advice to heart.
The most-famous comment SINATRA ever made on the subject when asked what he thought of BOBBY DARIN was: "I sing in saloons. BOBBY DARIN does my prom dates." DARIN called it "one of the greatest single lines of all time" and said that he was only too happy to play Frank's prom dates ... until graduation!
ISN'T IT IRONIC?: Years later, FRANK SINATRA would cut his OWN version of MACK THE KNIFE, using a virtually identical arrangement to BOBBY DARIN's!!! In fact, on his 1984 album L.A. IS MY LADY, SINATRA added a lyric paying tribute to some of the previous MACK hit-makers: "SATCHMO LOUIS ARMSTRONG, BOBBY DARIN and LADY ELLA, too ... OLD BLUE EYES can add nothing new."
DIDJAKNOW?: Against the best wishes of his musical colleagues and his record label, BOBBY DARIN released his THAT'S ALL album in March of 1959. ATLANTIC RECORDS didn't know what to do with the record ... it was SO different from anything else that BOBBY had recorded ... and, in fact, different than anything the label had released up to this point. Coming off the heels of BOBBY's smash hit single DREAM LOVER, they didn't know what to release next ... all they knew was it had to be big. The decision was pretty much made for them ... radio jumped on the lead LP track and started playing MACK THE KNIFE ... in fact, it quickly crossed over into EVERY style of music, getting played not only on the rock and roll stations but also the pop / contemporary stations, the big bands stations, the jazz stations and everything in between. It was, by ALL definitions, an across-the-boards SMASH. ATLANTIC had no choice but to release it as a single ... which they did in August of that year ... incredibly, a full FIVE MONTHS after the song first hit the streets as an LP track!
DIDJAKNOW?: BOBBY DARIN was criticized by some for "glamorizing" the character of MAC HEATH ... it was basically a song about a murderer! BOBBY most patterned his arrangement after the LOUIS ARMSTRONG hit from 1956 but the musical THREEPENNY OPERA was also making a comeback in the theater at the time BOBBY's song hit. One of the characters mentioned in the lyrics was LOTTE LENYA ... who was actually the widow of KURT WEILL ... one of the original songwriters of MORITAT ... which became MACK THE KNIFE! In fact, LOTTE was starring as JENNY in the off-Broadway revival of THREEPENNY OPERA at the time that BOBBY's record hit! Ironically, LOTTE LENYA had discussed the possibility of recording some of her late husband's songs with ATLANTIC RECORDS label head AHMET ERTEGEN ... when BOBBY came to ERTEGEN with the idea to record MACK THE KNIFE for his new album of standards (a song he had already been performing in concert for months) it was a COMPLETE coincidence.
WHAT DID MACK THE KNIFE SOUND LIKE BEFORE BOBBY DARIN?:
A THEME FROM "THE THREE-PENNY OPERA" was a Top 20 Hit three times in 1956. RICHARD HAYMAN and JAN AUGUST took their instrumental version to #12. It was surpassed by the similarly named DICK HYMAN TRIO (actually called "The UNFORGETTABLE Sound of the Dick Hyman Trio" on the single) who released the similarly sounding MORITAT ... A THEME FROM "THE THREE-PENNY OPERA" Their version went all the way to #7 in Cash Box. (Hey, didn't they use to play this on the old ERNIE KOVACS television series all the time?!?!?!) In fact, three MORE instrumental versions also reached the charts that year when released by LAWRENCE WELK, BILLY VAUGHN and LES PAUL. Finally, LOUIS ARMSTRONG took his vocal version to #20 that year as well. It's the BOBBY DARIN version, however, that's become the definitive take ... and most certainly his signature tune.)
A few weeks ago, we ran a selection showing all of the different interpretations of this all-time classic ... you will find it posted (along with audio clips of several of these versions) here: http://forgottenhits60s.blogspot.com/2015/12/look-out-ol-mackie-is-back.html
The "finger-snappin', swingin' style" of BOBBY DARIN was a perfect fit for the Las Vegas nightclubs and soon he would become (at 23) the youngest headliner ever on the Strip! His first break came when legendary comedian GEORGE BURNS invited BOBBY to be his opening act at HARRAH's in Lake Tahoe. They became an incredible draw and BOBBY learned SO much from the vaudeville master. DARIN loved GEORGE BURNS and referred to him many times as the father he never knew ... even though he only ever referred to him as "MR. BURNS" his entire career. BOBBY went so far as to once comment that if he could have chosen his own father, GEORGE BURNS would have been the man. (BURNS replied that he felt EXACTLY the same way about BOBBY ... but that BOBBY was too YOUNG to be his father.) GEORGE BURNS and GRACIE ALLEN ... who by then had stopped performing due to illness ... welcomed BOBBY into their lives as part of their family. When GRACIE died, BOBBY actually slept in her bed for several nights so that GEORGE BURNS wouldn't be alone. He finally convinced BURNS that the only way he would ever come to terms with his wife's death was to also sleep in her bed.
BOBBY remained close with BURNS for the rest of his life. In 1964, he even wrote the theme song to BURNS' short-lived television series WENDY AND ME, costarring CONNIE STEVENS. (He also wrote the theme for the comedy series CAMP RUNAMUCK that year ... but we won't hold EITHER of these against him!)
There is no question that DARIN idolized FRANK SINATRA ... but his inspirations and influences were every bit as much RAY CHARLES, NAT KING COLE, SAMMY DAVIS, JR., DONALD O'CONNOR and others. (You'll also have to add HARRY BELAFONTE to that list ... according to STEVE KARMEN, in BOBBY's earliest nightclub act, he came across as almost a BELAFONTE wannabe!) In 1962, BOBBY would release an album called BOBBY DARIN SINGS RAY CHARLES, a tribute to the genius of BROTHER RAY, which spawned the hit single WHAT'D I SAY, a #24 pop hit later that year. (His #3 smash YOU'RE THE REASON I'M LIVING was more than a passing tribute to RAY CHARLES, too ... it's practically a note-for-note rip-off of CHARLES' #1 Hit I CAN'T STOP LOVING YOU!)
DIDJAKNOW?: CAPITOL RECORDS Producer NIK VENET pooh-poohs the idea that YOU'RE THE REASON I'M LIVING was a rip-off of the RAY CHARLES hit I CAN'T STOP LOVING YOU. He says that BOBBY DARIN was amazed by the story that SAM COOKE wrote his #1 Hit YOU SEND ME based around the melody of BLUE MOON and that SHARON SHEELEY had written the RICK NELSON hit POOR LITTLE FOOL around the melody of a DIAMONDS record, slowed down to a different speed. DARIN was thus inspired to try to write a completely different tune based on the song HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU. He says that if you listen to the song with this thought in mind, you'll hear the melody of HAPPY BIRTHDAY on the verses and the melody of RED SAILS IN THE SUNSET on the choruses. I dunno ... I still hear BROTHER RAY myself!!! What do YOU think???
GEORGE BURNS-Part 1: GEORGE BURNS loved to tell the story of the time that BOBBY DARIN won $1800 during his first gambling go-round in Las Vegas. BURNS congratulated his young protege on his winnings but warned him not to go back to the tables ... he could lose that money just as easily as he had won it. In fact, he even offered to hold BOBBY's winnings for him until they left town to insure its safe-keeping ... or, give BOBBY some "pocket money" so he could still have fun in the casinos but also have something to show of his winnings when they left town. BOBBY snapped back that he was old enough to take care of himself and then promptly proceeded to lose every penny of it! In a heated "I told you so" argument just before showtime, BURNS slapped BOBBY across the face for his stupidity and arrogance. Normally, during the show, BURNS would give a long-winded introduction before bringing BOBBY on stage ... the two would then shake hands and then BOBBY would do his show. This night, BURNS simply told the audience, "Ladies and Gentlemen, BOBBY DARIN." As BOBBY walked on stage, BURNS refused to shake his hand, slapping it away as he walked off the stage. BOBBY was devastated. He felt that he had alienated the best friend he ever had in show business ... not to mention insulted and disappointed a living legend. "MR. BURNS," he called out on stage, "If you don't give me my regular introduction, I won't be able to work." BURNS looked at BOBBY's sad expression and then came out to talk to the audience. "This little boy just lost $1800," he said, and then told the audience the entire story. When he finished, he asked the audience if they felt BOBBY should be punished or forgiven. The crowd voted for forgiveness, at which point BURNS went over to BOBBY, gave him a big hug and then gave his normal introduction. BOBBY went on to give a great performance that night and ... legend says ... never gambled again.
Beginning in late 1959, BOBBY DARIN was finding it necessary to have oxygen tanks brought backstage after his performances. He would go out and put on one of the most energetic shows ever, putting everything he had into each performance ... and then collapse backstage afterwards. It became part of a regular medical routine that would follow him for the rest of his performing days.
BOBBY's brash cockiness was legendary ... he once told THE SATURDAY EVENING POST that "there is a difference between conceit and egotism ... conceit is thinking you're great; egotism is KNOWING it." When DARIN told the press "I want to make it faster than anyone has ever made it before ... I'd like to be a legend by the time I'm twenty-five years old," they took this as simply one more obnoxious comment ... but, in fact, BOBBY had his career planned around the medical time-table he personally had to contend with.
By 1960, BOBBY was coming off the biggest hit of his career. He followed MACK THE KNIFE's nine week run at Number One with another classic show-stopper ... the French tune LA MER was remade into BEYOND THE SEA and BOBBY was quickly back in The Top Ten. (It peaked at #6 in Billboard.) Other Top 20 National Hits followed: CLEMENTINE (#13 in Cash Box), WON'T YOU COME HOME BILL BAILEY (#16, Cash Box), ARTIFICIAL FLOWERS (#19, Cash Box), LAZY RIVER (#14, Billboard), YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY (#5, Billboard), IRRESISTIBLE YOU (#15, Billboard) and THINGS (#3, Billboard) kept BOBBY DARIN in the public eye (and on the radio) for the next couple of years.
BOBBY was pretty busy in 1960 ... with his breakthrough LP THAT'S ALL still on the charts, he went on to release FOUR more albums that year: THIS IS DARIN (in January), DARIN AT THE COPA (a fitting live LP released in July), the surprisingly titled FOR TEENAGERS ONLY just two months later (after spending all that time to change his image and capture an older audience, this one doesn't make ANY sense at all!) and, barely 30 days after that, THE 25th DAY OF DECEMBER, his Christmas album! Besides these commercially released albums, he recorded enough additional material to fill two more LPs, which sat in the can until 1963 and 1964 and were released after Bobby had already left the label.
He also became one of the biggest money-makers and largest draws in Las Vegas and nightclubs all over the country. In between all this success, he found time to marry movie star SANDRA DEE and, the following year, father a child ... their son DODD.
After headlining at THE COPA, BOBBY DARIN was offered a sweet deal to return to THE SANDS HOTEL in Las Vegas ... $300,000 for a three-year deal ... 12 weeks (or $25,000 a week) ... big money in those days. At the same time, he was also offered a supporting role in the motion picture CRY FOR HAPPY, starring GLENN FORD. (BOBBY had already done a cameo in the movie PEPE, playing himself and singing THAT'S HOW IT WENT ALL RIGHT in a nightclub scene ... but this was a REAL acting role ... something he had been waiting for his whole life.) Amazingly, at EXACTLY the same time, GEORGE BURNS asked him back as his opening act. At this point in his career, BOBBY didn't have to settle for anything less than a headlining spot but, out of loyalty to his mentor, he canceled the picture and the SANDS deal to appear with BURNS for $7500 a week instead. This was a side of BOBBY DARIN that was NOT reported in the press.
He wouldn't have to put his acting career on hold for long, however ... by the end of the Summer of 1960, he was signed to appear in a key supporting role in the motion picture COME SEPTEMBER, behind ROCK HUDSON and GINA LOLLOBRIGIDA in the lead roles and America's Sweetheart, dream-girl-next-door SANDRA DEE as his love interest. BOBBY had NO idea just how much this role would change his life! DARIN even wrote the title song for the film.
By 1960, 16 year old SANDRA DEE had already made seven motion pictures, including the classics GIDGET and A SUMMER PLACE. She was a bonafide movie star and, on the very first day BOBBY was introduced to her, he asked her to marry him. Her reply was, "Not today." BOBBY never stopped trying and over the three months they spent together making COME SEPTEMBER, he asked her again several more times ... eventually winning her over.
Shortly after the picture wrapped, BOBBY and SANDY were married ... in old pal DON KIRSHNER's apartment at three in the morning on December 1, 1960, to avoid the hounding press. One year later, they had a son, who they named DODD (BOBBY's nickname while growing up.)
Although BOBBY wanted a pure and innocent girl for his totally devoted wife, he was hardly a monk ... again, believing that he only had a short time to live, he was determined to have as much fun sexually as he could in the time he had left. No matter how strong his feelings may have been for CONNIE, JOANN or SANDY (all of whom he professed his undying love to, proposing to each one), BOBBY continued to have sex with other women. One well-circulated story is that at the age of 18, he was taken under the wing of a dancer, an older woman, who asked him to play bongos in her act and travel with her to South America. They never went to South America, but for the best part of two years, DARIN lived with this woman as her "boy-toy." Everytime he tried to leave, she threatened to commit suicide and, in fact, on two occasions BOBBY saved her life from such an attempt. After two years of craziness, he finally left and, years later, the woman DID succeed in killing herself. After the relationship ended, BOBBY publicly said, "Before I met her, I was just like any kid in the Bronx. Afterward, I was the most disillusioned human being in the world ... but I was no kid."
SANDRA DEE was EXACTLY what BOBBY was looking for ... a sweet, innocent, pure, beautiful girl (who just happened to be a movie star!) BOBBY had previously proposed to both CONNIE FRANCIS and JOANN CAMPBELL, who also fit this description, but neither one of these two other girls were willing to put their careers on hold and remain in the shadow of BOBBY's spotlight.
Over the years, SANDRA DEE has admitted to having been sexually abused as a young girl by her step-father and becoming both anorexic and an alcoholic. The pressure of always looking thin for her modeling (and later, movie) career forced her to eat nothing more than a salad for most meals. In fact, SANDRA can attribute her first taste of alcohol to sitting at the head table at one of BOBBY's concert performances. (BOBBY insisted that she be there at EVERY show ... sitting right up front where the audience could see his beautiful, loyal, "trophy" wife.) After putting her own career on hold to appease her husband, she was quickly up to several drinks a night ... medicine to endure BOBBY's night-after-night repetitive stage act no doubt. She quit for about a year when she found out she was pregnant ... but then started back in full force again once the baby was born.
When SANDRA DEE was just 15 years old, her stepfather told AMERICAN WEEKLY magazine that he married SANDRA's mother "...just to get to SANDY." In fact, truer words may never have been spoken. DEE says her stepfather began sexually molesting and abusing her as early as the age of five when she used to sleep between her parents in bed. Amazingly, she never told her mother (but always suspected that she must have known ... to her dying day, DEE's mother said she had no idea and even insinuated that SANDY may have made the whole thing up.) The truth was, she loved her stepfather and was pleased at how happy he made her mother. She used to say "When we married daddy ..." something truly ironic in hindsight.
Just as ironically, there has been speculation for years that the way BOBBY DARIN finally got SANDRA DEE to go out with him while filming in Italy was to first win over SANDY's mother. There has even been some speculation that they were intimate ... something that even SANDRA DEE acknowledges COULD be a possibility.
During the courtship process, BOBBY began sending SANDY 18 YELLOW ROSES every day. (This would, coincidentally, become the name of one of his biggest hit records in 1963.) BOBBY's composition certainly had a country feel to it and it would have felt every bit at home if sung by MARTY ROBBINS (who also cut the track) or ROY ORBISON ... but it was a Top Ten BOBBY DARIN hit all the way! It followed his #3 Country-Flavored Hit YOU'RE THE REASON I'M LIVING (certainly a nod to RAY CHARLES and his country hits like I CAN'T STOP LOVING YOU) up the charts.
SANDRA DEE was next scheduled to star in the teen movie TAMMY TELL ME TRUE when she realized that she was pregnant. In fact, with virtually NO film experience under his belt, BOBBY went in to renegotiate SANDY's film contract (and successfully did so, I might add!) The fact that SANDRA DEE was also the nation's Number One Box Office Female at the time probably didn't hurt either!!! (DARIN just couldn't understand how he could earn $25,000+ per week performing in nightclubs yet SANDY only earned $50,000 a YEAR as a contract player.)
BOBBY and SANDRA's marriage began to show problems right at the start. Once the honeymoon was over, the honeymoon was over so-to-speak. BOBBY immediately went back to work and was soon touring the country again. SANDY still wanted 18 YELLOW ROSES to arrive every day. He wanted her at all of his appearances ... not only to cheer him on but also to be able to show her off. He also wanted SANDY to entertain many of the celebrities in the audience who showed up each night to catch his performances. Soon, the animosity began to spill over. Often, backstage right before BOBBY was scheduled to go on, SANDRA would make a snide comment about his toupee being on crooked ... just enough to alter his focus prior to his big opening number.
Over the years, they would have several periods of separation, but would always seem to get back together again. Their doomed marriage was often the cover story on many of the movie tabloids of the day. Nearly as often, the DARINS would file lawsuits against these publications in an effort to maintain some level of privacy in their personal lives.
BOBBY needed to command all the attention and needed "down" time after his performances ... he would have his closest friends with him backstage and SANDRA was never able to accept this part of their life. SHE wanted to be the center of BOBBY's attention and often made comments about his "hanger-on" friends. Once (and only once), BOBBY was so upset he slapped SANDRA hard and sent her flying across the room, telling her to NEVER insult his friends again. By 1964, BOBBY and SANDRA had split up so often that, when it came time to send out invitations for one of their big Hollywood parties, several of the invited celebrity guests called first to see whether or not they were together that weekend or not!!!
When SANDRA started making movies again, BOBBY became jealous of her successful movie career ... he wanted to be a big movie star, too, and many feel he only pursued music as the springboard to making movies. After three years of marriage, SANDRA was still only 19 years old. When the opportunity came to costar with WARREN BEATTY in the film THAT FUNNY FEELING, BOBBY became jealous and admitted that "Once you grow up, you won't need me anymore." (The movie rags at the time were full of stories about the "secret" love affair between SANDRA DEE and WARREN BEATTY. DEE denies that anything ever happened.) BEATTY ultimately backed out of the film ... and SANDY reccommended to the studio execs that BOBBY take over the lead role. DARIN was torn between taking a role his wife got for him ... and being the lead actor in a major motion picture. His ego quickly got the better of him and soon he and his wife were costarring together in the film. SANDY had hoped that working together would strengthen their marriage ... instead, shortly thereafter, BOBBY announced that he didn't "want to be married anymore," packed his belongings, and left.
In fact, it seemed that every time SANDY was about to start work on another movie, BOBBY felt it was time to leave. Whether it was a case of feeling threatened by her movie career ... or jealousy ... no one can say for sure ... but by 1966 it was over for good.
On March 7, 1967, BOBBY and SANDRA were officially divorced. BOBBY's declaration that "I don't want to be married anymore" was the crux of the case ... no further explanation ever came up. Surprisingly, over the next several years, BOBBY and SANDY would still be together many times ... BOBBY even stayed at the house on several extended occasions, and proclaimed to the press that they were happier now than when they were married. But SANDRA DEE was not happy ... the only man she ever loved was gone.
GEORGE BURNS-Part 2: When BOBBY so gallantly agreed to pass up the movie role in CRY FOR HAPPY (and turned down $25,000 per week to appear at THE SANDS as a headliner) it was a far more noble move than might appear. Back in the earliest days of his nightclub career, GEORGE BURNS was paying BOBBY $1750 a week to learn the ropes ... and BOBBY was happy to get it. After hits like MACK THE KNIFE and winning a couple of GRAMMY AWARDS, BOBBY certainly didn't need to play second-fiddle to ANYONE ... yet he STILL turned down the two more lucrative (and career-advancing) offers to appear with BURNS as his opening act. Truth is, GEORGE BURNS laid a pretty heavy guilt trip on BOBBY DARIN. BOBBY was sure his old friend would find a replacement for him, especially in light of the circumstances. BURNS, however, tore into BOBBY, criticizing him for his irresponsibility in not honoring the old contract. "If I were still paying you peanuts and you had a chance to better yourself, I wouldn't think twice about it, but for the kind of money I'm paying you (BURNS had raised BOBBY's take to $7500 per week), you have a responsibility to me!" (BURNS had NO idea that BOBBY took a $17,500 per week paycut to open for his old friend ... but that's exactly what BOBBY did ... and he never told him.) "I'm sorry, MR. BURNS ... you'll have me in Vegas with you," he said.
BOBBY DARIN's first love, they say, was acting. He looked at his singing career as a stepping stone to making it in the movies. In truth, BOBBY wanted to be the biggest all-around entertainer on the planet ... he wanted to conquer ALL entertainment mediums ... and succeeded in doing so. (DARIN was the King Of All Media before HOWARD STERN ever even signed on the air!!!) Besides his impressive musical career (25 Top 40 National Hits, 2 Grammy Awards, and sold-out, record-breaking concert performances), BOBBY also became quite an actor.
His first appearance on the silver screen came in 1960, when he played himself in a cameo-role in the film PEPE, where he performed the song THAT'S HOW IT WENT ALL RIGHT on stage in a nightclub scene. (That single, by the way, released on COLPIX RECORDS, is one of BOBBY's rarest sides, currently worth about $45.)
His big break came, of course, with COME SEPTEMBER in 1961. It was during the making of this film that BOBBY met his wife SANDRA DEE. The following year he starred opposite STELLA STEVENS in TOO LATE BLUES and then, later that year, he appeared in the remake of the RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN film STATE FAIR, opposite fellow musical teen idol stars PAT BOONE and ANN-MARGRET.
He then tackled a few more dramatic roles, most notably HELL IS FOR HEROES (starring STEVE McQUEEN) and PRESSURE POINT (starring SIDNEY POITIER). During the filming of HELL IS FOR HEROES, a comment was made by a reporter that STEVE McQUEEN was "his own worst enemy" to which BOBBY replied "Not as long as I'm around." (LOL) The two did NOT get along during the making of this film, yet BOBBY and SIDNEY POITIER became friends for life after filming PRESSURE POINT. BOBBY won RAVE reviews for his portrayal of the psychotic patient in the latter film (and I was lucky enough to recently find a copy on EBay for only $6!!!) In this film, BOBBY shows the depth of a much more seasoned actor ... but this was just a hint of what was yet to come.
The following year, DARIN was nominated for an ACADEMY AWARD for his portrayal of CORPORAL JIM TOMPKINS in the film CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. This time, he co-starred with film veterans GREGORY PECK, TONY CURTIS, EDDIE ALBERT, ANGIE DICKINSON, ROBERT DUVALL and DICK SARGENT (yes ... the OTHER Darren on BEWITCHED! How Cool ... DARIN and Darren ... in the SAME motion picture!) In fact, a few years later, BOBBY DARIN would compose a good chunk of the music used in the teen-film THE LIVELY SET, starring fellow teen idol JAMES DARREN ... so now you had a case of JAMES DARREN singing the songs of BOBBY DARIN in the film!!! At the 36th Annual Academy Awards, broadcast on April 13, 1964, BOBBY was nominated for BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMATIC ROLE. Amazingly, just a few years earlier, DARIN had boasted to his High School friends that someday he was going to win an Academy Award, viewed at the time as just another sign of BOBBY's massive ego!!! Now here it was ... just eight years later ... and he was actually nominated for one!!!
His competition that night was NICK ADAMS, MELVYN DOUGLAS, HUGH GRIFFITH and JOHN HUSTON. He lost the award to DOUGLAS for his role in the classic PAUL NEWMAN film, HUD.
DARIN did his show-stopping scene in CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. in one take. In fact, he purposely made a lunch reservation, putting additional pressure on himself to nail it in the first go-round. Costar ANGIE DICKINSON was moved to tears after watching BOBBY's performance ... and it's believed that this one scene locked his Academy Award nomination.
DARIN also costarred opposite his wife SANDRA DEE in two more pictures: IF A MAN ANSWERS (which was written specifically for the husband and wife duo ... BOBBY again wrote the title song, a #28 hit in 1962) and THAT FUNNY FEELING, their final film together, which costarred DONALD O'CONNOR, one of BOBBY's all-time idols. (We told you earlier how DARIN was cast after WARREN BEATTY backed out of the role!) BOBBY was later asked to perform the theme song to the WALT DISNEY motion picture THAT DARN CAT! in his swingin', finger-snappin' style. He also composed and recorded AMY (and some incidental background music) for his OWN film GUNFIGHT AT ABILENE, which starred LESLIE NIELSEN. (This movie received SUCH bad reviews that for the rest of his career BOBBY only referred to it as GUNFIGHT AT SHIT CREEK!)
He continued to dabble in films into the early '70's, starring in HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY ... LOVE, GEORGE in 1973 with PATRICIA NEAL, CLORIS LEACHMAN and RON HOWARD. (His plans to make his OWN movie, THE VENDORS, never really materialized. DARIN poured vast amounts of his time and money into the making of this film, which was never finished and released. From the sounds of things, this is GOOD news ... the film was reportedly a disaster!)
DIDJAKNOW?: The concept for BOBBY's film THE VENDORS dated back to 1966 ... in fact, at one time THE BYRD's leader / guitarist ROGER McGUINN was considered for the lead role. (McGUINN played guitar in BOBBY's back-up band in the early '60's. He had told BOBBY that he wanted to get into movies but by 1966 THE BYRDS were a very well known folk / rock act.) DARIN considered the role to be the perfect springboard for a film career ... hell, it had worked for him! However, the role of a heroin addict / junkie wasn't something McGUINN wanted to be associated with for the rest of his career and, at the very last minute, he backed out. DARIN sent him the bill for a lost day of shooting!
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: According to the new BOBBY DARIN biography written by MICHAEL SETH STARR, BOBBY was the original choice to play "FAST EDDIE" FELSON in the classic '60's film THE HUSTLER, co-starring with another of his old mentors, JACKIE GLEASON. (Screenplay writer ROBERT ROSSEN felt that BOBBY conveyed the perfect "attitude" for the role.) Just prior to contracts being signed, PAUL NEWMAN became available ... and 20th CENTURY FOX decided to go with a "name" actor for the role instead. NEWMAN's turn as the young pool hustler went on to become a landmark role in his illustrious career.
MORE MOVIE NEWS: In BOTH of the new BOBBY DARIN biographies released in November of 2004 (just prior to the release of the film BEYOND THE SEA), actress STELLA STEVENS tells the story of her on-screen kiss with BOBBY DARIN in the film TOO LATE BLUES. Apparently the moment was a little bit too erotic for BOBBY to handle ... and, according to STEVENS, he reacted to the scene with the ULTIMATE salute! When several other stagehands working on the film noticed BOBBY's reaction, DARIN had to "walk it off" and reshoot the scene! (By the way, in a case of turn-about is fair play, BOBBY scored the part in TOO LATE BLUES that was originally supposed to be played by MONTGOMERY CLIFT. CLIFT backed out of the role when his alcoholism got the better of him and DARIN was quickly brought in to fill the void.) Playing the part of an idealistic jazz pianist, BOBBY was probably a more-appropriate choice. It became his first dramatic role. Ironically, STELLA STEVENS had just completed filming GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS with ELVIS PRESLEY ... so, once again ... just like with STAGE SHOW ... BOBBY followed in The King's footsteps!
DIDJAKNOW?: Speaking of ELVIS, he was QUITE the BOBBY DARIN fan ... and would try to catch BOBBY's act in Vegas every chance he could!
DIDJAKNOW?: DARIN's manager STEVE BLAUNER purposely billed his client "below the title" of the movie CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. BLAUNER felt that any actor named ABOVE the title would only qualify for a Best Actor Academy Award Nomination. By billing BOBBY BELOW the title, he felt certain that he'd be a shoe-in for a Best Supporting Actor nod ... and the gamble paid off. Despite his comments to the contrary (at the time, BLAUNER said he didn't want to mislead BOBBY's fans by thinking he had a major role in the film when, in fact, he's only on screen for about twenty minutes) this move was VERY calculated ... and it worked.
DIDJAKNOW?: HURRICANE CARLA struck while DARIN was filming the remake of STATE FAIR in Dallas. Moved by the devastation, BOBBY decided to do a charity / fund-raising concert at THE MAJESTIC THEATRE to raise money for the hurricane victims ... and raised $65,000!
In 1962, BOBBY signed a new recording deal with CAPITOL RECORDS, at the time, the highest-paying record deal in history. BOBBY felt that by signing with one of the MAJOR record labels, he could further advance his career. However, for the most part, his albums stopped selling. BOBBY's style kept changing ... from the big-band sounds of OH! LOOK AT ME NOW to the country flavor of YOU'RE THE REASON I'M LIVING and 18 YELLOW ROSES to his first experimentation in the folk vein with EARTHY! and GOLDEN FOLK HITS ... nobody seemed sure just WHICH BOBBY DARIN to listen to! This was also reflected on the pop singles chart ... while YOU'RE THE REASON I'M LIVING and 18 YELLOW ROSES both hit The Top Ten, BOBBY wouldn't have another record chart that high again until 1966 ... after he returned to the ATLANTIC family! (When he realized that he was going to lose BOBBY to a larger label, AHMET ERTEGUN told him "Remember ... you can always come home.)
CAPITOL RECORDS was also disappointed ... ironically, after all of the comparisons (good, bad and otherwise) that had haunted and hounded him for the past several years, one of the MAIN reasons that BOBBY was signed to CAPITOL RECORDS in the first place was to replace FRANK SINATRA, who had recently left to start his own record label, REPRISE RECORDS. (And, despite all the supposed animosity between these two artists, there are also rumors that SINATRA tried to steer BOBBY over to HIS new label, too!) In all fairness, CAPITOL didn't really pull out all of the stops to promote BOBBY either ... some of his albums were released without so much as a picture of DARIN on the cover! They were confused ... DARIN's albums started to contain more and more "cover songs" of the day. When he finally recorded the HELLO DOLLY album in 1964, the title track was viewed as more of a rehashing of MACK THE KNIFE ... old news. He even brought back RICHARD WESS to do the arrangement but the "MACK" opening bass line along with the "Look out ol' Dolly is back" closing just didn't cut it when compared to the original. The record died. (LOUIS ARMSTRONG had already topped the Pop Charts with HIS version of HELLO DOLLY in 1964 ... but DARIN may have figured that he'd done just fine covering ARMSTRONG's 1956 Hit MACK THE KNIFE back in 1959 so what the hell!!!)
No matter how much pressure BOBBY was putting on himself regarding "making it" in time ... don't forget, he wanted to be a legend by the age of 25 ... he really wasn't doing too badly. After winning a couple of GRAMMY AWARDS in 1959, selling four gold records and playing to sold-out crowds at the most prestigious nightclubs around the country, he was signed to a seven picture motion picture deal ... and soon would become the youngest star to ever host his own television special. Yet in BOBBY's eyes, it still wasn't enough. Imagine the heartbreak he must have felt when TIME MAGAZINE ran an article under the heading "Two And A Half Months To Go" a couple of months before his 25th birthday, a direct reference to his earlier comment about wanting to establish himself as a legend by the age of 25. (The cynical press always perceived that goal as a boast anyway ... printing THEIR interpretation that BOBBY had vowed "I WILL be a legend by the time I'm 25.")
BOBBY was driven by his illness ... he always felt that if he was going to make it big, he'd have to do it NOW ... there was just no certainty as to how much time he had left.
BOBBY DARIN became the youngest performer to headline his own television special when, on January 30, 1961, he hosted BOBBY DARIN AND FRIENDS, a program written, produced and directed by NORMAN LEAR and BUD YORKIN, the guys who would go on to create ALL IN THE FAMILY ten years later! Legendary comedian BOB HOPE was a guest on BOBBY's show!!!
On July 23, 1963, BOBBY performed at the outdoor venue Freedomland in the Bronx. It was a homecoming of sorts for the determined performer who vowed to overcome the stereotype of the Bronx boys who were born there, lived there and died there. Performing in the pouring rain, BOBBY was rushed to Mt. Sinai Hospital after the performance, his heart beating erratically. He was forced to cancel several other concert appearances but opened at The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas a month later in August. In October, he would retire from the nightclub stage. It was a last ditch effort to save his marriage. He wanted to spend more time at home with his wife and infant son and felt the rigors of the road were more than his health and marriage could withstand. He would make movies instead (including a couple more with SANDY). Besides, he had a NEW hobby ... BOBBY had just purchased TRINITY MUSIC, a publishing house. BOBBY DARIN was now going to become a music mogul like his old songwriting partner DON KIRSHNER!
A couple of great BOBBY DARIN tracks from this era include BOBBY's version of HELLO DOLLY (mentioned above), DARIN's version of the classic NATURE BOY, a #1 Hit for one of BOBBY's singing idols, NAT KING COLE, back in 1948. (DARIN released his TOTALLY different arrangement as a single in 1961 ... it went to #31 on the Cash Box Chart ... but he took a little flack from the critics ... and Nat King Cole himself ... for losening up the arrangement. Personally, I think it's one of Bobby's finest recordings and interpretations ... it just shows you how he was able to bring something new and interesting to every recording session.) He also cut a version of a song that would go on to become a jazz instrumental classic a few years later for both THE RAMSEY LEWIS TRIO and HERB ALPERT AND THE TIJUANA BRASS ... WADE IN THE WATER. When it was done up BOBBY DARIN-style, it became WAIT BY THE WATER, one of his earliest CAPITOL releases. And finally, look for a fun little piece called THE SERMON OF SAMSON ... featuring some FINE musical preaching by BOBBY D!
BOBBY felt that by giving up performing and traveling, he could devote his time to his new publishing company and his family. He even located offices in the BRILL BUILDING in New York (home to his old buddy, DON KIRSHNER and HIS stable of songwriters) and in the CAPITOL RECORDS Building in L.A., who now held BOBBY's recording contract.
BOBBY DARIN purchased TRINITY MUSIC in 1963. He quickly invested half a million dollars of his own money, opening up satellite offices all over the world. At the time, TRINITY had over 700 music titles to its name, including most of BOBBY's original compositions. His stable of songwriters included TERRY MELCHER, KENNY YOUNG, FRANK GARI, ARTIE RESNICK, RUDY CLARK, VAN McCOY, BOBBY SCOTT and DEBBIE STANLEY.
Inspired by the success of his old pal DON KIRSHNER (who had GERRY GOFFIN and CAROLE KING, NEIL DIAMOND, BARRY MANN and CYNTHIA WEIL, JEFF BARRY and ELLIE GREENWICH and several other BRILL BUILDING songwriters under his belt), BOBBY began devoting all of his time to working in his publishing office. It was a final effort to save his marriage, keeping him closer to home yet still involved with the music business.
By late-1963 / early-1964, BOBBY had not only published his own hit records YOU'RE THE REASON I'M LIVING and 18 YELLOW ROSES, but also the hits UNDER THE BOARDWALK for THE DRIFTERS, THE SHOOP SHOOP SONG for BETTY EVERETT and HEY LITTLE COBRA and THREE WINDOW COUPE for THE RIP CHORDS.
Along the way, BOBBY also auditioned two young brothers ... in fact, he was very impressed with the younger brother, and suggested that the young man leave the brother act for a solo career. (Proving once again how all this stuff is tied together, BOBBY first saw the act when they appeared on THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW!) DARIN even promised to find the right song to launch the young man's career. When DANKE SCHOEN came across his desk a few months later, BOBBY DARIN passed up what most CERTAINLY would have been his own next Top Ten Hit and, instead, offered it to a 21 year old WAYNE NEWTON. It shot up to #12 on the National Charts and launched NEWTON's career. (DARIN would eventually record DANKE SCHOEN himself in 1965 ... but that recording still sits in the can at CAPITOL RECORDS, never having been released! Give a close listen to this one again and see how much it was patterned after MACK THE KNIFE!)
NEWTON would pay back the favor several years later when, after a long hiatus from show business spent at Big Sur, BOBBY decided to return to the Las Vegas strip ... NEWTON ("Mr. Vegas") pulled a few strings and got DARIN a VERY lucrative contract at THE DESERT INN. (Bobby Darin was always there to help out a young kid with talent. Singer TONY ORLANDO credits Bobby with taking him in during the early stages of his career and showing him the ropes of show business. A decade later TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN with have their own string of hit singles, a television series and bookings to sell out crowds in Las Vegas, just as their mentor did several years before.)
In November of 1963, BOBBY was guesting on THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW. During rehearsals, the word came that PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY had been shot. Devastated, GARLAND ran off the set and didn't return to work for days. She finally came back three days later to film the program. BOBBY, ever the consummate performer, couldn't understand how GARLAND could not show up for work ... whatever happened to "The Show Must Go On?!?!?!" (Of course, by then, BOBBY would go out and give the performance of his life, come back stage to be hooked up to an oxygen tank ... scarf down a high-protein steak dinner ... and then go out to do the second show with another knock 'em dead performance. He couldn't understand how any other SERIOUS entertainer wouldn't have done the same!) But, despite this brave front, the truth is that BOBBY was ALSO devastated by the news ... and, from this point forward, he would be much more politically aware ... and involved.
DIDJAKNOW?: DANKE SCHOEN was offered to BOBBY DARIN as a rare, exclusive recording opportunity. BOBBY's producer, NIK VENET, first heard the song performed as an instrumental while vacationing in Europe. Famed German orchestra leader BERT KAEMPFERT (who hit #1 here in the States back in 1961 with WONDERLAND BY NIGHT, took THE BEATLES into the recording studio for the very first time in Hamburg to cut MY BONNIE with TONY SHERIDAN and co-wrote the #1 Hit STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT for none other than FRANK SINATRA) composed and performed the German Hit version of DANKE SCHOEN and VENET was interested in the song as a track for an upcoming RAY ANTHONY album he was producing. When he was informed by the publisher that English lyrics were being written, it was suggested that this would make a PERFECT BOBBY DARIN record. VENET was given an unheard of exclusive: no other American recording artist or producer would be allowed to even HEAR the song until after DARIN's record was released. BOBBY reportedly recorded the song ... and then wiped his vocal off the record and gave it to WAYNE NEWTON to sing. Despite HUGE objections by the publisher, it became a smash ... and NEWTON's signature song, just like MACK THE KNIFE was BOBBY's. (By the way, if ANYBODY out there has a copy of BOBBY DARIN singing DANKE SCHOEN, I'd LOVE to hear it!!!) DARIN went on to produce and oversee several other WAYNE NEWTON records, including the highly collectible COMIN' ON TOO STRONG, written by surf music legend (and BRIAN WILSON crony) GARY USHER. (Truth is, it'd be pretty hard to rip-off ol' BRIAN WILSON better than USHER did on this track!) NEWTON's vocal is barely detectable behind the overpowering BEACH BOYS-sounding BRUCE AND TERRY background vocals ... in fact, WAYNE reportedly asked CAPITOL to take the single off the market since he couldn't reproduce the sound on stage! BOBBY also had WAYNE record a couple of songs by a couple of songwriters who, by 1964-1965 standards anyway, were a little before their time ... and their prime: in 1964, he cut TOO LATE TO MEET, a tune written by DAVID GATES, six years before he'd hit #1 as the frontman for '70's softrock sensation BREAD ... and, in 1965, NEWTON cut a song called THEY'LL NEVER KNOW, written by an 18-year-old BARRY GIBB ... two years before THE BEE GEES would first make a dent on the U.S. Charts!
BY THE WAY: Just after our BOBBY DARIN series went out the first time, TERRY MELCHER passed away after a long battle with skin cancer. We did not update our series to reflect this sad news. but wanted to at least mention it somewhere along the way. MELCHER produced THE BYRDS and PAUL REVERE AND THE RAIDERS and recorded successfully with future BEACH BOYS / BRIAN WILSON replacement BRUCE JOHNSTON as both BRUCE AND TERRY and THE RIP CHORDS. His BEACH BOYS connection remained intact for the next three decades: MELCHER cowrote their #1 smash hit KOKOMO.)
TRINITY MUSIC proved to be a lucrative business venture for BOBBY DARIN. In addition to writing The Top Five DRIFTERS' smash UNDER THE BOARDWALK, staff writer RUDY CLARK also wrote their follow-up hit I'VE GOT SAND IN MY SHOES and, two years later, had a Number One Record when THE YOUNG RASCALS recorded his composition GOOD LOVIN'. BETTY EVERETT's recording of CLARK's THE SHOOP SHOOP SONG has gone on to become a '60's classic. TERRY MELCHER would write two Top 40 Hits for THE RIP CHORDS (HEY LITTLE COBRA, #4, and THREE WINDOW COUPE, #28) and DARIN also brought JESSE COLIN YOUNG and ROGER McGUINN onboard as staff writers. (Ironically, TERRY MELCHER would leave the fold a couple of years later to produce McGUINN's hot new group THE BYRDS!) And, as quite the songwriter himself, BOBBY DARIN also adapted to the sound of the times, co-writing HOT ROD USA with TERRY MELCHER for THE RIP CHORDS and publishing BEACH GIRL (a BRUCE JOHNSTON - TERRY MELCHER composition) for fellow '50's teen-idol (and STATE FAIR co-star) PAT BOONE!
But then THE BRITISH INVASION hit and most of the stars who enjoyed HUGE recording careers in the late '50's and early '60's couldn't get their songs played on the radio. Despite BOBBY's own failure to place a hit record on the charts during the BRITISH INVASION, GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS had a Top 15 Hit with his composition I'LL BE THERE , THE DAVE CLARK FIVE resurrected BOBBY's hit (and closely followed his arrangement on) YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY (which itself was a remake of a 1938 #1 BING CROSBY song) and THE SEARCHERS had a Top 40 British hit with BOBBY's WHEN I GET HOME.
After the divorce (he nearly lost TRINITY MUSIC in the divorce settlement but ultimately convinced SANDRA DEE that without his involvement, it wouldn't be worth a dime), BOBBY DARIN returned to the stage in January of 1966 after a two year layoff. He opened at THE FLAMINGO HOTEL in Las Vegas and was quickly reinstated as one of the top draws (and highest paid performers) on the strip.
BY THE WAY: BOBBY ultimately sold TRINITY MUSIC in 1968 to COMMONWEALTH UNITED CORPORATION for $1.3 Million. (Considering the fact that he bought the company for $500,000 five years before ... and earned royalties on all the hits we've mentioned along the way ... I'd say BOBBY realized a pretty good return on his investment.) However, when it came time to collect the money, he took $300,000 in cash to pay out to his lawyers and to the officers of the company ... but then took HIS $1,000,000 share in CUC stock and lost ALL of it a few months later when that stock dropped through the floor.
While his own songs and new recordings were virtually being ignored on the radio during THE BRITISH INVASION years, BOBBY still managed to make his music known through other artists.
The BOBBY DARIN B-Side I'LL BE THERE went on to become a #14 hit for GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS when they released it as a single in 1964. THE DAVE CLARK FIVE cut a pretty faithful arrangement of BOBBY's version of YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY, previously a #1 Hit for BING CROSBY back in 1938, as the follow-up to their Top Ten Smash YOU GOT WHAT IT TAKES. Their version of BEAUTIFUL BABY stopped at #35. WHEN I GET HOME is an original Darin tune that THE SEARCHERS took to #35 on the British Charts in 1965. DARIN also released the song as a single in 1965 and this one ABSOLUTELY should have been a hit!!! (It never even charted.) Released at a time when late '50's / early '60's American acts couldn't buy a hit, THE SEARCHERS obviously heard what the rest of us missed and ran with it. Truth be told, I prefer the BOBBY DARIN non-hit version of this song over THE SEARCHERS' British Top 40 charter.
A similar "shoulda-been" has got to be BOBBY's TREAT MY BABY GOOD from 1963. This one actually snuck into Cash Box's Top 40, peaking at #38. (It was a #20 Hit here in Chicago.) The follow-up single, BE MAD LITTLE GIRL, fared even worse, peaking at #64. (This one hit #34 in Chi-Town.) When all these tunes failed to make any noticeable chart impression, BOBBY and CAPITOL parted ways. He returned to ATLANTIC RECORDS in 1966 and had his first National Top Ten Hit in three years. (AHMET ERTEGUN always told BOBBY that he could "come home" ... so that's exactly what he did!)
DIDJAKNOW?: When THE BRITISH INVASION hit, BOBBY really liked the new sounds and could appreciate the talent of the band members writing their own material ... even though it spelled the end of the old BRILL BUILDING era of song-pitching. In fact, the first time he saw THE ROLLING STONES perform, he commented that MICK JAGGER would have a HUGE career in Vegas ... because, at that time, Vegas is where ALL the big stars ended up! No one was ready yet for this new musical revolution ... and who'd have thought that 50 years later, THE STONES would still be playing to sold out audiences all over the country ... and getting upwards of $300+ a ticket to do so!!!
In November of 1965, BOBBY DARIN contracted pneumonia and he was not expected to survive. The limits of BOBBY's fragile health were once again driven home ... the elusive "30" mark was only a year away ... BOBBY needed to make his mark soon. Since the age of eight, BOBBY took sulfa drugs every day. He required an oxygen tank after every performance. His goal of being a legend at the age of 25 was now five years past due and soon the press was mocking him ... the NEW YORK POST even ran an article with a headline blasting "Egotist Bobby Darin At Thirty," noting that "This Saturday is his 30th birthday ... it is NOT a national holiday." DARIN had alienated many in the press over the years ... and these blows cut deep at this stage of his career, especially when coupled with his on-going health problems. When one reporter asked DARIN what he hoped to be doing in ten years, a now much more humble BOBBY answered, "I hope to BE 40!" (A famous DARIN quote from around this time was: "It isn't true that you live only once. You only die once. You live lots of times if you know how." Spoken from BOBBY's perspective, you gain some insight into what drove this man, sentenced as he was to his medical timetable.)
After surprising his doctors and his family by making what appeared to be a full recovery from pneumonia, BOBBY headed back to the stage. In March of 1966, he would celebrate his Tenth Anniversary in Show Business with a performance at the famous COCONUT GROVE. Hollywood welcomed BOBBY back with open arms. In the audience that night were celebrities like GEORGE BURNS, JACK BENNY, NANCY SINATRA, PAT BOONE, FRANKIE AVALON, ANDY WILLIAMS and CLAUDINE LONGET, EDDIE FISHER, MIA FARROW, BEN GAZZARA, VINCE EDWARDS, CONNIE STEVENS, MICHAEL CAINE, JULIET PROWSE, HENRY MANCINI and EDWARD G. ROBINSON. The minute SANDY saw the response to BOBBY's performance that night, she knew he was headed back on the road. BOBBY may have made it through pneumonia (with the help of expert medical attention and SANDY's loving care), but he truly LIVED on the stage. (She says that she also knew after this night that their marriage could not survive.)
Later in 1966, after three years with CAPITOL RECORDS (where he was able to manage just two Top Ten Hits), BOBBY "came home" to AHMET ERTEGUN and the ATLANTIC RECORDS family. Once home, he STILL couldn't seem to make a hit record. Finally, his fifth ATLATIC single, IF I WERE A CARPENTER, written by TIM HARDIN, clicked, becoming his first Top Ten Hit in three years, peaking at #8. Amazingly, once again, BOBBY found himself nominated for a GRAMMY. (This time, he lost the award for Best Contemporary Male Solo Vocal Performance to PAUL McCARTNEY's reading of ELEANOR RIGBY.) DARIN also cut a couple of other TIM HARDIN compositions that year ... one of them, REASON TO BELIEVE, would become a HUGE hit for ROD STEWART five years later, but BOBBY DARIN was one of the first (of many) artists put this one on record.
Although BOBBY DARIN received quite a bit of press for crossing over into the folk music genre in 1966 when he released the Top Ten Hit IF I WERE A CARPENTER, he had, in fact, dabbled in folk music earlier in his career.
It is said that the first time BOBBY DARIN heard the name BOB DYLAN, his first reaction was that the young singer / songwriter had attempted to rip-off his own stage name! (Ironically, a few years later, BOBBY would shorten his OWN name to BOB DARIN during the hottest-and-heaviest portion of his folk-phase career!)
DARIN fell in love with the music of DYLAN, and during his career would cut several of the "other" BOB's songs, including DON'T THINK TWICE and BLOWIN' IN THE WIND. (In fact, DARIN recorded DON'T THINK TWICE ... twice!!! First, for his GOLDEN FOLK HITS album in 1963 for CAPITOL and then again in the early '70's for his short stint on MOTOWN RECORDS ... it was included on the posthumously released album DARIN, 1936-1973.)
He also began to work some of the new folk music into his nightclub act. BOBBY would undo his tie, loosen his collar, grab a stool and a guitar and serenade the audience solo with some of his newfound tunes. This played to very mixed results. (Years later, dressed in denim and performing as either BOB DARIN or ROBERT DARIN, he would occasionally slip in MACK THE KNIFE to a room full of folkies, too!)
BOBBY's passion for folk music dates back several years. In late 1962, he went to see LENNY BRUCE perform at THE CRESCENDO in Los Angeles. THE CHAD MITCHELL TRIO were the opening act that night and BOBBY fell in love with the stylings of their guitarist. In fact, after the show was over, he went backstage to meet the band and offered the guitar player DOUBLE what he was currently making to join his own back-up band. As it turned out, the guitarist was bored with the music of the CHAD MITCHELL TRIO ... and was already considering an offer to join THE NEW CHRISTY MINSTRELS. DARIN persuaded him that he would be lost in the crowd of such a large outfit and that he would be better served "hooking up with me." And, that's how it came to be that future-BYRD ROGER McGUINN began playing guitar for BOBBY DARIN!
McGUINN takes credit for first introducing DARIN to the music of BOB DYLAN, all the more fitting in that THE BYRDS launched their career with a cover of the DYLAN song MR. TAMBOURINE MAN. Likewise, BOBBY's philosophy on rock and roll is said to have influenced ROGER McGUINN, prompting THE BYRDS to plug in their guitars and perform "electric" folk music, something that DYLAN himself would later do.
In hindsight, BOBBY DARIN has become quite the folk pioneer. He was one of the first artists to prominently feature the music of BOB DYLAN in his nightclub act and bridged the gap between rock and roll, big band and folk music ... truly alone in his league in doing so. Later, however, when mid-show he would slip off his tuxedo jacket to change into a denim one, he began to lose a good part of his audience in Las Vegas. However, he was one of the first pioneers to be accepted dressed in denim with his little four-piece band at "in" places like THE TROUBADOUR in Los Angeles, perhaps the hippest club in L.A.. Here he was able to play some of his new music and have it accepted for what it was ... honest, thought-provoking music with integrity. Artists like RICK NELSON and NEIL DIAMOND would soon follow in BOBBY's footsteps, performing at THE TROUBADOUR in an effort to showcase another side of THEIR music as well.
DARIN not only got wrapped up in the folk music scene, but also became quite a bit more politically involved around this time, showing up in Freedom Marches led by DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING and DICK GREGORY. He also became a HUGE supporter of BOBBY KENNEDY. He was often a featured performer at civil rights fund-raisers, taking the stage along side PETER, PAUL AND MARY, HARRY BELAFONTE, DICK GREGORY and others.
DIDJAKNOW?: As a rule, BOBBY DARIN didn't perform a lot of his own hits in Las Vegas, preferring instead to mix conteporary hits into the set.
Darin's reputation as a real go-getter kept his name of the tips of the tongues of many of the hot new acts dominating the charts back in the mid-60's. Back before THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL ever had a hit record of their own, the music of leader JOHN SEBASTIAN was offered to BOBBY DARIN to record. Despite his success finding hits for his publishing company TRINITY MUSIC, DARIN reportedly passed on the opportunity to record songs like DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC, DAYDREAM, YOUNGER GIRL and SUMMER IN THE CITY ... songs that today are considered '60's classics by one of the decade's premier, master songwriters.
After watching hit after hit climb the charts for THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL, DARIN finally took a stab at a couple of JOHN SEBASTIAN compositions for himself. His first success came in 1967 when his version of LOVIN' YOU went all the way to #32. (It was another Top 40 Hit after the comeback success of IF I WERE A CARPENTER ... in fact, it was SEBASTIAN's publishers CHARLES KOPPELMAN and DON RUBIN who first brought these songs to BOBBY's attention. They had been working with THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL, THE TURTLES and TIM HARDIN ... and IF I WERE A CARPENTER was another song that they ultimately convinced BOBBY to record.)
BOBBY virtually re-invented himself with these folk - rock / protest tunes. LOVIN' YOU, however, would be his last Top 40 Record. (He also eventually covered JOHN SEBASTIAN's DAYDREAM ... one of the songs he first turned down ... and released SEBASTIAN's DARLING BE HOME SOON as a single later that year ... it stopped at #93.)
DIDJAKNOW?: When BOBBY DARIN was first offered the JOHN SEBASTIAN song YOUNGER GIRL (ultimately a hit for THE CRITTERS, THE HONDELLS and THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL), he turned it down, feeling that it didn't really fit his image. Although he liked the song, he joked that he was afraid that he might be sent to jail for even having such thoughts! LOL We recently came across the text from an interview that BOBBY DARIN did with DAVID FROST in 1972. In it, he rehashes the story of singing THE ROCK ISLAND LINE from the palm of his hand on STAGE SHOW (which we covered earlier in this series) and then goes on to tell the story of JOHN SEBASTIAN's publishers bringing some of his songs into TRINITY MUSIC looking for BOBBY to record them, growing more and more confident as each tune BOBBY rejected became a bigger and bigger hit for THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL. (This little bit became a key part of the comedy act portion of DARIN's stage show in the later years ... and it IS a pretty funny story!) Thanks to THE OFFICIAL BOBBY DARIN WEBSITE, we'll share that with you here today:
BOBBY DARIN: Well, what actually happened was some fellas came to me with some songs. They were very fresh in the music publishing business and it was in 1966, and I was kinda looking for a hit ... they brought me a song ,which went a little like this (singing) "Do you believe in magic ... in a young girls heart?" and I said "Fellas, that's a lovely song, it really is, but it'll never be a hit." I know what it feels to be an idiot (Laughter from audience). It was a smash, as you all know, a million and a half seller, maybe a two million seller. A couple or three months went by and they were very solicitous, by the way. The first time they came into the office, they were all kinda dressed up to here, and they were trying to make a impression. So they had said to me "Mr. Darin, may we see you?" and once you call me Mister, you know, I go crackers, I like that. "OK, great," I said, "Yeah," and then they played me that song ... and I turned it down. Couple of months later, after having that success already, they walked back into my office and said "Hey Bobby!" ... (Laughter from audience) ... "We don't wanna bug you but we have a new song." They played me a song that went something like (singing) "Younger girl came rolling across my mind" and I said "Fellas, at my age I cannot be singing about no younger girl or they'll throw me in jail!" That's not exactly the way I said it, because we're not in a nightclub, I can't tell you the way I exactly said it ... in any event that sold two and half million records. It was a big smash. They came back to me a third time and this time they said, "Hey Baby, wanna get behind this number before you catch yourself in slumber ... we came back to your shack, Jack, this time in a Cadillac ... so we hate to trouble you, because we know you can't make the payments on the VW, but if you do this song before long it'll be a smash, bigger cash than you made with Splash," so I said, "Well play it, don't say it, play it", so they put it on the machine and it went like this ... "Summer in the City and the back of my neck gets tired and gritty" and I turned that one down too (Laughter from the audience) ... three million copies, number one for 28 weeks, it was an incredible record ... the next time they came into the office I was laying and waiting for 'em, I said I don't care what you got I'm gonna record it and they whipped out the sheet music ... I thought it was ... it wasn't, it was an eviction notice.. it was a piece of paper that said "We have just bought this building with the royalties we made from you turnin' down our records! " (Laughter from the audience)
You can hear this actual recitation on the website:
David Frost Interview with Bobby Darin
Of course, the JOHN SEBASTIAN song that BOBBY ultimately agreed to record was LOVIN' YOU ... and it became his last Top 40 Hit. These same publishers also brought him a song written by a young songwriter named TIM HARDIN ... IF I WERE A CARPENTER ... which begat BOBBY's last Top Ten Hit!!!
TRUTH BE TOLD: In hindsight, it is a little unlikely that ALL of these JOHN SEBASTIAN tunes were first offered to BOBBY DARIN to record. In JEFF BLEIEL's interview with KOPPELMAN and RUBIN for his book THAT'S ALL: BOBBY DARIN ON RECORD, STAGE AND SCREEN, the publishers confirm that DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC was NOT offered to BOBBY DARIN. It was THE LOVIN' SPOONFUL's first hit and they were not about to give that song away ... in fact, it was BECAUSE of that song's success that they felt could approach DARIN about recording some of JOHN SEBASTIAN's other material. Likewise, SUMMER IN THE CITY, one of the biggest hit records of 1966, was never offered ... but this all made for a great little comedy routine as part of DARIN's nightclub act (as witnessed above.) The REAL kicker in the deal was IF I WERE A CARPENTER ... THAT was the song that BOBBY knew he just HAD to record.
DIDJA REMEMBER?: IF I WERE A CARPENTER was written by folk singer TIM HARDIN and BOBBY DARIN released what's become known as the definitive version before HARDIN ever had a chance to properly record his own song! That "injustice" was eventually re-paid. HARDIN's only commercial pop chart success came in 1969, when he released his version of SIMPLE SONG OF FREEDOM, ironically a song WRITTEN by BOBBY DARIN ... but not yet recorded and released by its composer!!! (This was TRULY a case of "turn-about is fair play"). HARDIN's version peaked at #47. (BOBBY's version was never officially released as a single.) BOBBY's version of his own song became a staple of DARIN's stage act right up till the end. It's a pretty powerful tune and was often used to close the show.
As he entered 1967, BOBBY DARIN had already acted in ten films, won two Grammy Awards, written seven Top Ten songs, written the title song for five motion pictures, won the Foreign Press Association Award for Best Actor for his role in PRESSURE POINT, been nominated for an Academy Award for his role in CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D., and sold 2,000,000 albums and over 15,000,000 singles. He owned several homes and cars (including a custom-built $92,000 Excalibur), ran a successful music publishing business, headlined at the biggest clubs in Las Vegas and all over America, setting all sorts of attendance records (as well as earning records) and appeared on his own television specials ... yet he STILL felt as if he hadn't arrived ... he STILL somehow fell short of his own personal career goals. And, the press was still riding him about NOT being a legend. Pretty amazing.
By 1968, BOBBY had become quite actively involved with politics. He had already done several of the freedom marches with DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING and had performed at fund-raising benefits for both KING and ROBERT KENNEDY. In fact, as a result of getting close to these two great leaders, BOBBY began to question his own purpose in life once again. Sure, it was great to entertain people but now he wanted to make a difference. Perhaps he should consider going into politics himself.
Earlier in his career, BOBBY had once introduced DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING at one of his performances and watched the room fall to dead silence. A comment was made at the time that, had it been SAMMY DAVIS, JR. who walked into the room instead, an entirely different reaction could have been expected. Not until a couple of black waiters in the back began applauding did the rest of the room politely respond. (DARIN felt that the Las Vegas community in general exhibited a real case of racial discrimination in the way they treated blacks in their audience ... although they certainly didn't mind performers like SAMMY DAVIS, JR. and NAT KING COLE drawing crowds ... and money ... into their casinos! BOBBY once threatened to come back and perform with an all-black orchestra ... "Next time I play here, you're not going to see a white face up here except mine.")
DARIN thought that HE could reach the black people of the world ... he could be their white spokesman ... guide them down the proper path to get them what they really wanted ... never realizing that this was the LAST thing the blacks wanted or needed. BOBBY's motives were sincere but he came across as egotistical once again, believing that he, alone, could end the black man's plight. Once, when he tried to catch a flight for a march in Washington, only to find that all the flights had already been booked, he made his limo driver take him all the way from New York City to Washington, D.C., determined not to miss the march. Instead, he looked ridiculous, pulling up in a limo in front of a crowd of blacks marching for equal rights and was chastised for what was perceived as another egotistical move.
DARIN was devastated when DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING was assassinated in Memphis in 1968. If America felt that it had lost one of its great leaders, BOBBY felt that he had lost a true, close, personal friend.
BOBBY campaigned openly and vigorously for ROBERT KENNEDY in his presidential bid and often traveled with the Senator. On one occasion, he explained the music of BOB DYLAN to the presidential candidate and they sang songs like THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND and BLOWIN' IN THE WIND aboard KENNEDY's private plane. (A reworked version of THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND would become KENNEDY's campaign theme song, THIS MAN IS YOUR MAN, all part of the "KENNEDY IS THE REMEDY" platform. This isn't the first time that BOBBY wrote music of a political nature ... back in the mid-'60's, he was commissioned to write IT'S WHAT's HAPPENING, BABY for LBJ's WAR ON POVERTY campaign.) It is said that KENNEDY never understood or listened to DYLAN's lyrics before he heard BOBBY DARIN sing them. There were even rumors that DARIN and KENNEDY smoked marijuana together on some of these flights but those closest to him say that DARIN never wanted ANYTHING to do with drink or drugs ... he felt his health was already far too fragile and precious to tamper with.
BOBBY had plans to join ROBERT KENNEDY in Los Angeles after his performance at MR. D's in San Francisco. Backstage after the show, he saw the television coverage of KENNEDY's assassination. He immediately flew to L.A. to be with BOBBY's family and was filmed crying openly at BOBBY's funeral. DARIN was, in fact, one of the last to leave the gravesite and the emotional loss of a man he truly believed could change the world stayed with him for the rest of his life.
After BOBBY KENNEDY's assassination, DARIN retreated even deeper into himself. He now felt no sense of purpose and headed off to Big Sur, selling or giving away all of his belongings to live in a trailer. His homes, his clothes, even his publishing company were discarded. After a year and a half, he returned to Las Vegas. Gone were the tuxedos, the finger-snapping and the toupee. Instead, BOBBY wore denim jeans, grew a mustache and performed with an acoustic guitar or a small, four-piece folk / rock combo. The audience was not prepared for this ... they still wanted MACK THE KNIFE. BOBBY formed his own record label, DIRECTION RECORDS, and targeted artists who had "something to say ... something to believe in." His first album for his new label was called BORN WALDEN ROBERT CASSOTTO and featured his moving composition IN MEMORIAM, a song written about the murder of his friend, ROBERT KENNEDY. The album cover showed a nightclub photo of BOBBY decked out in a tux, superimposed over a picture of young BOBBY CASSOTTO at the age of seven. For the first time, BOBBY wanted the world to see that he was two very different people ... BOBBY DARIN was somebody he "became" on stage ... ROBERT DARIN was a very private person with a lot of political ideas and things to say. His next LP, COMMITMENT, would take a long hard serious look at his life to this point. In the song SONG FOR A DOLLAR, BOBBY sang "How many suits can you wear boy? And how many homes can you own? For thirty-two full seasons, you've been playing the game. Part of the plan, you flim-flam man, to get some fortune and fame." BOBBY knew he didn't have much time left ... every day after the age of 30 was a blessing ... but it could be taken away at a moment's notice.
THE FBI FILE: BOBBY DARIN continued to air his political beliefs well into the '70's. In fact, at an anti-war demonstration held in Los Angeles in 1970, he put another notch in his FBI file when he encouraged the crowd to phone THE WHITE HOUSE and leave a peace message for PRESIDENT NIXON. He called the program PHONE FOR PEACE and his hope was that if enough people actually did it, they'd tie up THE WHITE HOUSE switchboard, forcing NIXON to take notice and acknowledge the effort. As late as 1972, BOBBY took out a full-page ad in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER defending JOHN AND YOKO's right to remain in America when talk of deporting THE LENNONS seemed to be a political focal point. (JOHN LENNON's own FBI file has become legendary!!!) DARIN's ad read "A Committee Of One Suggests: Let The Lennons Stay. Although I do not know John and Yoko Lennon personally, I feel that I know their hearts. They are people whose concern for humanity has been proven countless times. America could use more people like the Lennons. If you agree, a note to your representatives in Washington, D.C., will help. Peace, Bobby Darin." Because of his previous associations with ROBERT KENNEDY and DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING ... and his participation in several of the freedom and peace marches ... DARIN already had an FBI file. In fact, it dated back to the late '50's when BOBBY failed to register for the draft. After being called on the carpet, he went for his physical and immediately was rejected due to his weakened heart due to his early rheumatic fever episodes ... just as he knew he would be.
BOBBY DARIN stood in awe of ROBERT KENNEDY and became a staunch supporter. In fact, he began to have political aspirations of his own ... maybe THIS was how he could finally make his lasting mark on society.
As BOBBY became more focused on a political career, his family became more concerned ... they knew that sooner or later some newspaper reporter digging through BOBBY's past was certain to stumble across personal family facts and use them in some way to humiliate or discredit BOBBY and his political dreams.
BOBBY's mother was a woman named POLLY WALDEN, a former vaudeville showgirl, who married a man named SAM CASSOTTO, a small-time crook with reputed mobster ties to New York Mafia Kingpin FRANK COSTELLO. (While growing up in the rough area of the Bronx, BOBBY actually thought that being the son of a gangster was, in some small way, "glamorous"!)
POLLY was born VIVIAN WALDEN and she had already been married a couple of times before she met SAM. While working as a dancer in a musical review, she married PASQUALE CUOMO, who was believed to have been involved with the Chicago syndicate. After that marriage ended, she changed her name to PAULA WALDEN and billed herself as "THE GIRL WITH THREE VOICES." It was at an appearance as a showgirl here in Chicago in 1912 that she met SAM CASSOTTO, who was in town handling business for mob boss FRANK COSTELLO. They moved to New York where they were married later that year. Nicknamed POLLY, she and SAM became addicted to morphine, a legal drug at the time. In 1917, they had a daughter named VANINA JULIETTE CASSOTTO (NINA for short.) Mobster (and business associate) FRANK COSTELLO was even slated to be NINA's godfather (how appropriate!) but before the christening took place, he and SAM had a falling out and he was never named as such. After this falling out of favor with COSTELLO, SAM CASSOTTO worked at all kinds of odd jobs (and illegal schemes) trying to put food on the table for his growing family. (For a while, he even sold popsicles at Staten Island!) Once prohibition hit, SAM found his way back into "the family" working as one of FRANK COSTELLO's runners. However, once the depression hit, SAM was busted for a petty pick-pocketing scheme and sentenced to Sing Sing Prison. He ultimately died there in 1934.
BOBBY came along a short time later. He was never particularly close to his sister NINA, who by then was 19 years older than he was. But as the baby ... and especially as a sickly child ... his mother POLLY doted on him constantly ... despite being a poor family, BOBBY was a happy child. POLLY told her son that he could accomplish ANYTHING ... and helped make him the determined man he became. He was heartbroken years later when his mother died while he was recording his THAT'S ALL album of standards ... the LP that would yield his biggest hit, MACK THE KNIFE. POLLY never got to see her son's greatest accomplishments.
It wasn't a perfect life ... but it was life as BOBBY knew it. Certainly there were a few skeletons in the CASSOTTO family closet ... but BOBBY grew up knowing all these facts ... and, let's face it, he turned out okay. Sure, politics could get dirty ... and it was going to be tough ... but at least there wouldn't be any surprises!
..... or so BOBBY thought .....
In February of 1968, BOBBY's sister NINA and his niece VEE-VEE drove to see him perform at THE LATIN CASINO in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. After the performance they visited backstage. NINA asked BOBBY if it was true that he intended to go into politics. BOBBY replied that The Democratic Party Of California had already agreed to sponsor him ... all he needed to do was determine what office he should run for. It was at this moment that NINA decided to tell BOBBY the truth ... imagine the shock when, at the age of 32, he found out that his personal life, as he knew it, had all been one big lie.
At the ripe old age of 32, BOBBY DARIN was FINALLY told that his "sister" NINA was actually his mother! As you can imagine, he was devastated. He felt as though his whole life had been a lie ... and, in fact, it had been. It seems that back in 1936, it was the unmarried 18 year old NINA, the woman he grew up believing was his older sister, who became pregnant and gave birth to BOBBY. Her mother, POLLY (BOBBY's paternal GRANDMOTHER), decided that, in order to save family face, they would move away to allow NINA to have the baby privately. They then concocted the scheme to raise BOBBY as POLLY's son, telling him that NINA was his 19 year old older sister! BOBBY had absolutely no reason to ever believe that this wasn't the truth ... it was the ONLY truth he knew during his entire upbringing. In fact, had it NOT been for BOBBY's political aspirations later in life, this secret most likely would have never been revealed to him. As it was, NINA took the name of BOBBY's true biological father to her grave. Even at this showdown moment of truth, NINA refused to acknowledge the identity of BOBBY's real father. She and POLLY had made a pact to take this information to their graves, and that is exactly what they would do.
After SAM CASSOTTO died in prison, POLLY was left alone to raise their infant daughter. Raising NINA on her own, POLLY gave her a pretty liberal reign and in 1935, at the age of 17, NINA became pregnant by way of a young Italian boy a few years older than herself. Being a fairly large girl, she was able to hide the pregnancy from everyone (including the boy and her mother) for quite some time. Once POLLY found out the circumstances, however, she devised the plan to move out of the neighborhood, allowing NINA to have the baby away from the watchful eyes of the curious neighbors. When they returned home, they would pass the baby off as POLLY's own. NINA broke things off with her boyfriend (who by now was away in college anyway) and he was never any the wiser. To this day, BOBBY's father has never been named (or come forward). With POLLY, NINA and BOBBY now all deceased, it is unlikely we'll ever know the truth. (Out of respect for their mother, it is doubtful that BOBBY's siblings would ever tell ... assuming they ever even knew the truth in the first place!!!) BOBBY and NINA lived as brother and sister until NINA married CHARLES MAFFIA in 1942. When they had a daughter the following year (VEE VEE), BOBBY was told that he was an UNCLE!!! (When another sister ... and, years later, a brother ... were born, these MAFFIA children all loved their UNCLE BOBBY CASSOTTO ... BOBBY never knew himself to be anything other than an only child to POLLY CASSOTTO.)
ALL IN THE FAMILY - Part 1: While still a teenager, NINA got "in trouble" and was whisked out of town to deliver the baby. When they returned, as far as the rest of the world was concerned, the new baby boy was POLLY's ... and nobody ever questioned this or thought otherwise. NINA married a man named (ironically enough) CHARLIE MAFFIA a few years after BOBBY's birth, and went on to have other children ... all growing up under the guise of UNCLE BOBBY's nieces and nephews. CHARLIE did his best to raise the boy as his own son and would eventually go to work for BOBBY as a chauffeur / valet / road manager. The identity of BOBBY's father was never revealed, nor was he ever informed of the pregnancy or birth, and the secret was taken to their graves by both POLLY and NINA. Incredibly, on the way to the hospital to give birth to BOBBY, they passed his real father en route to the bus stop. It was the closest BOBBY ever came to his father. Naturally, he felt cheated ... he felt his whole life had been a lie. Although there was periodic speculation as to who the real father may have been, his identity has never been revealed. Over the years, CHARLES MAFFIA has said that he believed it possible that HE could actually be BOBBY's father ... in fact, after BOBBY's death, he even went on a bit of a media campaign blitz making this claim ... but this was impossible, as he had not even met NINA until May of 1937, a full year after BOBBY was born. (The fact that BOBBY's "father" SAM CASSOTTO died in prison two years before BOBBY was born apparently never seemed to strike anyone else as odd either!!!) MAFFIA moved in with POLLY and NINA two and a half years later and on July 23, 1942, they were married. Having helped to raise the boy, however, he WAS BOBBY's father by every other definition of the word. (Once NINA was acknowledged as BOBBY's mother, BOBBY hurt MAFFIA deeply one day after he heard CHARLIE make the claim that he might be BOBBY's father ... "That's impossible, CHARLIE," he said, "My father had to have been intelligent. He had to be a doctor or a lawyer." After raising BOBBY as his own son for 30+ years, these words cut him deep.) Once BOBBY had learned the truth, he was understandably devastated. He never once acknowledged or referred to NINA as his mother ... not even sending so much as a Mothers' Day Card. BOBBY and NINA lived the rest of their lives haunted and humiliated by this family secret.
ALL IN THE FAMILY - Part 2: Years later, when BOBBY DARIN was making a name for himself in nightclubs, he was reportedly approached by reputed New York Mafia boss FRANK COSTELLO. (BOBBY may have "romanticized" the fact that his "father" SAM CASSOTTO, was a bit of a mobster who died in prison ... it made for good folklore amongst his teenage friends ... but the truth is BOBBY felt that the CASSOTTOS led a pretty grim life back in the Bronx.) When BOBBY played THE COPACABANA, he was approached by FRANK COSTELLO, who told him that he and SAM had been friends a long time ago ... and that he could do a great deal for BOBBY now that his career was on its way. (There were rumors that COSTELLO had an owner's interest in THE COPA, despite the fact that it was always known as JULES PODELL's COPACABANA.) BOBBY reportedly told him, "I don't want any help from you or your kind. Where the hell were you when my mother needed you? We were broke after my father died. Stone broke. But we managed by ourselves then and I'll manage by myself now. Get lost!" He never heard from COSTELLO again.
ALL IN THE FAMILY - Part 3: Ironically, BOBBY's first words were "Da Da", which, in light of these extremely strange circumstances, was quite awkward. Rather than deal with this situation, his family turned it into the word "DODD", which then became BOBBY's nickname ... by which he was referred to by family members for his entire childhood. Years later, when BOBBY had a son of his own, he named him DODD DARIN.
After the hits stopped coming at ATLANTIC RECORDS, BOBBY decided to form his own record company. (Why not ... he had already been a successful music publisher!) As such, in September of 1968, DIRECTION RECORDS was formed.
BOBBY had released a wide range of material in his short term back with ATLANTIC. Whereas IF I WERE A CARPENTER and LOVIN' YOU were reaching a more folk-oriented audience, he was still putting out albums like IN A BROADWAY BAG, BOBBY DARIN SINGS "THE SHADOW OF YOUR SMILE" and, perhaps strangest of all, BOBBY DARIN SINGS "DOCTOR DOOLITTLE".
However, inspired by the loss of his friends DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING and ROBERT KENNEDY, DARIN felt he had more important things to say in his music than would probably be allowed by a mainstream record company ... it was with this thought in mind that he started DIRECTION RECORDS.
"Events in the past eight months have affected me deeply and it's only through my music that I can express myself," he said in a press statement. "The purpose of DIRECTION RECORDS is to seek out statement-makers." Prior to the release of his first album for the label, BOBBY DARIN, BORN WALDEN ROBERT CASSOTTO, his spokesman ED BURTON said, "For years, BOBBY DARIN has had a reputation as a finger-snapper, but his first album on this label will establish a new image." And that it did ... the tuxedo and toupee were gone ... and, while not a hit with most of his old audience, songs like LONG LINE RIDER, IN MEMORIAM, CHANGE, QUESTIONS and THE HARVEST certainly showed a much deeper, thought-provking BOB DARIN than the Las Vegas show-machine.
BOBBY's point may have been best-proven when CBS Television refused to let him perform his new single LONG LINE RIDER on THE JACKIE GLEASON SHOW unless he edited out the lines "All the records show so clear, not a single man was here. Anyway, anyway, that's the tale the warden tells as he counts his empty shells by the day, by the day. This kind of thing can't happen here ... 'specially not in an election year." (The song was based on a real-life incident that happened at an Arkansas State Prison where the skeletons of a number of prisoners were found buried underground ... the event was followed by a subsequent attempted cover-up by the state prison officials.)
BOBBY was infuriated ... he had already performed the song unedited on both ABC and NBC without incident ... and it was a regular part of his stage act. And, JACKIE GLEASON, of all people .... these two went back to STAGE SHOW, BOBBY's first television appearance EVER back in 1956!!! He stormed off the show (and ultimately sued GLEASON and CBS for damages, stating that they had not given him enough time to prepare another song to substitute in its place.) BOBBY publicly announced, "I don't care if I never do another TV show in my life" and then flew off to make his other nightclub commitments.
The "new" BOB DARIN wasn't going over very well with the nightclub crowd, however. They bought tickets expecting to see the guy in the sleek tuxedo singing MACK THE KNIFE ... instead, they got some balding, mustached guy in blue jeans and a denim jacket singing folk and protest songs. BOBBY had lost his connection ... and his identity. He didn't know where to go from here.
In 1969, BOBBY chucked it all, sold or gave away nearly all of his belongings, and took off for BIG SUR. He bought a 14-foot house trailer and began a life of seclusion. He withdrew from his friends, his family, his fans and ... perhaps as some sort of self-help therapy ... began to sort out what his life had become.
One can only imagine what BOBBY DARIN was feeling at this time. He had just found out that his real mother had denied him his whole life ... the men he most believed could change the world for the better were both gunned down in senseless fashion ... his audience only wanted the OLD tuxedoed, toupeed BOBBY ... he hadn't had a hit record or a hit movie in years ... his remaining days were numbered due to his health ... and you thought YOU were having a bad day!!!
Once he settled in, he wrote to NINA: "I am now a turtle. Virtually everything I own is on my back and suffice it to say I am one ton lighter and therefore 2000 pounds happier. All the houses are gone. All extraneous items have been sold and I am out from under. I wish all of you the serenity of this area and the peace of these mountains." It was the only letter she ever received from BOBBY the entire time he was there ... although he would call from time to time just to let her know that he was all-right.
It is said that BIG SUR is one of the most beautiful, breath-taking spots on earth. (Having visited there a few years ago to see what all the fuss was about, Frannie and I can also add "one of the most nerve-wracking, treacherous places to drive" to that description! A one-lane highway, with barely a fence to keep you from the edge of a cliff on one side ... and a steep mountain on the other, littered with "Beware Of Falling Rock" signs. NOT my favorite driving experience, to be sure!)
BOBBY spent his days chopping wood, reading, listening to music, strumming his guitar and relaxing his mind, trying to sort out all the pressures that had built up over the years. He says that he gave up his mind and his body to the earth's beauty and was able to relax as he never had before, seeing things clearly for the first time. He had very few visitors and seldom ventured out of the area surrounding his new trailer home.
According to biographer AL DiORIO, BOBBY spent his time analyzing and contemplating the fates of the world, jotting down ideas to resolve the starving in India, the political problems in Africa, the erosion of the relics of Rome and the threat of communism. If he did leave home, he would visit the library in Carmel and read NIETZSCHE and DICKENS ... he would listen to the music of MOZART and TCHAIKOVSKY ... he would stare endlessly at the water and the rocks surrounding him. Best of all, he had absolutely NO contact with the press. (But this, of course, had OTHER repercussions ... soon, the tabloids were writing about the acid trips and orgies that were going on up at BOBBY's place in BIG SUR! He was often portrayed as a "freaked-out hippie, undergoing one psychedelic experience after another.") Of course, none of this was true ... but that didn't stop the rumors from circulating. Whatever he was doing, it seemed to be working ... for the first time, BOBBY seemed at peace with himself and his surroundings. He enjoyed his private connection with the mountains, the trees and the sea.
Out of the blue, BOBBY was offered a small acting role in the film THE HAPPY ENDING, starring JEAN SIMMONS, JOHN FORSYTHE, LLOYD BRIDGES, DICK SHAWN, NANETTE FABRAY and TINA LOUISE. He traveled back to Los Angeles to film the movie, the only time he was ever billed in a film as ROBERT DARIN. Inspired by working in the movies again, he began work on his OWN film, called THE VENDORS. (As we told you earlier in this series, DARIN's motion picture never saw the light of day.)
He also flew to Las Vegas and Los Angeles periodically to fulfill previous engagement commitments. One trip to THE SAHARA (for which BOBBY was paid $40,000 a week ... not bad wages for a hermit!!!) was a complete disaster. BOBBY erected a life-size figure of the new BOB DARIN in the lobby, decked-out in a Levi suit and cowboy hat. His audience that night was not the LEAST bit interested in BOBBY's peace songs or lyrics about dead convicts. After a couple of songs, quite a few members of the audience began to walk out. BOBBY had never experienced this sort of reaction before ... he had always KILLED in Vegas ... he lit up the Strip! This had to be more confusing than ever, coupled with his newfound peace in BIG SUR. He refused to compromise and would not put any of his old songs back in the act, stating at one point (when requested to perform ARTIFICIAL FLOWERS) "That was yesterday." More and more he began to lose his audience.
He finally called his old friend DICK CLARK for advice. CLARK called him "a latter-day hippie." When BOBBY argued that this wasn't an act ... this, finally, was the REAL BOB DARIN ... "that other guy just wasn't me ... the super-showbiz character I've been playing for years is dead and gone" ... CLARK pooh-poohed it. He told BOBBY that he was simply going through an identity crisis ... it happened to ALL performers at some point in their careers ... DICK had seen it a thousand times. "Go back and put on the tuxedo and go to work," he told his friend ... "Do what the people expect of you. They don't want to see a balding hippie sitting on a stage in Las Vegas."
After returning to BIG SUR ... and some deep soul-searching ... BOBBY thought that maybe his friend was right ... maybe he could do BOTH ... sing MACK THE KNIFE AND some of his new, deeper peace songs. His appearance at THE SAHARA was a disaster ... his film THE VENDORS had never gotten off the ground ... and he missed the stage .... he missed the feeling he only got in front of a live audience. Maybe putting on the tuxedo and the toupee was the costume he needed to wear to please his audience ... and, if in the process he could do some of his new material, perhaps he could please himself as well. When THE LANDMARK HOTEL in Las Vegas asked BOBBY if he was interested in appearing, this time he said "Yes."
TOO BAD: It sounds as if BOBBY simply overdid it with his new protest material. After recording EARTHY! and GOLDEN FOLK HITS in the early '60's, DARIN successfully moved some of that material into his stage act ... in fact, reviews I've read say that some of THIS material was the most moving part of the show. Had he simply mixed-up the material a little bit more in the later years, he might have found more acceptance from the Vegas crowd. Instead, he refused to compromise ... and tried to force his new style down the throats of the folks who paid good money to see him. BOBBY finally realized that he was, first and foremost, an actor ... and an actor has to put on his costume, go out and do his scene, and leave the people wanting more. If BOBBY's costume was the tuxedo and the toupee ... and the crowd-pleaser was MACK THE KNIFE ... then that's what he needed to do.
NEW RELEASES: A recent CD release titled simply BOBBY DARIN: SONGS FROM BIG SUR features some of the hard-to-find music that BOBBY recorded during this period, including a couple of previously unreleased tracks. It's available on the VARESE SARABANDE label.
BOBBY's return to the Las Vegas stage was triumphant ... his two-week stint at THE LANDMARK HOTEL was extended to six weeks ... the mix of old and new material was working. BOBBY's newer songs like LONG LINE RIDER and IF I WERE A CARPENTER played well alongside his standards like MACK THE KNIFE, BEYOND THE SEA and SPLISH SPLASH. SIMPLE SONG OF FREEDOM became his closing anthem, bringing the audience to their feet night-after-night with its moving crescendo becoming the fitting finale to each performance. (VARIETY even ran a headline that read "BOBBY DARIN is back ... and he brought MACK THE KNIFE with him!")
Soon BOBBY was in demand again ... in 1970, he filmed a television special for Canadian TV called THE BOBBY DARIN INVASION (now available on DVD). Everything seemed to be on the upswing for BOBBY again ... and then his health took another turn for the worse.
Backstage at the filming of the Canadian television special, BOBBY had collapsed. His old friend HARRIET WASSER happened to be visiting when she found BOBBY sitting on the floor in the corner. He looked terrible ... his skin was gray and pasty and he was shivering uncontrollably. "Bobby, what's wrong?" she demanded. With tears in his eyes, BOBBY finally replied, "HESH, I've been sitting here for half an hour, doing nothing, and my heart feels as if I've been running a marathon. I'm scared ... I'm really scared." While waiting for the doctor to arrive, he whispered to her, "No one must know, HESH ... if my family hears about this, I'll know where they found out."
In early 1971, BOBBY began to experience more heart problems ... his heart was beating at "double-time": 140-160 times per minute instead of the normal 60-80 times. With these "fibrillations of the heart," surgery really became the only option.
BOBBY was booked at the DESERT INN in Las Vegas for a four-week stint, scheduled to begin on January 10th. He told his doctors, "You give me these six weeks to work ... the first six weeks in 1971 ... somehow, you keep me alive by remote control ... and the moment I close, I'll go home, spend four hours with my son, and then I'll check into the hospital and give myself to you." BOBBY's biggest fear was that he wouldn't survive the surgery ... or, even if he did, he'd be unable to perform afterwards. He wanted to hear the crowds one last time.
Amazingly, the audience never even knew. He was sneaking oxygen between songs to keep himself going. After the first show, he'd eat a bowl of spinach and a large steak to bolster his energy and then do another show the same night. He kept this routine up for 28 straight days ... and his on-stage performance was never better. If deep down in his weakened heart he felt this would be the last time he ever performed before a live audience, then he wanted EVERY show to be sensational ... and they were.
Once BOBBY finally agreed to have the heart surgery, he timed the operation to coincide with his closing at THE DESERT INN in February of 1971. Backstage, on the night of his final performance, he told his lifelong friend DICK LORD in complete seriousness, "Well, DICK, this was the last time we'll ever perform together. I'm going into the hospital tonight for open heart surgery. The doctor said my chances are one out of ten. I called the hospital and they said the last nine people lived, so I guess this is it."
After the show at THE DESERT INN closed, BOBBY stopped by to see his son DODD and then dutifully checked himself into the hospital to have the long-needed heart surgery ... it was, somehow, a day that he knew had been coming his entire life. Incredibly, he didn't inform any of his family members ... they heard about it on the radio. The nine hour operation was a success ... he remained in intensive care for five days, during which time his heart stopped four times ... but each time, BOBBY was able to recover.
BOBBY's total recuperation time was about seven months. He celebrated his 35th birthday in May of 1971 ... a personal triumph ... after his early age bouts with rheumatic fever, the longest ANY of the doctors thought BOBBY could live was 35 ... and even that was, at best, always an outside chance. He felt that he had beaten the odds. He threw himself a HUGE birthday party bash, turning his backyard into a carnival with tents and hot dogs and hamburgers, popcorn and cotton candy vendors ... he even had tarot card readers! BOBBY was warned that even though he had come through the first surgery all right, a second operation was definitely in his future. BOBBY understood: the odds of surviving a second heart operation were three to one ... the odds of dying without the operation were 100%.
BOBBY rested until the end of July but by then he was itching to get back to work. He made television appearances on IRONSIDES, NIGHT GALLERY and THE FLIP WILSON SHOW. He was taking steroids and had gained a lot of weight ... he stopped wearing his toupee again and grew a beard ... and didn't look like himself at all.
Soon, he was back in Vegas making $40,000 a week and playing to sold-out houses. A few of the old tunes were back in the line-up, but BOBBY didn't want to fall back on his past ... he wanted to feel that he was always moving forward. It is said that WAYNE NEWTON repaid his favor to BOBBY by helping him secure the bookings he received for the last years of his life ... but it seems likely that ANY hotel on the strip would have been proud to have him ... DARIN ALWAYS packed 'em in and casino business was up whenever BOBBY was in town.
He opened at HARRAH's in Reno on September 1, 1971. The tux was back ... so was the toupee ... and so were a few of the hits that BOBBY had stopped performing during his "folk phase." He would still close the show with SIMPLE SONG OF FREEDOM and always performed IF I WERE A CARPENTER, but it looked like old MACKY was back, too.
There was more comedy in his act now, too ... and impressions. He was doing more television appearances as well, especially on THE FLIP WILSON SHOW where he achieved "Semi-Regular" status. (FLIP was a close personal friend ... in fact, BOBBY had given WILSON his first big break when he hired him to be his opening act in Vegas several years before.) BOBBY was always happiest when he was performing. The audience brought something out in him that wasn't there when he was not on the stage. It's hard to imagine that he would practically collapse after a show and need oxygen backstage yet could still go out and give his all night after night. It's as if the reaction of the crowd was his energy charge ... he would use it all up on stage and then need life-support when the show was over.
In February, 1972, he took the stage once again at the COPA .... and the old BOBBY was back. Photos of him from this time look like the BOBBY DARIN of old ... slimmed down, clean-shaven, toupee back in place and wearing a fashionable tuxedo, BOBBY wowed the crowds again, earning excellent reviews. He justified it to himself this way: "What they want is an actor on stage. An actor wears a costume and make-up. I'm an actor. There's nothing wrong with that. You go out and entertain them. If what they hear is what they see, then let me put on my tux. I'm comfortable in it. I don't have any inner arguments anymore."
In July of 1972, BOBBY was given his own television series. Running as a summer replacement for THE DEAN MARTIN SHOW, THE BOBBY DARIN AMUSEMENT COMPANY was a summer hit spotlighting BOBBY's musical and comedy talents. This was the time of the television variety / musical / comedy series ... SONNY AND CHER, DONNY AND MARIE, TONY ORLANDO AND DAWN and several others had their own network series. Opening night, BOBBY's guests were his old pal GEORGE BURNS and the recently Cosmo-nude BURT REYNOLDS! ALAN THICKE, later of GROWING PAINS, was one of the writers. Comic RIP TAYLOR and future-BARNEY MILLER cop STEVE LANDESBERG were both regulars. Musical guests ranged from '70's soft-rock popular mainstays like BREAD and SEALS AND CROFTS to the more traditional PEGGY LEE and DEBBIE REYNOLDS. In fact, one of the regular spots in the show featured BOBBY doing a duet (often referred to as the "mouth to mouth" duet) with his female guest of the week such as BOBBIE GENTRY (whom he also dated), NANCY SINATRA, PETULA CLARK or DUSTY SPRINGFIELD. (On the recent HYENA RECORDS release ACES BACK TO BACK, the BOBBY DARIN / PETULA CLARK duet ALL I HAVE TO DO IS DREAM is included on both the CD and the bonus DVD ... in true "mouth-to-mouth" fashion, the song ends with a silhouette kiss.) Another popular comedy sketch featured DARIN and his old pal DICK BAKALYAN portraying CARMINE AND ANGIE, two guys from the old neighborhood in the Bronx. Each week they would reminisce about the old days in the neighborhood and this sequence became a popular favorite with fans of the show. (I seem to remember comedian BILLY CRYSTAL doing a similar bit dressed in his New York Yankees jacket many years later.) All in all, BOBBY's television show was no better or worse than many of the others on the air at the time and, in January of 1973, it was renewed as a regular series. The stress and rigors of churning out a weekly television series took its toll on BOBBY ... it was a tremendous drain of his energy and his health most certainly suffered. After seven episodes, the new series was canceled.
BOBBY also had a new record deal. He had recently signed with MOTOWN RECORDS. (Perhaps his career had gone full-cycle: after being the first white artist signed to ATLANTIC RECORDS back in the mid-'50's, it seemed only fitting that he would end his career on a label known for most-advancing the sound of black artists during the '60's and '70's.) At the time, however, it seemed a strange choice ... and BOBBY never really had a hit record for the label. In 1973, his version of HAPPY (from the Motown-produced film LADY SINGS THE BLUES, starring DIANA ROSS) charted at #59. It would be his last chart single.
In March of 1973, DARIN signed an unprecedented three-year, two million dollar, twenty-seven week deal with the MGM GRAND HOTEL. At $74,000 a week, BOBBY actually passed FRANK SINATRA as the highest paid entertainer on the strip! He was also booked for a three month spring / summer tour all over the country, a total of over 60 shows in three months. BOBBY knew he couldn't possibly survive this schedule and canceled the tour.
He was already feeling the strain of all he was trying to accomplish. A second operation now seemed imminent and besides the steroids, he was now taking a large quantity of prescription drugs. One of these drugs was an anticoagulant called Coumadin, which allowed the blood to flow freely through his artificial valves. This was a medication that BOBBY would have to take for the rest of his life. At some point (for reasons nobody seems to know), BOBBY decided to stop taking his medication, probably feeling that it wasn't really making him feel any better ... and that he had a second heart surgery on the way anyway. Anyone who has open heart surgery or rheumatic fever must have a massive dose of antibiotics in their system to combat infection when any dental work is performed. When BOBBY went to the dentist in early 1973, he was not given these antibiotics. An infection hit his bloodstream and soon he was back at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital with a serious case of blood poisoning.
While in the hospital, BOBBY had a series of mild strokes. He also developed several small blood clots on his brain. He had a series of cardiac arrests while hospitalized, but each time he was able to respond to emergency treatment. He was immediately put back on all his medication and, after six weeks, was released with strict orders to TAKE IT EASY.
Once he was released from the hospital, BOBBY asked ANDREA YAEGER, a woman he had been seeing for some time, to marry him. She reluctantly agreed ... BOBBY hadn't been himself a lot of the time lately ... he would concoct ridiculously elaborate scenarios in his head about being betrayed by the people closest to him and had very erratic behavior patterns and anger spells ... in fact, by October, just three and a half months after their wedding, BOBBY was already filing divorce papers.
The day after the papers were filed, October 3, 1973, BOBBY was admitted back into Cedars of Lebanon for congestive heart failure. This time, his heart would have to be stopped and restarted ... once again, he survived. BOBBY was thin and gray ... he was down to about 120 pounds and looked haggard. He could barely speak. He was having massive personality and mood swings and on October 23rd, he went to his lawyer to change his will, leaving his entire estate to his son DODD. It was worded in such a way that DODD would only receive the income earned from the estate until he turned 65, not the principal ... he didn't want to just hand it all over on a silver platter ... BOBBY wanted DODD to learn to set his own goals and achieve them. Years later, DODD would write DREAM LOVERS: THE MAGNIFICENT SHATTERED LIVES OF BOBBY DARIN AND SANDRA DEE, a biography of BOTH his famous parents ... and an excellent read and source of information for this FORGOTTEN HITS special piece on BOBBY DARIN. The following day, October 24th, BOBBY's divorce was granted.
In November, he went to New York to say goodbye to some of his oldest and dearest friends. On December 10th, he was back in the hospital with congestive heart failure again. BOBBY knew that this was going to be his final trip. On the 12th, his sister VEE was called and told to get out to Los Angeles right away. (Fittingly, when she came to visit, she brought BOBBY coloring books ... a childhood passion from his sickly past.) They spent several days together, talking about all the things they had been through ... yet, even on his deathbed, the identity of BOBBY's real father was never revealed. The 16th was DODD's birthday. He called to wish his son a happy birthday but could barely speak ... he was nearly delirious, crying on the phone with the realization that he would not see his son again ... he'd never see him grow up ... and that he was going to die. DODD wrote his father a note ... a goodbye note from a loving son ... that VEE delivered to her brother. BOBBY had left a trunk sealed at SANDY's house years before ... with strict instructions that it was not to be opened until after his death. Inside were several precious family mementos ... photos ... papers ... even a lock of DODD's baby hair ... all the things that really meant something to BOBBY during his life.
Two days later, he slipped into a coma. On December 18, 1973, his heart stopped beating. Through electroshock treatment, they were able to revive him, yet he remained in a coma. BOBBY had previously refused to allow the doctors to perform a catherization of the heart but now, hovering near death and unconscious, VEE gave her permission for the procedure to be done.
The catherization showed that one of the valves in BOBBY's heart was malfunctioning and needed to be replaced. It was doubtful that BOBBY was strong enough to survive such an operation. It was agreed that if BOBBY made it through the night, they would open him up the following day and see what they could do. BOBBY did survive the night and exploratory surgery the next morning showed that the left side of his heart was infected. However, too much of his heart had already been cut away during the first operation to allow any more to be done now. BOBBY was hooked up to a heart and lung machine while the doctors worked feverishly to remove the infection and replace the malfunctioning valve. Amazingly, BOBBY's heart began beating on its own. Shortly after midnight, he regained consciousness for a brief time and became hysterical. His heart stopped again, causing his kidneys to fail and brain damage occur. He was quickly hooked up to a heart massager ... it was the only thing keeping BOBBY alive. However, it was decided that BOBBY was just too weak to make it ... he was, for all purposes, already dead. Making what she later described as the "hardest and easiest decision of my life," his sister VEE then instructed doctors to pull the plug. BOBBY was pronounced dead in the early morning of December 20, 1973.
BOBBY's revised will left very explicit instructions that there was to be no viewing and no burial ... per his wishes, his body was left to medical research. SANDRA DEE has never remarried and says BOBBY DARIN is the only man she's ever truly loved. In 1990, he was inducted into THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME. BOBBY used to talk of dying on stage ... that this would be his ultimate triumph ... to die before a packed house. His closest friends and relatives never really believed (or wanted to believe) just how sick he really was ... he'd go up on stage and give the performance of a lifetime and then collapse backstage ... and then do it all over again the next night and the night after that. BOBBY DARIN truly was one-of-a-kind of our generation, bridging the gaps between rock and roll, folk hero and all around entertainer ... and his music will live on forever.
One of the most common criticisms I came across while researching this article on BOBBY DARIN was that DARIN jumped on the bandwagon of whatever trend seemed to be happening at the time. I can see where some of this is coming from: if you read STEVE KARMEN's book, BOBBY started his nightclub career doing practically a calypso act, patterned after HARRY BELFONTE, who was the biggest selling album artist at the time. When ELVIS and rock and roll hit in a big way, BOBBY turned his attention to what the teenagers were listening to and came up with SPLISH SPLASH and QUEEN OF THE HOP. Some might say that he proved himself to be quite the innovator by sticking to his guns and recording the album of standards THAT'S ALL and the across-the-boards smash MACK THE KNIFE ... while others will say he was simply aping FRANK SINATRA. Soon, BOBBY was doing country tunes like YOU'RE THE REASON I'M LIVING in the style of RAY CHARLES (after his success with MODERN SOUNDS IN COUNTRY AND WESTERN MUSIC). He released a TWIST WITH BOBBY DARIN album after the success of the CHUBBY CHECKER hit ... and back-to-back folk albums when PETER, PAUL AND MARY were racing up the charts. When The British Invasion hit, BOBBY's songs were being covered by British artists like GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS and THE SEARCHERS ... and the songs he was recording himself were done in a similar style. When the folk rock / protest movement hit, DARIN recorded IF I WERE A CARPENTER and even started his own record label in order to be allowed to release more meaningful, insightful music.
But whereas MOST critics call this jumping on the bandwagon, I have come to feel that BOBBY was more of a chameleon ... adapting to the styles of whatever happened to be happening musically at the time. The point that seems to be overlooked by all these critics is the fact that DARIN successfully WROTE songs in all these different styles ... a true testament indeed to BOBBY's songwriting talents. And, all the while, balanced a successful movie and television career, headed a family, a publishing company and a record label ... as well as remaining one of the hottest tickets the Las Vegas Strip has ever seen. Give the man his due ... BOBBY DARIN successfully bridged ALL of the musical gaps and styles that crossed his path in his short lifetime. Were he alive today ... had he lived five more years ... ten more years ... twenty more years ... there's really no telling what other milestones he may have achieved and what other legacies he may have left behind. (In his book THAT'S ALL: BOBBY DARIN ON RECORD, STAGE AND SCREEN, author JEFF BLEIEL speculates that DARIN might have had a career and enjoyed a popularity and resurgence very similar to TONY BENNETT's had he lived another 25-30 years! For all the comparisons made early on to Michael Buble and Frank Sinatra, I see every bit as much of Bobby Darin in his stage performance ... a good old fashioned juxtaposition just like the good old days!)
And about his songwriting talent ... that's ANOTHER major criticism I kept coming across. Those close to him say that DARIN just cranked 'em out in a "throw enough shit against the wall and sooner or later something will stick" sort of fashion. Good ones, mediocre ones and awful ones ... but he never stopped writing. (There's a story that has circulated for years stating that producer - extraordinaire / alleged - murderer PHIL SPECTOR was once brought by BOBBY DARIN's mansion and watched BOBBY pitching his latest tunes to AHMET ERTEGUN in the early '60's. ERTEGUN, who by then was used to the routine, would listen to 15 - 20 of BOBBY's latest efforts, knowing full well that three or four of the songs offered would be really good ... but that he had to listen to all the others in order to find the needle in a haystack. After four or five songs, SPECTOR reportedly said, "Just a second, man, are you crazy or am I? Those songs are horrible!!!" DARIN had him thrown out. A year later when SPECTOR was the hottest producer on the planet, BOBBY asked ERTEGUN, "Do you think you could get this kid to work with me?," not remembering the incident at all!)
BOBBY was a prolific songwriter, able to write in any number of styles. When he recorded his album of standards, THAT'S ALL, he included one original tune, THAT'S THE WAY LOVE IS, written in the exact style of the rest of the LP. He wrote the title themes to several motion pictures (and even a couple of TV series.) Listening to some of BOBBY's music during the course of this special FH series shows the diversity of his talent: the rock and roll / novelty style of SPLISH SPLASH, the timeless romantic ballad DREAM LOVER, the incredibly moving IN MEMORIAM and SIMPLE SONG OF FREEDOM, the straight-out pop sound of WHEN I GET HOME and the beautiful I'LL BE THERE ... BOBBY DARIN could write music of the times and for the times. Even as recently as a couple of years ago, '70's teen pop star DAVID CASSIDY was playing to sold-out theater audiences in his tribute to BOBBY DARIN on the Las Vegas Strip. We haven't seen many like DARIN come around since he left us ... and those of us who missed him will settle for a credible portrayal ... but now, thanks to the magic of DVDs, several of BOBBY's performances are available again. The new KEVIN SPACEY film BEYOND THE SEA should stir up even more interest ... and, hopefully, our BOBBY DARIN series has whet the appetite of a few folks who otherwise may not have gone to see the film. The fact that our tribute was made available by way of THE OFFICIAL BOBBY DARIN WEBSITE back in 2003 helped get the story out there to the folks who wanted to know more than the two-hour condensed movie version would allow. (Likewise, if you know someone who might enjoy reading our Tribute To BOBBY DARIN, please direct them to our website to enjoy this special feature!)
In his book THAT'S ALL: BOBBY DARIN ON RECORD, STAGE AND SCREEN (recently revised and reissued to coincide with the release of the BEYOND THE SEA bio-pic), author JEFF BLEIEL makes the following analogy:
In his 1980 movie ONE TRICK PONY, PAUL SIMON includes a scene in which he and his band members kill time on a bus ride by playing a game of ROCK 'N' ROLL DEATHS, rattling off the names of dead rock stars.
After a few obvious choices ... ELVIS, BUDDY HOLLY, OTIS REDDING, SAM COOKE, etc., SIMON mentions BOBBY DARIN.
'He's not technically rock 'n' roll, you know,' replies drummer STEVE GADD.
SIMON insists that DARIN qualifies, citing SPLISH SPLASH and QUEEN OF THE HOP as prime examples. 'That was early stuff,' says GADD. 'Later, he was strictly Vegas.'
SIMON differs, noting DARIN's later hit recording of TIM HARDIN's IF I WERE A CARPENTER.
"I still don't think he technically qualifies," says GADD, "but let's not quibble."
BOBBY DARIN is in THE ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME, yet there isn't a single sentence about him in THE ROLLING STONE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF ROCK AND ROLL. Perhaps it is because three months after BUDDY HOLLY's death, DARIN was opening for GEORGE BURNS in Lake Tahoe. Or because during the rock revolution of the 1960's, DARIN was one of the highest paid performers on the Las Vegas Strip.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famers aren't supposed to record HELLO DOLLY or albums of Broadway show tunes or dozens of songs by the likes of RODGERS AND HART, COLE PORTER, IRVING BERLIN and JOHNNY MERCER.
Yet, by the same token, crooners making $40,000 a week in Vegas aren't supposed to give it up to sing protest songs at THE TROUBADOUR with a four-piece rock band ... or be inducted into a ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME alongside THE WHO and THE KINKS.
That's an EXCELLENT perspective on just who BOBBY DARIN really was ... no, he DIDN'T fit into the typical stereotype pigeonhole rock star / pop star mode ... he stood alone, unique in his field.
In the revised edition of BLEIEL's book, he goes on to say: BOBBY DARIN "opened for both BUDDY HOLLY and GEORGE BURNS. He wrote songs with both JOHNNY MERCER and RANDY NEWMAN. He did television specials with both EDDIE CANTOR and STEVIE WONDER. He sang at THE APOLLO THEATRE and at THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL ... at sock hops in high school gymnasiums and in showrooms in hotel casinos. He admired SOPHIE TUCKER and understood why audiences liked her. He admired THE ROLLING STONES and understood why audiences liked them."
As for BOBBY's songwriting credibility and all of the opposition to DARIN's being inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, BLEIEL points out that "Fellow Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductees ELVIS PRESLEY, BUDDY HOLLY, RICK NELSON, DION, GENE VINCENT, JERRY LEE LEWIS, THE COASTERS, RUTH BROWN, LaVERN BAKER and DUANE EDDY have all recorded DARIN-written songs. On the other end of the musical spectrum, so have BARBRA STREISAND and WAYNE NEWTON. DARIN has also been covered by cult folk artist TIM HARDIN, country greats JOHNNY CASH, SONNY JAMES and CONWAY TWITTY and British Invasion bands like THE SEARCHERS and GERRY AND THE PACEMAKERS."
Perhaps BOBBY DARIN does NOT belong in The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, side by side with some of the great artists mentioned above. But that would ONLY be because he truly belongs in a class by himself.
One of the comments that BOBBY made that haunted him for the rest of his career was featured in a profile done by LIFE MAGAZINE. He told reporter SHANA ALEXANDER that his goal was "To establish myself as a legend by the time I'm 25." It became the shot heard 'round the world. "I want to make it faster than anyone has ever made it before. I'd like to be the biggest thing in show business by the time I'm 25 years old."
That's what he really said ... but the rest of the world seemed hear "I WILL be a legend by the time I'm 25" instead. On the eve of his 25th birthday, TIME MAGAZINE ran an article under the heading "Two And A Half Months To Go" as a direct reference to his earlier comment about wanting to establish himself as a legend by the age of 25. In the article, TIME referred to BOBBY as "an immodest boy with modest ability." For his 30th Birthday (an age BOBBY was never even supposed to achieve), THE NEW YORK POST ran an article under the headline: "Egotist Bobby Darin At Thirty," noting that "This Saturday is his 30th birthday ... it is NOT a national holiday." Even in their official obituary for DARIN in 1973, TIME MAGAZINE couldn't let it go: "Walden Robert Cassotto, the crooner known as Bobby Darin, wanted to be a legend by the age of twenty-five ... he never made it."
Finally, we present THE BOBBY DARIN HIT LIST ... a showing of ALL of his TOP 40 HITS during his career .... pretty amazing stuff ... and, as you'll see, we covered MOST of them in our recent BOBBY DARIN feature.
THE BOBBY DARIN HIT LIST
1958: Splish Splash (#2 Cash Box and Music Vendor)
Early In The Morning (#24 Billboard) as THE RINKY DINKS
Queen Of The Hop (#9 BB)
1959: Plain Jane (#30 CB)
Dream Lover (#2 BB)
MACK THE KNIFE (#1, BB, CB and MV) 9 weeks at #1 in Billboard
1960: Beyond The Sea (#6 BB)
Clementine (#11 MV)
Won't You Come Home, Bill Bailey (#16, CB and MV)
Artificial Flowers (#14, MV)
Christmas Auld Lang Syne (#32, MV)
1961: Lazy River (#11, MV)
Nature Boy (#31, CB)
You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby (#4, MV)
1962: Irresistible You (#15 BB)
Multiplication (#20 MV)
What'd I Say (#24 BB and MV)
Things (#3 BB)
If A Man Answers (#27 MV)
Baby Face (#38 CB)
1963: You're The Reason I'm Living (#3 BB)
18 Yellow Roses (#10 BB and MV)
Treat My Baby Good (#29 MV)
1964: Milord (#29 Record World)
1966: If I Were A Carpenter (#5 RW)
1967: Lovin' You (#31 RW)
If the ONLY thing BOBBY DARIN ever did was place a few rock and roll hits on the charts in the late '50's, we'd still remember him today. SPLISH SPLASH ... QUEEN OF THE HOP ... DREAM LOVER ... these are ALL classic '50's compositions and recordings from the earliest days of Rock And Roll.
If the ONLY thing BOBBY DARIN ever did was record MACK THE KNIFE ... and take it to #1 for nine weeks, winning a Grammy that year for Best New Artist and Record Of The Year, we'd still remember him today. (How often do YOU hear MACK THE KNIFE on the radio and jukeboxes? Ditto for BEYOND THE SEA.) If the only thing he ever did was become the youngest headliner in Las Vegas, he'd still be talked about today!
If the ONLY thing BOBBY DARIN ever did was embrace the folk movement of the late '60's and early '70's, recording songs by TIM HARDIN and BOB DYLAN, and introducing these songs and artists to a whole new generation of audience, we'd remember him today in the cult circles as one of the last great folk pioneers.
If the ONLY thing BOBBY DARIN ever did was try his hand at acting and, in the process, garner an Academy Awards Nomination for his Best Supporting Role in the motion picture CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D., we'd still remember him today. In fact, if the only thing he ever did was marry SANDRA DEE, we'd probably still remember him today as the lucky dog who did!
If all he ever did was host his own weekly television variety series, he'd be documented in the annals of broadcasting history.
But the truth is, BOBBY DARIN did ALL of these things ... and in a lifetime cut short by a tragic heart disease. He existed on ALL of those levels ... and bridged the gaps between them, uniting fans of all ages, from all walks of life and backgrounds. BOBBY DARIN was truly one of a kind and his 26 Top 40 Pop Hits spell out that legacy loud and clear.
MY LAST FEW WORDS: This entire series would not have been possible without the help of these three books: BORROWED TIME: THE 37 YEARS OF BOBBY DARIN by AL DiORIO, the grand-daddy of them all ... you'll find this book referenced in virtually EVERYTHING written about BOBBY DARIN ever since. (Sadly, AL just recently passed away ... even sadder, just prior to the new KEVIN SPACEY film BEYOND THE SEA opening in theaters.) Secondly, DREAM LOVERS: THE MAGNIFICENT SHATTERED LIVES OF BOBBY DARIN AND SANDRA DEE, written by DARIN's own son, DODD DARIN, which recaps the careers of both BOBBY DARIN and SANDRA DEE ... an excellent read, with tons of exclusive quotes by the people who were there ... you get the whole story "in their own words" so to speak with this one. And finally, THAT'S ALL: BOBBY DARIN ON RECORD, STAGE AND SCREEN by JEFF BLEIEL, which not only recaps all the biographical information from both of the above sources (as well as TONS of magazine articles) but also features a reference section listing every one of DARIN's single and album releases, movie and TV appearances, song-writing credits, etc. (This book has just recently been updated to coincide with the movie release.) In fact, there are at least two OTHER BOBBY DARIN biographies hitting book shelves in time to cash in on th enew film ... ROMAN CANDLE by DAVID EVANIER and BOBBY DARIN: A LIFE by MICHAEL SETH STARR ... as well as the recent ME AND BOBBY D, written by school chum (and future musical arranger) STEVE KARMEN, highlighting BOBBY's first time out on the road. There are also a couple of great BOBBY DARIN websites you can check out:
BobbyDarin.com: Official Fansite for Bobby Darin
(We thank them again for their contributions to the early part of this series ... and for helping us circulate it to other BOBBY DARIN fans out there ... it's fully supported and endorsed by DODD DARIN himself!) And, if you EVER get the chance to see the A&E BIOGRAPHY segment on BOBBY DARIN, you DEFINITELY should check it out! (I recently picked up a copy on DVD!)
BOBBY DARIN truly was one of a kind ... in a league of his own.
We hope you have enjoyed this special series.
Copyright Kent Kotal / Forgotten Hits, 1998 - 2017 ... All rights reserved