Spotlight on ……
Walden Robert Cassotto was
born on May 14, 1936 and became one of the most popular American big band performers and rock and roll teen idols of the late 1950s
and early 1960s He was better known by the name of Bobby Darin.
Darin performed widely in a
range of music genres, including pop, jazz, folk and country. Although unknown
to his public, his health was dangerously fragile and strongly motivated him to
succeed within the limited lifetime he feared he had.
Darin was born to a poor,
working-class Italian-American family in the Bronx, New
York. The person assumed to be his father (but actually his grandfather)
died in jail a few months before he was born. It was the height of the Great Depression, and
he once remarked that his crib was a cardboard box, later a dresser drawer. As
a result, his mother had to accept Home Relief to take care of
her infant son. It was not until he was an adult that he learned that the woman
he thought to be his sister Nina, 17 years his senior, was in fact his mother,
and Polly, the woman he thought to be his mother, was his grandmother. He never
knew the identity of his birth father.
Darin was frail as an
infant and, beginning at the age of eight, was stricken with multiple bouts of rheumatic fever. The
illness left him with a seriously diseased heart. Overhearing a doctor tell his
mother that he would be lucky to reach the age of sixteen, he lived with the
constant knowledge that his life might be a short one, which further motivated
him to use his talents. He was driven by his poverty and illness to make
something of his life and, with his innate talent for music, by the time he was a
teenager he could play several instruments, including piano, drums and guitar. He later added harmonica and xylophone.
An outstanding student,
with a genius-level IQ, Darin
graduated from the prestigious Bronx High
School of Science and went on to attend Hunter College on a scholarship.
Wanting a career in the New York theatre, he dropped out of college to play
small nightclubs around
the city with a musical combo. In the resort area of the Catskill Mountains,
he was both a busboy and an entertainer.
As was common with
first-generation Americans at the time, he changed his Italian name to one that
sounded less ethnic. He chose the name "Bobby" because he had generally
been called that as a child. He allegedly chose Darin because he had seen a
malfunctioning electrical sign at a Chinese restaurant reading
"DARIN DUCK" rather than "MANDARIN DUCK", and he thought
the Darin looked good. Later, he said that the name was randomly picked out of
the telephone book.
Neither story has been verified.
In 1956 his agent
negotiated a contract for him with Decca Records, where Bill Haley &
His Comets had risen to fame. However, this was a time when rock and roll
was still in its infancy and the number of capable record producers and
arrangers in the field was extremely limited.
A member of the now famous Brill Building gang of
once-struggling songwriters who later found success, Darin was introduced to
then up-and-coming singer Connie
Francis. Bobby's manager arranged for Darin to help write several songs for
Connie in order to help jump-start her singing career. Initially the two
artists couldn't see eye to eye on potential material, but after several weeks
Bobby and Connie developed a romantic interest in one another. Purportedly,
Connie had a very strict Italian father who would separate the couple whenever
possible. When Connie's father learned that Bobby had suggested the two lovers
elope after one of Connie's shows, he ran Darin out of the building while
waving a gun telling Bobby to never see his daughter again.
Bobby saw Connie only twice
more after this happened, once when the two were scheduled to sing together for
a television show and again later when Connie was spotlighted on the television
series This Is Your
has said that not marrying Bobby was the biggest mistake of her life.
Darin left Decca to sign
with Atlantic Records (ATCO), where he wrote and arranged music for himself and others. There, after
three mediocre recordings, his career took off in 1958 when he wrote and record
“Splish Splash”. The song was an instant hit, selling more than a million
copies. "Splish Splash" was written with radio DJ Murray K Kaufman, who bet that Darin
could not write a song that started out with the words "Splish Splash, I
was takin' a bath", as suggested by Murray's mother. On a snow-bound night
in early 1958, Darin went in the studio alone and recorded a demo of
"Splish Splash". They eventually shared writing credits with her.
This was followed by more hits recorded in the same style.
In 1959, Bobby Darin
recorded "Dream Lover",
a ballad that became a multi-million seller. With financial success came the
ability to demand more so-called creative control. His
next record, "Mack
the Knife," was the classic standard from Weill’s Threepenny Opera: Darin
gave the tune a vamping jazz-pop interpretation, which he consciously modeled
on the style of Frankie Laine. The song went to No. 1 on the charts for nine
weeks, sold over a million copies, and won the Grammy
Award for Record of the Year in 1960. Darin was also voted the Grammy
Award for Best New Artist that year. "Mack The Knife" has since
been honored with a Grammy Hall of
Fame Award. He followed "Mack" with "Beyond the Sea",
a jazzy English-language version of Charles Trenet’s French hit song “La
The tracks were produced by
Atlantic founders, Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün with staff producer Jerry
Wexler and featured brilliant arrangements by Richard Wess. Propelled by
the success of "Mack the Knife" and "Beyond the Sea," Darin
became a hot commodity. He set all-time attendance records at the famed Copacabana nightclub in New York City, where it was not unusual for fans to line up all
the way around the block to get tickets when Darin performed there. The
Copacabana sold so many seats for Darin's shows that they had to fill the dance
floor, normally part of the performance area, with extra seating. Darin also
headlined at the major casinos in Las Vegas.
Jr., an exceptionally
multi-talented and dynamic performer himself, was quoted as saying that Bobby
Darin was "the only person I never wanted to follow" after seeing him
perform in Las Vegas.
Darin had a significant
role in fostering new talent. Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson and Wayne Newton opened his
nightclub performances when they were virtually unknown. Early on, at the
Copacabana, he insisted that black comic George Kirby be his
opening act. His request was grudgingly granted by Jules Podell, the manager
of the Copacabana.
In the 1960s, Darin also
owned and operated a highly successful music publishing and production company
(TM Music/Trio) and signed Wayne Newton to TM, giving him a song that was
originally sent to Darin to record. That record went on to become Newton's
breakout hit, "Danke
Schoen." He also was a mentor to Roger McGuinn, who
worked for Darin at TM Music before going off to form The Byrds. Darin also
produced football great Rosey
Grier's 1964 LP, Soul
City, and "Made in the Shade" for Jimmy Boyd.
In 1962, Darin also began
to write and sing country music, with hit songs including "Things"
(U.S. #3) (1962), "You're the
Reason I'm Living" (U.S. #3), and "18 Yellow Roses" (U.S.
#10). The latter two were on Capitol Records, which
he joined in 1962, before returning to Atlantic four years later. The song Things was sung by Dean Martin in the 1967 TV
special Movin' With
Nancy, starring Nancy Sinatra, which was released to home video in 2000.
In addition to music, Darin
became a motion picture actor. In 1960, he appeared twice as himself in NBC's
short-lived crime drama Dan Raven, starring Skip Homeier and set on
the Sunset Strip of West Hollywood.
In 1960, he was the only actor ever to have been signed contractually to five
major Hollywood film studios. He wrote
music for several films and acted in them as well. In his first major film, Come September, a romantic comedy designed to capitalize on his popularity with the teenage and young adult audience, he met and co-starred with 18-year-old actress Sandra Dee. They fell in
love and were married in 1960. They had one son, Dodd Mitchell Darin (born
1961) and divorced in 1967.
Asking to be taken
seriously, he took on more meaningful movie roles, and in 1962, he won the Golden Globe Award for "Most Promising Male Newcomer" for his role in Pressure Point.
In 1963, he was nominated
for an Academy
Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a shell-shocked soldier in Captain
Newman, M.D.. At the Cannes Film Festival,
where his records—in particular "Beyond the Sea"—brought him a wide
following, he won the French Film Critics Award for best actor.
Darin's musical output
became more "folky"
as the 1960s progressed and he became more politically aware and active. In
1966, he had another big hit record, but this time it was with folksinger Tim Hardin's "If I Were
a Carpenter," adding another style to his vast repertoire. The song
secured Darin's return to the Top
10 after a four-year absence. Jim (Roger) McGuinn, the future leader of the
Byrds, was part of his performing band. Darin traveled with Robert Kennedy and
worked on the latter's 1968 presidential campaign. He was with Kennedy the day
he traveled to Los Angeles on June 4, 1968 for the California Primary. Darin
was at the Ambassador Hotel later that night when Kennedy was assassinated. He
was devastated with this news.
Afterwards, Darin sold his
house and most of his possessions and lived in seclusion in a trailer near Big Sur for nearly a year.
Coming back to Los Angeles in 1969, Darin started another record company, Direction
Records, putting out folk and protest music. He wrote the very popular
"Simple Song of Freedom" in 1969. He said of his first Direction
Records album, "The purpose of Direction Records is to seek out
statement-makers. The album is solely [composed] of compositions designed to
reflect my thoughts on the turbulent aspects of modern society." During
this time, he was billed under the name "Bob Darin," grew a mustache, and stopped wearing
a hairpiece. Within two
years, however, all of these changes were discontinued.
At the beginning of the
1970s, he continued to act and to record, including several albums with Motown Records and a
couple of films. In January 1971, he underwent his first heart surgery in an
attempt to correct some of the heart damage he had lived with since childhood.
He spent most of the year recovering from the surgery.
In 1972, he starred in his
own TV variety show on NBC, The
Bobby Darin Amusement Company, which ran until his untimely death in 1973.
Darin married Andrea Yeager in June 1973. He made TV guest appearances and also
remained a top draw at Las Vegas, where, owing to his poor health, he was often
administered oxygen after his performances.
In 1973, Darin's ill health took a turn for the worse. After failing to
take medication prescribed after a dental visit, he developed blood poisoning, weakening his body and clotting one of his
heart valves. On December 11, 1973, Darin entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los
Angeles to repair two artificial heart valves received in a previous operation.
Despite this, Bobby Darin died on December 20, 1973 after eight hours on the
operating table. No funeral was held for Darin, and his body was donated to
UCLA for medical research.