Spotlight on ……

Bobby Darin

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 Life. Connie 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 Mer”.

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.

Sammy Davis 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.


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