Bobby Darin (born Walden Robert Cassotto, May 14, 1936 - December 20, 1973) was an American singer, actor and musician.
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 would, and ultimately did, have.
He was also an actor, singer/songwriter and music business entrepreneur. His wish for a legacy was "to be remembered as a human being and as a great performer." Among his many other contributions, he became a goodwill ambassador for the American Heart Association.
Bobby Darin was born to a poor, working-class Italian-American family in the Bronx, New York. The person thought to be his father (who was 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, then later a dresser drawer. He was initially raised by his mother Polly and his sister Nina, subsisting on Home Relief until Nina later married and started a family with her new husband Charlie Maffia. It was not until Darin was an adult that he learned Nina, who was 17 years his senior, was in fact his birth mother, and that Polly, the woman he thought was his mother, was really his grandmother. He was never told the identity of his real father, other than being told that his birth father had no idea Nina was pregnant, and thus never knew that Bobby was even born. Polly mothered him well, despite her own medical history resulting in her addiction to morphine. It was Polly who took the young Bobby to what was left of the old vaudeville circuit in New York, places like the Bronx Opera House, and the RKO Jefferson in Manhattan, where he received his first showbiz inspiration, and where he saw performers like Sophie Tucker, whom he loved.
Darin was frail and sickly as an infant and, beginning at the age of 8, was stricken with multiple recurring bouts of rheumatic fever. The illness left him with a seriously weakened heart. Overhearing a doctor tell his mother he would be lucky to reach the age of 16, Darin lived with the constant knowledge that his life would be short, 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, 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 theater, 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. For the most part teenage Bobby was a comedy drummer and an ambitious but unpolished vocalist.
As was common with first-generation Americans at the time, he changed his Italian surname to one that sounded less ethnic. He chose the name "Bobby" because he had 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 "Darin" looked good. Later, he said that the name was randomly picked out of the telephone book, either by himself or by his publicist. It has also been suggested that he amended the word "daring" to suit his ambitions. None of these stories have been verified.
What really moved things along for Darin was his songwriting partnership, formed in 1955, with fellow Bronx Science student Don Kirshner. 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 TV series This Is Your Life. Connie has said that not marrying Bobby was the biggest mistake of her life. She used the title words of the song "My First Real Love," (a Darin-Kirshner song she'd recorded and on which Darin had played drums), when she said, "Well, he was my first real love and I never stopped loving him all my life." Connie Francis said too that she and Darin would sometimes go to the Apollo Theater to see artists like James Brown and Ray Charles, 'we were the only white people in the audience', and when Darin did record first for Decca early in 1956 it was a piece of black music, pioneered by the Louisiana songster Leadbelly, Rock Island Line - though the immediate inspiration was Lonnie Donegans skiffle version. He sang it on the Dorsey Brothers T.V Show, a big deal at the time, with the lyrics written on the palms of his hands in case he forgot them, which he did. But the songs recorded at Decca did very little business.
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 recorded "Splish Splash." The song was an instant hit, selling more than a million copies. "Splish Splash" was written with radio DJ Murray "Murray the K" Kaufman, who bet Darin that he 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. Along came financial success and with it came the ability to demand more so-called creative control. Some at the label wanted a Fats Domino-ish album, but Darin's devoted publicist and advisor Harriet 'Hesh' Wasser wanted a 'great, swinging, standard album,' and , as she later told it, they were walking down 57th street when Darin told her "Hesh, don't worry, you'll get your album." His next record, "Mack the Knife", was the classic standard from Kurt 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 Ertegen 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 and played the 12 string guitar in Darin's nightclub band 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. The couple had one son, Dodd Mitchell Darin (born 1961) and later divorced in 1967.
Wanting his acting 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, Darin 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 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 to protect his heart) before a dental visit, he developed blood poisoning. This weakened his body and badly affected one of his heart valves. On December 11, 1973, Darin entered Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for surgery to repair two artificial heart valves received in a previous operation. On December 19, 1973, the surgery began. A five-man surgical team worked for over six hours to repair his damaged heart. However, although the surgery was initially successful Darin died minutes afterward in the recovery room without regaining consciousness on December 20, 1973.
In 1990, singer Paul Anka made the speech for Darin's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1999, he was voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The Righteous Brothers refer to Darin in their song Rock and Roll Heaven, a tribute to late musicians, which was released months after Darin's death. The duo also make a reference to Mack the Knife.
In 2000, actor Kevin Spacey, a lifelong fan of Darin, acquired the film rights to his story. Spacey directed and produced the film, and played Bobby Darin; as well as co-writing the script. The film is named after one of Darin's top hits, Beyond the Sea. With the consent of the Darin estate, Steve Blauner, and archivist Jimmy Scalia, the movie's opening was at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival. Despite strong studio promotion, critical reaction was poor , and box office results were disappointing. However, the movie spurred a renewed interest in Darin, which has resulted in the release of "never heard before" material. His pianist, Roger Kellaway, has recorded two albums of Darin's music as well. Spacey was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor for the movie. He also occasionally did concert tours, performing many of Darin's hits as a tribute to the singer.
In a 2003 episode of the NBC television series American Dreams, Duncan Sheik portrays Darin and performs Beyond the Sea on American Bandstand. Brittany Snow's character, Meg Pryor, is assigned as Darin's liaison during the show.
On Monday, May 14, 2007, Darin was awarded a star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. This tribute honors Darin for his contribution to making Las Vegas the "Entertainment Capital of the World" and acknowledges his reputation as one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century. The sponsorship fee for this star was raised entirely by fan donations.
In December 2007, Darin was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.
Darin had a custom car built called the "Dream Car," designed by Andy DiDia; it is on display at the St. Louis Museum of Transportation.
On December 13, 2009, the Recording Academy announce that Darin will receive a Lifetime Achievement Award (post-mortem) at the 2010 Grammy Awards ceremony.
Beyond the Sea (film)
As mentioned above, Beyond the Sea is a 2004 biographical film based on the life of Darin, which takes its title from the Darin song of the same name. Kevin Spacey, who stars in the lead role and used his own singing voice for the musical numbers, co-wrote, directed, and co-produced the film which depicts Darin's rise to teen idol success in both the music and film industry during the 1950s and 60s, as well as his marriage to Sandra Dee, portrayed by Kate Bosworth.
As early as 1986, Barry Levinson intended to direct a film based on the life of Darin, and he began pre-production on the project in early 1997. When he eventually vacated the director's position, Spacey, along with Darin's son Dodd, acquired the film rights. Beyond the Sea was released in December 2004 to mixed reviews from critics and bombed at the box office. However, Dodd Darin, Sandra Dee and former Darin manager Steve Blauner responded with enthusiastic feedback to Spacey's work on the film. Despite the mixed reviews, some critics praised Spacey's performance, largely due to his decision to use his own singing voice. He also received a Golden Globe nomination.
Sandra Dee (April 23, 1942 - February 20, 2005) was an American actress. Dee began her career as a model and progressed to film. Best known for her portrayal of ingenues, Dee won a Golden Globe Award in 1959 as one of the year's most promising newcomers, and over several years her films were popular. By the late 1960s her career had started to decline, and a highly publicized marriage to Bobby Darin ended in divorce.
She rarely acted after this time, and her final years were marred by illness; she died as a result of kidney failure.
Birth and background
Dee was born Alexandra Zuck in Bayonne, New Jersey. Her parents divorced before she was five. Her mother was of Carpatho-Rusyn ancestry and raised her in the Russian Orthodox Church. Changing her name to "Sandra Dee," she became a professional model by the age of four and subsequently progressed to television commercials.
There was some confusion as to her actual birth year, with evidence pointing to both 1942 and 1944. According to her son Dodd Darin in his book Dream Lovers she was born in 1944, she and her mother having lied to everyone about her age so she could work. If true, the bride would have been 16 years old in 1960 when Dee was married to Bobby Darin.
Sandra Dee made her first film, Until They Sail, in 1957, and the following year, she won a Golden Globe Award for New Star Of The Year - Actress, along with Carolyn Jones and Diane Varsi.
She became known for her wholesome ingenue roles in such films as Imitation of Life, Gidget and A Summer Place, all in 1959. She later played "Tammy" in two Universal sequels to Tammy and the Bachelor in the role created by Debbie Reynolds.
During the 1970s she took very few acting jobs, but did make occasional television appearances.
Her marriage to Bobby Darin in 1960 kept her in the public eye for much of the decade. They met while making the 1961 film Come September together. She was under contract to Universal Studios, which tried to develop Dee into a mature actress, and the films she made as an adult - including a few with Darin - were moderately successful. They had one son, Dodd Mitchell Darin (also known as Morgan Mitchell Darin). She and Darin divorced in 1967.
Illness and death
Dee's adult years were marked by ill health. She admitted that for most of her life she battled anorexia nervosa, depression and alcoholism. In 2000, it was reported that she had been diagnosed with several ailments, including throat cancer and kidney disease. Complications from kidney disease led to her death on February 20, 2005, at the Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California.
Sandra Dee is interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, not far from her mother, Mary C. Douvan, who died on December 27, 1987. She is survived by her son Dodd, her daughter-in-law and two granddaughters, Alexa and Olivia.
In popular culture
In 1994, Dodd wrote a book about his parents, Dream Lovers: The Magnificent Shattered Lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, in which he chronicled his mother's anorexia, drug and alcohol problems and her disclosure that she had been sexually abused as a child by her stepfather, Eugene Douvan.
One of the popular songs of the Broadway musical and 1978 movie Grease is called, "Look at Me, I'm Sandra Dee."
Dee's life with Bobby Darin was dramatized in the 2004 film Beyond the Sea, in which Kevin Spacey played Darin and Dee was played by Kate Bosworth.
Photograph was Hand Oil Tinted by artist Margaret A. Rogers