Bobby Darin

I Have to Keep Looking

This article, written by Tom Carlile, appeared in
the December 1959 issue of Starlife Magazine.

If you tune in your radio one of these days and hear a bouncing voice singing "I Have to Keep Looking ..." he really means it. That will be Bobby Darin, show business' hit man of the year, looking for that girl that's just around some corner. Such a song has not yet been written, but knowing Bobby's talent for penning tunes in a matter of minutes we can expect it any day now.

"I have to keep looking, at least for a while yet," Bobby told me as he sat and tried not to look at the pile of rumpled laundry, scattered music sheets and the open suitcases on the hotel room floor.

"Since my mother died last February, I have really nothing to go home for, and no one to tell things to. Maybe I can make a home for myself here in Hollywood. There's a girl I know that I'm quite seriously interested in, but I haven't thought about marriage and I won't until I'm really secure. I don't mean money, I'm talking about this." And he pointed to the stuff on the floor.

"For at least a year I can't be sure where this is leading me. It isn't bad for a single guy, and I'm enjoying every minute of it, but I can't think of settling down until I know the answer for myself, inside."

If Bobby Darin doesn't know where all this is leading him, at least a few million fans do. They'll tell you Bobby is heading for one of the most sensational careers any modern pop singer ever had.

So far, in a short space of time, 22-year-old Mr. Darin has been knocking them cold on the night-club circuits and juke boxes all across the country. Next you'll be seeing him in movies.

With a lively voice that makes you want to dance, regardless of your age from 10 to 100, Bobby is all showmanship. Expressive hands, a firm delivery, and a determination to make you like him are among his many talents. He even writes his own songs, some only in the time it takes you to make a phone call.

Already over five million records of his hard-driving songs have been sold. He's put on wax two of the tastiest albums of individual jazz phrasing I've ever heard. And he has captivated sophisticated night clubbers in Las Vegas, Chicago and New York as much as he has the teenage rock 'n' rollers.

Only one thing bothers him:

"After months of looking at the happy, untroubled faces of the kids I've been singing for during my recent tour of the country, I get the feeling that I never was a teenager," he says.

"Look, I'm not saying this to drum up any phony sympathy for myself or any entertainer who gives up the fun of growing up normally in order to learn the business."

"Even before I finished high school, I was four or five years ahead of myself, trying to learn things about the music business. And that can't help but give you the feeling of being on the outside. I felt that way in school, and I still do, to some extent.

"I suppose that's one reason why, although the kids like the songs I write and buy my records, I've never been a 'teen-aged' idol like Fabian, Ricky Nelson and some of the other dreamboat singers. The other reason I see in the mirror every day. I'm not particularly goodlooking, and girls rarely scream and squeal when I come out to do a number. It would probably shake me up if they did, because I am trying to put the major emphasis on selling a song and, naturally, my particular style of doing it. Furthermore, I'm interested in every side of show business, and I want to become a total entertainer -- not just a recording personality. That's a big goal, I realize, and it may take me a lifetime."

In fact, neither his lack of "pretty-boy" looks nor his feeling of being out of step with his generation has affected Bobby Darin's popularity with teen-aged audiences, and particularly with teen-aged girls of the cooler variety who respect his ability too much to make the squealing scene.

"That sort of behavior is too silly for anyone as wonderful as Bobby Darin," the teen-aged daughter of a musician friend told me. "He's too great to be swoon-bait."

Almost singularly unique in the case of young Mr. Darin is that adults all over the nation share this opinion and are perhaps more demonstrative about his dynamic appeal. During his engagement as George Burns' co-star at Las Vegas' swank Sahara Hotel, Bobby frequently finished his turn and was brought back for an encore by standing ovations. Hollywood critics gave his debut the kind of notices seasoned stars hope for. One newspaper columnist summed up Bobby's kinetic stage personality best with the comment that "this boy works hard easy."

It is difficult to be around Bobby Darin for long without becoming aware of the intense inner discipline that drives him and that, as he matures, will make him one of the outstanding entertainers of this generation. Riding along in a car to the studio, he may suddenly begin humming a burst of melody that, weeks later, will end up as a best-selling rock-and-roll tune. While waiting for his cue to appear on a television show, Bobby whiles away the time tapping out a soft-shoe routine he might use sometime later. Interviewers soon discover a quick, eager intelligence in his frank, rapid-fire answers, delivered almost in anticipation of their obvious questions about his brief but busy life. One New York reporter was so overwhelmed by Bobby's forceful statements that he labelled young Darin, then a fiery 21 years of age, as "that angry young man."

"One of the remarks that often has got me into trouble," he explained, while we were talking in the makeup room at NBC's Burbank studios, "is my explanation that I have worked hard to succeed so I could escape the slums I grew up in. I spent my childhood in the southeastern section of the Bronx, and our street was a little U.N. Some of the people from my neighborhood didn't appreciate me calling it a 'slum' and wrote me some nasty letters when that quote appeared. But if it wasn't a slum, our neighborhood at least wasn't an environment conducive to good mental health. There were street fights every day and lots of tangles with the law. Luckily, I didn't get into trouble, probably because I was too busy studying. My mother, who used to be in show business, brought up my sister, Nina, and me, and while we never starved, we never got very fat either. Kids on our block used to call me 'the walking dictionary' -- because I could spell the hard words like 'delicatessen' and 'restaurant.' From as far back as I could remember, my main interest in life was getting out of that place."

Bobby's interest in music, started while he was attending Bronx High School of Science, where he learned to play the drums well enough to sit in during school dances. On piano in that same group was Dick Behrke, who today is Bobby's accompanist for all stage and night-club appearances. "In school, Bobby never sang a lick," Dick recalls. "He wasn't even interested in singing. He wanted to be an actor."

After his graduation from high school, Bobby enrolled in Hunter College, which he attended for just one year. At the age of 18, he dropped out of school to join a children's theater group that toured the New England coast. "I played an Indian Chief," Bobby said. "And I probably wasn't too convincing. But our show went over big at PTA's and women's clubs."

When Bobby returned to New York, he met an attractive dancer several years his senior with whom he proceeded to fall head over heels in love. With this girl, whom he still describes rather mystically as "a major influence in my life," Bobby had big plans for developing an act in which his dramatics would complement her dancing. These plans ended with his profound disillusionment in love.

For a number of months, as he underwent the painful anguish of getting his psyche well, Bobby was withdrawn and filled with self-abnegation. Dick, with whom Bobby shared an apartment through this grim period, claims that his piano was the only thing that seemed to help. Hours on end, Bobby would sit staring off into bleak space, picking out melodies straight from his heart. Most of them were incredibly sentimental, but they were the right medicine.

During this emotional upheaval, Bobby was working in a mid-town factory in order to earn enough money to help out at home. His abhorence of manual labor became so pronounced that he leaped at the opportunity of trying his hand at writing radio commercials. In collaboration with a friend named Don Kirshner, Bobby wrote several hundred jingles and straight commercials. Later, seeing the potential in the new rock 'n roll craze, the boys tried their hand at writing songs. At first, their efforts were frankly amateurish. But within several months, Bobby and Kirshner had written a couple of songs that ended up on the back sides of big sellers and with this incentive, they started to click.

In March of 1956, Bobby happened to stumble onto his singing career. While attempting to sell one of his songs, he was overheard by Connie Francis' manager, who knocked Bobby off his stool by asking him if he'd like a recording contract. The following day, Bobby was signed by Decca Records and on Tuesday, less than a week later, recorded his first two sides, "Rock Island Line" and "Timber." That same week, on Saturday, Bobby made his debut on television with the late, great Tommy Dorsey.

"I was scared stiff of the audience," he recalls. "But I got through the show somehow. After it was over, I told myself that I would never be scared again, and I have never been upset by the thought of facing any audience."

Bobby made four records in all for Decca, and got his first taste of people while doing personal appearances through the midwest. None of these early sides sold well, and Decca dropped his contract. Believing that he could do better with his own material, Bobby made a trip to Birmingham, Alabama, where he conducted his own recording session on two sides which he soon sold to ATCO. Following the modest success of this record (35,000 sales), Bobby made seven more in rapid succession, traveling extensively around the east and midwest to promote them with personal appearances. Unfortunately, none of these caught on with the teen-agers.

"I would be lying if I said that I didn't have lots of moments when I thought my songs must be lousy," Darin told me. "I kept writing them, and some of them were big sellers for other recording artists. But not for me."

Then, in May of last year, one of Bobby's friends suggested the title, "Splish Splash." "When I first heard it, the title sounded sort of silly, but after I said it a few times, it was quite catchy," Bobby said. "Splish-Splash" turned out to be catchy indeed, selling well over 1,000,000 and launching Bobby Darin solidly with the nation's young record buyers. He has since scored big hits with "Early in the Morning" and "Dream Lover," both his own compositions. In recent months, he has written nearly a dozen more which will be recorded and released periodically as he can fit them into his busy schedule.

A Bobby Darin song is the product of both sudden inspiration and dogged concentration, and because so many of them have emerged so quickly out of his thoughts he is inclined to feel that perhaps dozens of potential hits have escaped him before he could get them down on paper."

"I have had no academic musical training whatsoever, and when I get an idea for a song, I have to sit down quickly at the piano and pick the melody out before it gets away," Bobby said, with a laugh. "The other night in the hotel I stopped at in San Jose, I heard a man and his wife arguing in the next room. Lying there trying to sleep, I suddenly had a terrific idea for a song but I was too tired to get up and write it down. In the morning, it was long gone. It possibly could have been the best song I ever wrote, but now it'll have to be the best one I never wrote."

Since the success of "Splish Splash," on which he collected both the writer's and artist's royalties, Bobby has been in great demand for both television and personal appearances and has now met every challenge that show business has to offer a young performer, with the exception of stardom in motion pictures.

During a recent date in Washington, Bobby lost his voice and filled the week with three shows nightly of ad-lib comedy material that went over as well as his singing with the audiences. Although he is scheduled for solid bookings in clubs, auditoriums and television through mid-December, Bobby will probably find time to make a movie as soon as Paramount finds a suitable story for his varied talents. He had been trying for the past year to squeeze in as much dramatic training as possible at the Bert Lane Repertory Co. in New York. But now he has become almost too successful at what he's doing to study what he wants most of all to master -- dramatic acting.

"I have always wanted to be an actor," he confesses. "And to a considerable degree I am already one. Selling a song takes a great deal of acting. But I want to be proud of my work in films when I get there."

Without another dramatic lesson, Bobby has a great deal more to offer in motion pictures than 90% of the young leading men in motion pictures and TV. He carries a trim 155 lbs. athletically on his 5'9' frame, and has the mobile, distinctive facial expression of a natural performer, plus taste and intelligence.

This combination of attributes, augmented with talent far in excess of his years, was perhaps best illustrated by Bobby's effortless transition from the medium of rock 'n roll to authoritative jazz singing. Although he has been singing ballads less than a year before the public, Darin's recent album, "Bobby Darin, That's All," is the most compelling offering of jazz phrasing to come along since Frank Sinatra first emerged as the king of modern styling. All across the land, Bobby's "Mack the Knife" and "Through a Long and Sleepless Night" has been getting daily plays from the DJ's who are not addicted to the boring idiocy of "Top-40 policy."

Sammy Davis, Jr., no mean jazz singer himself, wired Bobby after first hearing the track for Darin's album: "Just heard the dubs for your new album. What can I say? They're so good I hate you!"

Since the triple-decked bonanza of his success, Bobby Darin has been trying to find time to enjoy it. In the recording business there is an expression for describing the full-volume handling of a driving rock number -- "ride red." In every aspect of his career, Bobby is "riding red." He now owns his own publishing company, Tweed Music, as well as part interest in a recording company. His aggregate income from song-writing, record royalties as an artist, personal appearances, television and motion pictures will net him at least $250,000 this year.

No doubt remembering the financial struggles of his youth, Bobby has indulged in relatively few personal luxuries. He drives a low-priced convertible, buys paper-back books and spends very little on expensive gifts for girls and friends. Clothes, which are a professional necessity, have been the major item in his budget.

"After I received my first royalties I bought a home for my family in Jersey and furnished it myself," Bobby said. "But I haven't been able to spend much time there."

Interviewing a jockey on a race horse couldn't be more difficult than my trying to keep up with Bobby Darin for a STARLIFE story. In order to do it I had to keep running, followlng him from ATCO recording studio to Paramount movie studios, to the hotel, to a TV station for a quicky appearance, to another for a tape job, cutting a series of radio spots at another, then sitting through six press interviews and even a full scale portrait sitting.

When I asked him if he got much sleep, he replied, "yes, about four or five hours a night when I can afford it"

Just thinking about following him around makes me tired.

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