Bobby Darin faces life like a daredevil fighter pilot in an old war movie. Assertive and cocky, brown eyes peering through unseen goggles, he surveys the scene around him as he prepares to tangle with the enemy squadron. He's outnumbered, of course.
"Where I grew up, when I said I wanted to be an entertainer , people laughed at me. They said, 'Around here? People who are born here, live here, and get married here and they die here. They don't become successful or rich or famous or entertainers. Get that out of your head!'"
Bobby looks at you intently, "To be in show business is my obsession. It's my drive. If I wasn't as sophisticated and didn't know how to use words like that, I would just say I liked doing it. Or maybe I wouldn't say anything at all."
"I'm not a great singer. What my audience likes is the excitement I project. My personality. I don't know what it is, but it's there. I don't have any illusions about being a great actor either. I think I'll be better the more I do it, the more I learn. Take Come September, this movie I'm doing now."
Bobby nods his head toward the center of a cavernous sound stage on the outskirts of Rome. Despite the distraction of his own voice blasting the lyrics of Clementine from a nearby phonograph, his costars Sandra Dee , Rock Hudson and Gina Lollibrigida are all busy in various parts of the set, filming the romantic comedy with an Italian locale.
"For most of my role, I don't think the audience will like me. At first I'm a smart aleck kid--an American student on vacation out for a good time in Italy. When I meet up with Rock, who plays a millionaire , whatever I try to do, Rock can do a little bit better and keeps putting me down. But I'd rather be somebody who isn't liked and turns likeable at the end of the picture than be a nothing."
Waiting for Rock and Gina to finish rehearsals, Bobby shifts uneasily. "Movie making bugs me, " he says. "I expected scenes to be made out of sequence , but not quite this far out, where you often not even pick up a scene that you didn't finish working on the day before. I'd love to get in, work for a solid four weeks and get out. That's it. This way you work and then you sit, wait around half the day while they work with the lights or shift sets. I'm not used to that. It makes me tense."
"The body is a machine, " Bobby declares. "You feed it, have a checkup once in awhile and you use it. But when you get all fueled up and there's nothing to do with the unused energy, it doubles back on itself and makes you restless."
Bobby makes faces at Sandra across the set, heckles her while she is being interviewed , practices strumming a Spanish guitar he bought in Rome for for sixty-five dollars. "I'm training my fingernails," He explains, his brows knitted. "I want to get as much contact with the flesh and the instrument as possible. I don't want to use a pic, it gives you a different sound."
Bobby jumps from his seat, snatches a telephone from its cradle and snaps "Room service? Send me a room!" He slams the phone down again announces that Groucho Marx delivered that joke 30 years ago in a Marx Brothers comedy called Animal Crackers . As a photographer passes by , he reaches out and trips the shutter of the man's camera , exposing the film and growls, "That was your last picture!" The photographer smiles uncertainly.
Bobby and a technician on "Come September" set.
Then Bobby turns to a technician launching into a stream of Italian-sounding phrases as if he were the master of the tongue, although at most he can read and understand about half of an average Italian menu. Noting that Lollibridga is closeted in her dressing room with a reporter, Bobby bangs on her door , hollering "Two minutes! Two minutes!" Returning five minutes later cackling to himself, he scribbles the name of Anna Magnanai on an envelope and pushes under Gina's door.
"I'm sensitive," Bobby muses. "I don't mean about my own feelings. Everybody has those. I mean to the world around me. I'm asking questions, studying people all the time. They think I'm a nut but I can't help it." He breaks off to call Rock Hudson at the top of his lungs, urging the star -who has a classic profile -to have his nose "fixed" then turns to Sandra's mother and hisses at her, "Don't talk to me today. I'll be better tomorrow."
When she fires back "But I won't," he replies in an injured voice, "Why do you let me get to you? I'm only joking."
In a tone compacted of his wryness and wriggling delight, he explains, "I love to be insulted. I love to insult people. Why? "He shrugs his shoulders. "Who knows? All night club performers are that way. It's something you do to your audience. You do it to each other trying to break the other guy up. But in Hollywood, they don't get it. They think you really mean it. It bugs them. Then they dislike you for it. They won't say anything in your face if they can help it. It's always smile, flash those lovely teeth. But they dislike you." He shrugs again. "There are more of them than there are of me. I can't change them, so I'm going to work on it, I suppose I'll have to adjust."
"A couple of years ago I was privileged to be accepted at a club in Beverly Hills where many of the wonderful people in show business have lunch and talk. Men like George Burns, Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, George Jessel. None of these people are my idols in the sense of having a personal idol, but altogether they represent my ideal of show business. That's the only thing in their lives. It was a proud moment for me when Mr. Burns called me Bobby. If I live a thousand years and George Burns lives to be fifteen hundred , he'll always be Mr. Burns to me. With George Jessel, it's Uncle Georgie. When I called Groucho Marx Mr. Marx he said, 'What are you trying to do, get me arrested?'"
"The first time I was sitting with them at a table," Bobby continues, "I didn't say anything, just watched and listened. Groucho suddenly turned to me and said 'Alright young fellow, you haven't opened your mouth, sing us a song!" I stood up and sang ,"I'm Captain Splauding , the African explorer.....' Everyone was amazed that I dared to mimic Groucho to his face. I explained that I had been imitating him for 15 years, ever since I was a kid."
"Groucho pulled the cigar out of his mouth and said, 'That's nothing. I've been doing it a lot longer than that."
Bobby suddenly crouches low and lopes around the floor as studio workers stare at him as if he had suddenly gone mad. "He's a wonderful man, "Bobby concludes on his return lap. "Maybe these things don't sound like much, but when he says them they just break you up."
"You know what my philosophy is ?" He inquires. "Frank Sinatra said I don't know how long ago, but I thought it out for myself before I ever realized he had said the same thing. Only he said it on top of the heap , as a result of fifteen years of success. It would be presumptuous of me to say it in my twenties, but I think it anyway. Frank said that if you have the talent to back yourself up, you could get away with anything, short of - I don't know," Bobby pauses, then ticks off major crimes like murder and rape. "Apart from those that's it. That's what I believe . But I don't think anything makes any difference if the public isn't buying the commodity you produce. If I make a record that doesn't sell, it's a bomb not matter what I say or do. If I make a record that does sell, it sells because I got something that people want to buy, not because of what people say about me. But I don't think about ideals and things like that. I just think about making a success myself."
Speaking about his bulldozer drive, Bobby asks, "Who knows why kids want to be in show business? Maybe you need a lot of love , you want to be applauded by a lot of people. I don't know. Many years ago, my mother was in vaudeville. Whenever people, hear that they say 'A Ha! that's where it came from.'It didn't. There were many years between her being in vaudeville and my being born. I didn't know I was going to be a singer. But I always knew I would be something. My father died before I was born. He was an Italian cobbler, son of a cabinet maker. My mother was English. She named me Walden Robert Cassotto."
Bobby grew up in a rough neighborhood in the Bronx. His crib was a cardboard box . A sickly child, he suffered through several bouts of rheumatic fever. "My mother taught school, but she didn't believe in the public school system so she decided to teach me herself. Letters used to be written back and forth by the school authorities, but by the time they would be answered , months would have passed. Then it would start all over again. I didn't enroll in school until I was eight years old. My mother always wanted whatever I wanted for myself --only she was a little ahead of me. She was a wonderful person, I loved her very much." Bobby shakes his head, goes on after an almost imperceptible pause.
"I had no trouble in adjusting. I got along very well. On our block lived Italians , Jews ,Negroes, Irish, Puerto Ricians. I still know these people. I can talk to them in their own language." Bobby's sister Nina, who is fourteen years his senior , went to work as soon as she was old enough and married when she was 19. She and husband Charles Maffia , took Bobby and his mother who were on home relief, to live with them. "Charlie --who has since become my traveling companion --has been wonderful to me and I love him and my sister. I built them a house in New Jersey. I keep my things there and stay there when I'm in New York, She was the one person in my life for a long time."
Because of his illness , Bobby had a great deal of time to read. "I was a whiz in grammar school," he remembers. "Then I went on to the Bronx High School of Science. From being a whiz , I turned into a dud. It was full of kids studying all the time. I studied hard enough though. I picked up a lot of ideas in high school. I chafed about it then, but I look back and I see whatever I know, I learned in those three years in high school. The kids were full of ideas, ideas about democracy, the equality of people."
In high school Bobby decided to learn to play the drums. "I bought an old set and taught myself, then got a job in a school band. We used to go up to resort hotels and play during summer vacations. I taught myself to to play the piano-and the guitar." He strums his fingers along the table top. After graduation he went to Hunter College for a brief time. "I was taking the usual courses and went out for the dramatics society. I wanted to be an actor. I read some plays and worked in them and then the teacher took me aside and said 'Bobby you are the best one in the group. But I would rather not have you accept leading roles so that some of the other boys can have a chance,' So what could I do?"
"Much as I understand it now, I couldn't understand it then. I'd had it and decided to go out and make my own way. I quit school."
Bobby took odd jobs to earn a living. He worked as a manual laborer, cleaning guns for the navy, sweeping scraps in a metal factory. "I would work for a mouth or two, then quit and make the rounds, trying to get something in the theater. But nothing happened." Then came a "disastrous affair" with a woman thirteen years older than he was. "She was wild woman with wild schemes and crazy ideas. It all blew up, it was a terrible mess. It changed my life." He recalls the episode with intensity. "I was numb for months afterward. I couldn't feel anything."
He still can't remember what he did for months following. "Thats when I knew the world didn't give two cents about me. Before that experience I went off in all directions. I wasn't disciplined. Afterward, I knew I would have to make the right ones or else I would be in the wrong through my own fault."
Somewhere along the line , in his reaction to the end of his affair, he wrote a song and found himself committed to the commercial jungle of the of the pop music world. During this time he shared a cold water flat , subsisting on mostly on stale bread and milk, with a couple of youthful friends trying to make it into the business.
One of the ways they earned money was by writing radio commercials. Bobby wrote them, then sang them on demonstration records which he and his partner tried to sell. He never had voice lessons. "Six weeks of breathing exercises, that's all." Through another friend, one of the demonstration was auditioned at Decca Records in March 1956. The company thought enough of Bobby's talent's as a composer and singer to sign him to a year's contract. "I was a bust," he says. "I made four bombs in a row." He and Decca parted ways.
In the same year Bobby Cassotto changed his name to the more easily remembered Darin by the simple expedient of picking it out of the telephone book, In 1957, ATCO, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, put him under contract after hearing him sing Million Dollar Baby. History began to repeat itself but his luck changed before his contract expired a year later. Bobby was co-author of a rock and roll item called Splish Splash which had been rejected by a number of other record companies. Released by ATCO in May 1958, his recording of of Splish Splash was a smash. "I'll never stop being grateful to ATCO," Bobby says. "I might be with another record company sometime, but they had the confidence and faith in me to back that record." The single record multiplied rapidly, in 1959, ATCO issued two long playing albums. Bobby Darin and That's All in 1960 came This Is Darin and Darin At The Copa which saluted his successful debut at the well-known New York nightclub and For Teenagers Only in 1961 he teamed with Johnny Mercer for Two Of A Kind and most recently his vocal highlights were assembled in The Bobby Darin Story.
"The record that really made me was Mack The Knife." Originally it was part of the album That's All . Released as a single the following month, Mack the Knife sold more than two million copies. It was voted best single of the year by the National Academy Of Arts And Sciences , which also voted Bobby a Grammy for Best New Artist of 1959. "My other big ones in '59 were Dream Lover and Queen Of The Hop. I pick all my own material. Most of these fall into the rock and roll category. The teenagers know me now," he says. "but I want to show the adults I can do something too."
Preoccupied by his passion for success, Bobby analyzes problems other entertainers have foundered on. Some have talent but no discipline, others have too much ego . He always compares his own behavior on the basis of his observations. Other wise he refuses to discuss singers saying "I won't opinionate on other singers, I like them all."
With his success on records came increasing opportunities in television. He made his TV debut on a 1956 Jimmy Dorsey-Tommy Dorsey show. In 1956, he was seen on The Dick Clark show, in 1959 he made the first of many appearances on Ed Sullivan's show. He was a "guest" of Perry Como and Bob Crosby; he appeared on Timex, Revlon and Ford "specials"; he was hailed by This Is Your Life and interviewed by Mike Wallace. Following a "calculated plan of exposure" in the winter of 1959-1960, his TV appearances have been tapered off in order not to wear out his welcome. He had his own NBC-TV special last January, Bobby Darin and Friends, in the tried and true variety format.
A part from TV shows and clubs, he has toured overseas to Australia , England and Scotland. "It's a backbreaking grind," he says, in a matter-of fact tone. "But even when you're exhausted you keep going. Somehow when you get on for a performance , you find a reserve of energy. If I ever got to a point where it affected my performance, then I would stop and go to bed. I wouldn't go that far.
During the crucial months of his career in 1959, Bobby lost ten pounds, switched managers four times. "I have to have somebody who really knows how to think for me, who can steer me the right way, who has enough experience in the business. It's hard to find the right combination , but I think I've got it now." He said a year and a half ago when he settled on his current manager, Steve Blauner. A year later Blauner was still with him and Bobby said proudly, "Where the performing is concerned, it's me. Everything else, it's we--my manager Steve and me." Bobby Darin made well over a quarter of a million dollars in 1959, he owns his own music publishing company.
In 1959, Bobby signed a seven year contract with Paramount Pictures after being tested during an engagement at the Cloisters, a Hollywood nightclub. He announced he wouldn't make his debut in any movie designed solely to interest his teenaged following. "I need bolstering up with some good names and talent," he said then; he has since suited his action to his words by making his major movie debut in Come September for Universal International, although he did sing a rhythm number called That's How It Went All Right" in Pepe Despite the brevity of his appearance, Pepe's producer-director George Sidney called Darin "One of the next big dramatic stars out of Hollywood...in two years the only place Darin will be singing is the tub."
Come September changed Bobby's life in more ways than one: he met co-star Sandra Dee for the first time. "We were supposed to have a date several times," Sandra remarked later, "go to a premiere or something, but one of us always got jammed up at the last minute and never made it. Why, I never even seen him do his act or anything! Before we met on the set, the director said to remember this was Bobby's first picture and that he might be a little nervous. Well, we started right off on the first day and before you know it he had us all going. Why, it's as if he'd been doing this all his life! You can tell Bobby is a good actor: he can shoot a line at you from across the room. " Grouping for words to describe her feelings, she added, "He sizzles. Somebody that's got it, you know it right away! You can see it in his eyes!"
In Come September, Sandra plays a college girl about her own age. "A girl that's me", she says. "I don't have to do a thing with characterization. There's this scene where I have to slap Bobby and I would start to cry each time before I got my last word of dialogue because I couldn't bear to do it. And then we would have to do it, over and over again. I never slapped anyone in my life and I had no reason to slap him really, and I could hardly bring myself to do it. It's the hardest thing I've ever done."
Bobby and Sandra were married on December 1st, 1960, shortly after the motion picture was completed.
Bobby also impressed Robert Mulligan, the director of Come September with his ability to "come on live".
Mulligan says, "I think all real performers do that. As soon as they are on, their eyes light up, they give off a charge of excitement. Bobby does that. He's not too sure of himself in some things. It's his first picture . But he learns fast. Directing is a question of making suggestions , toning some things down, changing the shape of others. Bobby responds very quickly to suggestions. Bobby is smart. He listens. No performer who can get up in a night club and belt out songs the way he does and keep an audience's attention can be shy or too nervous. As Bobby gets more experience, he will be a fine actor."
Universal-International was so taken with Bobby's performance in the soon-to-be-released comedy that the studio signed him for two more pictures.
Of his approach to acting, Bobby says, " I don't like to do much about the character until I get in front of the camera because I don't know what the director will want. I run through it all the way I think it's right and then change whatever the director wants me to. That way I solidify the character on the set."
Bobby wrote a couple of songs for the picture, including the theme. "I pick out a tune on the piano," he says, describing his method of composing "and play it over an over again until I memorize it. I can't write music so if I don't remember it, it's lost. I've lost a lot of tunes that way. I used to get someone who could write down the melody as soon as possible, Now I can make a tape."
He has made two other films for Paramount which will be released later this year, Too Late Blues and Hell Is For Heroes .Next is a remake of the Rogers and Hammerstein musical State Fair for Twentieth Century Fox.
"With two movies a year and twelve weeks of club work and recording, I'd be as happy as an oyster. That's the dream life. I need the public, the applause, the feeling you get when you work for a live audience. It's like a wall that reflects on you."
His first taste of the big time in the night club world came when George Burns hired him sight unseen for a show at Las Vegas' Hotel Sahara after hearing his album That's All. Later Bobby returned to conquer Las Vegas, headlining his own show at the Sands Hotel.
In the beginning Bobby sang Rock and Roll. In his later attempts to reach a mature audience , many of his vocal mannerisms seemed patterned after those of Frank Sinatra. Today's Bobby's professional performance is very much his own. His vocal ability is indifferent , of major importance is his slick , vital delivery, characterized by an almost incredible self- assurance which he beams at his audience like a blinding floodlight. He can be candid and charming with great appeal. When he is in form, as in his best recordings, he is able to project an extraordinary thrill of excitement.
"Acting is singing is dancing is everything", Bobby declares with zest. "It's all performing, It's all the same. All I can hope for is that my personality comes through and that some people will find it entertaining. I don't care if I get five thousand letters a week from people who say I read about you in a magazine and I think you are a conceited ass but I like a record I heard you sing once. Or I watched you on a TV show. A certain number of people buy my records. A lot more go to the movies. If I can get some of them to find some part of what I do worth watching or listening to, I'm happy. I owe everything to the people. My audience. I'll do whatever they want me to do."
"I don't talk about the way I vote because somebody somewhere will think the less of me as a performer if the way I vote differs from his. I won't talk about my personal affairs because I don't think that should be anybody's business but my own." Whenever possible, Bobby has refused to publicize his marriage to Sandra Dee ,confounding his press agents by maintaining, "My home is my castle". The couple did appear last April to present an Oscar on the Academy Awards show over ABC TV. "But I'll talk about show business and performing until my head drops off. That's what I love."
"People keep writing me," he adds, "asking for advice on how to break into show business. How to be a singer. There isn't any way that is good for everybody. Do you know what I tell kids? I tell them to stay in high school and graduate and go to college as long as they feel that they are getting something out of it. That's when they should enjoy themselves and go out and have a good time. But when they quit school, at eighteen or nineteen or twenty-three or whatever it is, they should put everything else out of their lives and and concentrate on the thing they think they want to do. Then after a year of doing anything they can find in relation to that , working in an office, doing odd jobs, anything, then they should evaluate their reactions. Are they any good at it? Does their thinking correspond to that of people they've met in the same field who have been at it for fifteen or twenty years? If not, they should get out and do something else."
"In the final analysis," he concludes, "anybody is the sum of all his parts; I'm the sum of everything that has made me what I am , where I was born, how I grew up, what has happened to me. What's right for me isn't right for someone else."
Bobby Darin is an unique individual.
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