A lesson, today, on the ego, by a leading authority on the subject -- Bobby Darin.
"I sure do have an ego," declared Darin, who, when he was 25 years old, predicted that he would be a bigger star than Frank Sinatra.
That was a dozen years ago. Now approaching 37, a big star with his own TV show (but not quite as big as Sinatra on fair assessment), Darin reflects upon his immodest boast of old.
"I wanted to be a legend at 25," Darin said as he sat on a high stool on the stage where he tapes his show at NBC's studio in beautiful Burbank.
"That kind of ego was there," he continued. "I can't imagine any artist who deals with the public not having ego. We need it. Analysis can correct only some kinds of void."
Of his own ego, Darin confesses to some uncertainty about its benefits. "It has helped, and it has hurt. And it has done nothing -- all three for me."
If there is a difference between the young man who rose to stardom with "Mack the Knife" a dozen years ago and the one who still sings it at the end of each of his Friday night variety shows (NBC-TV, 10-11) Darin defines it in a single word: maturity.
His talent never sagged, but his career wavered at one point when he underwent a radical emotional change, which he said was influenced by his association with the late Robert Kennedy.
"In the early days of my career, I used to sit there with a chip." Bobby pointed to his shoulder. "I believe I'm rid of it now."
There is an unrestrained compulsion on my part to caution that the chip might grow back if his ratings don't improve. Bobby came on as a midseason replacement, after a good summer run as Dean Martin's replacement last summer.
Summer viewers and regular season viewers are different breeds. In the summer they want light-hearted, unimposing fare -- comedy, musicals, etc. Few summer variety shows have made the successful leap into the regular season, the exceptions being Glen Campbell and, currently Sonny & Cher (helped along by a midseason time and day change).
But Darin's bid has been complicated by the schedule. He was sent in to "death row," Friday nights on NBC from 10 to 11, where shows have suffocated with alarming regularity through the years. The returns at this point indicate only a
slight increase in Bobby's ratings over his unlucky predecessor, "Banyon."
Frankly, I find the show very entertaining, and relaxing for a Friday night. It eases you into the weekend by diluting some of the week-long tensions.
In the years of emotional conflict, when Bobby said he felt impelled to seek solitude and the open road, when he let his hair grow long (that which was left) and got on a dungaree kick even in his hightclub act -- in those years he sang message songs in those club engagements, and the audiences dwindled.
Bobby says 1969 was the critical period of his life. "I divested myself -- if you will -- of the things that were superfluous and unnecessary."
When he talks there is an inordinate quest for polysyllabic words, which prompted a Chicago writer to observe "There's a thread of fussiness about your grammar." He also wondered if Bobby read the dictionary.
"I'm aware of it," Darin replies. "I'm very self-monitoring."
Another critical year was 1971, when he underwent open-heart surgery. It seems to have been the catalyst to return Darin to more establishment ways -- although he insists he never left the establishment.
At any rate, he doesn't wear the dungarees any more, and the hair (that which is left) is cut and he's back to the hairpiece, about which he refers to freely and humorously, even on the nightclub floor.
Bobby says that he never seriously tried to crack television with a series before. "But when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped."
There's a big difference between working clubs and working TV. "In the club, it's me. Something goes wrong, I've got a quip to offset it. You can't do that on TV. The guy sitting at home doesn't want to hear about technical problems."
There is one unique quality about Darin: he likes his agent. He's in the hands of the William Morris Agency now. "If I had gone with them 15 years ago, my career would have taken different dimensions."
Usually performers curse their agents, complain they don't do enough for them.
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