The entertainment world of the day abounds with spangled and coiffured young men who, with talents inaudible to the naked ear, have ridden the rock-and-roll carrousel to instant fame. Bobby Darin, an angry young man from the tenements of East Harlem, came to glory with his rock and roller, Splish Splash, three years ago at the rather advanced age of twenty-two. Any parallel to the careers of Fabian, Avalon and Anka ends right there. Darin is essentially a nightclub performer, not a walking jukebox. As his good friend Sammy Davis Jr. says, "Most of these kids get on a night-club stage, sing their hit records and don't know quite how to get off. Bobby astounded everybody last year when he came into the Copacabana and proved he was one of our top entertainers, a real pro."
That kind of praise does not, of course, go unchallenged. As a young man who finds himself associated in the public mind with the rock-and-roll crowd, Darin inherited a vast army of earsore critics who shun him on instinct and principle, much in the way the Quakers shun firearms. Darin himself is willing to admit that, technically, his voice leaves a great deal to be desired, one point upon which he and his detractors are in total agreement. "Vic Damone is a singer," he says. "I'm a performer. Even on records, what I'm saying is far more important than how well I'm singing."
Bobby never particularly wanted to be a singer anyway, least of all a rock-and-roll singer. As a poverty-stricken, sickly, fatherless boy, he dreamed of becoming a great song-and-dance man or a famous actor. With the profits from that first hit record, he financed a swinging album of old favorites and standards as a way of introducing himself immediately to the adult radio stations and their more demanding audience.
Out of that album (That's All) came his hopped-up version of Mack the Knife, a record that was all but inescapable throughout 1959. The album sold 450,000 copies, and the record itself, released as a single six months later, sold more than 2,000,000.
In the wink of an eye Darin has become a top night-club attraction, commanding a fee as high as $25,000 a week. He has already made a motion picture, Come September--in which he met his wife, teen actress Sandra Dee. Last year he earned just under $500,000, although, says his manager, Steve Blauner, the tremendous expenses involved in getting such a career into high gear brought the net down to well under $100,000, even before taxes. This year, according to Blauner, Darin will gross $1,000,000 easily. As to the immediate future, he has million-dollar, seven-year contracts with both Paramount Pictures and Universal International. Under the Universal contract he begins to share in the gross receipts of his pictures after three years--the best deal, Universal has assured him, it has ever given a contract player.
Comedian George Burns, whom Darin venerates, gave Bobby his first important night-club break by hiring him for Burns' own Las Vegas opening in June, 1959. "Darin," says Burns, "has the talent and the personal magnetism to become the dominant entertainer of his generation Nothing can stop him but himself."
Comedian George Burns and Bobby. "Gracie and I love him," Burns says.
What could stop him, Burns obviously fears, is a built-in arrogance, a poise and self-assurance that seem to challenge the audience to take him not as it might like him, but as he is. "Bobby walked out on the stage on opening night like he though he was Jolson or, better still, Sinatra," Burns says. "They'd look at him, and you could see them thinking, This little boy can't be that good. They resented him in the first number and they resented him even more in the second. But a funny thing happens. By the third number he gets older. They forget they don't like him because they're too busy watching him."
Jack O'Brian of the New York Journal American expressed that resentment in the language of a critic when he wrote, "He seems not so much to do things as overdo them. He overstates everything, including poise." And yet, O'Brian, too, was moved to add, "But he does have a great deal of downhill impact in rhythm tunes."
Nor does Darin's arrogance come off with his make-up. When he was first coming to public notice, he gave out interviews in which he said, presumably without blushing, "My ambition is to be a legend by the time I am twenty-five"--an offense against modesty which provoked Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to pin his picture to the wall and use it as a target for a very energetic game of darts. Even Sammy Davis Jr., a man of infinite warmth, was moved to tell him sourly, "Let me know when you stop being a legend, so we can start being friends again."
Says Darin, unabashed, "There is a difference between conceit and egotism. Conceit is thinking you're great; egotism is knowing it. If you have no talent, you have to be a nice guy, so you walk out humble. I don't think Al Jolson was a humble man, performancewise or otherwise--or Crosby or Sinatra. I've seen some of these Mr. Nice Guys off camera, and all you hear out of them is 'l, I, I."'
One of the Mr. Nice Guys he did not establish any rapport with was Perry Como. When they first met to rehearse a duet for the Como television show, Bobby shocked the entire crew by barking, "All right, babe, how will it be? Do you want to take the harmony or the melody?" Como, upon finishing the run-through, retreated, mumbling, "My, the boy comes on pretty strong, doesn't he?"
So determined is Darin not to woo his audience that he refuses to come back after his performance to take a bow. ("When I leave the stage, I'm finished.") His relationship with his bobby-sox fans--the unchallenged kingmakers of the record business--is reminiscent of those songs of unrequited love they never seem to tire of. The girls scream and scream and scream, and Darin turns his back on them. During that triumphant engagement at New York's Copacabana, his press agent invited the members of the local fan clubs to gather at the Copa door for an autographing party. Bobby pushed right past them.
Nothing seems to annoy him quite so much as the theory that a hit record somehow entitles a young singer to set himself up as a good influence upon his customers. "I'll write no book like 'Twixt Twelve and Twenty," he says, in an unblinking slap at Pat Boone's testimonial to cleanliness and godliness. "I'm here to entertain them. Their morals and their deportment are someone else's concern. It's not my business to tell them to go to church or not, to wear a tie or not. Every time I hear some humble little singer being congratulated for being 'such a good example to your teen-age followers,' l feel like throwing up."
Like most of the sex symbols of the younger set, Darin is a smallish--five feet, nine inches, 156 pounds-specimen. His features are somewhat indistinguishable, a fact which he readily concedes. His nose, with just a little encouragement, could be called bulbous. His hair is beginning to recede. He has a full and drooping lower lip which lends itself easily to a snarl, and dark-brown eyes which can flash with anger, as if somewhere inside him a switch has been thrown.
The switch is thrown when it is suggested that his record of Mack the Knife is a direct copy of Louis Armstrong's Dixieland version--as it would certainly seem to the untutored ear. "I don't think I ever heard Armstrong's record," Darin insists. "I listen to classical music. What I did was to take it out of Dixieland by changing keys six times. The arrangement is my arrangement. Ella Fitzgerald does my arrangement."
His arrangements, like his songwriting, are done mentally for, like so many popular composers, he neither reads nor writes music. His songs are recorded on tape or acetate, and his arrangements are done in collaboration with trained musicians. This is a deficiency which does not prevent him from mastering almost any instrument in a short time--drums, piano, vibraphone, bass. While making Come September in Italy--for which, quite incidentally, he composed the theme music and featured song--he picked up a six-string guitar. A few weeks later he was doing a solo guitar number in his act.
The night-club act, not too surprisingly, is a sort of May-December marriage between the old song-and-dance man he always wanted to be and the finger-snapping, hip-grinding pop singer of today. The semierotic twitchings expected of a licensed sex symbol are there--the suggestive wiggle of the shoulder, the ecstatic kick of the foot. But he also has a way of propelling himself across the stage in a stroll and a strut, a skip and a hop that does indeed stir the mind to faint memories of straw hat and cane. His rock-and-roll numbers, thrown in strictly for laughs, are liberally sprinkled with impersonations of everybody from Elvis Presley to Perry Como with a garnishing of Groucho Marx and Jack Benny.
His ear for mimicry and dialect is so good that he has been known, when bored, to mimic a man he has just been introduced to. The most valid criticism of Bobby Darin is that he is not so much a singer as an imitation of all the other big singers of his time. When he made his debut in England last spring, one reviewer called him a Como-Sinatra cocktail. American reviewers also invoke the names of Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Daniels, Dean Martin and Johnnie Ray. Walter Winchell, an avid admirer, concedes, "He's doing a little Sinatra all right. He's taken a little from all the big ones. And yet," Winchell concludes loyally, "the way it comes out, he's an original."
The constant bracketing with Sinatra has been a priceless publicity asset, and Bobby has exploited it to the fullest. It started when Darin was interviewed by UPI Hollywood correspondent Vernon Scott, just after Bobby had accepted two Grammies--the annual awards given by the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences--for Mack the Knife.
Scott's story, which went around the country the following day, quoted Bobby as saying, "I hope to pass Frank in everything he's done." Bobby still maintains that he was slightly misquoted. Being nobody's fool, however, he was not slow to perceive that when the new boy in town challenges the champion, he automatically makes news. Sinatra, finding himself an unwilling pawn in somebody else's game, has made it a point to ignore Darin completely. He has never even seen Darin work, a slight which rankles in Bobby's breast.
Bobby Darin became a singer more or less by accident. After being graduated from high school he attended Hunter College in New York for a few months. He left, intending to be an actor. Instead, at nineteen, he became a struggling songwriter with a background as an all-purpose bus boy and entertainer in the Catskills. By writing singing commercials for furniture stores, he and his partner, Don Kirshner, managed to raise enough money to cut demonstration records of four of their songs. George Schecht, who was managing them as songwriters, managed singers also--Connie Francis, for example. Impressed by Bobby's voice, he brought the records to Decca and sold not only the songs but the singer. Bobby was signed to a contract and immediately sent to a studio to record all four of his songs, plus a novelty hit of the day, Rock Island Line.
"Everybody got all excited about Rock Island Line," Bobby remembers. "I was signed by Decca on a Tuesday night and on Saturday night of the same week I was on the Tommy Dorsey--God bless his soul--television show, billed as the 'nineteen-year-old singing sensation.' I bad done some singing, just fooling around, in the Catskills. But the first place I ever appeared as a featured singer-a professional singer with billing-was on a coast-to-coast television show."
Earlier in the season Elvis Presley had made his TV debut on the same show in one of television's historic--if that is the word--moments, and the producers seemed to have some hope that lightning might strike them again. It did not. When Bobby went before the camera, he was still so shaky on the lyrics of his song that he had to write the key words on the palm of his hand and gesture like a basso profundo whenever he felt in doubt about an upcoming line. He now sums up his debut in the two saddest words of his profession, "I bombed."
It was two years and seven flop records later before Splish Splash gave him his second chance. By then, he had left Decca, run through three managers and was recording, on a long-term contract, for little Atco Records. Splish Splash, written in thirty-five minutes for the teen-age market, sold more than 1,000,000 records. Six of Bobby's LP albums have sold more than 1,500,000 copies.
With his first hit record behind him, Bobby walked into the office of Ed Burton and Joe Csida, a relatively small personal-management and song-publishing team, and announced that he was about to give them the opportunity to manage the biggest hunk of talent they had ever seen.
Ed Burton, who now runs the company alone, recalls, "He did a couple of his songs for us, jumped up on the piano, stuck a cigar in his mouth and ran around the room imitating Groucho. I suppose he did his Chinese-waiter routine too. Our reaction was: This kid is nutty, but he's right. We figured him for a real big rock-and-roller. To be honest, though, we never saw the ultimate in him. He saw it in himself all along."
Although Bobby did quite well under Burton and Csida, he felt he should have been doing even better. One man, very close to both Darin and Burton, puts it this way: "Bobby not only wanted his managers to get results, he wanted them to leave a trail of blood. He wanted the manager to smack the desk and leave the booking agent bleeding on the floor."
Instead, Ed Burton kept telling him, "You're not living in a bowling alley, Bobby. You just can't go around knocking people over like tenpins." When Bobby got his offer to appear at Las Vegas with George Burns, for instance, Burton had already committed him to an Australian tour. "Get out of it," Bobby told him. "We can't get out of it. We're committed." "Get uncommitted," Bobby snapped.
Later Burton got him a big-money, three-shot deal with Ed Sullivan, a tremendous break for a newcomer. Sullivan's contract barred any other TV appearances for the run of the contract, though, and when offers came in from Durante, Burns, Dick Clark and others, Bobby astonished Burton by demanding that he get a waiver on that exclusivity clause. Says Bobby now, "I went to see Sullivan myself, as one man of character speaking to another man of character, and I told him I had a chance to better myself. That's all there was to it. Mr. Sullivan is a gentleman."
After only ten months with Burton, Bobby bought up his contract so that he could sign with Steve Blauner, who had previously been his agent at General Artists Corporation. Blauner, a big, hulking man only two years older than Darin, is gruff, domineering and demanding. He has been known to walk up to a girl hanging on Bobby's arm at a public gathering and, without saying a word, shove her away. He runs Bobby's business affairs with the same single-mindedness and the same lack of subtlety. On the Christmas after they parted, Burton received a wrist watch from Bobby. The inscription on the back read:
ED TO TIME THE BOWLING MATCH BOBBY
"I wanted Steve Blauner," Bobby says, "because Steve is a genius." And then, with characteristic arrogance, he taps his own head and adds wisely, "But remember, I'm a genius for knowing that he is a genius."
Blauner proved his genius to Bobby by the way he set up his appearance at the Copacabana. Offered a date back in July, 1959, shortly after he became Bobby's manager, Blauner insisted upon waiting until the first week of June, the following year. "The Copa is the most important night club in the world for a performer," he explains, "especially for a new performer. I couldn't be sure Bobby would be a smash, but I could make certain he wouldn't bomb. By waiting until June I knew that, if we got nobody else, we'd at least get the prom kids."
As it turned out, Darin swept into the Copa on the crest of a wave following a record-shattering engagement at the Cloisters in Hollywood. Bobby not only broke all attendance records at the Cloisters--going back to the days when the club was known as the Macambo--he broke the old record every night for twenty-one consecutive nights. He also picked up a camp follower of considerable stature and influence in Walter Winchell. After catching Darin's act on opening night, Winchell came back to watch him perform every night through the entire engagement. When Darin left Hollywood, Winchell followed him to Washington, D.C., for a week at the Casino Royal and then up to New York for the Copacabana engagement, trumpeting Bobby's praises in his column every step of the way.
Winchell himself is at a loss to explain Darin's hold on him. "It's personality that attracts you to anybody," he says, "and by definition, personality is indefinable. The best I can do is to say that he has a zing to him, both on the stage and off."
Darin's zing--whatever it might be--was attracting people into his camp long before he became successful. His first partner, Don Kirshner, turned down a chance to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies, because be preferred to stay close to Bobby. Later he left a $150-a-week job with an advertising firm because Bobby was in temporary need of a manager.
At a meeting with Jackie Gleason before a recent television show, Darin struck a characteristic attitude.
Bobby's secretary, Harriet Wasser, met him over a cup of coffee one afternoon. "From that moment on," she says, "my main purpose in life was to help him make it." She quit her job with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme and for six months--between the time she joined Bobby and the publication of Splish Splash--she worked for him without pay.
Dick Behrke, his piano player and conductor, is an old friend from high school and the Catskills. When Bobby sent out the call, Behrke left a good job with a house band in Las Vegas to join him at a nominal salary. "Nominal," Behrke says, "means that if the union had known what I was getting, I'd have been in trouble."
Woodie Harris, a songwriter twice Bobby's age, also met him over a cup of coffee and immediately suggested that they team together to write songs. Soon afterward they formed their own music publishing firm, Darwood Corporation. To get out of his contract with Ed Burton, Bobby signed away the copyrights of all the songs he might write in the future copyrights which belonged, according to the terms of the corporation, as much to Harris as to Darin. "I could have stepped in and killed that settlement," Harris says. "It's going to cost me a lot of money. Why didn't I? I didn't like the deal, but I like Bobby."
The one person whom Darin himself treats with awe and deference is George Burns. "Mr. Burns," Bobby says, "is a father symbol to me. And you can omit the word 'symbol."'
Burns originally hired Bobby, sight unseen. "I heard a record of this fellow," he explains, "and I was impressed by the vitality and drive of his singing and the positive way of his phrasing." In describing their first meeting in his office, Burns reveals a great deal about the need he filled in Darin's personal life. "I treated him like a twenty-two-year-old boy," he says. "That's all he was, you know. He's a darling little boy. Gracie and I love him."
During that first appearance in Las Vegas, Bobby came backstage and reported, like a dutiful boy, that he had lost $1600 at the gaming tables. Burns promptly slapped him across the face.
When it came time for Burns to introduce him to the audience, he refused to shake Bobby's hand. Bobby followed him back toward the wings, calling out plaintively that he would be unable to go into his act unless Burns came back and shook hands with him. Burns finally returned to the stage and told the audience what had happened. "Bobby," he said, "if I forgive you, will you promise you won't ever do it again?"
As a result of his success with Burns at the Sahara, Darin was signed to headline the show at another Las Vegas hotel, the Sands. He was such a smash there that he was offered one of those jackpot contracts--a twelve-week deal, spaced over three years and worth a total of $300,000.
While Blauner was negotiating, however, Burns casually offered Bobby $7500 a week to go back to the Sahara with him. Darin, well aware that he would be killing his big deal by going into a competing hotel as a member of the supporting cast, immediately accepted. "I want to do it," he told the disgusted Blauner, "because I love the man."
What followed was an incident that would have destroyed most friendships, but only seems to have cemented the father-son relationship that exists between Burns and Darin. Bobby's ultimate goal has always been to be an actor. Blauner turned down dozens of scripts before he finally found what he had been looking for, a costarring role with Glenn Ford in a picture called Cry for Happy.
"As the script stands right now," he assured Bobby, "you have to steal the picture." The only complication was that Bobby still had that agreement to appear in Vegas with George Burns, and Burns refused to let him out of it.
On location near Rome with Gina Lollobrigida, his costar in Come September. Darin wrote the theme and a featured song for the film.
Still unaware of what Bobby had sacrificed to make that commitment in the first place, Burns phoned him, on Bobby's closing night at the Copa, not so much to defend his own position as to lecture Bobby. "This is no way for you to start your career, breaking obligations," he said. "If I were still paying you peanuts, and you had a chance to better yourself, I wouldn't think twice about it. But I have a responsibility toward the club and, for the kind of money you're getting, you have a responsibility toward me."
Normally Bobby Darin is unbearable when he is crossed. But, once again, Burns's paternal concern about the kind of person Bobby was developing into seemed to comfort him. "He went out that night," Steve Blauner says, "and gave two of the best shows of his life."
The night after Bobby was married in Elizabeth, New Jersey, he and his bride dined at the Burnses' home in Hollywood, much as if he were bringing her home to meet the family.
Bobby is fiercely protective toward his shy, eighteen-year-old wife. Although Sandra Dee had been a model or an actress from the time she was six, she had always been most carefully sheltered by her mother. Sandra was permitted to go to Italy unattended, however, and Bobby, seizing upon this opportunity to pay her court, wooed her rather spectacularly by serenading her in public cafés. A week after their return to this country, Miss Dee flew into New York--without her mother--and announced their engagement.
The marriage was originally scheduled to be held on December second, before forty-five selected guests, at the home Bobby had bought his family in Lake Hiawatha, New Jersey. When both the date and site became public knowledge two days earlier, he quickly moved to prevent the wedding from being turned into a public circus by shifting the ceremony to the home of Don Kirshner, now a highly successful song publisher.
After a great deal of difficulty about getting a waiver on the seventy-two-hour waiting period, the ceremony took place at 4 A.M., on December first. Instead of the catered reception that had been planned, the handful of close friends were served a quick buffet of cold cuts, hamburgers and pastry, purchased in an all-night diner.
Bobby is still so protective toward Sandra that he has refused point-blank to introduce her to newspapermen who have come back to his dressing room, not in the line of duty, but as personal friends. During his engagement at the Latin Casino, a New Jersey night club near Philadelphia, a week after the marriage, the management threw a surprise party for the newlyweds between shows Bobby and Sandra posed willingly to pictures around a huge wedding cake. He ordered the photographer to make up one set for his personal use, then bought the negatives, still wet, and destroyed them with a razor.
In Rome with Sandra Dee, a few weeks before their marriage last December. "I've finally found someone more important to me than myself," Darin says.
"Sandy and I have agreed that neither of us will use our marriage for purpose of publicity," he says firmly. "Anything you see purporting to quote either of us will be false."
Walden Robert Cassotto--Darin's real name--was born in the Bronx on May 14, 1936, seven months after the death of his father, Saverio Cassotto, a sometime inventor, cabinetmaker, gambler and racketeer, and himself the son of an Italian immigrant tailor. Bobby's mother came from an entirely different background. Vivian Fern Walden was the daughter of a Pascoag, Rhode Island, millowner who could trace his family to the original settlers of the town. Her parents were divorced soon after she was born, however, and her mother had married a Chicago restaurateur. Unhappy in her stepfather's home, Vivian Walden had, as a young woman, left college and family to go into vaudeville. Bobby was born late in his mother's life--his sister Nina is almost twenty years older than he--and she never fully recovered from the rigors of giving birth to him that late in her life. Both children were brought up in their mother's Episcopalian faith.
Bobby took the name of Darin when he began to record, adapting it from the first name of actor Darren McGavin, TV's Mike Hammer. "My legal name will remain Cassotto," he says. "Cassotto was my father's name, and it will be my children's name."
The family was on relief when Bobby was born, and its financial position was hardly helped when he turned out to be a sickly, shriveled baby who--unable to keep any food down--had to be put on a diet of goat's milk imported, for reasons his sister no longer remembers, from Romania.
Illness followed him throughout his youth. During four winters between the ages of nine and thirteen he suffered attacks of rheumatic fever which left him in such excruciating pain that he screamed out in agony every time he moved a muscle. His sister had married a garbage-truck driver, Charley Maffia and, when Bobby had to go to the bathroom, Charley would carry him. "Every time I think of how gentle that man was with him," Mrs. Maffia says, "I have to cry."
The poverty became as much a part of Bobby's life as the pain. As long as he can remember, he wore hand-me-downs donated by neighbors and relatives. "He even used to wear my underwear," Charley Maffia remembers. "His mother would stitch it up across the back so it would fit him nice, and I'd yell, 'What's the matter, you can't just pin it back for the king so I can wear it again myself?"' Charley is now Bobby's road manager and--most fittingly--valet. Both of them have a closetful of custom-made Italian suits.
As a sickly boy, being reared by two women, Bobby was always the center of all attention. "My mother," he has said, "would have walked off the roof if I told her it would make me happy." His sister always called him "the king." His brother-in-law, working at two jobs to meet Bobby's medical expenses, would come home and fix his own supper; Bobby would stroll in a few minutes later, and both women would fight to get his food on the table. "It was only, you understand, that they were so worried about his health," Charley Maffia says. "We didn't really expect him to live."
Nor did Bobby. As might be expected of a man who talks about being a legend at twenty-five, Bobby Darin has always lived with the fear that time was about to run out on him. "Now that I'm married," he says today, "all that has changed. Now I care about living. I've finally found somebody who is more important to me than myself. All the running and searching and proving have come to a halt with Sandy."
He was dethroned as king of all he surveyed when he enrolled in the Bronx High School of Science, one of the top high schools in the country. To be admitted, a student has to pass a rigid test and be recommended by the principal of his junior-high school.
Bobby, a straight-A student in junior high, found himself completely outgunned. One of his classmates, Ike Lasher, now an editor with Argosy magazine, remembers him only because he dressed like a hood and played drum in the band.
"Sure," Darin says, flushing angrily, "they all thought I was a hood because I wore peg pants and flashy shirts--flashy being synonymous with cheap. I was poor. I was from the wrong side of the tracks."
Among the future nuclear scientists from the sunny side of the tracks, he was, on his own admission, wildly out of his element. "All the arrogance you read about," he says thoughtfully, "stems from those days in high school. It all stems from a desire to be nobody's fool ever again. All the kids were smarter than me--scientifically, academically and semantically. They were better versed in Schopenhauer and Chopin, Bach and Berlioz. They'd throw lines at me and poke fun, and I'd take it because I felt unequipped to answer back. And then one day, I realized that creatively--in sensitivity, in my soul--I buried them all. I looked at myself as into a mirror and I knew what I had. Now, it's conceivable that thirty million people will read your article, and I have to let them know I'm something. And when a little girl from a high-school paper comes to interview me, I have to let her know I'm something too."
George Burns warned him that the columnists, eager for that kind of quote, were baiting him. Bobby kept telling them how great he was, anyway. "It served my purpose as well as theirs," he says defiantly. "If I showed the arrogant, cocky side of myself, it must be because I want it shown. All publicity has helped me. As me anything you want. Make it rough, I'll applaud. If it's a smart question, you'll get a smart answer. If it's an honest question, you'll get an honest answer. But if it's a smart-aleck question, I've got to give you a smart-aleck answer. I've got to bury you. That's my defense mechanism."
Another blow to his self-esteem came when he was picked up by a thirty-one-year-old blond dancer just after he had turned eighteen. She told him she was hiring him to play bongo drums in her act, but what followed was a racking six-month love affair during which he twice saved her from suicide. He tried to break away and found he couldn't. In the end it was she who left--and committed suicide in Canada in June, 1960.
For Darin this affair was such a shattering emotional experience that he still talks about it compulsively. Every now and then a dark and brooding spirit sits upon Bobby Darin, as if he is contemplating the meaning of his success and finding it less than he had hoped for. For one thing, his mother died ten days before his first album came out. After all those years of struggle, she saw nothing more than the promise of what was to come.
At times he even seems to harbor some misgivings about his status in a business where success comes too easily and too cheaply. He worries that perhaps the strep throat--which triggers the rheumatic fever--may return from the past and bring his singing career to a sudden end. On his first night-club engagement after twelve weeks of picture making, he had some difficulty hitting his high notes. Returning to the dressing room between shows, he moaned, "I just don't have a singer's voice. If my throat knots up after five years, I wasn't meant to do this."
Despite all the success he has achieved, a single failure can send him into a fit of depression. A year ago he played the huge Three-Rivers Inn in Syracuse, competing with the state fair, which was encamped nearby. The fair drew 40,000 a night; Darin drew forty. He came out for one show, started his act and then signaled the orchestra to fade out. "I just did a terrible thing," he told the slim audience. "I drilled holes in the floor, and we're all slowly sinking."
From that somewhat symbolic opening he went on to deliver a long and somewhat disjointed lecture on the disappointments and disillusionments of success. "What's in it for me?" he kept asking his audience. "That's what I can't understand. I'm supposed to be the cocky kid, the arrogant kid, the conceited kid. Any fool knows that bravado is always a cover up for insecurity."
But the moment passes, and the old arrogance soon fights its way back to the surface. And whether it is born of egotism, as he maintains when he's high, or insecurity, as he cries out when he is low, he finds himself vowing in boyish defiance, "I will continue to be what I am, whatever it is I am. My character is as strong as anybody's who has ever walked the face of the earth."
And then, adding depth to the self-portrait of a young man in a terrible hurry, comes that dark shadow that stalks him and drives him on. "Humility?" he snorts. "Humbleness? The biggest thing between you and God is death. The biggest success in the world walks around with the knowledge that he is going to die like everyone else. That's the only source of my humility--the only source. As for my talent, it has been given to me to use while I can. I will use it the way I think best and I will never apologize for it."
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