A Cadillac cuddles briefly up to the curb. A lean young man springs out of the back seat. Boyish bangs spill over his forehead. He had vitality. He has sex appeal.
Is he a dancer? Singer? Actor? Or just another Big Time Operator?
"I think of myself as a actor singer in that order," said Bobby Darin a few minutes later, after his limousine had whooshed around the corner of 54th Street and Lex.
"But I have to admit I'm also a songwriter, a record producer and a music publisher with my own company in New York and an office in London ..."
Having sorted out his talents in the correct order, Darin settled down in a corner of Sardi's East to talk about himself as George M. Cohan, the blue-eyed, smiling Irish song-and-dance man of yesteryear whose statue stands in Times Square. (The fact that Darin is half Italian, had brown eyes and is not especially known as a smiler bothers nobody, apparently.)
Next in the Kraft Music Hall series, "Give My Regards to Broadway" will be aired Wednesday, October 4, 10-11pm on NBC-TV.
"The show opens with me, Bobby Darin, introducing the setting we're in -- an old vaudeville house back in 1917. There's a cast in period costumes and we present a vaudeville hour with dialogue between the stars of the show," said Darin expansively.
"I become Cohan at the very end," he said, "and we do such Cohan favorites as "Give My Regards to Broadway" and "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
Rather than as an acting vehicle for Darin the actor, the show will be more "A musical tribute to the man, one of the giants of the vaudeville stage," he explained. "We keep it light. We try to cap the essence of these great songs and the style of the era."
"The songs are not songs I would normally do in a nightclub act," Darin reflected, ordering a austere cup of hot Sanka with saccharine and a scrambled egg. "The excitement came from an era of musical recreation. I try to cap the spirit of Cohan's songs without trying to emulate him."
He asked his longtime friend, father figure and mentor, George Burns for some pointers on Cohan's style, since "nobody on the show had ever seen Cohan," and father George told him, "Cohan worked like you work. He was sure of himself, creative, wrote his own material. He was a down front performer."
Darin generously gave credit to the shows producer and director -- Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, respectively -- "for being gifted with the ability to see the show as an entire concept, not as a series of shots" and for creating "a vehicle that flows from beginning to end."
Was this a new and mellowed Darin speaking? The star, now 31, has sharpened his impact as a singer at 21 by being brash, cocky, arrogant and obnoxious (the favorite word of his critics) and appalled even his admirers when, at 23, he told a Life reporter, "I want to establish myself as a legend by the time I am 25," and by compounding it on another occasion with: "I want to be an institution at 30."
Those were "just goals I set for myself to make myself work hard," Darin once explained, in a rare defensive mood. But if Webster's definitions of Darin's goals aren't taken too literally he might be said to have achieved them. In show business now for about 11 years, Darin has sold more than 2,000,000 long-playing albums and 15,000,000 single records. He's written seven Top Ten record tunes, five motion picture title songs and the entire score for two movies (The Lively Set and That Funny Feeling).
Right after his first hit song, "Splish Splash" a rock and roller he wrote in 12 minutes, Darin's memorably sinister record of Kurt Weill's "Mack the Knife" brought the parents of his teenage fans flocking and won him a GRAMMY for "Best New Artist of 1959" and "Best Vocal Performance By a Male."
Then, in 1962, Darin began making movies as a dramatic actor with a flair for playing psychotics and heels. His portryal of a sadistic U.S. Nazi in Pressure Point won him a "Best New Actor" from Hollywood's Foreign Press Association.
In 1964, his mentally ill corporal in Captain Newman M.D. was called "as painful, loud and brillant as anything the screen had captured under sodium penathol" by a leading critic and it won an Oscar nomination. Darin remembers that evening in Santa Monica as "The most exciting event of my life. The fact that I didn't win it was totally unimportant."
To date, he has made 10 movies, and his seven-year contract with Paramount has been called the "biggest in the studio's history for a newcomer."
And as a suave and confident nightclub performer who laces his act with fancy footwork on the drums and vibes, makes cocky comments, does kicks, spins, bumps and grinds, Darin has broken all attendance records at the Copacabana in New York -- where he outdrew Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. -- and The Cloister in Hollywood.
On top of all this, Darin has recently begun cutting a figure socially on rarefled levels. Last August 25th Princess Grace of Monaco invited him to headline the entertainment for her Annual Red Cross gala in Monte Carlo. "She was an excelllant dancer," Darin grinned, "In addition to being a charming princess."
With all these fulfillments to mellow on, however, Darin still sees an interview as a duel of wits. Asked about his reported romance with Diane Hartford, wife of millionaire Huntington Hartford, Darin replied, "We finished taping the Cohan show on Labor day." Pressed further for at least a clue, he said with a straight face, "There are no days off, you know, in show business."
It was tactitly agreed long ago, however, that Darin deserved to be a little pugbacious, considering his boyhood in an East Bronx tenement. He was born Walden Robert Cassotto, and his father a cabinet maker and convicted racketeer, died before he was born. "He was sent to jail and died there of pneumonia," Darin said, "but my mother loved him."
Vivian Fern Walden (Polly), of old Yankee stock, ran away from home to vaudeville and was billed as "The girl with the thousand voices," said Darin. "My father saw her in a show and sent her flowers. It was the end of her career and the beginning of mine."
His career was "A natural thing from the age of 3," Darin said. At 15 he taught himself to play the piano. "I'd 1-finger it, then I'd 2-finger it and then all 10 fingers would start to work somehow." (He also taught himself drums, guitar, banjo and vibes.)
"I can't read or write music," he shrugged. "I just sit down and melodies come to me. Then I look for the chords and keep experimenting until I find them." Darin played a few imaginary harmonies on the table cloth. What was he playing? "A C seven with a linen overtone, a saccharine in the base and a suspended Sanka," He quipped.
"My mother had an IQ of 160 and taught retarded children in the city schools," said Darin warmly. "What I have gotten was a result of being a whole person, quite unselfish."
During childhood, Bobby had bouts with Rheumatic fever, and the family was on home relief, but when older sister Nina married hardworking Charlie Maffia the family lived a little better.
At Bronx High School of Science, Bobby somehow felt "out of it." Trying to analyze the feeling, he said, "My neighborhood was not geared to things scientific and scholastic." But he got in with a jazz combo and got summer hotel dates in the Catskills.
Signing up for a BA at Hunter, Darin starred in four plays the first semester, then quit. He had wanted to maintain his star status the second term but his advisor said he must learn "stagecraft, master the technical side of the theater." Darin said he told her, "I can only do things naturally. Anything technical interferes with my love of what I'm doing."
At 17 he started knocking on Broadway producers' doors and announcing he was an actor. "At first I got a lot of ha-has," Darin remembered. "I got one seven week job with a children's theater and didn't get another for over two years."
He turned to songwriting about then "as a release from my frustrations" and his first attempts echoed the heartbreak of a precocious love affair with a pretty blonde dancer. He took his songs to publishers, sang them, and put them on demonstration records to show to artists like Pat Boone, Perry Como, Elvis Presley.
"Then I wrote a song called 'Limbo' that made such a good demo that Connie Francis' manager brought me to Decca. I signed with them for a year (1956) and when nothing happened I went to ATCO. In 1958, after seven duds, I did 'Splish Splash,' about a guy relaxing in a tub. He steps out forgetting he'd invited a crowd of people over for a party. It was my first hit, and it sold about 7,000,000 copies. The next year, I made 'Mack the Knife' and all kinds of things began to happen."
His singing style had "wider appeal" than rock and roll and he was the first youthful record performer to make a success in nightclubs, he said. "It was no great talent on my part, just timing."
His first break on TV came on the Como show, and in nightclubs it was George Burns who launched him at Lake Tahoe. ("He's the best singer in the world, better than all of them," says Darin.)
Darin met pretty fluffy haired actress Sandra Dee in Italy while making his second movie. They married months later on December 1, 1960 and settling in California, they raised a son, Dodd Mitchell. ("It was the only high spot in my entire life," says Darin.)
He doesn't know why the marriage ended a year ago. Friends say it was because Sandy's mother moved into their home. Darin says, "I don't know, Sandra doesn't know. Nobody knows."
Now Darin has a new house in Beverly Hills, with a swimming pool and paddle tennis court. He lives with a "Gentleman's gentleman who takes care of things." He finally gives a relaxed smile. "I run a very open house. You can fall by in your sneakers and slacks and dungarees and fall in the pool if you want to, or you can play a game of pool, have a drink, watch a movie."
He summed up his philosophy: "Never look back. Be aware of what's behind you but don't look at it."
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