"Young Mr.Darin -- aided by a certain 'Mack the Knife' has arrived -- and how!"
In 1958, a young singer hopefully made the rounds of television's top network shows, pitching for a guest spot from which to plug his latest -- and, for all he knew, his last -- record.
It was summer, a time when producers of the few live shows aren't too choosy about guest artists, but nobody had heard of him and he struck out everywhere except on one program. Bob Crosby, substituting for Perry Como, hired the young singer.
Today, Bobby Darin, 23, is in the enviable position of turning down the same producers who "never heard of him" 16 months ago. "Splish Splash" the tune he sang on the Crosby show, went on to become one of 1958's big rock'n'roll records. It has been followed by five consectutive Darin hits, of which the last "Mack the Knife" has turned Darin into one of TVs sure-fire audience grabbers.
This year, Bobby who sings by ear, has done his unique stuff twice on the Ed Sullivan Show and on specials presided over by such connosisseurs as George Burns and Jimmy Durante. He sang "Mack" on the National Academy of Recording Acts and Sciences (GRAMMYS) and on an NBC special, November 29. The academy named "Mack" the best record of the year and gave Darin a second award as "Best New Artist." He was the subject of This Is Your Life on December 2, and joined The Big Party, December 3.
What's unique about Darin's stuff, only Darin and several million record buyers seem to know, but it's a secret appreciated by some top names of the entertainment industry. Sammy Davis Jr, with a friendly lampoon of "Splish Splash" and some glowing compliments, was boosting Darin in nightclubs before "Mack the Knife" brought this youngster popularity. A telegram of good wishes from Davis appears on the album That's All in which that hit was released last March.
Jackie Cooper was watching TV at home the night Darin sang "Splish Splash." Cooper made a mental note which resulted in Darin's appearance on Hennessey last October.
As a singer, Darin just stands and sings, much as in 1957. That year Bobby earned $1,600. Last year "Splish Splash" sent his income to $40,000. In 1959, with his TV price at $10,000 per program and bookings in such top clubs as Chicago's Chez Paree and New York's Copacabana, not to mention his ownership of a recording company and two music publshing companies, Darin expects to gross at least $250,000.
A bachelor, his only complaint is that the $10,000 he spent on clothes this year is not deductable as wardrobe. He works in a tuxedo, standing in one spot, without wriggling his hips or needing a haircut. "I just try to sell my personality" he says, "and make intelligent comments."
Even more remarkable than these switches on the usual breed of young male singers, who seem to run either to the hyperthyroid or to impassive grunters, is the fact that Darin is a do-it-yourself success. He wrote "Splish Splash" himself and to save expenses, played the piano -- also by ear -- at the session in New York City, where it was recorded.
Even his name is his own creation. Darin was born Walden Robert Cassotto in New York's Harlem and grew up in the Bronx. His Italian father, a cabinet maker, died a few months before Bobby was born. His mother of English descent, died last February at the age of 68. ***
After graduation from the Bronx High School of Science and a year at Hunter College, Darin was a singing waiter and a drummer at summer resorts in the Catskills, and a hand-to-mouth songwriter and composer of singing commercials in New York. Then three years ago, he turned to singing. "It was March of 1956," Darin says recalling that turning point. "It was on TV and it was an accident."
"I'd been arranging and singing my own demonstration records to get songs published. The guy I wrote with, Donny Kirshner -- he's a music publisher now -- had one taken to Decca. They signed me on as a artist, and I recorded four songs. To plug the first one, they got me on Stage Show, the old Dorsey Brothers series. I'd never sung professionally before. It was four days after my recording session. I went on cold, scared to death and sang "Rock Island Line." It bombed. So did the other three tunes. I recorded four more. They bombed, too."
Decca dropped Darin after a year of four flop records. All were ballads. He blamed it on the rock-n-roll craze, went on the road as a third rate night club singer and "tried to study the ethnic rock which is really Negro music." In Nashville,Tennesse, supervising and paying for the recording himself, he sang "Million Dollar Baby" and sold the results to ATCO records. At the time Bob Crosby took a chance on "Splish Splash." Darin's first three ATCO records had also flopped. "I was desperate," he recalls. "I'd always threatened to kill myself if I didn't make good by the time I was 21, and I was 22."
"Splish Splash" he says was suggested by a friend's mother -- a couple of monosyllables she "just found in her head and liked the sound of." Darin can read a little music but not enough to write down notes. He composes by tape-recording his songs and having someone write them down later.
With "Mack the Knife" -- a tune from Kurt Weill's The Threepenny Opera dating back to the 1930s -- Darin laid aside Rock 'n Roll, thereby acquring something most "rock" singers do not have: adult appeal. "'Mack' came out first on an album," he said. "An album cost $3.98. Most teenagers do not have $3.98. They knew me from "Splish Splash" but 'Mack' is what got the adults into the record store."
Last summer Darin signed a seven-year contract with Paramount. "I turned down an NBC contract," he says. "I'd have given my eyeteeth to get on just one television show, a year ago last summer. Now I've started to worry about overexposure."
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