Bobby Darin was a highly driven, highly successful singer and actor who made quite a mark on the entertainment industry. He had a number one song, a marriage to a popular Hollywood actress and an Oscar nomination to his credit before he lost his life to heart disease at an early age.
Darin was born Walden Robert Cassotto in 1936 in New York City. He had heart problems as a child that would cause problems for him later in life. Cassotto learned to play several musical instruments at an early age, and living in New York City gave him access to some of the top music publishers in the world at that time. As a teenager he performed in clubs and became known to some in the music business. In 1956 he began recording and made his first television appearance, on The Tommy Dorsey Show. He had a brief but tempestuous romance with popular recording artist Connie Francis, which likely could have ended in their marriage were it not for the intervention of her over-protective father, who did not approve. The mother of a disc jockey friend of Cassotto's (who now called himself Bobby Darin) mentioned that a good way to open a song would be with a line such as "splish, splash, take a bath." Darin quickly worked it into a song that was titled Splish Splash and suddenly, he had a top ten rock-and-roll hit in 1958.
Bobby Darin was very determined to succeed in show business and desired to be a legend by the age of 25, but he did not really care to be simply a rock-and-roll performer. Rock-and-roll was what was selling in the late 50's, and he released some more songs that became huge hits, among them Queen Of The Hop and Dream Lover. Darin had his eyes on a career that paralleled that of the great Frank Sinatra. He acquired some old standards and began re-working them to suit his style. One was was called Moritat or Theme From The Threepenny Opera. Another was Charles Trenet's La Mer (French for "the sea"). Moritat had been written in 1928 by broadway musician Kurt Weill, with words added by German playwright/screenwriter Bertolt Brecht. For the opening of The Threepenny Opera, Weill wrote The Ballad Of Mack The Knife as a part for his wife, actress Lotte Lenya, the night before the premiere. English words were later added by Marc Blitzstein. In Darrin's version it became Mack The Knife. The song borrowed its melody and mentioned some characters from Brecht's production of The Threepenny Opera in the late 20's/early 30's, such as gangster Mackie Messer, a.k.a. Mac Heath or Mack The Knife, and actress Lotte Lenya, who portrayed Jenny. (Lotte Lenya, curiously enough, would later appear in the 1963 James Bond film From Russia With Love.) La Mer had become Beyond The Sea, and it was a solid hit for Benny Goodman in 1948. Darin applied his own magic to that song also, and along with Mack The Knife it appeared on his 1959 album, That's All.
Darin was already an established, popular performer at age 23 when Mack The Knife became a huge hit in 1959. His swaggering style was prominent and Mack The Knife became the biggest selling record of the year, holding the number one spot in the polls for nine weeks. It propelled Darin's career to new heights. Beyond The Sea became a top ten hit several months later. Hollywood called, and Darin answered.
He had appeared uncredited or in cameo roles in several films before he traveled to Rome to make a movie titled Come September, in 1960. Teenage actress Sandra Dee appeared in the film also, and they developed a mutual atttraction to each other (Darrin's song Multiplication came from this movie). Later that year, the two were married and Bobby Darin moved to California with his new wife. He continued to record songs on the Atco label in the early 60's, including some old standards such as Clementine (from the nineteenth century song Oh, My Darling Clementine), Won't You Come Home Bill Bailey, and Hoagy Carmichael's Lazy River. His most notable hit in the early 60's was a song that had been number one for crooner Bing Crosby in 1938, You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby. Darin did his songs with a flair that was all his. In 1962 a song he had written titled Things became his seventh song to reach the top ten, and his last hit for Atco. He switched to Capitol, and continued his string of top ten hits with You're The Reason I'm Living and 18 Yellow Roses the following year. At the same time his motion picture career was picking up also... he appeared in State Fair and Hell Is For Heroes, among other films. His role as a disturbed inmate in the 1962 film Pressure Point is regarded by some as his finest performance. His portrayal of Corporal Jim Tompkins in the 1963 film Captain Newman, M.D. garnered him a well-deserved best supporting actor nomination. It seemed that everything he attempted was working well for him. He continued making movies, some with Sandra Dee, and she continued to acquire her share of movie roles. They had a son and named him Dodd. Bobby also made numerous television appearances in the 60's and early 70's, and hosted his own variety series for some time.
Eventually things began to slow down for Bobby Darin. His last solid hit was If I Were A Carpenter in 1966, and his last entry in the top forty came the following year with Lovin' You. His appearances in movies began to decline, and he lost interest in his marriage and got a divorce. In 1968 Darin received the disheartening news that the woman who had raised him was his grandmother, not his mother as he had been led to believe, and the woman that he thought was his sister was actually his mother. He saw the world changing, and the music business along with it. He supported Robert Kennedy in his 1968 presidential bid, but then Kennedy was murdered. Darin sold his home and moved to a trailer in Big Sur. He had become disillusioned with life, and with his career.
Bobby Darin had charisma and drive, but he could be obstinate and belligerent. He was an enormously talented singer. Despite some health problems, eventually he returned to performing. He worked for a time as a folk singer doing anti-war songs -- his most notable record during this period was Simple Song Of Freedom. He had a brief second marriage, to Andrea Yeager, in 1973 but it ended in divorce. In December of that year he checked into Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles for a heart operation, which he did not survive. Darin was 37 at the time of his death.
Bobby Darin accomplished many things in his brief fifteen year career. He was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. In 2004 actor/director Kevin Spacey, long an admirer, made a major motion picture about Bobby Darin's life titled Beyond The Sea, with Spacey himself portraying the singer. Darin's most enduring legacy in a career filled with notable achievements is undoubtedly his enormously successful number one hit from 1959, one of the biggest selling records of all time, Mack The Knife.
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