Bobby Darin – The Crooner Who Rocked

Retro Dee is a regular contributor to The Grooveyard’s website, writing about music, fashion and other trends of the 1950s.  Check out her blog, Retro Dee’s Guide to the Best Era Ever here, and her column here every week.

Welcome to another edition of Today We Remember.

Today we remember a man who was so talented, that he was able to produce amazing music in multiple genres: Jazz, Big Band, Pop, Country and Rock n Roll. We know this amazing singer as Mr. Bobby Darin. And this is his story.

Walden Robert Cosotto was born on May 14, 1936 in The Bronx, NY. He was a sickly child, but soon recovered from his illness and by the time he was a teen, was able to play several instruments such as drums, piano and guitar. He finished high school in the Bronx, but dropped out of college to pursue a career in acting.

Bobby always went by his middle name of Robert, or Bobby. But he still needed a showbiz last name. One evening, as he was walking down the street, he noted that the sign of a Chinese Restaurant was half burned out. The word “Mandarin” now read “Darin”. And that is how Bobby chose his new stage name.

Although acting was his first career idea, Bobby started out by writing jingles with a partner whom he met at a candy store in 1955. By 1956, he had acquired an agent who helped him get signed with Decca records.

Bobby’s first serious love was none other than singer Connie Francis, who adored him. However, Connie’s father was not so keen. Bobby suggested to Connie that the two of them elope, but Connie declined. To this day, Connie Francis sadly regrets not marrying the love of her life, Bobby Darin.

Bobby left Decca Records to sign with Atco Records, a subdivision of Atlantic. In 1958, he co-wrote the mega-hit “Splish Splash”, which officially launched his career. “Splish Splash” peaked at no. 3 on the U.S. Pop Singles Charts. The song is forever a 1950’s favorite, encapsulating the joys of youth and the love of dancing to the new-found sound of Rock n Roll. In its upbeat lyrics, “Splish Splash” alludes to three other beloved hits: “Lollipop” (The Chordettes) “Peggy Sue” (Buddy Holly), and “(Good) Golly Miss Molly” by Little Richard.

Additionally in 1958, the hit “Queen of the Hop” (written by Woody Harris) reached #9 on the US Pop Chart, and became another favorite of teens everywhere.

The following year, 1959, Bobby Darin penned another chart-topping hit of the era: “Dream Lover”. Like “Splish Splash”, this ballad became an international success, causing Bobby Darin to become a household name.

The single which followed “Dream Lover” was “Mack The Knife”. This song originated from Threepenny Opera and was translated from the original German. It was formerly recorded by Jazz great Louis Armstrong, however Bobby Darin’s version is the one better known. The song reigned at the number one spot on the charts for 9 weeks, and Bobby Darin received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1960.

The next hit released in 1959 was Darin’s jazzy version of “Beyond The Sea” which was translated from the French song “La Mer” by Charles Trenet.

While Bobby Darin recorded many songs in the Big Band and Jazz genres, he was noted mostly for his major hits. This included 1962’s “Things” which was a product of Darin’s spread into the Country Music genre. The chart-topper “You’re the Reason I’m Living.” was another such hit.

Bobby never gave up his desire to become an actor, and as the 50’s ended and the 60’s began, he became just that. His first major movie role was the romantic comedy Come September (1961) co-starring with Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida.  It was then that Bobby met his wife-to-be, 18 year old actress and American Sweetheart, Sandra Dee.

In 1960, soon after meeting on set, Bobby and Sandra were married. In December of 1961, Sandra gave birth to their son, Dodd Mitchell Darin (aka Morgan Mitchell). The couple divorced in 1967.

Bobby Darin’s other major motion picture success was Too Late Blues (also 1961) where he starred as a struggling jazz musician. For this role, he won the Golden Globe Award for Best New Actor. He also made a few other films which were less successful than the first.

He appeared in many TV shows, including Dean Martin Presents: The Bobby Darin Amusement Company that had a short run in 1972. He was a welcome presence on TV, however and made his comeback on The Bobby Darin Show in 1973.

By the late 1960’s, Bobby became active in politics. On June 4, 1968, he was working on the campaign of Robert F. Kennedy, when Senator Kennedy was assassinated at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.

Darin’s involvement in politics led to his own shocking, personal discovery. At the age of 32, his older sister Nina revealed to him that she was not his sister — she was, in fact, his mother. Nina had become pregnant at the age of 17 in 1935. Nina’s mother (Bobby’s actual grandmother) decided that they must pretend that Bobby was Nina’s baby brother to avoid social ridicule.

Suffering from rheumatic fever as a child left Bobby’s heart weak. His health problems began to worsen as he approached his late 30’s. He married again in 1973, only to get divorced 4 months later due to his failing health.

On December 20, 1973, Bobby Darin died at the age of 37. He passed away while undergoing surgery to repair the valves on his weakened heart and never regained consciousness. His current and future endeavors were canceled, and his comeback came to a permanent halt.

Bobby Darin’s amazing legacy continues long after his untimely death. In 1990, Mr. Darin was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Darin’s good friend singer Paul Anka announced the honor.

And here’s why I personally love Bobby Darin: (Actually, if you have good taste it should be self-explanatory. )  Out of all the people who somehow make it into the industry, very few are actual talents, and even less of them are multi-talented. Bobby Darin was one of the very rare few who you could say aced everything he did. From his amazing vocal talent, showmanship and song-writing skills to his acting and riveting on-screen presence, Mr. Darin was a true gem of the Entertainment World.

Whether I’m at a downtown restaurant listening to the jazzy “Beyond the Sea” or at a retro diner rocking to “Splish Splash”, I find myself saying in amazement: “That’s Bobby Darin. Damn he’s good.”

Bobby Darin (1936-1973)

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