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Bobby Darin 30th Anniversary Tribute

  By Jay Tell, Dec 20, 2003, jaytell@hotmail.com

Can it be 30 years since Bobby Darin's untimely passing? Walden Robert Cassotto was born May 14, 1936 in the Bronx, New York. As a boy he yearned for fame and a show business career. He searched the phone book, and became Bobby Darin. He tragically left us too soon, on December 20, 1973, at only 37, before he could embrace his future, before we could fully appreciate the Darin treasure and mystique. I knew Bobby ten years, 1963-73. During his last four exciting years we were close friends, confidants, business partners. I was editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Free Press, owned Nevada's first health food restaurant, Food For Thought, and have been a lifelong rare stamp and coin dealer.

I believed in Bobby's innate talent, but in the mid to late 1960s his career was quiet. I knew Strip Hotel owners and entertainment directors. In 1970 and 1971, I got him miracle bookings as the main-room headliner at the Landmark Hotel and twice at the Desert Inn Resort. He was in top form and gave fabulous performances to packed houses, with rousing nightly standing ovations and rave reviews. Bobby asked me to be his manager, but, while I considered the offer, his health declined. Those three milestone Las Vegas engagements were easily his most successful bookings in a decade, earning national publicity and re-starting his career. His fame reached new heights, before his final curtain call.

During 1967 and 1968 Bobby suffered three crushing personal blows. He and actress Sandra Dee divorced after seven years. They had a lovely son, Dodd, who was the light of his life. Bobby adored and campaigned for Senator Robert F. Kennedy. After RFK's assassination, millions resumed their lives, but Bobby suffered prolonged clinical depression. Back in 1935-1936 the stigma of unmarried pregnancy had overwhelmed his family. For 31 years they kept a dark mega-secret from Bobby. In 1967 they revealed a life-altering bombshell that devastated him. He learned that his "sister" Nina was really his mother, and his "mother" Polly was really his grandmother! After these traumatic revelations he said:

"My whole life has been a lie." This was hell, an emotional earthquake, an explosion of his core beliefs. He spent a year trailer-living in the Big-Sur forest, wondering, writing, and never fully recovering from this lifelong deception he could never understand. His fabled self-confidence and ego turned to doubt and introspection. When sharing his pain with me he had a glassy-eyed look of disbelief, not sure he could ever trust again. While searching in vain for answers his self-esteem, personality, values and musical direction underwent major changes. The divorce and shocking family crisis shredded his past, but even worse he perceived RFK's assassination as ripping up his future, and America's hopes.

Childhood rheumatic fever damaged Bobby Darin's heart. Born during the Depression, his family was one of millions on welfare and in dire hardship. But unlike the other kids, at age 13 he overheard a doctor tell his family that Bobby would not live past 16. He knew someday he'd need high-risk open-heart surgery, but delayed it for years hoping for medical advancements. This cruel sword over his head sparked Bobby's frantic work ethic, tireless drive, and his quest to be "the best ever." Bobby attacked his life and career with uncommon zeal, knowing every single breath might be his last.

"We were so poor my cradle was a cardboard box," he once told me. Bobby grew up in a run-down Bronx home near Harlem. An under-nourished and sickly boy, he was determined to escape poverty. In 1959 at 23 he told Life Magazine, "I want to be a legend by 25." He truly didn't think he'd last beyond 30. He lived for, and savored, every minute. I asked Bobby if he'd like a hobby, an outlet for obvious stress. Since 1958 I've been a rare stamp and coin dealer (Americana Stamp & Coin Galleries, Inc.), so it was a natural question. He replied, "I don't have the time," but I thought he meant time from his career. Later I realized he'd been subtly trying to prepare me. He knew he was really running out of time.

Bobby's pain and shortness of breath worsened in 1971. He agreed to the long-dreaded open-heart surgery, more dangerous than it is now. I got chills when he said, "Jay, I'm toast. My chance for survival is 10%." He sold or gave away possessions. I refused his gifts and assured him, and myself, that all would be fine. During shows he created clever false-endings, dashing to the wings for a quick oxygen fix without the audience knowing. He wanted applause, adulation, respect and love, but never sympathy.

Dick Clark rejected Mack the Knife, from Threepenny Opera, urging Bobby not to record the dark tune. All of Bobby's advisors agreed, arguing that loyal Splish Splash and Dream Lover fans would resent the sordid Broadway song. But in 1959 Bobby had rare courage and followed his own instincts. He liked Mack's offbeat jazzy tempo and sharp, violent lyrics. At 23, he refused to "play it safe," and that single decision changed his life. Mack the Knife rose to Number One nationally for an amazing nine consecutive weeks, and was in the Top Ten for a phenomenal 22 weeks! Bobby would never again be just a rock star.

He won Record of the Year and two Grammy Awards. Bobby's songs were now heard on many mainstream radio shows with tens of millions of adult listeners, not just on rock 'n roll stations. He guest-starred on network TV shows and drew record crowds at swank nightclubs and posh resorts. He was the youngest-ever headliner at the prized Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, where, in 1962-63, I was a busboy and waiter. The Sands was the pinnacle of show business, home of the notorious "Rat Pack" of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. Mack the Knife transformed Bobby from rock star to international musical icon. National Public Radio added Bobby's Mack the Knife to "The 100 Most Important Musical Works of All Time." It sold tens of millions of records, and will always be Bobby's signature classic. It is his crowning lifetime musical achievement, his timeless contribution to our culture.

"Bobby Darin topped Sinatra" some critics said, which always sparked lively debate. In the 1950s and 1960s Bobby prowled Broadway's famous Brill Building, music's nerve center, honing his performing and songwriting skills. He worked with, and dated, stars like Connie Francis. Top New York press agents like my dad Jack Tell and his partner Eddie Jaffe, kept celebrity names in columns like Walter Winchell. No flash-in-the-pan or one-hit-wonder, Bobby had the tenacity, popularity and lasting appeal to record more than 150 songs and 30 LPs. He had an amazing musical range of rock, smooth jazz, rhythm and blues, folk and country songs, which captivated very different audiences. Each generation anew discovers Bobby's enchantingly beautiful ballads, timeless timbre, and sweet vocal bouquet.

Who were his greatest inspirations? He told me Al Jolson "for his golden throat and perfect pitch;" Sinatra, whom he tried so hard to emulate and surpass, "for his stage presence, humor and casual finger-snapping independence;" Elvis "for his courage to defy rules and project taboo sex appeal;" the Beatles "for a totally original sound and songwriting genius;" Bing Crosby, Perry Como, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole "for their relaxed approach;" Judy Garland (they sang a TV duet in '63) "whose pain came through in her songs." He took a sprinkling from each of his heroes, creating a package of multiple stage personas, becoming the delicious recipe, the unrivaled niche he molded into the remarkable, unique Bobby Darin.

Bobby gave "Danke Schoen" to Wayne Newton in 1963, a gift from his heart. It became Newton's first hit and launched his worldwide fame. Bobby graciously loved helping people and treated others with respect. When a band member's father needed major surgery, Bobby gave financial support. His style, tempo and stimulating rhythm inspired Tony Orlando's Tie a Yellow Ribbon and Roger Miller's King of the Road. Few knew, but when alone Bobby listened to classical music, his private sanctuary and escape.

Bobby was in 13 films, composed two full movie scores and five title songs. He was also a successful music publisher and record producer who knew the ropes inside-out. He starred on the Steve Allen, Bob Hope and Ed Sullivan popular TV shows with luminaries Jack Benny, Peggy Lee, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Paul Anka, Tom Jones, Phil Silvers, Lisa Minnelli, Patti Page, Ella Fitzgerald, Eydie Gorme, Steve Lawrence, Alan King, Nancy Wilson, Andy Williams, etc. His mentor, comedian George Burns, said Bobby's talent topped legendary Broadway impresario George M. Cohan, so Bobby starred in Kraft Music Hall's "Give My Regards to Broadway," becoming America's Yankee Doodle Dandy, Little Johnny Jones.

In 1963, Bobby sang at my brother's nightclub, the Twin Lakes Twist, holding thousands of adoring Vegas fans in the palm of his hand. Seems like yesterday, his vibrant velvet voice, impromptu style, and sly sex appeal captivated all ages. He sang his million-sellers Splish Splash, which he wrote in a half-hour, Dream Lover, Mack the Knife, Queen of the Hop. Also Artificial Flowers, 18 Yellow Roses, Things, Clementine. And his smash hit, Beyond the Sea, also the title of Kevin Spacey's Bobby Darin film biopic. In his 1960s blue jean and protest period, he wrote Simple Song of Freedom, and sang If I Were A Carpenter. Loyal fans often demanded his earlier hits, and he always came through, often to ovations.

His Oscar nomination was for a hypnotic 1963 performance in Captain Newman, MD. He played a decorated World War Two aviator, a psychiatric patient who thinks he's a coward for not saving his friend from the burning plane. Bobby won the Foreign Press Association's coveted Golden Globe and French Film Critics best supporting actor awards. This brash singer, who started at 15 with a Catskill Mountain jazz combo, later, at New York's famous Copacabana, drew bigger audiences than Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Perry Como and Sammy Davis Jr. He performed at other legendary nightclubs, including LA's Troubador and Ciro's. He opened San Francisco's huge Mr. D's with a 23-piece orchestra. He was the first young vocalist to appeal to adults. His legions of admirers came out in force, every time.

He held my daughter Robyn, singing 18 Yellow Roses, Baby Face, For Once in My Life, You're The Reason I'm Living, You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby. From 1970-1973 he called her My Dyn-A-Mite, and brought, what else, 18 yellow roses! All of Robyn's life, I've told her stories of Bobby's warm visits.

He became part of my family. When desert throat struck, we flew in my relative, Marty Lawrence, world-renowned NY Metropolitan Opera singing coach. When Bobby stayed at my home, we confided and shared stories. I was his safe haven from the media, managers, lawyers, producers and the tumult of show business. I never met Sandra Dee, but did meet his girlfriend, Andrea Yeager. Later, for a brief time, they were married. She was a beautiful legal secretary, quite regal, like Jackie Kennedy.

After so much pain in his life, it seemed we were the family he craved. He loved my devoted parents, Jack and Bea Tell, and our Las Vegas Israelite. Dad told stories from his editorial days on The New York Times and as publisher of Mark Twain's Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada. Together we all saw The Godfather masterpiece in 1972. Bobby said, "Good thing the fearless Tells have two newspapers, they might kill one of you, but not both." Bobby and I were bonded through my paper, the Las Vegas Free Press. We both knew the rock of America's strength was the First Amendment.

Bobby loved the Las Vegas Free Press. We supported our brave troops but strongly opposed the Vietnam War. We backed the NY Times and Washington Post when they risked criminal indictment for publishing the infamous Pentagon Papers which led to the historic Watergate scandal. We were the very first to expose Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun and Howard Hughes' CEO Robert Maheu, who fleeced the billionaire of more than $20 million, which became a running story for years.

The notorious Howard Hughes proxy battle would determine control of an empire. Bobby and I were in court when Federal Judge Roger Foley entered my newspaper into evidence, saying, from the bench, "The Las Vegas Free Press is the only newspaper in the nation to get the story straight." Bobby respected bold investigative reporting and admired courage to challenge the powerful. He added fresh questions on interviews and was intrigued by the art of clever headlines. He valued accuracy and spotted errors. In 1971 he asked, and became, my partner. I'll never forget those exciting, happy years.

We fought for minority rights, a woman's right to choose, the environment, Israel's right to security as the mid-east's only real democracy. We were passionately patriotic, but were appalled at Nixon's broken campaign pledges "to end the war in 90 days." We were stunned by Nixon's blatantly unconstitutional "no knock" laws. My paper, "The Voice for the Voiceless," was on the front lines of most progressive social issues like fighting bigotry, adult censorship, etc. We ran many stories on the dangers of drug abuse, which we viewed as a medical crisis needing more education, not prison. Decriminalization with strict controls was then a new idea which gains acceptance today. Bobby's career prevented him from publicly taking controversial stands, so he vicariously spoke through my Las Vegas Free Press.

The rolling rhythm of a pulsing press serenaded the First Amendment, as Bobby and I watched the paper printed. He said, "Jay, you have printer's ink in your veins." He loved our puncturing stuffed shirts, cutting frauds down to size, backing underdogs in election upsets. The feared Las Vegas Sun columnist Paul Price ran for City Commissioner. He was a 20-1 "cinch'" favorite against an unknown opponent, until we ran 15,000 extra papers for ten weeks. We revealed his shady past and underhanded methods, and stopped him cold. We ran stories on medical care, legal aid, and the Bill of Rights. We were the first paper to support Nevada's Equal Housing Laws. When four Hispanic families came to our office to report housing discrimination, Bobby surprised us by singing La Bamba. Everyone stopped work to listen and applaud. "Why?" I asked. "Hey, I can't resist an audience," he winked with his warm, loving grin.

Bobby considered entering politics. He was smart, articulate, handsome and caring. I took him to Gov. Grant Sawyer and Supreme Court Justice John Mowbray, long-time Tell family friends, to explore his political viability. They thought he had a chance to be elected mayor, and then senator or governor. Bobby was first a friend who enriched my life, and later was my partner. We received federal approval for a public stock offering, a registered SEC prospectus for a daily newspaper. Bobby's birth name, Walden Robert Cassotto, was proudly included in the prospectus AKA Bobby Darin as a co-owner.

He was an exciting entertainer with a sparkling personality. Few knew it, but Bobby was an authentic genius, a member of Mensa. His IQ of 137 was in the top 2%. He was a 22-year show-biz veteran with a polished stage presence, a pro with rare magnetism. He had a gift for comedy sketches and natural timing for rehearsed or actual ad-libs. He choreographed and danced with gusto. He played five musical instruments well: piano, guitar, vibes, harmonica and drums. He did memorable impressions of James Cagney, Clark Gable, Jerry Lewis, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Walter Brennan, Groucho Marx, Rex Harrison, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando and Cary Grant.

Bobby sang to each of us, a very personal connection. His magical allure was honesty, direct from his soul. He was animated yet authentic, flippant yet friendly, sassy yet soft, rebellious yet relaxed. He had ten-piece bands, back-up singers, and often performed in a tux. He was a perfectionist who told musicians, If you screw up they blame me, not you. Excellence was his goal. He was self-confident outside but deep down he was unpretentious, sincere and seriously misunderstood. Lifelong pain affected his music, but never lessened his commitment to do his best every time he performed.

Three triumphant 1970-71 Las Vegas shows re-started his career. Mack was back! When I negotiated his highest-ever salary, $40,000-a-week, he offered me 10%, but I refused, quite thrilled to help my friend. The Landmark and two Desert Inn sellout engagements ended his five-year quiet period. He again achieved national fame, but was rushed by ambulance for his first open heart operation, for plastic valves. He recovered and continued his soaring comeback, only to succumb in Dec 1973 after his second surgery failed. Bobby worked so hard, as if each show was his last. One time, tragically, it was.

In 1972-73 he starred in two NBC-TV primetime variety shows, propelled by his jubilant Las Vegas comeback. Those hour-long shows were his most important TV ever. After the first surgery he required antibiotics before even routine dental work. One time, he forgot. A major infection put strain on a lifetime of illness, and required a second operation to replace the now-faulty heart valves. Doctors called it "heart failure," but we who knew him respectfully disagree: "Bobby Darin's heart never failed anyone."

"Bobby's Groucho Marx impression is so good, even Harpo shouted praise," I said, after Bobby brought down the house. (Groucho's brother Harpo was famous for never speaking.) Bobby's April 1973 NBC-TV show was in-the-round, concert style. His solo guest star for the entire hour was the beloved Peggy Lee. No one knew it, but this celebrated event turned out to be Bobby's TV finale. Then, a Las Vegas Hilton run became Bobby's last live performances. No one, least of all me, believed his time was really running out. Isn't denial grand? But a few months later, just when offers were multiplying, on Dec. 20, 1973, he was gone, just when Bobby's lifelong dream to be a superstar was coming true.

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posthumously inducted Bobby in 1990, with his son Dodd Mitchell, then 29, accepting. In 1999, his accomplishments as a composer were embraced by The Songwriters Hall of Fame. He may not have been "the best ever" by age 25, as he once hoped, but lately there's an amazing surge of interest in the multi-talented Bobby Darin. His many dimensions and wide variety of skills earn him a special class apart, almost like Al Jolson, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. Today, the tragedy-plagued Bronx boy finally achieved the legendary status he craved.

His final utterance was his childhood phone number. On his deathbed, was he reaching back to the Bronx High School of Science or Hunter College? Or, trying to connect with his mother and grandmother to ask why? Bobby's tragic passing devastated Dodd, Sandra, Andrea and my family to its core. To them, I send warmest wishes. Bobby supported the Heart Fund, the American Heart Association, and other charities. He enjoyed doing benefits, and I can't recall him turning one down.

He made people happy, even after death, his body going to UCLA Medical Research Center. There is no gravesite. His matchless, melodious music mosaic is his true monument, his lasting memorial. His fiery flamboyant flair and timeless tempestuous talent has stood the test of time. His crafty charisma and suave singing style will continue to give pleasure to countless generations and millions yet unborn.

It's been suggested I write Bobby's definitive biography. This tribute was written solely as a "labor of love," from the heart. But others now see it as a natural outline for a book or screenplay with never-before-published details of his remarkable life. At the time, writing his full biography never entered my mind, but I might consider it. If done, one chapter would be new worlds Bobby might have conquered had he lived: in theater, advancing the arts, as a TV host, film director, producer, philanthropist, or media owner. One thing for sure, he genuinely cared about humanity, wanting to make the world a little better.

Bobby's Horatio Alger rags-to-riches story is one of burning ambition, uncommon talent, raw courage, moving human drama and intense personal tragedy. Truth is better than fiction, with adoration turned to irrelevance, then magically transformed to more fame than before. He worked hard making it look easy. Death cheated him, and us, at the peak of his rekindled popularity. Bobby's life spans an epic period from the '30s to the '70s, filled with cruel knowledge he would not enjoy a full measure of years.

"Had he lived, the gifted, dynamic entertainer would surely be a superstar. "

He was so alive and full of energy. His music improves with age, like fine wine. DJs often get sentimental about Bobby, like reminiscing about an old friend, which he still is to hundreds of millions of fans worldwide.

Bobby remains forever young in our memory, a boyishly handsome freeze-frame from a

more innocent era. Teary-eyed, I recall magical mellow moments with a true-blue pal, a dedicated, original craftsman. Rest well, Bobby Darin. You earned it.

[This tribute is published on more than 30 websites and travels the globe via email address books. I've received hundreds of appreciative, glowing emails from Bobby's loyal fans of all ages around the world, a warm outpouring of affection and love for Bobby. To publish this tribute (in its entirety only) at no charge, to honor Bobby's unparalleled life, email jaytell@hotmail.com ~ Phone 818.905.1111 , 818.515.1222, or write Jay Tell, Americana Stamp & Coin Galleries, Inc, 16060 Ventura Blvd, PMB 105A, Encino CA 91436.]

http://www.americanastampcoin.com

Americana Stamp & Coin Galleries

'Buying and selling since 1958'

16060 Ventura Blvd, PMB110A, Encino, CA 91436

Phones: 818.905.1111, 818.515.1222; Fax: 1.818.905.1114

Emails: americanacorp@sbcglobal.net (primary) or jaytell@hotmail.com (backup only)

~First dealer to buy and sell America's Rarest Stamp ($397,838, 12/21/99), the only unique U.S. stamp; the world-record one-stamp Internet price.

~First dealer to buy and sell a coveted Nobel Prize.

~First stamp and coin editor of the Los Angeles Times, a column which ran for 30 years.

~First dealer to buy and sell the highest grade U.S. Indian Head $10 gold piece (1913S) ever discovered.

~Owner and operator of five LA retail stamp and coin stores 1960's to 1990's.

~Selected as the History Channel's Pawn Stars expert for stamps and coins; cable/satellite TV's #1 reality show, syndicated in 150 countries.

~Former consultant to the renowned Scott Stamp Catalogue, est. 1868.

~Author of numerous Tell Tales columns published in the oldest U.S. stamp newspaper, est. 1891.

~Memberships:

American Philatelic Society since 1963; APS Life Member;

American Numismatic Association (ANA) since 1964;

National Stamp Dealers Association (NSDA); United States Stamp Society (USSS/BIA); etc.

~Since 1965 the Tell family has continuously published the Las Vegas Israelite newspaper.

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