Singer, actor. Born Walden Robert Cassotto (professionally known as Bobby Darin), on May 14, 1936, in New York City. Darin’s mother (Vanina) and grandmother (Vivian) led Darin to believe that he was the son, rather than the grandson, of Vivian and her husband, Saverio Cassotto. (Darin was in his thirties when he learned that Vanina, who had pretended to be his older sister, was really his mother.) Vanina subsequently met and married Charles Maffia, a clerk and truck driver. With government assistance supplementing his modest income, Maffia and the two women and moved to the Bronx, where they raised Darin together.
Darin exhibited an early interest in show business by appearing in elementary school productions and by learning to imitate such popular entertainers as Al Jolson and Donald O'Connor. Darin's grandmother had been a vaudeville singer and dancer and encouraged him to develop his talents. Between the ages of eight and 12 Darin suffered repeated attacks of rheumatic fever, which left him bedridden for extended periods. Although his condition gradually improved, his physician told his family that he had little chance of surviving past the age of 21. Darin remained on medication and continued to have related health problems for the rest of his life.
Darin was a gifted student and met the rigorous academic requirements for admittance to the Bronx High School of Science, where he learned to play the drums and started a band with four of his classmates. He honed his skills by performing at school dances and by singing and dancing before summer vacationers at New York's Catskill mountain resorts. After graduating from high school in 1953, Darin attended Hunter College in the Bronx, where he took theater courses and appeared in a number of stage productions.
After less than a year at Hunter, Darin left college and scratched out a living for the next few years by writing songs and commercial jingles. In 1956, Darin auditioned for Decca Records and was given a one-year contract. He made several unsuccessful records for Decca before moving on to Atco Records, a subsidiary of Atlantic Records, in 1957. In 1958, Atco released Darin's recording of "Splish Splash." The song, which Darin reportedly wrote in 12 minutes, was an instant hit and sold more than 100,000 copies in three weeks.
With hits like "Splish Splash,” "Early in the Morning" and "Queen of the Hop" Darin quickly became an idol among teenagers. He appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand. Darin, however, aspired to reach an older and wider audience and in 1959 released an album of old favorites called That's All. One of the 12 songs on the album was a new arrangement of "Mack the Knife," from Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht's Threepenny Opera. "Mack the Knife" was released as a single later that year and sold more than two million copies. Not surprisingly, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded Darin Grammy Awards for the best single record and as best new performer of 1959.
Although his voice was considered to be only average by some critics and although the press faulted him for his arrogance and ambition, Darin was an irresistible showman. He developed a physically expressive style that was very much his own. He quickly won over audiences with his finger-snapping and flashy dance steps. Darin began working the nightclub circuit in Las Vegas by opening for comedian George Burns, who became a father figure to him. Soon he was headlining at the Copacabana and other clubs in New York City and had established himself as one of the most popular, highest-paid nightclub performers in the country.
In 1960, Darin had his first featured acting role in the movie Come September (for which he also wrote the title song), starring Rock Hudson, Gina Lollabrigida, and Sandra Dee. At the age of 18, Dee was already an established Hollywood star when she met Darin on the set. The two were married in December 1960, and settled in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1966. They had one child.
Unlike many other entertainers who crossed over to film, Darin took his acting career very seriously and often chose challenging dramatic roles. He appeared in more than a dozen movies and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1964 as best actor in a supporting role for his portrayal of Corporal Jim Tompkins in Captain Newman, M.D.
Darin continued to perform in Las Vegas and on television for the rest of his life despite heart ailments that hospitalized him and increasingly threatened his career. In June 1973, he married Andrea Joy Yeager, a legal secretary; they separated several months later. On December 20, 1973, Darin died of heart failure. In 1990, he was posthumously elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
© 2001 Gale Group