SECTION TWO

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COLUMN FIFTY-THREE, NOVEMBER 1, 2000
(Copyright 2000 Al Aronowitz)


BOBBY DARIN

RETROPOP SCENE:
THE COPA'S BOBBY DARIN

Subject: Bobby Darrin
Date: Sun, 6 Dec 1998 08:47:12 -0500
From: "Neal Allen"
To:

Also, I as watching VH1's whitewashed Bobby Darrin documentary and was telling my wife about your extraordinary piece on him. Is it available anywhere nowadays?
Subject: Re: Bobby Darrin

Date: Mon, 08 Nov 1999 05:40:36 -0500
From: AL ARONOWITZ
Organization: THE BLACKLISTED JOURNALIST
To: Neal Allen

NEAL: Presumably, you're referring to the piece about Bobby in THE BLACKLISTED MASTERPIECES OF AL ARONOWITZ, which is still available at $100 a copy, boxed, numbered and signed. Otherwise, I've written many pieces about Bobby Darin, who was a friend of mine. He wanted me to write his autobiography for him, but no publisher wanted it at the time and then he died before we could get any further. I'm putting another of my pieces about Bobby in Column Forty-Nine. Thanks for asking.--Al

The folowing is a reprise of four POP SCENE columns I wrote some 27 years ago.

Bobby Darin was mooned out the last time he played the Copa

Ask Carmine., the general manager, that dark, awesome giant in his black tuxedo, with hands that look like they could each crack one of the coconuts you'd swear you see growing out of the decor.

"A lot of people said they didn't like the show," he'll tell you. "They said they wouldn't come back."

Ask Bobby Ryan, that smiling vision of an ex-club fighter, still just a little bit uncomfortable in black tie, a picture of a bouncer until you notice bow much authority he actually commands.

"I love Bobby Darin," he'll tell you. "It was just that he made a very bad impression."

Ask The Lip, Bobby Ryan's partner, the two of them always providing an escort for Darin down from the dressing room in the freight elevator to the kitchen and then back up again after the show. When Bobby last played the Copa in 1969, they disappeared, made themselves scarce, evaporated, as if Bobby had something that might be catching, and yet it was Bobby who caught the chill.

"Anything he needs," The Lip will tell you, "anything Bobby needs, except the last time there were some people who weren't satisfied with the show."

Ask Julie Podell, the Copa's legendary boss, tyrant over a principality where pirate ships can dock unmolested by authority, ruler over a watering hole where all the animals must behave. Julie is a man who believes that one grunt is worth a thousand words. The last time Bobby Darin played the Copa, Julie let it be known that he didn't want him back again, contract or no contract. Ask Julie Podell and he'll tell you nothing.

"He never said a word," Bobby Darin now remembers. "He never said a word, but listen, with Julie, silence is voluminous."

Oh yes, Bobby was mooned out the last time he played the Copa, mooned out enough to walk on the floor dressed in denim pants and jacket, mooned out enough to sing songs about bodies being discovered on an Arkansas prison farm, mooned out enough to forget about wearing a hair piece any more. He had even grown a mustache. People who were there still swear he had a beard.

"It was just that Bobby was always one of the best-dressed and best-groomed of all the entertainers," Carmine will tell you. "These are good people who come here. It's a matter of respect."

Carmine. Carmine Fava. He's been with the Copa 12 years now. He was there when Bobby first opened at the room, that brash, cocky kid with hits like Splish Splash and Dream Lover and Mack the Knife, who said he wanted to be living legend by the time he was 25, who demanded that he be accepted in the company of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

If Bobby didn't become a legend, his arrogance did. They loved it, the good people, the big spenders, the schtarkers, they were called. Bobby knew how to pull then in. From the captains and the waiters and the bus boys, it was always a big smile and a handshake and, "Glad to have you back, Bobby," and they'd show him the wads in their pockets, rolls of schtarker tips that only Bobby could draw.

The Copa became a home for Bobby, a place for him always to go back to, this kid from the Bronx who was born after his father died, who grow up in too many tenements because his mother had to move out every time the rent was due. "The good people." It was at the Copa that Bobby first learned his father had been one of them, a hitter for the mob.

Oh yes, Bobby was mooned out the last time he played the Copa. Mooned out. He had become a movie star. He had been married to Sandra Dee. He had been on all the TV shows. He had chartered airliners to fly friends to parties across the ocean and he had landed on all the front pages with millionaire Huntington Hartford's wife. He had also blown a million dollars, lost it in a deal with a conglomerate.

And if that wasn't enough to moon him out, he had also stood at the graveside of Bobby Kennedy, stood there for hours and hours, stood there holding a flickering candle, stood


At Bobby Kennedy's Gravside,
Bobby Darin saw all his hostilities
float away like a balloon


there the captive of some mysterious compulsion, stood there after all the other mourners had left, stood there while the caretakers shoveled the rest of the dirt on Bobby Kennedy's coffin and tidied up the site, stood there even after the caretakers had left, stood there and felt all his hostilities leaving him, rolling up into a ball.

He saw the ball detach from him and float up into the air like a balloon, watching it go higher and higher until it was a tiny speck in the sky. He stood there and watched the speck disappear and he vowed that he'd put on denims and sing all the songs he always had been afraid to sing because they weren't commercial and didn't have a finger-snap to them. Without pot, without acid and without any dope at all, Bobby Darin had joined all those others plagued with visions of the damned.  That last time Bobby Darin played the Copa, he even refused to be introduced.

"I figure they must all know who they came to see," he said.

The last time Bobby Darin played the Copa, he was just plain mooned out.

II.

You can see the scar on his chest when he changes his clothes in the dressing room. Bobby Darin has lived his life with too much lust for it to be concerned with wasting time in modesty.

His valet, Andy, will be in the room plus his road manager, Ralph. There also will be one or two old friends and maybe Bobby Ryan of the Copa staff and of course Bobby Darin's wife, Andrea Yeager. They're not legally married, but that doesn't matter to Bobby, he says, because "We know we're married."

There will be Tommy Amato, Bobby's drummer or maybe Billy Aiken, his piano player, and maybe even Charlie Maffia, who used to be Bobby's brother-in-law, the only man in Bobby's family when Bobby was growing up. It was Charlie who carried Bobby in his arms when bobby was too sick to walk, stricken with rheumatic fever when he was eight. Charlie is a limousine driver now. Modesty? You get over that when you're brought up in a close family and especially in a close family that has had to live in tiny tenement flats.

Yes, you can see the scar on his chest when he takes off his shirt and slips out of his trousers, all the while barking orders or cracking jokes. He doesn't wear underpants because he likes his trousers tight and the outline of his briefs would show.

"Charlie, you be there to pick us up at four and make sure the window is closed between the front seat and the back seat because you talk too much and I don't want to catch a draft. . . Tommy---where's Tommy?---I don't think we'll do 'Splash' this show. . ."

It's not a scar that kicks you in the eye, but it's there, very subtly, like a flap covering a zipper down the length of his breast bone. You wouldn't otherwise notice, not from what he says or the staccato way he says it, not from the gracefulness of the way he moves or dances around the room and certainly not from the same old frantic pace he keeps, that he ever had the operation.

"One of his main concerns," remembers Steve Blauner, who used to be his manager, "was that having lived all his life with the feeling he'd die young, that this feeling had created his personality, and if this feeling was eliminated would it change his personality? Obviously, it hasn't."

It was after Bobby Darin last played the Copa in 1969 that everything started going wrong for him. He blew up and walked off the Jackie Gleason Show because Jackie wouldn't let him sing Long Line Rider, a song he wrote about the inmates murdered on an Arkansas prison farm. Another hassle, with the producers of the Kraft Music Hall, and he found he wasn't being invited to do too many TV shows any more.

He attempted a reconciliation with his wife, Sandra Dee, but they only broke up again. He formed his own record company and put out two albums but they both bombed. With his last few hundred thousand dollars, he wrote and produced a movie but he still hasn't been able to sell it.

There was one good week that he can remember. He played the Troubador in L.A., doing his own songs with a folk group. He got rave reviews and, as always, all the waiters told him they wished he'd play there every night because they never got such big tips. But when he brought the same show into the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, it bombed.

"I realized," he now says, "that there are certain people who are just not going to accept certain things. I had been too slick. After I put on my denims, my aggressiveness had disappeared."

He sold his house in Beverly Hills and moved onto a farm commune in Big Sur, but he owed the bank too much money to quit. He decided to compromise. He got a job at the Landmark Hotel in Vegas. He still wore denim, but it was a tailored suit.

In the meantime, he began suffering from irregular heartbeats. Fibrillations, the doctors called them. For eight or nine hours at a time, his heart would pump at 140 to 160 beats per minute instead of a more normal 80. Six times, he had to go into an intensive care unit for electroconversion. And every 18 months or so, he would come down with pneumonia.

"Having lived with a damaged heart for 26 years, I didn't think there was anything heroic about going in for surgery," he now says. "I also always felt I was going to kick off by the time I was 30 anyway. The only reason it was time for the operation was that my valves had deteriorated to a point where if it was not now then it would have to be next year and in the meantime l'd have to curtail my activities.

"Because I'm fearless and insane, it was no risk. I told the doctor, 'You give me these six weeks to work---the first six weeks in 1971---somehow, you keep me alive by remote control, and the moment I close, I'll go home, spend four hours with my son and then I'll check into a hospital and give myself to you.'

"So I closed in Vegas at the Desert Inn on February 8th, the morning of the earthquake. I spent a few hours with Moose, my son. He was nine years old then. I explained to him I was sure everything was going to be OK but it was very possible I would never see him again and I told him wherever I am you know I love you. And he looked up at me and said, 'Don't worry about it, Dad, everything's going to be fine.' And I checked into the hospital."

III.

They say that Bobby Darin nearly died on the operating table during his open heart surgery. He himself remembers nearly going out three times afterwards.

"What can I say?" he'll tell you. "Everybody, sooner or later, will have to go under the knife. Let's hope they make out as well as I did."

He was in the Intensive Care Unit for five days. It was six weeks before he got out of the hospital. For another week, he had to check into a hotel near his doctor's house.

"Take your own pace," his doctor told him.

It was a deliberately slow recuperation.

"Like I say," he'll tell you, "I had expected to kick off by the time I was 30, so I had bought an extra few years, anyway."

There was a small paragraph in the newspapers. "Bobby Darin Undergoes Open Heart Surgery." And then nothing was heard from him for months.

He had said all his goodbyes. His oldest friends, Dick Behrke and Dickie Lord, who had been his roommates, and Steve Blauner, who once was his manager, they had all flown in to Vegas to be with him at the Desert Inn the night he closed, the night before he went into the hospital. What Blauner remembers most clearly is how waxen he looked.

"He would sleep just about the whole time between shows," Blauner remembers. "But when he went out onstage for that last time, he was fantastic, he was as good as I've ever seen him. It was a very difficult thing for me to watch, especially thinking I might never see him perform again. One of the last things he asked me before he went into the hospital was to watch over his son."

Blauner was with Bobby in the hospital afterwards one of the times when he nearly passed away.

"We were visiting him on a Saturday night," Blauner remembers. "He had been fine that afternoon. Then, right before my eyes, I could see him sinking. I could smell death all around him. They asked us to leave so they could work on him and my wife, Kevin, kissed his hand. That freaked him out. It was like a farewell movie gesture. He was sure he was going to die. I was, too."

The deliberately slow recuperation dragged on past Bobby's 35th birthday and into the summer months.

"What was I thinking about?" says Bobby. "What I was thinking about was getting back to finishing what I started out doing years ago. Ask me what that is, and I can't tell you. How long is infinity?"

He spent the time mostly with Andrea Yeager, the lady he now calls his wife. They had met a year or so before in Long Beach. Bobby was going to see a lawyer and as he entered the building he noticed her coming across the street on her way back from lunch. He waited and held the door open for her. It turned out that she worked for the lawyer.

"She's the kind of girl any man would wait and hold the door open for," Bobby explains. She travels with him everywhere now. And Bobby is planning to do a lot of traveling.

"When I put on my denims, I was divesting myself of the slick and the sharp and the styled


When  Bobby Kennedy died,
the void that Darin was trying to fill
grew even greater


and the tailored," he says. "When Bobby Kennedy was killed, I thought if a man like that could die, then what can I do for this world. I only knew him a short time, but in my relationship with him, in committing myself to him, I was seeking my own identity through somebody of courage and conviction. When he died, that void that I was trying to fill in committing myself to him, that void was even greater."

He was divesting himself of the slick and the sharp and the styled and the tailored, but as Bobby now says, "People hear what they see." In those months when he was waiting for himself to heal, he thought about all the rejection the denims had brought him.

"When I played the El San Juan in Puerto Rico, that was really it. As I walked out on the floor, they walked out of the audience. That's the key thing I remember, the total feeling of rejection, like I had come down with the plague.

"Nobody listened to what I said. People would not let me into places. I knew what it is to be a black man in a white community, to be rejected for nothing you did, to be a victim of that kind of bigotry. I always knew it intellectually but I never knew the pain that accompanies it. People hear what they see.

"So I began to realize the need to be anonymous on the street and somebody on the stage. I had tried to put my street self on the stage, but then I began to look at myself and think, 'No, that's not it. What they want is an actor on the stage.'

"An actor wears a costume and makeup. I'm an actor. There's nothing wrong with that. You go out and you entertain them. If what they hear is what they see, then, indeed, let me put on my tux. I'm comfortable in it. I don't have any inner arguments any more. And you know what? It's a fact! People hear what they see."

Bobby went back to work last Sept. 1, opening at Harrah's in Reno.

"I had to get the rust out as a performer," he says. "I'm still getting the rust out."

He played there two weeks, did 10 days in a night club in Columbus, Ohio and then went back to Harrah's. In between he did a few guest shots on the Flip Wilson TV show and some character acting in the Ironside and Night Gallery series. When he finally opened at the Desert Inn in Vegas, it was for four weeks. He started out slow and ended up breaking the house record for a Saturday night. As always, he brought in the high rollers.

"But the Copa," he says, "the Copa is the most important engagement."

He had an intermediary call Copa owner Julie Podell and ask for a booking.

"I told them," Bobby says, "to tell Julie I wanted to play it and settle the situation. I did a bad thing there last time. One thing I now know is that I'm a saloon singer. There's a certain frame of mind in a saloon that's perfect for me. I'm a saloon singer and that's what I'm going to major in."

IV.

Bobby Darin walked into his dressing room at 11 minutes after eight. The show was scheduled to start at 8:15.

"All right," he said as his valet, Andy, helped him off with his double-breasted gray overcoat, fitted at the waist, "how many minutes does the kid do?"

Bobby loosened his yellow tie. He was wearing a dark, pinstripe Continental suit with a long vent up the back of the jacket. He was moving briskly now. He looked around the room for an answer, his hairpiece brushed with a boyish wave at the front. If he didn't joke about it so much, you would never know he wore one. He broke into a half grin at all the confusion his question had caused. This was his staff. His face, for the first time since I had known him, looked weatherbeaten.

"All right," he said again, "how many minutes does the kid do?"

His road manager, Ralph, was trying to figure out what Bobby meant. Ralph's face searched Bobby's for a hint. If Bobby didn't know how many minutes he was going to do, then Ralph certainly didn't.

"The comic," Bobby explained. "How much time do we have?"

Ralph immediately picked up the phone and called Carmine, the general manager. "The comic does 22 minutes," he said, putting the receiver down. "The show starts at. 8:15 sharp."

It was just about 8:15 already. Bobby took off his shirt. He had gone through his rehearsal with the Copa's house band that afternoon. He had had trouble finding his dressing room.

The Hotel 14 had been turned into an office building since 1969 but the Copa's kitchen was still in its basement and the Copa's offices were still on its second floor. A hotel or an office building, the structure still housed the Copa dressing room.

Except, the dressing room had been moved, moved back to where it had been 13 years earlier, when Bobby first played the club, when he had sat In the lounge with Frank Costello and learned that his father had been a hitter for the mob. Frank Costello, reputed to be the true owner of the Copa, was one of the mob's biggest bosses and it's members were the "good people" who always came in to see Bobby---that is, until he put on his denims.

"If they were so good," Bobby said at the time, "then how come I had to be on home relief for 22 years?"

In the dressing room minutes before he was to go on at the Copa in what was to be his final return engagement, Bobby said:

"All right, so get Tommy Amato."

"He's right here," said Ralph and Bobby's drummer walked in from the sitting room.

"We close with Splash," Bobby told him.

"Your snare drum, man, is a little shaky," Tommy said, "but it's the best it can be."

Bobby nodded and disappeared into the bathroom. The telephone rang and Ralph picked it up. Through the receiver, you could hear Julie Podell's bark.

"He's in the bathroom now," Ralph told Julie.

Ralph was holding the receiver close to his ear, but you could still hear Julie's command: "Well, tell him to call me up!"

On the dressing table was a stack of telegrams. When Bobby came out of the bathroom, he opened them, read them silently and put them back into their envelopes.

"Just personal friends," he said. "Nobody from show business."

Andy began to help him into his tux.

"Carmine said that when it's 10 minutes, he'll ring twice," Ralph announced and then added: "Danny Stredella called. He's bringing 40 people for the second show."

The buzzer buzzed twice. Ten minutes to go for the opening night show. Danny Panariello, the assistant headwaiter came into the dressing room.

"Hey, kid," Bobby said, "who you with?"

"I'm with him," said Danny.

"Who's him?" said Bobby.

The phone rang again. It was Donnie Kirshner, one of. Bobby's oldest friends. Donnie was a millionaire music publisher now.

"Hey, Donnie," Bobby laughed, "remember this sound?" and Bobby hung up the phone.

"He'll call back," Bobby said, grinning. Just then, Carmine walked into the room with Bobby Ryan. They both had big smiles on their faces.

"Good crowd?" Bobby asked.

"Good crowd," Carmine nodded.

The phone rang. It, was Donnie Kirshner again. Bobby grabbed the phone and began the kind of rapid-fire staccato you hear from a DJ trying to finish his rap before the vocal comes an a record:

". . .I got my own car. . . A car came up to me on the street the other day and said, 'Do you want to rent me for $5 an hour?' Listen, my kid can beat you, not your kid, but you!. . . Yeah, come on by, no I can't make it to the Laker game, but you come, by. . . Those two dzlubs who used to work for you, what do you mean? You offered me $7 for something that was, worth $15 so I had to say no. So I took $15 for it from them and I got nothing. . ."

He finished speaking and hung up. The buzzer buzzed once. It was time to go down. Bobby Darin was back at the Copa.   ##

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