Swap Talk & Bobby Darin

April 22nd, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

Just hours ago, I shipped ANTIQUES SWAP off to our editor at Kensington. I say “shipped” out of habit – these days, there’s no rush to make it to a Fed-Ex drop to actually post packages. How many times did Barb and I work all day on final corrections, hoping to make it to the P.O., Fed Ex or UPS on time?

Hitting “send” is somehow not as satisfying as handing a clerk a package or shoving that package into the Fed Ex box. But I would never go back.

Barb and I spent a long day doing the final tweaks and corrections. Our standard operating procedure is that I read and revise a hard copy, using a red pen so that the corrections jump out, and she enters them. This is not just for “Barbara Allan” books, but everything of mine that’s book length.

I’m always afraid that, on the read-through, a novel isn’t going to hang together – as I go, I focus on one chapter at a time, as if I were doing a short story, and I rarely have a sense of how (or not) those chapters are coming together to make a book. Almost always I am pleasantly surprised, sometimes damn near thrilled, by how those chapters turn into something coherent and cohesive. That last read-through, for tweaks and typos, plays a key role, but it’s always nice to know that you’ve written a novel and not just a bunch of scenes.

ANTIQUES SWAP came out very well indeed. But you never know, and we both had our doubts along the way. The story starts at a swap meet and eventually deals with wife-swapping in small-town Serenity. This is delicate, even daring subject matter for a cozy, but I think we walked the tight rope successfully. There’s a scene Barb came up with where a concussed Vivian Borne thinks she’s on a USO Tour with Bob and Bing that is among our funniest.

Last week a number of you jumped on my offer of sending out signed copies of KING OF THE WEEDS for Amazon reviews. I offered 12 copies, but wound up digging into my personal stash for another five. Thanks to all of you who requested books, and my apologies to those who missed out this time. In a few weeks, there will be a similar giveaway with a dozen ARC’s of SUPREME JUSTICE. For those who haven’t noticed, these Updates go up every Tuesday at 9 a.m. Central Time.

In the next two months, we should be posting any number of interviews and reviews. This is one of those times when all my publishing worlds collide – ANTIQUES CON, KING OF THE WEEDS and SUPREME JUSTICE are all out at the same time. I’ve already done an interview for Jon Jordan at Crimespree (see below), and soon I’ll be offering a link to a very long, in-depth one for J. Kingston Pierce of the Rap Sheet and Kirkus on-line.

* * *

In the last year of his life, Bobby Darin did an NBC series called THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW. If you’ve been following my work for a while, chances are you know that I am the world’s biggest Bobby Darin fan. How can I make such a claim? Let’s start with: I own his Gold Record for “Mack the Knife.” Next!

The Bobby Darin Show

Anyway, Darin’s series is in many respects a typical early ‘70s variety show, which is to say a weird hybrid of what was “happening,” baby, and wheezy traditions that dated to vaudeville. Darin is very good at doing sketches and production numbers, and is naturally funny, too. But those ‘70s variety shows, with the partial exception of Carol Burnett, were really pretty terrible. And the reason to celebrate the release of THE BOBBY DARIN SHOW on DVD is chiefly the moments, two or three times a show, when Darin stands on stage in a tux and sings standards and current pop hits in his sophisticated, hip nightclub manner.

Also, every episode (there are thirteen) finds Darin singing to (and with) that week’s female musical guest star. Usually the two perch on stools as he gazes at her with open admiration, in a kind of seduction ending with Darin kissing the female guest tenderly (in near silhouette). What’s most fascinating here is how Darin modulates his performances according to the talents of his partner. Connie Stevens is shockingly weak, and Darin carries her, singing softly and gently. Much the same is true with Nancy Sinatra – but she is much better with him, with his help, than in her embarrassing solo performance of a lame “Boots are Made For Walkin’” follow-up flop.

But when Darin sings with Dusty Springfield – the greatest blue-eyed female soul singer of her generation – they stand facing each other, going toe to toe, delighted by each other’s talent, holding nothing back, although Dusty may be just a little bit surprised that the “Splish Splash”/”Mack the Knife” guy has such incredible r & b chops.

It’s not overstating it to say Darin was dying when he made these shows. Sometimes he clearly feels pretty good, and other times not. He doesn’t betray that, but I can tell. He phrases differently – grabbing more air than usual – when he’s under the weather. At the end of each show, he sings “Mack the Knife” while the credits roll and then recedes into a big empty soundstage in silhouette, which now plays hauntingly. If he’s feeling good, he dances and prances; if he’s having a rough week, he does just enough footwork and body language to fool you into thinking he’s still Bobby Darin. It’s said that he took oxygen off-stage before and after these performances, and that he was like a puppet with its strings snipped till the camera came on and the orchestra kicked in, and he came – for a time – alive.

Bobby Darin was a character Walden Robert Cassoto played. The coolness of the cat, swinging his songs on these shows, is startling in contrast to the goofy humor bits he does, like when he’s in drag as “the Godmother,” or sitting on a brownstone stoop jawing with a neighborhood pal. His acting talent comes to the fore in some excellent low-key production numbers in which he enacts a scene drawn from a song he’s singing, as in “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight,” where he’s a lower-class joe entertaining a prostitute in a cheap hotel room. Fairly startling, actually.

Darin could do anything. He was Oscar-nominated for a dramatic movie role and won a Golden Globe for a comedy. He was a genuine rocker. He was easily the greatest blue-eyed soul singer of his generation. He recorded some of the first country rock and folk rock, and was a songwriter of talent and versatility (he’s in the Songwriters Hall of Fame). At the start of his career, he opened for George Burns. In the last months of his life, he was the highest paid performer in Vegas.

If you buy this DVD set, know a couple of things. There are some things missing from these shows, apparently mostly guest-star performances that couldn’t be cleared. There are comedy bits you may wish to skip, and some dreadful musical performances by guest stars. I mean, it’s the early ‘70s. We’re talking the kind of era that makes people nostalgic for THE BRADY BUNCH.

But when Darin takes centerstage, with a big band behind him, a microphone in hand, and a rapt audience before him, prepare to get chills. There are performances here, by this dying young man, that are spellbinding and mesmerizing – “Cry Me a River,” “Some People,” “Once in a Lifetime.” A rare live performances of his great hit “Artificial Flowers” (one of his many songs about death) can be found here, and so can his thumbing-his-nose-at-the-reaper signature tune “Mack the Knife” – thirteen times, each different. The most astonishing performance is, perhaps surprisingly, his moving and electric rendition of Don McLean’s “Driedel.” Worth the price of admission.

The DVD set is widely available, on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble, and featured in mail-order catalogues like Critic’s Choice.

For those of you who have no idea what the fuss is, check out this 1962 performance:

* * *

Here’s that interview that Jon Jordan did with me about KING OF THE WEEDS and more.

Barb and I are thrilled that the Washington Post mystery review chose ANTIQUES CON for part of their round-up of new cozies.

And my old pal Ron Fortier (terrific writer his own self) had wonderful things to say about KING OF THE WEEDS.

JFK assassination expert Vince Palamara – one of my unwitting resources – has some very nice things to say about TARGET LANCER here. I can’t tell you how much it means when somebody like Vince approves of my exploration of the key crime of the 20th Century.


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

11 Responses to “Swap Talk & Bobby Darin”

  1. Andrew Reiss says:


    I’m sure being a big fan of Darin’s you have an opinion of Kevin Spacey’s movie about him that came out several years ago. Is it worth purchasing a blu ray copy or just just checking it out via-on demand (if available). I am not a huge fan per say, but I do appreciate the artist Darin was. I also appreciate Dusty Springfield, so I’m tempted to purchase the tv series for her appearance alone.

  2. Joe Menta says:

    It’s nice to see you writing about Bobby Darin again. I used to enjoy your periodic writing on the same topic on the text pages in the back of “Ms. Tree”. Those essays and anecdotes are what turned me on to Bobby Darin in the first place, and I’m a fan to this day. I also remember a brief comics bio-story about him- and his impact on you- that was in one of the Ms. Tree’s (“Ms Tree’s Rock-N-Roll Special” or something like that), which was terrific. Anyway, the DVD’s sound great. Just might have to pick them up.

    I think the Spacey movie about Bobby is pretty good, especially the showstopping dance numbers, an experimental element in the film that actually worked. But the weird narrative structure was just too out there for me. I know that many critics hate traditional-structure biopics (calling them blandly-told highlight reels of a person’s life), but if anyone’s story needs a straightforward retelling, it’s Bobby’s. The amazing details of his life, both professionallly and personally, cry out for a movie that just gets out the way and let’s those events have their full impact. Just my two cents.

  3. Sean Kelly says:

    I guess I will have to stay up late on Tuesdays to see the 9am post – Being on the other side of the world makes keeping up with the news from home kind of tricky.

    But then again, I can just buy the books as always and catch up at 9am Wednedsay (Japan time) like I normally do.

  4. Sean, I can’t send the giveaway books outside the USA. So don’t disrupt your sleep structure.

    I am always glad to learn that I’ve made converts to Darin. I love the Spacey bio-flick, and wrote about it at length elsewhere. I’ll see if we can post that article (it’s also about going to see Spacey’s Darin concert, and meeting him after). To my knowledge, BEYOND THE SEA is not available on Blu-ray anywhere.

  5. Edmond D. Smith says:

    Although I was knee high to a Rat Packer when Darin’s show aired I still remember it and the impact it had on me. I have always been a huge Elvis fan and the only thing that I can recall that hit me the same way as Darin’s performances on his show was Elvis’s comeback special. I’ve never forgotten it. I also remember his appearances on the Merv Griffin Show where he proved to be every bit as witty and personable as he was talented.

    Thanks for bringing back the memories.

  6. Sean Kelly says:

    Technically I am in the US – working on the US Navy Base here in Yokosuka and and using my US Postal Service FPO address for all mail, but I get your gist. I’ll still be buying the books from my independent bookseller in Tampa who ships them here. (and now I have to replace all my MAC paperbacks because my wife is cleaning out our house in prep for her move here and decided paperbacks are not worth keeping).

  7. Karen Esibill says:

    I thought I was Bobby’s greatest fan. I fell in love with him in 1958, and it’s still going strong. I met you at a Bouchercon years ago. Wish I’d know then what a devoted BD fan you were/are. Perhaps we could’ve chatted a bit about him. You’ve done a superb job of reviewing The Bobby Darin Shows. I never thought I’d get to see them again. Too bad there were a number of Bobby’s performances
    edited out, but still what’s there of BD is choice. I love the duets. Bobby’s eyes, and what he does with them is enough to make a grown woman cry. I agree about. “Dreidel.” It’s a Darin tour de force. Don McClean should have sent him a personal thank you for making such a dramatic reading of his song. Had Bobby lived, I felt that “The Neighborhood” could’ve branched out into an endearing sitcom, much as “The Honeymooners” did from The Gleason Show. Bobby was the connsumate showman, and so much more. For me, there is no other talent to equal him. Then. Now, Ever.

  8. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks for these lovely comments. If you haven’t already (and I bet you have) pick up the MILK SHOWS CD set, which is full of wonderful stuff he didn’t record anywhere else, capturing his ability to work in an intimate way with a small combo.

  9. Karen Esibill says:

    I listen to The Milk Shows CD everyday driving in my car aka my Bobby Darin Music Room. The Milk Shows were a great find, and a joy to hear. Bobby was the master–still is.

  10. Karen Esibill says:

    Oh, I love the performance you pasoted from The Ed Sullivan Show. When BD goes into “Just in TIme” I get weak kneed. The song is Both Bobby and the song are hot. Love his reading of “Toot Toot Tootsie.” Jolson was one of his idols. Bobby does it proud.

  11. Shania Baker says:

    I loved all of Bobby’s performances and think he was wonderful at doing them. I feel really bad that Noone really knew he was dying. Or he just had a really good way of covering it up. Thank you for posting this. ( I am problably overthinking it, but I thought Bobby had brown eyes… lol)