He's an actor, a singer and the father of T.V. reporter Jim Moret. Maybe you remember James Darren from his role in the Gidget film. Maybe you remember James Darren for his hit records, "Gidget" (the title song from the movie of the same name) and "Goodbye Cruel World". James is still singing. Still recording. And still making personal appearances.
Q - Jim, last year, you were in Syracuse at the New York State Fair and you had to perform in the pouring rain. Were you ever afraid that you might be electrocuted?
A - (laughs) No. It keeps people away, but hopefully this year (2005) when I come back, it'll be beautiful weather. I tell you, the people were troopers. I couldn't believe there were people in the audience. It really shocked me. It was flattering to think they would just sit there in the rain. I do use a hard-wire mic(rophone), so there is that danger of course of getting electrocuted. If you have a wireless mic, I don't think you have that problem. But, I didn't think about that. I was feeling sorry for the people in the audience 'cause they were soaking wet and I was just hoping they were enjoying the show.
Q - These days, you perform at venues like the New York Fair to promote your Big Band CDs?
A - The New York State Fair in Syracuse is the only state fair I've done in years. I play venues like the San Diego Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, Las Vegas - either the Sun Coast or the Orleans which is another beautiful hotel / theatre. I play those venues 'cause I like those venues. I always use a Big Band. It really doesn't do anything for my CDs. Of course, the people who come to see me, if they like the show, will buy the CD or if they're fans they buy the CDs.
Q - So, you sell your CDs at your shows?
A - No, I don't sell them at the shows.
Q - You sell them on your internet site then?
A - They can get them online at Amazon.com or CD Now or at Borders.com or my web site, JamesDarren.com.
Q - How about radio play?
A - I get a lot of radio play all over.
Q - Satellite Radio?
A - I get tremendous play on XM Radio. A lot of play. There's a show called Vegas Strip that I get a tremendous amount of play on. All the Swing stations. KLAC-690 here in L.A. Thank God I get a lot of play all over the country. The reason that I do is when the record was released by Concord, of course it's sent to every program director in the country. Westwood One plays my stuff all the time. They have close to 300 stations. And the people who program the shows, love the CDs. I lucked out.
Q - I consulted Norman Nite's Encyclopedia Of Rock for this interview. Let's see how accurate he is
A - Sure.
Q - He writes, you were spotted by Joyce Selznick of Screen Gems at one of the high schools you went to.
A - That's not true.
Q - She signed you to a contract with Columbia Pictures in the late 1950s.
A - No, that's not accurate.
Q - What would Joyce Selznick be doing walking down a high school hallway?
A - I was discovered by Joyce Selznick. What happened was, I was studying acting in New York City with Stella Adler. I'd been studying with her for a couple of years. I went to see some agents in New York and they said in order to get work, you need to have photographs taken. As I was walking down Broadway after class one day, I saw this photographer's studio, Maurice Seymour. I went in and had pictures taken. I went back to look at the proofs and his secretary, a woman by the name of Yvonne Bouvier, asked me if I was interested in getting into film. I said yeah, I was. She said I know someone you should meet. She set up a meeting between me and Joyce Selznick, who worked for Screen Gems. I went down to 1650 Broadway, the Brill Building. On my way to a meeting with Joyce, we just happened to get on the elevator at the same time. She kept staring at me. I never met her. She never met me. We got off at the same floor and walked to the same office. That was our meeting. Joyce brought me over to Columbia Pictures about a week lager and got me a contract there. But, it was not in school or in Philadelphia. Joyce had come to Philly after to meet my parents and my family, but, she did not discover me in Philly.
Q - How old were you when you started studying with Stella Adler?
A - Close to seventeen.
Q - Was your first break when you sang the title song "Gidget" in the movie you also appeared to be acting in?
A - Well, that wasn't my first movie. My first movie was a film called Rumble On The Docks, which was a low budget film for a gentleman named Sam Katzman, who did all those John Wayne, six day Westerns. But, he did some decent films. Fred Sears was a wonderful director. That really was my first break because I started getting 400-500 letters a month from that film. You're not talking about a major film here. So, that kind of put me on a different level at the studio and they took notice. Then, I did The Brothers Rico, Gunman's Walk with Van Heflin. The Brothers Rico with Richard Conte. I did a whole bunch of films, then I did Gidget in '58 or '59. My theme came about...they were gonna use somebody else's voice and I told them I could sing. We went into one of the soundstages with a piano player and sang the song and they said, he can do it. Then they put me on their label too, Colpix.
Q - Whose label was that?
A - That's Columbia Pictures label. We had a lot of great people on that label.
Q - How far up the charts did that song "Gidget" go?
A - You know, I really don't know. I don't really remember. On the Top 40 charts, probably around number five. At the very least nine, around there.
Q - So, at that point, were you a singer / actor or an actor / singer?
A - Actor / singer.
Q - After Gidget, what project did you work on?
A - I think Let No Man Write My Epitaph with Shelley Winters and Burl Ives, Ricardo Montalban, Jean Seberg, Ella Fitzgerald. That was really a good film
Q - Then, in September, 1961, "Goodbye Cruel World" became a hit for you.
A - Yeah.
Q - When did you record that?
A - I don't know when I recorded it. It was in '61. It was nominated for a Grammy in '61.
Q - Did that song lead to appearances on T.V. shows such as American Bandstand?
A - Oh, sure. Yeah.
Q - Did you ever do the Dick Clark tours?
A - I never did them. After "Gidget" and "Goodbye Cruel World" and "Her Royal Majesty" and all those other songs, I never performed 'live', with the exception of one time. I worked the Steel Pier, Atlantic City for a week. That was after I did "Goodbye Cruel World" and only because I did not want to perform 'live'. I didn't want to go out singing. I was acting and content with that.
Q - In the 60s, did you tour with comic Buddy Hackett?
A - No. I worked with him, but not in the 60s. From 1970 to 1982, Buddy and I worked together exclusively at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas and a lot of other venues around the country. We toured the entire country and played theatres in the round and worked Vegas, I would say at least thirty weeks a year.
Q - How would that work? He would come on first and tell jokes?
A - No, no, no. I would come on first and then Buddy would come out and we'd have a Martin and Lewis thing there. Then he'd leave and I'd finish up and Buddy would come on again. He paid me a great compliment on The Tonight Show when he said there are three great straight men in the business - Dan Rowan, Dean Martin and Jimmy Darren. Buddy was just a brilliant comic and a real good friend. But, I was at the Coconut Grove, about to see Nancy Sinatra's show, she was opening at the Coconut Grove, and that's where I met Buddy Hackett, like in January, 1970. He told me he'd like to have me work with him. I thought it was a bunch of b.s. because that's usually what you get, especially in this town. But, I got a call a couple of weeks later. We never worked with anyone else, except each other. That went on until 1982. I asked him, "would it really upset you if I have to leave? I have a TV series, T.J. Hooker" and he said "I'll miss you, but it'll be something good for you." And that's what I went on to do.
Q - Jim, here's what Brown and Friedrich wrote about you in 1970 in their book Brown and Friedrich's Encyclopedia Of Rock and Roll: "James Darren managed to have a couple of big hits in spite of his total lack of singing talent."
A - (laughs)
Q - They seem to be implying that you need a good voice to be in Pop music and have hit records. Is that really true?
A - Well, for "Good-bye Cruel World", you certainly didn't need a voice and for "Her Royal Majesty". I cut an album called "Love Among The Young". Evidently, they're ignorant because people like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett were people who told me how wonderfully I sang. So, for these jokers to say something like that, I mean, they're just stupid. What can I tell you? I know I sing well. If I didn't think I sang well, I wouldn't sing.
Q - Or people wouldn't buy your records.
A - I'm not saying I had to sing well for "Good-bye Cruel World". But when I did "There's No Such Thing" for Gidget, that happened to be a real good song. John Williams was conducting. Billy May did that arrangements for both songs. These were the people who would make a difference to me if they told me I couldn't sing. Then, maybe I wouldn't sing. If Frank Sinatra told me I couldn't sing, it would mean something. But Frank Sinatra said "man, you really sound great." The reviews I got from the last two CDs on Concord have been spectacular. They're beyond good. I was mentioning that album I did after "Good-bye Cruel World", nobody ever played it because it was Swing. They wanted that novelty stuff from me, which I didn't particularly like, but they were certainly hits. For that kind of stuff, no, you didn't need to have a good voice. I don't listen to critics, good or bad, but the people I truly respect, who are great musicians or great singers in their own right.
Q - Rock 'n Roll seems to have played itself out. It's gone about as far as it can go. Swing music, the idea of a guy coming out onstage in a suit and tie and just singing, seems to be coming back.
A - Well, we hope it comes back.
Q - What do they want on American Idol? A kid with a voice!
A - You're right. Remember, there were a lot of great rock 'n roll singers. Elvis, Roy Orbison. God almighty, who's better than Roy Orbison?
Q - Coming from the era that you did, what did you think of The Beatles and their long hair and collarless jackets?
A - I thought they were great. I loved them. I love 'em 'til this day. Yeah, I always liked The Beatles.
Q - How about The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Animals?
A - I was never a big Rolling Stones fan. I liked listening to The Rolling Stones. I never liked seeing The Rolling Stones. I know I'll get a lot of flack for that. I love their records, but I never liked watching them perform. However, I loved watching The Beatles. The Kinks I liked too. I thought they were great.
Q - In the late 60s, the music began to change and produce people like Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. What'd you think of those people?
A - I loved them. I've always been a Jimi Hendrix fan too.
Q - And what about the 70s and what that era produced? Alice Cooper, Kiss, David Bowie. Did you like that?
Q - I appreciate what Kiss did and still do, but, that's not my kind of music. David Bowie I like. Alice Cooper, I happen to like him personally very much. I think they're very clever. Kiss is an absolutely brilliant concept. They do a spectacular job. My kids were always fans. My kids loved Kiss. They loved Alice Cooper. I was never into that. They loved David Bowie. I like David Bowie's music really, but I'm not nuts about watching him perform. But, I certainly dug his music.
Q - You see, some of the singers from the 50s don't have the appreciation of the performers that you have.
A - Elvis was a friend. We used to play football together. I've always been a giant Elvis fan, from day one, before I knew him and still am to this day. I've always been a giant Beatles fan. It gets to a point where The Beatles had just taken over everything. I understand it because they were great.
Q - The music of today, that you might hear on the radio...do you like it?
A - You mean Rap?
Q - That would be included.
A - The music of today is Rap and I don't understand it, so I don't like it. I know what they're doing. It's a viable kind of music. I can't call it music. It's a viable means of communicating. They do communicate with their audience, to say the least. But, I just don't like it. Musically, it doesn't make if for me at all. If you listen to the radio today, you either hear rock 'n roll, the oldies, or you hear the Swing stuff, old and new, which I love. Or, you hear jazz, which I love, or of course Classical music. But, as far as the Pop vein, that would be Rap and I'm not a Rap fan.