For many years, James Darren was a familiar face on TV and in movies as well as a formidable presence behind the scenes as a director. But these days, the handsome entertainer has gone back to singing for his supper.
Lucky thing, too, since he says that performing live definitely brings out the “ham” in him -- not to mention the Rat Pack.
“My show is actually based on the character I played in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the songs I sang on the series, which were from the era of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr,” explains Darren, who will be appearing at the South Point this coming weekend, August 24 and 25 and who made a special guest appearance at the August Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas. “Following my acting role in the TV series T.J. Hooker, from 1986-1998, I directed episodes of “Hunter,” ”Wise Guy,” “Hardball,” “Raven,” “Werewolf,” “Stingray,” “Melrose Place,” “Walker Texas Ranger,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” and a Movie of the Week called “Gladiator School” starring Robert Conrad. I directed about 60 shows. Then in 1998, I met a guy named Ira Behr at a function.
“Ira told me that I’d be perfect for a part in “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” a TV series that he was the executive producer of. I didn’t want to do it because I’d be playing a singer and that was too much on the nose for me. I turned down the role three times but then my agent asked me to give Ira the courtesy of reading the script. I read it and I loved it. The character, Vic Fontaine, was a tuxedoed singer in Las Vegas during the Rat Pack era and he wasn’t real -- he was a hologram –and I knew that I was right for it. Ira chose the songs I sang – with my approval – and he ended up restarting my singing career. I got a recording contract with the Concord Jazz label from my role on the show.”
Darren, who hails from the same South Philadelphia neighborhood as Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Bobby Rydell (and is still close friends with Avalon today), was first heard singing in the movie “Gidget,” in which he came to fame at age 22 playing rich-kid surfer and heartthrob “Moondoggie.” Besides singing the title song in the film, he also sang another tune called “There’s No such Thing as the Next Best Thing to Love.” Darren went on to have several Top 10 hits in the 1960’s, including “Goodbye Cruel World” (which hit #1 in the U.S.), “Angel Face,” “Conscience,” and “Her Royal Majesty.” He made his debut in Las Vegas with Joey Bishop at the Sands in 1966 and went on to work in town for 12 consecutive years with Buddy Hackett before T.J Hooker came along in 1980.
“I didn’t want to record ‘Goodbye Cruel World,’” he laughs. “Then, one day, Bruce Springsteen told me that he had bought the record in New Jersey. After that, I found out that Elton John had purchased an album of my hits. And a friend of mine asked Clint Eastwood if he knew who I was and Clint began singing ‘Goodbye Cruel World.’ You never know what’s going to happen. That’s why I have no regrets. The things I could have done but didn’t do just weren’t meant to be.”
Although being in show business was his lifelong dream, Darren feels that while that is his job, nothing is more important than his family. Grateful for his success and many reincarnations in the business, he says that he learned growing up in Philadelphia that the value of life is in family, friends, trust, and loyalty. His dad was a pipe fitter at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and much of his family did migrant work in neighboring New Jersey, picking mostly asparagus but also tomatoes, potatoes and berries. Nine family members lived in one four-bedroom brownstone at 10th and Ritter, including his parents, grandparents, brother, two uncles and an aunt.
“We were together constantly and the migrant work allowed my grandfather to buy the house in Philly, which cost $2,500 at the time,” Darren recalls.” There was always food on the table, the door was never locked, people came in all the time and the neighbors were close friends. I think when you live with a larger family, especially a hard-working family, and your values are on the right track because you see what works – loyalty, closeness, love, people struggling to make a better life for their families – it never leaves you.”
Darren, who currently performs about 15 concerts a year all over the country (he also performed in London last year), has been married to his wife, Evy Norlund, for 57 years and has three sons. One of his sons, Jim Moret, chief correspondent on CBS’ popular’ “Inside Edition,” is from a very short young marriage before he married Norlund, Another of Darren’s sons, Tony Darren, is a musician/composer who has a jazz CD out called “Sun Song.”
It took a two-year stint on the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine TV” series to get actor James Darren back into singing, the artistic genre that he says is a joy to him and from which he learns something new every day. Now when he croons “Fly Me to the Moon and let me play among the stars,” he’s blasting off into a much-loved constantly evolving frontier.