With a Little Luck

James Darren was a tall, dark and good looking Italian kid from Philly who came up through the acting ranks, first making his mark in teen-themed films in the late 1950s. Since then he has enjoyed a successful, multi-faceted career, spanning six decades of motion picture, television, recording and live concert performances.
His film credits came early in the form of the series of “Gidget” movies, “The Guns of Navarone” and “Let No Man Write My Epitaph.” His television credits came later with starring roles on “The Time Tunnel,” “T.J. Hooker,” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
The still handsome James Darren has also been called upon to be a director of such television series as “Melrose Place,” “Beverly Hills 90210″ and “Walker, Texas Ranger,” among others.
While acting made Darren’s face a known commodity, it has been singing that has helped solidify his career. His voice is a smooth, easy blend that harkens back to sounds of other young singers coming out of Philadelphia with Italian American ancestry (Darren’s family birth name is Ercolani) as in Perry Como, Buddy Greco, Al Martino and Frankie Avalon.
Darren’s singing career encompasses an impressive roster of musical credits including 14 albums and five Top 10 singles, including the 1961 Grammy-nominated “Goodbye Cruel World,” which held the No. 1 spot on the Billboard charts for six weeks. Throughout the early 60s, his recording career continued to do well with subsequent Top 10 hits including “Her Royal Majesty,” “Conscience” and “All.” In 1976, he landed yet another hit with “You Take My Heart Away” from the Oscar-winning film “Rocky”.
He re-emerged on the recording scene in 2001 with his CD, Because of You (Concord Records), an impressive collection of standards and big band swing. Last year he recorded his latest album Live! For the first Time. Newest singles include “It’s Nice to Go Trav’ling,” and “Let It Snow!”
Darren returns to the Riverside Resort Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 23-26 for a series of shows. We caught up with him via a phone interview last week to talk about his music, his career and the show he brings back to town. Here’s his take…

Ever since you were last here in 2015, you’ve been traveling all over the country with your show. What’s it like being out on the road connecting with people in this way?
The more you do it, the better you like it because you get into a routine. The hardest part of the entire thing is the travel. Once you’ve done the sound check and the rehearsal with the band, it’s heaven, it’s all gravy. I love communicating with the audience. I’m a ham, I guess. I like it, I enjoy it, and 99.91 percent of the time, I have a great rapport with the audience. They respond back to me the way I respond to them. We’re like old friends. They know more about me than me. Some of them bring photographs to the show of me when I was acting or when I was directing and I’ve never seen them before.
Fans are something I really treasure. They are so sweet and know everything about you, and they care. Some have been fans since my career began and I still communicate with them. I’m really fortunate. I lost a couple fans — there was a young lady in a wheelchair who had MS, and she passed away at a relatively young age. She would come to almost every show, in Las Vegas, New York, L.A., at probably a great inconvenience to herself. I still call her sister and stay in touch. It means a lot to me too, when you give, you get. There’s a tremendous satisfaction. It’s better than receiving to me — if I can make somebody feel good, it makes me feel great. The fans are terrific, and quirky, especially Star Trek fans. They’re funny. I go to Star Trek conventions with other actors who’ve done the show. We were in Vegas a couple years ago and I was thrilled to be there. One couple told me they couldn’t think of a better place to spend their honeymoon. I thought that was hysterical. I could think of better places.

Talk about your latest album.
I have a new CD that’s two months old now. It’s on Amazon, ITunes, and CD Baby. It’s James Darren Live. It’s the first live recording I’ve done ever, but it wasn’t meant to be a recording. But it was cut during one show. The guy on the board, he did such a great job. I was performing with a 17-piece band that was so great — the musicians, the guys and gals and not a flaw. The thing that’s really weird about it is, if you go to James Darren, there are a zillion recordings, but unless you put in James Daren Live it won’t come up. It’s relatively new, it’s getting lots of airplay. There’s a station here, a kind of jazzy-pop station and they play me. I’m with the incredible Judy Garland live and Frank Sinatra live — and me live, we are part of one little section performing live — and just to be in that company, wow.

You recently co-starred in a film called “Lucky?” What was it like after 40 years?
There were four or five actors that had little guest roles and I was one of them. It was strange, a whole different thing than performing live. Aside from the traveling, you work an hour and a half and you’re done. With acting, whenever you’re filming it takes the longest time. I met with all these people — one of them was a director and we met in a coffee shop in Sherman Oaks and he wasn’t a fan, but the producers were. He says to me, “you haven’t acted in a long time, how do you feel about taking on this role?” I replied, ‘I’m acting right now. You think I want to be here pretending I’m enjoying this? I didn’t want to be grilled by somebody.” He couldn’t come back with anything.
My friend Joe Pesci is in a film called The Irishman. Joe hasn’t acted in probably 10 years and he was brilliant. He gave a flawless performance. It’s like riding a bike. You don’t forget.

“Lucky” could be the name of your biography — you always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
It’s so true in the sense that fate or luck, I don’t know what it is, has had a major role from the very beginning. When I was studying acting with Stella Adler, she was a wonderful coach and she was tough. I’d been there a while, a couple of years and we talked for a while about how you get jobs. She said I needed an agent. I went through the Yellow Pages — there wasn’t Google in those days — and I chose a guy at random. Then he says, ‘you need pictures.’ So after class I was walking down Broadway in New York where there were several photography studios. I chose one at random. When I was there to look at proofs, his secretary asked if I was interested in films, because she knew someone who could help me. That’s how I met Joyce Selznick, who helped me get the contract at Columbia. She loved me and thought I could do no wrong. I wondered at the time, “What the hell does she see in me?” Thank God, she saw something. Call it fate, or luck. It’s weird — if I hadn’t gone to that photo session, I might still be in Philly.
It happened again in Philly — I was friends with Joe Esposito, who was also great friends with Elvis and a producer named Rick Husky. He was the producer on “T.J. Hooker,” and had me do a guest spot, which lead to me doing the series. At the end of the series, for the one last show, they asked if I wanted to direct it, hoping I would say no. I did it and became a TV director from that. I did 40 some odd shows.
Another fateful or lucky thing was when “Star Trek’s” Ira Behr saw me at a function and told his friend, “Boy, Jimmy Darren would be perfect for Vic Fontaine.” I didn’t want to go to the function at all, but if I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have gotten the role.
A lot of what happens to you in this business is luck or fate. People who like you, believe in you and take stock in you is how you get opportunities.

Any thoughts about films today versus films of your generation?
They’ve gone nuts with all the “toys.” When you look at video games and films like the “Avengers,” and all this CGI, wow. There’s nothing there but a blue screen. It’s pretty phenomenal, they’re having a ball, but there’s nothing left to imaginations. It’s good and bad in a sense. It’s genius with what they do. We had to make do with what we had, without the goodies, you have to be more creative. It’s like when we were kids, we could do all sorts of things with a box or a popsicle stick. You really had to use your imagination and make things out of them.
When I was maybe 7 or 8 years old, I’d go into the bathroom in Philly where a whole army of family lived in our house. I’d wet my face, I use toilet paper to mold features like cheeks and chins, brown makeup for eyebrows. I’d sneak out the back of the house, and knock on the neighbor’s door, like I thought I was going to fool them. The neighbor would tell my grandmother, “your grandson is a strange boy.” She knew her grandson was a strange boy, but it was fun for me. I just thought “how could I do something and fake out the neighbor where she wouldn’t think it was me?” I was goofy.

Do you have a favorite song to sing?
I have a few actually. I love Billy Joel’s “Just The Way You Are.” I love singing that song. I also like “Our Day Will Come,” the ’50s tune — I love that one, too. Some songs fit your voice, the vowel sounds in certain songs make it easier to sing or they’re more effortless to sing.
For the show in Laughlin, I’ll have about 8 or 9 guys and they’re all good musicians who all play well. I like a big band. I really like rock and roll songs, I love Elton John if he can be considered rock and roll. I like Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash” — songs I grew up with.

Is retirement in your future?
I’ll never retire. I’d lose it if I retired. I don’t know what I would you do with my life. I’d probably lose my mind.


JAMES DARREN

Don’s Celebrity Theatre within the Riverside Resort

Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 23-26 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for ticket info