This week, Ira Sternberg spoke with James Darren.
Actor, director, and singer James Darren, who will be performing at the South Point Casino August 15-16 has enjoyed a successful, multi-faceted career, spanning six decades of motion picture, television, recording and live concert performances.
Born in South Philly as James Ercolani, a second-generation American of Italian descent, Darren cites his beloved grandmother as the greatest guiding light of his life and his career. By the age of 14, Darren knew he wanted a show business career, and he embarked on the road to stardom by singing in nightclubs in Philadelphia and South Jersey. By age 18, he was in New York, studying acting for several years with the legendary drama teacher Stella Adler.
It was a chance introduction to Hollywood movie producer Joyce Selznick (niece of the legendary David O. Selznick) that led to Darren’s seven-year contract with Columbia Pictures and his first big break: starring as the college student-surfer Moondoggie opposite Sandra Dee in the 1959 classic comedy hit, “Gidget.” Two sequels would follow, and Darren was soon on Hollywood’s short list of most sought-after young dramatic actors. He would make 20 films in all, including “The Guns of Navarone,” “The Lively Set,” “The Gene Krupa Story,” “The Brothers Rico,” “Gunman’s Walk,” “Let No Man Write My Epitaph,” and “Diamond Head.”
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 skyrocket with subsequent Top 10 hits including “Her Royal Majesty,” “Conscience,” and “All.” In 1976, he landed still another hit with “You Take My Heart Away” from the Oscar-winning film “Rocky.”
Darren would also make his mark on the small screen, starring in several hit television series, including “The Time Tunnel,” “T.J. Hooker,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Melrose Place.” In 1987, the versatile entertainer began another phase of his career, this time as a highly in-demand director for television whose credits include several “movies of the week,” and more than 50 television shows ranging from “Melrose Place” and “Beverly Hills 90210” to “Hunter” and “Walker, Texas Ranger.”