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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bobby Darin Chess Enthusiast

Darin vs. actor Jose Ferrer
    Bobby Darin (born Walden Robert Cassotto; May 14, 1936 – December 20, 1973) was an American singer, songwriter, and actor of film and television and chess enthusiast. He performed in a range of music genres, including pop, rock'n'roll, folk, and country.

     Throughout the 1960s, he was politically active and worked on Robert Kennedy's Democratic presidential campaign. He was present on the night of June 4/5, 1968, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles at the time of Kennedy's assassination.
     The same year, he discovered that he had been brought up by his grandparents, not his parents, and that the girl he had thought to be his sister was actually his mother. These events deeply affected Darin and sent him into a long period of seclusion. Although he made a successful television comeback, his health was beginning to fail, as he had always expected, following bouts of rheumatic fever in childhood. This knowledge of his vulnerability had always spurred him on to exploit his musical talent while still young. He died at age 37, following a heart operation in Los Angeles.
     His mother, Vanina Juliette 'Nina' Cassotto (born November 30, 1917), became pregnant in the summer of 1935 when she was 17. Presumably because of the scandalous nature of out-of-wedlock pregnancies in that era, Nina and her mother hatched a plan to pass the baby off as her parents' child and for Nina to be passed off as his older sister. Even until her death in 1983, Nina refused to reveal the identity of her son's biological father to anyone, especially to Darin himself.
     His maternal grandfather, Saverio Antonio 'Big Sam Curly' Cassotto was of Italian descent and a wannabe mobster who died in prison from pneumonia a year before Darin's birth. His maternal grandmother, Vivian Fern Walden who called herself Polly, was a vaudeville singer.
     Darin graduated from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. He matriculated at Hunter College but soon dropped out in order to play nightclubs around the city. Darin's career took off with a songwriting partnership, formed in 1955 with fellow Bronx High School of Science student, Don Kirshner, and in 1956 his agent negotiated a contract with Decca Records. The songs recorded at Decca had very little success. He was introduced to singer Connie Francis, for whom he helped write several songs. They developed a romantic interest of which her father, who was not fond of Darin, did not approve, and the couple split up. At one point, Darin wanted to elope immediately and Connie said that not marrying Darin was the biggest mistake of her life.  His music career I too long to list here, but his success was enormous.
     Darin suffered from poor health his entire life. He was frail as an infant and, beginning at age eight, was stricken with recurring bouts of rheumatic fever that left him with a seriously weakened heart. In January 1971, he underwent his first heart surgery in an attempt to correct some of the heart damage he had lived with since childhood, where two artificial heart valves were implanted in his heart. He spent most of that year recovering from the surgery.  During the last few years of his life towards the end of his career, he often was administered oxygen after his performances on stage and screen.
     In 1973, after failing to take antibiotics to protect his heart before a dental visit, Darin developed an overwhelming systemic infection that further weakened his body and affected one of his heart valves. On December 11, he checked himself into Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for another round of open-heart surgery to repair the two artificial heart valves he had received in January 1971. On the evening of December 19, a five-man surgical team worked for over six hours to repair his damaged heart. Shortly after the surgery ended in the early morning hours of December 20, 1973, Darin died in the recovery room without regaining consciousness. He was 37 years old.
     There were no funeral arrangements; Darin's last wish in his will was that his body be donated to science for medical research. His remains were transferred to UCLA Medical Center shortly after his death. His last days had been filled with fear, anguish, hospital visits and mental dissociation. He had a fantastic memory, especially for people, but at the end he began repeating himself, resisting treatment, forgetting dates and speaking nonsense...jabberwocky as it was described. When he died there was no viewing and no proper mourning services.  Actor Jackie Cooper and his wife invited some of Darin's friends over to their house where guests watched a tape of Darin's last television show and got drunk. Darin's ex-wife Sandra Dee, their son and Darin's sister spent Christmas together and shared a meal of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Darin explains chess on his TV show
     Darin was an enthusiastic chess player and his television show included an occasional bizarre segment in which he would explain a chess move. He arranged with the United States Chess Federation to sponsor a grandmaster tournament, with the largest prize fund in history, but the event was canceled after his death.
     In 1973 plans were actually finalized for the first annual Bobby Darin International Chess Classic, to be conducted under the auspices of FIDE and the USCF. This all-Grandmaster event was to be held in Los Angeles, starting in late October and running for three and one-half weeks. The Darin Classic was to have the biggest purse, $25,000, in the history of tournament chess. That is about $133,000 in today's currency. Scaled gradually from $5,000 (about $26,000 today) first prize through $1,000 for tenth place (that was bigger than the first prize in many tournaments), distribution of the purse was considered especially attractive and equitable. Even last place won $300 ($1,600 today) and, of course, all of the players' travel and stay expenses are underwritten by the sponsor.

     Sixteen Grandmasters from ten countries were expected to compete. Darin expressed his delight at being able to sponsor a tournament of such high caliber and international standing. "Along with millions of other people, I had my personal interest in chess reawakened last year via the Fischer-Spassky Match. I have found my own involvement in the world of chess to be an extremely rewarding experience, and I hope that this tournament will add to the popularity of the game in this country as well as help to raise the dollar value of all tournament purses to a level more commensurate with the skill and accomplishments of the participants," Darin said.
     The Darin Classic was to be the first sixteen-man GM tournament ever held in the Western Hemisphere, and one of the greatest events in the history of chess. In all likelihood, Bobby Fischer's 1975 challenger for the World Championship was to be in the tournament, since the strongest players in the world were expected to compete. From the USA, five of the following were to be included: U.S. Champion Robert Byrne, Samuel Reshevsky, Pal Benko, Walter Brown, Larry Evans, Lubomir Kavalek, and William Lombardy. The USSR Chess Federation was invited to send two (possibly three) from the following list: Former World Champions Boris Spassky, Tigran Petrosian, Mikhail Tal, Vassily Smyslov; or Anatoly Karpov, the Soviet's strongest hope for the future.
     The five highest-rated players in the world from countries other than the USA and the USSR had been invited. They were Lajos Portisch of Hungary, Bent Larsen of Denmark, Vlastimil Hort of Czechoslovakia, Robert Huebner of Germany, and Svetozar Gligoric of Yugoslavia. Other possibilities include Ulf Anderson of Sweden, Ljubomir Ljubojevic of Yugoslavia, and Henrique Mecking of Brazil. Also invited were Walter Brown, Robert Huebner, and Anatoly Karpov who were the best young players of the day. Grandmaster Isaac Kashdan, International Referee, was to be Tournament Director.

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