by Zoltan James
Ladies and Gentlemen. The story you are about to read is true. None of the names have been changed and hardly anyone is innocent.
Early Monday, a loud banging on my apartment door woke me from a deep sleep. I jumped into my jeans and pulled on the first T-shirt I could find in the pile on the floor. It was black with white lettering which read, “You Non-Conformists Are Alike.”
I looked out the window as I shuffled to the door. The morning looked uncharacteristically gray for Los Angeles.
Another loud bang.
“Yeah. I’m coming.” What I saw through the peep hole was the face of a serious suit wearing slick black hair. Another suit stood behind him.
When I opened the door the first serious suit stuck a badge in my face. It read “Detective” and the number “714.”
“Mr. Cassotto?” he said.
“Yes. That’s me. Is there a problem?”
He and his pal walked past me into my apartment.
“Hey, don’t you need a warrant, or something?” I was beginning to question if I was really awake.
“Well, you already are. How can I help you?”
He looked around the room like he was memorizing every item in it. “We just have a few questions. Won’t take long.”
“Yeah,” his partner Smith chimed in with a ready grin. He looked at his watch. “We gotta another appointment at the donut shop in fifteen.” As he laughed, the shoulders of his suit flopped up and down like they didn’t know where to settle. Smith slapped me on the shoulder. “Relax. It’s a joke.”
Sgt. Friday gave him a deadpan look.
I laughed until I saw Friday’s serious stare. Then it dawned on me. They were already playing the “good cop bad cop” schtick.
Sgt. Friday flipped open a little notepad and pulled a pen from his shirt pocket. “Mr. Cassotto, we’re here because your landlord and your neighbors complained last weekend about a very loud party on your premises. So, let’s start at the beginning. All we want are the facts, son.”
I motioned them in further to the living room. They sat. I stood.
“What’s your full name, son?”
“Walden Robert Cassotto.”
“Mind if I call you, Walden?”
“I prefer, Robert.”
“Before we begin, Robert, I need you to empty your pockets. You’re not carrying are you?”
“No,” I said. Then, I realized I still had my switchblade in my front right pocket. I pulled it out slow and sat it down.
Friday picked it up and turned it over. “Where’d you get this?”
“A guy named Mack the Knife, down on the sidewalk, don’t you know, over on the boulevard. He’s got a stand, sells knives. I got a good deal on this beauty.”
Smith put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me down to sit. He sneered into my face, “So, old Mackie’s back in town, eh?” I smelled a hint of Columbian black and jelly-fill on his breath.
He turned his pug nose up to Friday. “Five’ll get you ten, Mackie’s back.”
Friday took quick notes and then pointed his pen at my chest. “Want some advice? You look like a nice kid. Stay away from his shark teeth. You see someone sneakin’ round the corner, it could be Mack the Knife.”
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
“So, tell me Robert, when was this party?”
“It happened on about a Saturday night.”
He looked up, deadpan. “On about?”
“It was Saturday night. Last Saturday night, to be exact.”
“What were you doing at about eight o’clock?”
“I was takin’ a bath.”
I saw him exchange looks with Smith. They both raised eyebrows. “Takin’ a bath, eh? That all?” Friday said.
“Yeah. I was just relaxin’ in the tub, and pretty much thinkin’ everythin’ was alright.”
Still with the deadpan, bulldog expression, he asked, “You always talk in rhyme?”
I laughed. “Sorry. I’m a songwriter. It creeps into my brain at times.”
Friday serious as a skillet. “Yeah. It is kinda creepy. So, then what?”
“I heard the doorbell ring, which I thought was odd, because I wasn’t expecting anyone. Well, I stepped out of the tub, put my feet on the floor – .” I threw up my hands. “Sorry. Sometimes I can’t help it.”
“Don’t be nervous. Keep going, rhyme all you want,” Friday said.
“Well, I wrapped a towel around me and I opened the door.”
“And then a-splish, splash, I jumped back in the bath!”
“Why’d you do that?”
“Well, how was I to know there was a party goin’ on?”
“A party, eh? Who showed up for this unannounced party?”
I rubbed my forehead trying to recreate the wild scene in my mind. Then, bing, bang, it came to me. “I saw the whole gang.”
Sgt. Friday perked up. He shot a look at Smith. “Gang?”
“Yeah. They were dancin’ on my living room rug, yeah. Right here, where we’re sittin.’
They both looked down. Maybe they were hopin’ to see footprints.
“Tell me, son. What was this gang doing?”
“Flip, flop, they was doin’ the bop. They all had their dancin’ shoes on.”
“So, this gang was dancing, eh? Who’d you recognize in this gang? This is real important, son.”
“Why is that? Is this some sort of police dragnet, Sgt. Friday?”
His eyes flicked toward Smith who was now nosin’ around my place, stealth-like, behind my back. They exchanged glances, almost like some kind of signal. Friday said, “No, son, just trying to understand what happened here.”
From behind me, Smith said, “Think real hard. Do you remember any names in this gang?”
“You said, ‘there.’ Did you mean, ‘here?’”
“Uh, yeah. They were here.”
“Who is Lollipop? That a code name for one of the gangsters?”
“Oh, no. Lollipop is just a girl. Sometimes she sings with The Chordettes.”
“Oh,” he said. “How about Peggy Sue and this, Miss Molly. Who were they with?”
“Let me see,” I racked my brain. “Peggy Sue was with Charles Holly, and Miss Molly, was with Richard Penniman.”
“These friends of yours?”
“I’ve met them a few times.”
Friday spoke while he took notes. “Anyone else we need to know about?”
“Uh, yeah. I suppose. There was a gal named Suzie, who I didn’t know and she was with a guy named Reginald Dwight.”
“What were they doing?”
“They were doing a thing called the Crocodile Rock.”
Friday looked up from his notes and spoke to Smith. “You heard of that, Frank?”
Smith shrugged. His suit shoulders flopped again. “Don’t think so. I’ve heard of the Alligator, though.”
Friday sighed. “So, son. There was a party going on here and you’re standing around with a towel on your waist. You some kind of pervert?”
“Yeah, well, no sir. It’s just that everyone was having such a good time, I forgot about the bath and went and put my dancin’ shoes on.”
Friday deadpanned me with the flat voice. “So, why do you suppose all these friends of yours show up unannounced and start partying in your apartment, Robert?”
I fought back the lump building in my throat. “I just broke up with my girl and I think they wanted to cheer me up.”
Sgt. Friday’s eyes seemed to soften at the edges. “This girl got a name?”
“Yeah. Alexandra Zuck.”
“Tough luck,” Smith said, not realizing he’d made a rhyme.
Friday stood and nodded to Smith. They both walked to the door. Friday said, “I think we’re done here. Sorry about your gal, son. You got good friends. And, hey, good luck with the songwriting career. Maybe, I’ll see you on the charts.” For the first time that morning, he smiled.
“Yeah. Maybe,” I said.
Smith opened the door and they walked through to the outside. A soft sun was trying to break through the morning fog. Friday turned back and with his deadpan look said, “And, keep it down next time you have a party. I’d hate to see you have to do the Jailhouse Rock.”
He laughed. I smiled. Behind him Smith was pointing and tapping at his watch, indicating they were probably late for donuts.
As they waved goodbye, they left me a reelin’ with the feelin’, rollin’ and a-strollin.’ Splish, splash. Yeah. And, I sat down to write new lyrics.
# # #
With the exception of Reginald Dwight and Richard Penniman, everyone else in this story is dead.
Reginald Kenneth Dwight became Elton John (1947 – ). Crocodile Rock was his first #1 hit. Today, Elton John is 64.
Richard Wayne Penniman, (1932 – ) became Little Richard, who claims to be “the architect of rock ‘n roll.” Good Golly Miss Molly was first recorded in 1958. A group called The Valiants also recorded the song and released it first, but Little Richard’s version was the hit. Today, Little Richard is 79.
Jack Webb, (1920- 1982) produced the hit TV series, Dragnet, and starred as Sergeant Joe Friday. The original Dragnet starring Jack Webb ran on radio from June 3, 1949, to February 26, 1957; and on television from December 16, 1951, to August 23, 1959; and from January 12, 1967, to April 16, 1970. NBC‘s radio and television networks carried all three series. On a personal note, Webb had a Jewish father who left home before he was born. He was raised Roman Catholic by an Irish-Indian mother. He died of a heart attack at the age of 62.
Officer Frank Smith was last played by Ben Alexander on both television and radio. Webb’s first partner on radio, and on TV was Sgt. Ben Romero, played by Barton Yarborough, who died of a heart attack after only three episodes were filmed. The Romero character (who also died of a heart attack, as acknowledged on the December 27, 1951 radio episode, “The Big Sorrow”) was replaced first by Detective Sergeant Ed Jacobs (Barney Phillips), and then by Officer Frank Smith. Smith was first played by Herb Ellis. After four episodes, Alexander took over the role.
Charles Hardin Holly (1936 – 1959) was most famously known as Buddy Holly. His song Peggy Sue was first recorded and released in July 1957 and is ranked as the #100 best song of all time by Acclaimed Music. The song was originally called Cindy Lou for Buddy’s niece, the daughter of his sister, Pat Holley Kaiter. The title was later changed to Peggy Sue in reference to Crickets drummer Jerry Allison‘s girlfriend (and future wife), Peggy Sue Gerron, with whom he had recently had a temporary breakup.
Buddy Holly’s musical style was influenced by Elvis Presley after he saw him perform in Lubbock, Texas. Buddy Holly, in turn, was a major influence on The Beatles. Interestingly, The Beatles chose their band name partly in homage to Holly’s band, The Crickets. Furthermore, John Lennon recorded a cover version of Peggy Sue on his 1975 album Rock ‘n’ Roll. Paul McCartney owns the publishing rights to Holly’s song catalogue.
And, Elton John began wearing eyeglasses when he performed because of the influence of Buddy Holly.
Holly’s career was short-lived. It lasted a year-and-a half and he only released three albums before he died at the age of 23 in the famous airplane crash on February 3, 1959 in a field near Clear Lake, Iowa.
Also killed in the crash were Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and the pilot Roger Peterson. The crash influenced the song American Pie, The Day the Music Died by Don McLean. There are other interesting sidebars involving famous musicians related to Buddy Holly’s tour and the events leading up to the crash. If you’re interested, look at “The Day the Music Died” on the web.
Alexandra Zuck (1942- 2005), was more famously known as Sandra Dee. She was a model and an award-winning actress. She married singer Bobby Darin in 1960 and they divorced in 1967. She was best known for her film roles in Gidget and A Summer Place. One of the popular songs of the Broadway musical and 1978 movie Grease is “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” Throughout her life, she struggled with anorexia, drugs and alcohol problems. She died of renal failure.
Walden Robert Cassotto (1936 – 1973) was better known as singer and actor Bobby Darin.
His singing style easily crossed over from rock ‘n roll to big band, pop, folk and jazz. Darin co-wrote the song Splish Splash on a bet by his co-author Murray Kaufman who didn’t think Darin could write a song that began with the words “Splish Splash, I was takin’ a bath.” In 1958, the song reached #3 on the U.S. pop singles charts and mentions several characters from other songs of the period including Lollipop, Peggy Sue and Good Golly Miss Molly.
In 1967-68 Darin suffered three personal blows: (1) He and actress Sandra Dee divorced after seven years; (2) After Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, he suffered prolonged depression. He was with Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles the night he was murdered; and (3). Back in 1936, the stigma of unmarried pregnancy had overwhelmed his family, and for 31 years they kept a dark mega-secret from Bobby. In 1967, they revealed a life-altering bombshell that devastated him. He learned his “sister” Nina was really his mother, and his “mother” Polly was his grandmother!
He died at the age of 37 following six hours of open heart surgery to repair two artificial heart valves from a previous surgery.
Here is Bobby Darin’s last performance of Splish Splash:
After his summer TV show was canceled, he performed one last time at the Las Vegas Hilton. This video is presumably from that concert.
Remember: Make Every Hour Your Happy Hour