It's not exactly entertaining angels unaware, but everyday residents of Toms River, N.J., receive their mail from the half-brother of the legendary pop singer Bobby Darin. Gary Walden, 49, a U.S. Postal Service employee since 1981, is the son of the late Charlie Maffia and Nina Cassotto Maffia, the latter of whom gave birth to Robert Walden Cassotto-aka Bobby Darin-out of wedlock as a teenager.
To prevent the undesirable involvement of the father, she conspired with her mother Vivian to raise the boy as if Vivian were his mother and she [Nina] his sister. Mr. Darin was 32 and considering political office when Nina told him the truth. Until his death in 1973 at age 37 from heart failure, he never forgave her.
A Christian since the mid-'80s-the Waldens attend Calvary Baptist Church near their home-Mr. Walden knows that the truth shall make you free, and to this end he'd like people to understand that the portrayal of the Cassotto-Maffia-Darin family in Kevin Spacey's recent Bobby Darin biopic Beyond the Sea is profoundly inaccurate. (In the spirit of Matthew 18, he has also expressed his displeasure to Mr. Spacey directly.)
He is glad, however, that the film has helped keep his brother's music in the spotlight, and in this Mr. Spacey's film is not unique. Bobby Darin songs have become regular staples of Hollywood soundtracks, including You've Got Mail ("Splish Splash"), American Beauty ("Don't Rain on My Parade"), and Mad Hot Ballroom ("It's Only a Paper Moon").
He spoke with WORLD on the occasion of the film's DVD release.
WORLD: How did you become a Christian?
WALDEN: I had taken care of my mom until she died in 1983. She'd been very ill, and we were extremely close. And, to be quite honest, after she died, I was on the brink of suicide. My heart was broken, and I really felt that my only purpose had been to take care of her. I had the pills, and I was going to take them, but the only thing that I can tell you is that I heard an audible voice telling me, "No. This is not what I have planned for you." I got rid of the pills and started attending an Episcopal church. I met my wife a few years later-she had been saved since she was 8 or 9-and started attending her conservative Baptist church. It was so completely different because now I was being taught the Word and not going through a ritualistic circus.
WORLD: What are your objections to Kevin Spacey's film, Beyond the Sea?
WALDEN: There's so much wrong with the film that it's hard to begin. Kevin's portrayal of Bobby in and of itself was horrendous enough-the audacity of playing a 22-year-old when you're actually well into your 40s and looking 10 years older!-but what he did to my mother, my grandmother, my father, Sandy [Sandra Dee, Bobby Darin's first wife], and Sandy's mother was unbelievable. Somebody who doesn't really know anything about Bobby will think, "Well, it's an interesting film." But my nickname for it is Beyond Belief.
WORLD: Kevin Spacey is a huge Bobby Darin fan. How do you explain his having gone astray?
WALDEN: A biography on Bobby by [the late] Al DiOrio called Borrowed Time came out in '81, and the rights were bought up by a firm in California with the full intention of making the film within 18 months. Unfortunately, it never happened. Al didn't know Bobby, but he was a great research artist. He made sure that what he wrote was true. He went out of his way not to tell the Hollywood version of Bobby's story but to get it from his family. And because he got close to my mom, the truth of her being Bobby's mother instead of his sister was first revealed in that book. It would've been wonderful to have had the film based on Al's book rather than Dream Lovers, my nephew Dodd [Darin]'s book.
WORLD: As the only child of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, wouldn't Dodd have had access to reliable information?
WALDEN: Dodd was 11 when his father died, and he only lived with his father up through part of his fourth year. How can you write a book about somebody that you basically don't know? He had a co-author [Maxine Paetro] who went out and interviewed these different people, and she and Dodd compiled the information and put it together. My sister, who was very involved with the book, got the galleys and made all of these corrections. But, sure enough, it went to press, and they'd made none of them. That's what Kevin [Spacey] finally bought the rights to.
WORLD: Neither the DiOrio book nor the Spacey film refers to religion or faith as having played any role in Bobby Darin's life.
WALDEN: In the '40s Bobby sang in a church choir-it's my understanding that it was an Episcopal church-and he was approached by some of the priests. Nothing came of it, but it turned him off to any kind of religion. My sister Vee was with him a great deal at the end of his life, and he made no profession whatsoever of accepting Christ. If he had, that would've been the time to express it. That's the greatest tragedy.
WORLD: What did you say to Kevin Spacey when you met him at the film's premiere?
WALDEN: I said, "There's just one thing I need to tell you, Mr. Spacey. In the event that they make a movie about your life, I sincerely hope that your mother is portrayed as accurately-as lovingly-as my mother was portrayed on the screen." Basically, Kevin has my mother portrayed as a fat, unattractive, loud, common tramp, as someone that you would want no part of. Now, the killer was, and I realize that this was mean of me, that his mother, whom he was very close to, died in 2003. But my prayer at the time was to say something to him because he wasn't going to hear the truth from anybody else. And God answered my prayer.