CHARACTERS | EPISODES | MULTIMEDIA | LCPD ACADEMY | LINKS | SEARCH 



DISPATCHER

PRESSROOM
Hugh Farrington Interview:
Pete O'Brien Speaks!
[TJ-Hooker.com EXCLUSIVE!]
Philip Weyland,
William Shatner's Stand-In
[TJ-Hooker.com EXCLUSIVE!]
Officer Down!
A Perspective on T.J. Hooker
New Statesman review
TV Guide:
Robert MacKenzie Review
TV Guide:
Heather Locklear Interview
TV Guide:
James Darren Interview
TV Guide:
William Shatner Interview
A Star Trek Fan's Notes On
T.J. Hooker
Adrian Zmed:
Capturing Criminals and Fans
Herd: "You'll never get
ME on the beat"
VARIETY review: "Blood Sport"
NYTimes review: Premiere
VARIETY review: Premiere
TV Guide Fall Preview

BRITISH ANNUAL

COLLECTIBLES

FAN FICTION

ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

DOWNLOADS


T.J. HOOKER PRESSROOM : TV GUIDE INTERVIEW -
JAMES DARREN

NO HOLLYWOOD ANALYST FOR HIM -- SOUTH PHILLY IS HIS THERAPY
When the pressures of show biz start getting to him, the T.J. Hooker star returns to his roots

by Kenneth Turan
June 22, 1985
TV GUIDE


James Darren has not gone, is not going and never will go Hollywood. Show business may have lured his body out of Philadelphia 30 years ago, but his psyche is still sweeter than sweet on the old neighborhood. Ask him what it was like coming out to glamorous 1950s Los Angeles as an unknown teen-ager and Darren unwinds his lazy, pixie smile and tells you, "It was like taking a life that was real exciting and going into retirement, that's what it was like."

Despite 19 feature films, including the indestructible "Gidget", and five TV-movies, despite his current regular role as ramrod-straight James (Jim) Corrigan on T.J. Hooker, there remains about James Darren the sense that life is more authentic -- and more satisfying -- in that multi-ethnic melting pot known as South Philly. And this is not facile lip service to dimly remembered roots; Darren spends so much time in his old neighborhood, he bought and restored a local brownstone to live in. "There's a bond between people; that's something you won't find much of out here," he says. "When I go back there, it puts everything in perspective. I know exactly what's real and what's not, what means something and what doesn't. Going back, that's my analyst."

A casual dinner conversation with old friend and T.J. Hooker creator Rick Husky about how both Darren and his wife wished he could get off the road dovetailed with Heather Locklear's desire to have her character do some real police work.

James Darren is sitting in the living room of the quiet, comfortable house in the Beverly Hills canyon where he's lived for 20 years. His wife, Evy (a former Miss Denmark), can be heard in the kitchen, chopping something up; they've been married for 25 years. If these are atypical statistics, Darren is likewise atypical as a star. He is very much his own person. He avoids all Hollywood parties ("I don't like 'em at all, not even a little bit") and, the ultimate heresy, he even dislikes talking about himself: "It's awkward for me; for years, I absolutely loathed it. I get bored with me, so imagine how someone else would feel." Solitude is important to him; he likes to get up before the sun rises and take one of his half dozen dirt bikes out for a ride in the California desert. "I just sit there at three or four thousand feet, as high as I can get, and listen to the wind blow," he says quietly. "It's a really good feeling, like airing out the sheets. It airs out your soul. I need it, I really need it."

Yet, when it comes to discussing his Philadelphia experiences, both past and present, Darren's enthusiasm level rises and he blossoms into a wry, hilarious storyteller. "I always go to the same restaurants, places like Ralph's and the Cafe Lido, and even if I've just had a meal that could kill a buffalo, the guys always say, 'Didya eat?' and they start bringing out dishes," he relates. "They don't know what 'no' means. You don't even want to look at anybody else's food -- it's like making eye contact with a Doberman -- still, they'll bring some out for you. It's a real special feeling, a celebration, but then at 1 A.M., when you're trying to sleep, all this food is settling at your throat, leveling off at your Adam's apple, you can't even swallow. You've got to jump out of your bed in a panic just so you can breathe. I keep thinking the next time I go I'll wear a mask. People will say, 'Who's that guy?' 'I don't know, but don't feed him'."

Despite all those meals, Darren is enviably trim in immaculate white sweat shirt, pressed jeans and boots, the result of an exercise regimen that includes the heavy bag, rowing machine, weighted jump rope and occasional games of racquetball. But no amount of exercise can account for the remarkably unlined face, which makes the facts that he has three sons in their 20s and that he turned 49 this month seem like typographical errors. "I tell Jimmy [his oldest, married son], if you make me a grandfather, I'll have to lump you up'," Darren says laughing. Colleagues are nonplussed by his untarnished physiognomy ("He's so much older than I am, when I started looking older than him it scared me," director Bobby Roth notes), but Darren puts it all down to collective myopia: "I think the entire world is losing its eyesight, because when I look in the mirror I think, "This is it, forget about it, its over'."

Roth, who directed Darren in "The Boss's Son," an independent feature that got the actor some of the best notices of his career, hypothesizes that Darren's good looks may have actually hampered his acceptance as a serious professional: "He's suffered by being so handsome, like beautiful women people think can't be very smart." For the truth about James Darren is that he has been passionately committed to acting for as long as he can remember: "even when I was 5 or 6, I'd want to playact, change my appearance all the time. I'd take toilet paper, mix it with water and vaseline and lay it on my face; build up cheekbones, nose, brows, change all the contours. I'd powder that down and it'd look like a face. An ugly face, but a face."

A self-confessed "kind of nasty little kid" who once locked a nun in a closet, Darren dropped out of school ("I hated it, I never regretted leaving") when he was 16 and began taking biweekly trips to New York to study acting with Stella Adler. He made the trips on a 500 cc Zundapp cycle he was paying for with money his parents thought he was using for train fare. During this period, he also sang at weddings in Philadelphia, and changed his name to Darren, which he took from the Kaiser Darren sports car ("I never thought of James Jaguar, though I did consider Mercedes"), because he thought Ercolani wouldn't look good on a marquee.

Darren's Hollywood contract came courtesy of casting director Joyce Selznick, who spotted him in an elevator on one of those trips to New York. The most memorable of his early pictures was 1959's "Gidget," a Southern California fantasy of such staying power that T.J. Hooker co-star Heather Locklear acknowledges that "when I first got into the squad car with my little ponytail, my first thought was , "We're doing a remake'." Darren, who smiles and calls it "the film that would not die," especially remembers one time in San Francisco when he was doing "one of those TV dance shows. The studio lobby was filled with just hundreds and hundreds of girls. They pushed through the glass doors, took one of them off its hinges, pulled me out on the street, got me flat on my back, and then all these girls started pulling hairs out of my head. It was like a nightmare. It was kind of nice to know they cared, but I felt, 'Good Lord, I'm going to be bald'."

Darren made a number of films around the same time as "Gidget," including such memorable ones as "Operation Mad Ball," with Ernie Kovacs, and "The Guns of Navarrone," but after a while, faced with the choice of "doing films I did not want to do or not eating," he fell back on his considerable singing ability, working for a decade in Las Vegas and similar environs as Buddy Hackett's opening act. A casual dinner conversation with old friend and T.J. Hooker creator Rick Husky about how both Darren and his wife wished he could get off the road dovetailed with Heather Locklear's desire to have her character do some real police work. The result was Darren was introduced as Locklear's partner at the start of the '83-84 season. Initially unconcerned about her co-star ("as long as I got out from behind the desk, it was fine"), Locklear now considers Darren "the funniest person to work with," and comments, as do others, on his even-keeled professionalism and ability to relax himself as well as the cast and crew.

In fact, to see Darren on the T.J. Hooker set, even on a slow day when he doesn't have to do much more than say goodbye to someone at an elevator and then call in to headquarters, is to see a man that nothing, not even a half dozen takes, has a chance of upsetting. Sometimes he confesses during a break, "the shows run into one another in your head. The series is not a great artistic challenge, but it's great discipline. For the sake of not looking like an idiot, you have to keep yourself interested in what you're doing all the time. Your mind says, 'It's time for the scene,' but your body says, 'I'm too tired, I'll just walk through it.' I don't like to see something I know I just walked through. I'm not doing justice to myself or craft."

Now that T.J. Hooker has been canceled by ABC and picked up by CBS as a late-night series, Darren faces an interesting choice. Should he stay or branch out into another show? "I've got mixed emotions," he admits. "If I did Hooker again that would be terrific, but if I took another step forward, it would be that much better. You can't go through life betting on sure things; you have to take a shot now and then. Thank God, it's in my hands, though. I can make the good move or the mistake myself."

...to see Darren on the T.J. Hooker set, even on a slow day when he doesn't have to do much more than say goodbye to someone at an elevator and then call in to headquarters, is to see a man that nothing, not even a half dozen takes, has a chance of upsetting.

When James Darren talks like that, yet another link to his past becomes visible. His father was an electrician, a man who still is "extremely skilled with his hands. He can do carpentry, plumbing, anything." His grandfather was a stone mason and contractor who was "so meticulous, if he put up a wall he didn't like, he'd tear it down." Darren has inherited not only this love for the physicality of labor but also that scrupulous regard for a job well done. He, too, personally knocked down a tiny-bit-crooked fireplace wall that was being built in his house ("The guy thought I was nuts -- he thought he was working for an insane guy -- but I couldn't live with it") and he brings that kind of attitude to his profession as well.

Though he's referring to those demolished walls when he shakes his head and says, "that pride of workmanship, it's gone now for most people," the implication for his acting of that belief in work well done is clear. Even his father, who, James Darren says with a grin, "would have gone nuts doing what I do," would have no trouble understanding that.




HOME
| CHARACTERS | EPISODES | MULTIMEDIA | LCPD ACADEMY | LINKS | SEARCH