He’s been a DJ, a video-store owner and an elementary school custodian. But the most unexpected gig on Jimmy Scalia’s résumé? His role as the official archivist for the late singer Bobby Darin.
A longtime producer, film buff, collector and musicologist, Scalia, 63, has been a Bobby Darin devotee since his Lodi childhood. When he was seven, his father gave him Darin’s Greatest Hits album, an eclectic mix of rock ’n’ roll songs and Great American Songbook standards. Soon, just like his Darin-adoring dad, Scalia was hooked.
Darin—a Grammy-winning singer and Oscar-nominated actor who was active from the mid-1950s to the early 1970s—wrote the hit songs “Splish Splash” and “Dream Lover,” and is best known for his renditions of “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea.”
Darin was born in New York City, but he began his career as a songwriter for Newark native Connie Francis and later bought a home in Lake Hiawatha. He died 50 years ago this month.
“He’s so many different people,” Scalia says. “He was a folk singer. He wasn’t just a polished ‘Mack the Knife’ tuxedo guy. He was always a grassroots kind of guy who kept reinventing himself.”
Scalia is no stranger to reinvention. Though he says he never excelled in school—“I wasn’t a bad kid; I just didn’t score high”—his father encouraged him to think outside the box.
After high school, he worked odd jobs and often DJ’d weddings and parties. Later, he opened Silver Screen Video in Lodi and nearby Garfield. “I had video stores so I could be around the movies, because I lived in the movies,” he says. “I could fantasize; I could daydream.”
Amid the rise of Blockbuster, Scalia decided to take a custodian job with benefits in 1990; he wanted greater job security in order to better provide for his family. For more than 25 years, he worked mostly at Lodi’s Wilson School, which his two sons later attended.
On the clock, he struck up friendships with the staff—especially the librarian and music teacher—and sang “Happy Birthday” to the schoolkids on his guitar. They knew him as “the guy who’s always whistling,” he muses. (His custodial office, cluttered with ephemera, was “kind of a shrine…to the things I love,” Scalia says in a short documentary made by his older son, Anthony, a filmmaker, on the eve of his retirement in late 2015.) Off the clock, he continued to pursue his music- and movie-related passions.
Scalia’s involvement with Darin’s inner circle began in the late ’90s, after a friend introduced him to Darin’s publicist, Harriet “Hesh” Wasser, who later connected him with Darin’s manager, Steve Blauner.
Blauner began calling Scalia daily, regaling him with stories for hours. Blauner eventually introduced him to Darin’s only son, Dodd. Both Wasser and Blauner have since passed, leaving Scalia and Dodd as “kind of the last players,” Scalia says.
He speaks of Dodd—who gifted him his father’s 12-string guitar—with solemn loyalty.
“We refer to each other as brother when we talk or text, and we refer to his father as Pop,” he says.
As Darin’s archivist, Scalia has produced album rereleases and a DVD, cataloged his songbook (plus artifacts and photos), provided archival footage for the 2004 biopic Beyond the Sea starring Kevin Spacey, and written an essay about “Mack the Knife” for the Library of Congress. He also provides assistance to Darin’s licensing/management team as needed.
His primary Darin focus these days: interactive presentations on the singer’s life and music, which he often gives to audiences of seniors. Armed with so many firsthand stories and artifacts, he says, “I have the power to make them feel like they’re 16.”