by Zoltan James
Ladies and Gentlemen. The story you are about to read is not true. None of the names have been changed. For after all, no one is innocent.
A loud banging on my apartment door woke me from a deep sleep. My alarm clock said it was only nine a.m. I expected to sleep in until ten. I crawled 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. The front of it read, You Non-Conformists Are Alike.
Another loud bang.
I looked out my kitchen window as I shuffled to the door. The Monday morning sky looked rather gray for LA. Hmm? I made a rhyme. Occupational hazard. I’m a songwriter.
Another loud bang.
“I’m coming.” Through my peep hole I saw a serious suit wearing a black crewcut thick as boar bristles. A thick suit stood behind him.
When I opened the door Mr. Crewcut stuck a badge in my face. It read “Detective” with the number “714.”
“Mr. Cassotto?” he said, more as a growl than a pleasantry.
“Yeah. There a problem?”
He and thick suit shoved past me, like they owned the place.
“Hey, don’t you need a warrant, or something?” I was beginning to question if I was really awake. I don’t do Mondays well and didn’t like how this was beginning.
“I believe you just did.”
Friday gazed around my apartment like he was memorizing every item. The thought occurred to me I should have tossed my pizza boxes and cans of beer. But it was too late.
“We just have a few questions. Won’t take long.”
“Yeah,” his partner Smith chimed in with a ready grin. He tapped a finger on his wristwatch. “We gotta be 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 shot him a deadpan that would stop a train in its tracks.
I chuckled to be polite until I noticed Friday’s dark eyes. Then it dawned on me. They were already playing the “good cop, bad cop” schtick.
Friday flipped open a black notepad and pulled a ballpoint from his crisp white shirt pocket. “Mr. Cassotto, we’re here because your landlord and your neighbors complained last weekend about a very loud party on your premises.”
Okay, I thought. I didn’t recall any one getting killed, so I had no idea where this was going. I motioned them in further into the living room. No one took a chair.
“Let’s start at the beginning,” Friday said. “All we want are the facts, son.”
I shrugged. “Sure. Shoot.” Soon as that word left my lips, I regretted it.
“Walden Robert Cassotto.”
“Mind if I call you Walden?”
“I prefer Robert.”
Friday made a note in his pad. “Before we begin Robert, I need you to empty your pockets. You carrying?”
“No,” I said. Then realized I still had my switchblade in my front right pocket. Smith pulled back the flap of his suit revealing a holstered gun. With two fingers, I pulled the knife out slow and easy.
Friday grabbed it and turned it over. “Where’d you get this?”
“A guy named ‘Mack’ down on the sidewalk, don’t you know, over on the boulevard. He’s got a stand, sells knives. Got a sharp deal on this beauty.”
Smith put a hand on my shoulder and pushed me down into my ragged leather recliner that didn’t recline. He leaned in tight and sneered, “So, old Mackie’s back in town, eh?” A hint of Columbian black, no sugar, and raspberry jelly-fill seethed through his teeth. He turned his pug nose up to Friday. “Five’ll get you ten, Mackie’s back.”
Friday scribbled on his pad and 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.
“Tell me, Robert, when was this party?”
“It happened on about a Saturday night.”
His dead eyes rose to meet mine. “On about?”
“Yeah, I guess. It was Saturday night. Last Saturday night, now that I think about it.”
“What were you doing at about eight o’clock?”
“I was takin’ a bath.”
The suits exchanged looks, eyebrows raising in unison. “Takin’ a bath, eh? That all?” Friday said.
“Yeah. I was just relaxin’ in the tub. And pretty much thinkin’ everythin’ was alright.”
He cocked his head. “You always talk in rhyme?”
“I’m a songwriter. Rhymes creep into my brain.”
Serious as a skillet on Sunday morning, Friday said. “Yeah. It is 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. 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 and his lips curled into a question mark. “Gang?”
“Yeah. They were dancin’ on my living room rug, yeah. Right here.’
Their chins dropped in unison, as if they expected to see their flies were open.
Friday said, “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? Recognize any one 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. You remember any names in this gang?”
“You said, ‘there.’ You mean, ‘here?’”
“Uh, yeah. I meant here.”
“Who is Lollipop? That a code name for one of the gangsters?”
“Lollipop is a girl. She sings…sometimes…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 a guy named Chuck. No. Wait. It was Charles Holly. And Miss Molly, she was with Penniman. Yeah, Richard Penniman.”
“These friends of yours?”
“I’ve met them a few times, sure.”
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 glanced up from his notes. He spoke to Smith. “You heard of that, Frank?”
Smith shrugged. His suit shoulders flopped again, as if on cue. “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’s stern monotone was starting to irritate me. When he spoke his words popped from his mouth flat as guitar picks. “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.”
For a split second, I thought Friday’s eyes softened at the edges. “This girl got a name?”
“Yeah. Alexandra Zuck.”
“Tough luck,” Smith said, not realizing he’d made a rhyme.
Friday nodded to Smith. They walked to the door. Friday turned and said, “I think we’re done here. Sorry about your gal, son. You got good friends. And, hey, good luck with the songwriting. 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 Friday lead the way out.
A soft sun was trying its best to break through the morning fog. Friday turned back and offered a rueful smile. “And, keep it down next time you have a party. I’d hate to see you have to do the Jailhouse Rock.” He broke into a laugh that stopped as quickly as it had started.
As they drove away in a Ford Fairlane, they left me reelin’…reelin’ with the feelin’, rollin’ and a-strollin.’ Splish, splash. Yeah. There was something there…in the foggy LA air. New lyrics flowed through my brain, like water down a drain. Splish, splash.
# # #
With the exception of Reginald Dwight and Richard Penniman, everyone else in this story is dead.
Crocodile Rock was the brainchild of Reginald Kenneth Dwight who became Elton John. The song was his first #1 hit.
Good Golly Miss Molly was a hit for Richard Wayne Penniman, who became Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “architect of rock ‘n roll.” The song was first recorded in 1958 by a group called The Valiants, but Little Richard’s version was the hit.
Jack Webb, (1920-1982) produced the hit TV series, Dragnet, and starred as Sergeant Joe Friday. Dragnet originated on NBC radio and ran from 1949 to 1957. The series came to TV and survived as three versions. The 1951-57 and 1967-70 versions starred Jack Webb as Sgt. Joe Friday. The 1989-90 series revival The New Dragnet starred Jeff Osterhage as Det. Vic Daniels. The 2003-04 version L.A Dragnet featured Ed O’Neill as Lt. Joe Friday. A 1987 movie starred Dan Ackroyd as St. Joe Friday with Tom Hanks as his partner, Det. Pep Streebek.
Interestingly, Webb had a Jewish father who left home before Webb was born. He was raised Roman Catholic by an Irish-Indian mother. He died of a heart attack at the age of 62.
There are multiple explanations for the use of Badge Number 714. Webb was a big Babe Ruth fan and Ruth hit 714 home runs in his baseball career. The number is also said to represent Webb’s mother’s birthday (July 14).
However, Laurie Cooke, daughter to Dragnet advisor and LAPD Sgt. Dan Cooke, has written that her father was close to Webb, that he originated some of the script concepts, and acted as technical director for a number of the episodes. Badge 714 belonged to Sgt. Cooke and was retired from LAPD when Cooke arranged for his badge to be used in the series. After Sgt. Cooke’s death, the badge was donated by his widow to the LAPD Police Academy’s Museum.
Charles Hardin Holly (1936–1959) was most famously known as Buddy Holly along with his band, The Crickets. 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 Elvis perform in Lubbock, Texas. Holly, in turn, was a major influence on The Beatles. 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 from 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 Kennedy 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 singing Splish Splash with an introduction by Dick Clark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XKCDc8Eg_-U&t=71s