Celebrating Seniors - James Darren Turns 80

Gidget’sMoondoggie” has turned 80! Recording star, actor, and director – and now a new octogenarian senior citizen – James Darren (nee James Ercolani) was born June 8, 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  

Celebrating Darren’s 80th birthday with his story and some vintage music videos/clips: Gidget, The Next Best Thing To Love, Goodbye Cruel World, Because You’re Mine, All.

james darren 1971, mooch goes to holly, 1970s movies, american actor(James Darren 1971 Mooch Goes to Hollywood Screenshot)

James Darren was interested in acting from an early age, and began steadily dating girlfriend Gloria Terlitsky as a young teenager. Actor Eddie Fisher was friends with a neighbour’s son in Philadelphia, and the success of this local boy inspired James to pursue acting.

At age 16, young James dropped out of school, began traveling back and forth from Philadelphia to New York City to study acting with Stella Adler, and changed his last name to Darren for professional reasons.

While working in the Brill Building in New York City, he met entertainer and singer Tony Orlando; they became friends. James Darren arranged to have professional photographs taken so he could get more acting jobs, and the photographer’s secretary asked him if he wanted film work. She arranged for him to meet casting director Joyce Selznick (niece of legendary movie producer David O. Selznick); a week later James Darren had a contract with Columbia Pictures.

James Darren told Los Angeles Magazine that he went to Los Angeles in 1954 to get discovered, where he met and became good friends with actor John Saxon. John Saxon and Darren would hang out with actor James Dean; none of them were as yet stars, and both James Dean and James Darren shared a love of cars and motorcycles.

james darren family 1950s, wife gloria terlitsky, son jim moret(James Darren, wife Gloria Terlitsky & son Jim Moret 1950s Photo: Mondadori Publishers)

In 1955 teenagers James Darren and Gloria Terlitsky eloped because her Jewish parents disapproved of the Catholic Darren. Their son James Jr. (Jimmy) was born in December 1956.

Roles in movies started to come his way beginning with Rumble on the Docks (1956), which generated fan mail and brought James Darren to the attention of the movie studio. Below, the movie trailer for Rumble on the Docks features James Dean, Laurie Carroll, and Robert Blake.

Darren met and became life-long friends with fellow Italian-American singer Frank Sinatra that year; he would also become lifetime friends with Elvis Presley. James Darren admired both singers and told Classic Bands in 2005 that

Elvis was a friend. We used to play football together. I’ve always been a giant Elvis fan, from day one, before I knew him and still am to this day.”

The western film Gunman’s Walk (1958) in glorious colour, starred veteran character actor Van Heflin and young up-and-comers James Darren, Tab Hunter, and Kathryn Grant. Below, the movie trailer for Gunman’s Walk features Van Heflin, Kathryn Grant, Tab Hunter, Mickey Shaughnessy, and James Darren.

Elvis Presleyjames darren, sandra dee, 1959 movies, gidget, moondoggie, american actor was in the U.S. Army and unavailable to co-star with Sandra Dee and Cliff Robertson in a new movie, so the producers cast James Darren as “Moondoggie” in the quintessential young love/beach film Gidget (1959). (James Darren & Sandra 1959 Gidget Photo: Columbia Pictures)

When filming for Gidget began in early 1959, Darren told the producers that he could sing.

The title track Gidget (1959) written by Fred Karger and Patti Washington, became a #41 hit single for James Darren. 

Below, James Darren and the other beach bums play it cool in the movie trailer for Gidget.

James Darren also sang The Next Best Thing to Love (1959) written by Fred Karger and Stanley Styne, in Gidget (1959).

By the end of 1959, 23-year-old James Darren had been divorced by Gloria. Gidget had launched his singing career, earning him a recording contract.

Gidget also spawned two big-screen movie sequels which Darren also starred in – Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961) with Deborah Walley, Michael Callan, Carl Reiner, and Kam Fong (Hawaii Five-O), and Gidget Goes to Rome (1963) with Cindy Carol. Below, Cindy Carol and James Darren in a clip from Gidget Goes to Rome

Darren didn’t appear in subsequent Gidget made-for-TV movies or the 1965 television series starring Sally Field.

james darren 1960, wife evy norlund, james darren younger, married evy norlund 1960(Evy Norlund & James Darren 1960 Photo: Mondadori Publishers)

In February 1960 James Darren married former Miss Denmark 1958, Evy Norlund. Three weeks after their marriage, James Darren took Evy with him to shoot The Guns of Navarrone on location in Rhodes.

Their son Christian was born in 1960, followed by Anthony (Tony) in 1964. 

Evy and James Darren are still married and living in the house he purchased in 1966, on Kimridge Road in the Beverly Hills canyon of Los Angeles, California. Darren’s house had previously been owned by film star Audrey Hepburn, and their neighbours included friend Frank Sinatra, Ernie Kovacs, and singer Peggy Lee.

James Darren played different characters when he guest-starred twice on The Donna Reed Show, starring Donna Reed (Donna Stone) and Shelley Fabares (Mary Stone). 

james darren 1959, the donna reed show, buzz berry, shelley fabares, mary stone, american actors, younger(James Darren as Buzz Berry & Shelley Fabares 1959 The Donna Reed Show Photo: ABC Television

More movie roles followed for James Darren, including the Korean War movie All the Young Men (1960) starring Alan Ladd and Sidney Poitier; Darren also sang the title track to All the Young Men

The Guns of Navarone (1961) saw James Darren sharing the screen with Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn.

James Darren’s biggest hit on the Billboard charts was Goodbye Cruel World (1961), a #3 hit single that sold over a million copies, and was nominated for a Grammy in 1961.

Below, James Darren (right) is joined by his younger brother John Darren (born John Ercolani in 1937), as he sings Goodbye Cruel World in a guest-starring scene from The Donna Reed Show (1961).

The following year, James Darren’s single Her Royal Majesty (1962) made it to #6 on the Billboard charts; however, Darren preferred acting to performing live, and focused on his movie career.

In the Hawaiian drama Diamond Head (1963), James Darren once again sang the title track and co-starred with Charlton Heston and Yvette Mimieux. His other co-stars in Diamond Head included George Chakiris, France Nuyen, and Kam Fong who had been in Gidget Goes Hawaiian with him.

James Darren was back to acting in lighter fare and co-starred with actress Pamela Tiffin in both The Lively Set (1964), the first of a 7-picture movie deal with Universal, and For Those Who Think Young (1964). Frank Sinatra’s production company was involved in For Those Who Think Young, and Sinatra’s daughter Nancy Sinatra made her acting debut in the movie. James Darren once again sang the movie’s title track in For Those Who Think Young.

Below, the movie trailer for The Lively Set features James Darren, Doug McClure, sportscars, and movie love interest Pamela Tiffin.

Because You’re Mine (1965)  was James Darren’s last Top 30 Pop hit. Below, note the 1960’s swimsuit fashions as Darren sings Because You’re Mine.

james darren 1966, the time tunnel, robert colbert, lee meriwether, 1960s tv series, 1960s sci fi, tv shows(The Time Tunnel Cast 1966 Photo: ABC Television)

James Darren starred in the sci-fi television series The Time Tunnel (1966-1967) along with co-star Robert Colbert, and Lee Meriwether; The Time Tunnel lasted one season.

By 1970, television and movie roles were getting scarcer for teen idol James Darren.

He met met comedian and actor Buddy Hackett at a Nancy Sinatra show at the Cocoanut Grove in 1970, and they became friends. James Darren accepted an offer from Buddy Hackett to perform with him as his “straight man”. They toured together from 1970-1982 and did shows at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas for most of the year.

In additional to occasional episodic television work during the 1970’s, Darren was a celebrity panelist on Match Game

James Darren had a Top 4 Adult Contemporary chart hit with the single All (1967). Below, a video clip of James Darren set to his hit song All .

james darren 1983, heather locklear, american actors, 1980s television series, t j hooker, officer jim corrigan(James Darren & Heather Locklear 1983 T. J. Hooker Photo: ABC TV)

Popular TV series T. J. Hooker starring William Shatner as the title character, was in it’s second season when James Darren was cast as actress Heather Locklear’s on-screen partner, Officer James Corrigan.

Darren appeared on T. J. Hooker for 4 years until it ended in 1986, and directed the last episode – thereby launching a new career for himself as a director. James Darren went on to direct many other popular television shows such as Melrose Place, 90210, Hunter, and Walker, Texas Ranger.

Below, James Darren doesn’t look as if he’s aged very much from his younger days as Officer Jim Corrigan in 1983 on T. J. Hooker (left), compared to 2015 (right).

james darren younger, james darren 1983, james darren older, james darren 2015, american actor, singer,1960s movies, 1960s teen idol, gidget 1959 movie star, 1980s television series, tj hooker officer jim corrigan, 50 plus years (James Darren Photos: 1983 ABC TV | 2015 Rob DiCaterino)

He was cast as holographic lounge singer Vic Fontaine in the sci-fi series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 1998/1999 seasons, exposing James Darren to the children and grandchildren of his prime baby boomer audience from the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1980’s.

In 2016, octogenarian senior citizen James Darren can be seen in person for a couple of dates in Las Vegas in July and August, and in Chicago in September. He and wife Evy celebrated their 56th wedding in February.

Still cool senior citizen James Darren treasures his rare, vintage 1958 Porsche 1600 Super Speedster, which he’s had for 40+ years; friend James Dean purchased the exact same model (Dean died in a different Porsche car, a 550 Spyder).

*Images are public domain or Creative Commons licensed & sourced via Wikimedia Commons or Flickr, unless otherwise noted*

Anita Hamilton

50+ World editor & baby boomer writer Anita Hamilton has always been interested in the "real people" stories behind the characters that create and inhabit the world of music, books, movies, television shows, current events, history, etc. A lifelong love of research (ok, nosiness) and writing, combined with a loving and supportive family complete with 3 mini-dachshund minions, keeps her busy.


Sue February 14th, 2021 at 10:50pm

My son is Darren spelled like your screen name like so many others I enjoyed your varied roles and spent hours wising I was Gidget so glad your life seems to have been relatively pain free and you have had success in your chosen career as well as a successful marriage

Juli sweeney January 10th, 2021 at 12:33am

I always love listening to James Darren, never saw him in person. But thanks to Amazon I can get his CDs

Steve Harris December 16th, 2020 at 10:21am

Recently saw "Vic Fontaine" on Vega$ (1979). Totally missed that episode during the original run.

GLORIA J POTCHEBSKI October 17th, 2020 at 8:09pm

Still think you are one handsome guy. You were always a favorite of mine. Years ago, I hung out at a food drive-in in Illinois and there was one guy there that we always referred to as James Darren. His looks were very close to yours and same mannerisms. Thanks for the many years of pleasure you gave everyone. Stay safe and God bless you and your family. By the way, I'm 78 years young.

Sue Weir September 9th, 2020 at 5:15pm

What a beautiful life! Thanks, for sharing it with all of us,
Still wish you would do a Christmas movie for Hallmark!

Maria. Pignataro May 18th, 2020 at 9:38am

Gidget one of my favorite movies.You and Sandra Dee so cute together.You are still as handsome as you were then.Hope you and your family doing well.Thank you for being moon doggie and for all the beautiful nostalgia that Gidget brings back. Such happy memories of a simpler time.So proud you are Italian like me.Hope the years ahead bring you all the best.
SIncerely....Maria. Pignataro

Marie April 8th, 2019 at 11:51pm

Along with Elvis you were my next love alwayys liked gedget .My. Brother had your record . Happy Birthday . my brother name is James we call him Jimmy.

Marilynn April 4th, 2019 at 9:47pm

Someone in these comments had mentioned about your marriage lasting 56 years! That's great. Happy Birthday (belatedly?) and may you have many more years too James Darren.

Pauline Goodinson October 27th, 2017 at 7:29pm

I remember seeing you at the Royal York hotel in the 70s I came back stage and you were nice ,polite and a real gentleman I will never forget that. Happy belated Birthday x

Donna October 26th, 2017 at 3:57pm

Happy birthday moondoggiiii. Even though I am African American. You were my first love and always will be. The life you have lived I knew you would. Such a Lucky and blessed wife. Still my heart.

Jocelyn Calig May 14th, 2017 at 5:30pm

Dear James,
Just saw this post, and didn't realize you had a milestone Happy Belated Birthday!
When I was 9, I saw "Gidget Goes Hawaiian", and thought you were the most handsome man I had ever seen. The next day, my father drove all over town to every record store (1961) to find the "45" of the title song. He finally found it, and it remains a special memory to this day, as he passed away several months later. Also my mother met you at a Standard Brands store in Granada Hills. You must have been filming for some candid camera type show. She said you were trying to sell her paint with vitamin E in it.
In closing I just want to thank you for the enjoyment and daydreams I have had
throughout my life "because of you"!

Angleia Young May 8th, 2017 at 1:22pm

I am going to Las VEGAS SOMETIME IN Sept does James have any shows around that?

Carolyn Stiverson maiden name Zambito May 1st, 2017 at 8:10pm

Happy Birthday, Jimmy....followed and loved you since I saw you in Gidget!!!

Linda March 31st, 2017 at 7:25pm

Happy birthday James. I was only a child, but had posters of you in my room as Moondoggie. Many years later I ran into your sister ( or sister in law) at LAX and she showed me pictures of your beautiful family. I watched everything you were in, and Time Tunnel was a must as a kid.

Thanks for the memories.

Julie March 6th, 2017 at 2:10am

What did he say about rap music? I'm just curious.

CK, Amager February 13th, 2017 at 1:45am

Stort og hjerteligt TILLYKKE med 57-års bryllupsdagen, der var den 6. februar, til dig og hustru Evy Nordlund.
I think you understand a little Danish after all these years together ……

Dawn February 12th, 2017 at 5:47pm

Happy Birthday James, I have all the Gidget movies you made and the series T.J.Hooker, along with some of your other movies, I loved them then and still love them today at the age of 73. Life was better back when we were young, you were a dreamboat then and still look very handsome today. I love to listen to your records you have such a beautiful voice.


Dawn February 12th, 2017 at 5:41pm

Happy 80th Birthday James, you still look fantastic. I had a crush on you as teen and still think your a dreamboat. Have several of your movies and records and enjoy watching the movies and listening to the records. May God bless you and yours always.


Donna February 11th, 2017 at 7:50pm

I just turned on the t.v. to the station decades. James Darren was on the Donna Reed show. Brought back fond memories.

Peggy Ross (MacDonald) February 7th, 2017 at 3:54pm

I don't know if you will remember me, but I lived across the street from you and your lovely wife Evy, sons Christian and Anthony in Beverly Hills off Coldwater Canyon. I was 8 or 9 years old when I babysat for your sons Christian and Anthony. I have 2 older sisters. My parents have passed away, but I was recently back in the neighborhood, and looked over at your former home, and memories came flooding back, I also remember going to your new home after you moved, where I went to a birthday party for Christian.
I hope you, Evy, and your sons are well. I saw your recent photos; you look wonderful. I loved your movies, and the TV show The Time Tunnel.
I just wanted to connect, and wish you all the best.
Warm regards,
Peggy Ross

MariaElena Hernandez-Valverde January 24th, 2017 at 6:26pm

My dearest Darren, boy you where my first crush. I loved you for years. What was really funny is that my daughter and I watched Gidget every single year while she was growing up. She wanted to be a singer and got really close, but she is still trying. Once when she was just 16, we saw you at Disneyland and I felt my heart skip a beat. You still had it then, and I'm sure your wife would agree, you still have it now.
You are just a sexy Senor.

michiko January 14th, 2017 at 3:09am

Tony Newman was very cool ! I became your fan to see "The Time Tunnel". I also love your songs. from Japan

Anthony January 8th, 2017 at 10:16am

Hi jimmy, its tony g from south philly! Remember flying the gas models at the stadium. Lived on 13th and porter. I hope johnny is well! Tony G

Tim Kline December 26th, 2016 at 7:58am

I liked James Darren best in Time Tunnel. He did a fantastic job on that show. I also like his hit song "goodbye cruel world" Time Tunnel should have lasted much longer than it did. I guess that's what you get with Irwin Allen. only a few short years EG;
"Lost in Space" 3 seasons. Both shows could have gone on many more seasons.
Good Luck to James, Would like to see you on TV again, perhaps on a TV special.

derek December 18th, 2016 at 3:27am

James Darren looks a bit like John Saxon in that screen shot above with himself and his brother. Perhaps that had something to do with the two of them becoming friends! lol

Jay Bear December 7th, 2016 at 11:23pm

My very 1st crush...I used to pre-tend play that I was you playing tennis dressed in all white...You looked just like my Italian father, makes sense now...glad to see you are still doing well!

Anne L. Wilson September 11th, 2016 at 11:26pm

Hello good looking! I wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your performance in Deep Space Nine! It's about the third or forth time I;ve watched the series on Netflix. I've just finished it tonight. You really brought the series a lot of class! I wish they had let you act a little more. You are 80 and I just turned 75, so we have a lot in common.
I'm impressed you have been married to the same person for so long in Hollywood! It says a lot about what a nice person you are. You really look wonderful for any age!! I would love to see you acting in something new.
Take care of yourself, Anne W.

Diane F. September 11th, 2016 at 5:30am

Happy birthday ! 80 years old a successful career , marriage and children ! I was pleased to read about your career and all the different aspects of the business you were involved in, directing, t.v. series, singing ! I am a 59 year old woman that grew up in Palos Verdes on the beach and watching fun movies like your Gidget movies ! Saw you once performing in Disneyland. Now I am interested in how you were lucky to have the career marriage etc. you should partner with Cristina Ferrare and do a talk show tell us fans about your Hollywood do some signing maybe even bring on some new talent I read about what your feelings are about rap music! Good luck to you , love the picture of you and your Porsche ! Stay healthy and God Bless!

Julie March 6th, 2017 at 2:10am

What did he say about rap music? I'm just curious.

Rebekah gwen deatherage September 7th, 2016 at 2:26am

Your life has given us music for our souls...beautiful face..great smile
Talented actor...and great man...enduring husband...
Theres no such thing as the next best to love....i wore out my gidget record
Your picture still on my 66 husband hates i love your cars
We had an old 56 chevy belair...still have it...different world....gentler life....
Keep singing...dont drive too fast smile alot...moondoggie...vaya con dios

Lisa July 30th, 2016 at 11:26am

That was awesome! You made my teenage years fabulous

Donna Muir July 19th, 2016 at 2:45am

All I can say is "Thank goodness" Elvis wasn't available to appear as Moondoggie in the Gidget movie! I was about ten years old when I saw that film for the first time and it didn't take more than one look at you and I was over the moon for you, James. Oh, how I would dream about changing places with Sandra Dee! It may sound corny but you got me through some very hard times as a kid and, later, as a teen. Congratulations and belated best wishes on celebrating your 80th birthday. You're still the dreamboat I fell for back in the day. May the years ahead be kind to you and all those you hold dear to your heart. P. S. I hope you received the letter that I sent to you in care of Norm's. Most sincerely, Donna M.

Lynda Hogan July 15th, 2016 at 2:18pm

Happy Birthday Moondoggy! Wow! You sure do age well!

Jennifer Ahlstrom July 15th, 2016 at 12:06pm

Happy birthday and wishes for many more. You made my teen years joyful with your music and movies. (Especially Gidget!) Thank you. Fondly, Jennifer

Jennifer Ahlstrom July 15th, 2016 at 12:03pm

Happy happy birthday! Wishing you the best always. You made my teenage years joyful. Thank you.

kim Calvosa July 15th, 2016 at 12:05am

Happy Birthday Jimmy! Hope all is well. Luv to you and Evie...Gene and Kim

Jeanne July 13th, 2016 at 11:59pm

Happy birthday James.
i met you and your wife once in center city philly
you were buying a hot dog
i said can you please pass me the mustard moondoggie
you passed it to me and said I was showing my age., by knowing that.
Many more birthdays and good health

Lisa July 30th, 2016 at 11:26am

That was awesome! You made my teenage years fabulous

Helen July 13th, 2016 at 2:48pm

I mean Fabulous.yikes!

Helen July 13th, 2016 at 2:47pm

You look faboulus, happy birthday.

Helen July 13th, 2016 at 2:48pm

I mean Fabulous.yikes!

Al Bono July 13th, 2016 at 12:19pm

Hey Jimmy your friends from South Philly Richie and Shags said Happy Birthday glad your doing great.

Marc Uyttenhove July 13th, 2016 at 12:08pm

Happy birthday, James. In Belgium, we know you from ' Punch and Judy' and 'Goodbye cruel world'...

Symmi DeFrancesco July 13th, 2016 at 11:40am

Happy Birthday my ONLY celebrity crush, from high school days...So glad I had a very chance meeting, with you in Warwick, NY in the late 70's, when you were on your way to appearing at the Playboy Club nearby. I never ever thought I would see you in the flesh as they say...(I don't follow celebrities)..It was a thrill & you looked as wonderful in person as you do "on stage" ) God Bless always.

Sandra June 27th, 2016 at 4:52am


Sandra June 27th, 2016 at 4:51am

Happy Birthday Baby, I Have all Budget Movies, just Watched 2 of them , they take me back to my youth great feeling ,it was a different time xoxo

Tim Kline December 26th, 2016 at 7:58am

I liked James Darren best in Time Tunnel. He did a fantastic job on that show. I also like his hit song "goodbye cruel world" Time Tunnel should have lasted much longer than it did. I guess that's what you get with Irwin Allen. only a few short years EG;
"Lost in Space" 3 seasons. Both shows could have gone on many more seasons.
Good Luck to James, Would like to see you on TV again, perhaps on a TV special.

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