Bobby Darin Biography
Review The Artist (22)
Bobby Darin 30th Anniversary Tribute
By Jay Tell, Dec 20, 2003, jaytell @ hotmail.com
Can it be 30 years since Bobby Darin’s untimely passing? Walden Robert Cassotto was born May 14, 1936 in the Bronx, New York. As a boy he yearned for fame and a show business career, searched the phone book, and became Bobby Darin. Bobby tragically left us on December 20, 1973, too young, only 37, before he could embrace his future, before we fully appreciated the Darin treasure and mystique. I knew Bobby 10 years, 1963 to 1973. During his last four exciting years we were close friends and business partners. I was editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Free Press and owned Nevada’s first health food restaurant, Food For Thought.
I believed in Bobby’s innate talent, but in the mid to late 1960s his career had been quiet. I knew Strip Hotel owners and entertainment directors, and, in 1970 and 1971, I got him miracle bookings as the main-room headliner at the Landmark and Desert Inn hotels. In top form, he gave fabulous performances to packed houses, earning rousing standing ovations and rave reviews. Bobby asked me to be his agent, but while I considered the offer his health declined. Those milestone Las Vegas engagements were his most successful bookings in a decade, earning national publicity and re-starting his career. His fame then reached new heights, before his final curtain call.
In 1967-68 Bobby suffered three personal blows. He and actress Sandra Dee divorced after seven years and son Dodd, the light of his life. Bobby adored and campaigned for Robert F. Kennedy. After RFK’s assassination, Bobby suffered prolonged depression. 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! After these traumatic revelations he said,
“My whole life has been a lie.” This was an emotional earthquake, hell, an explosion of his core beliefs. He spent a year trailer-living in the Big-Sur forest, wondering, writing, never recovering from a lifelong deception he could never understand. His fabled self-confidence, ego, turned to doubt, introspection. When sharing his pain with me, he had a glassy-eyed look of disbelief, not sure he could ever trust again. While searching in vain for answers, his self-esteem, personality, values and musical direction underwent major changes. The divorce and shocking family crisis shredded his past, but even worse he perceived RFK’s assassination as ripping up his future, and America’s hopes.
Childhood rheumatic fever damaged Bobby Darin’s heart. Born during the Depression, his family was one of millions on welfare, in dire hardship. But unlike other kids, at the age of 13 he overheard the doctor telling his family Bobby would not live past 16. He knew someday he’d need high-risk open-heart surgery, but delayed it for years hoping for medical advancements. This cruel sword over his head sparked Bobby’s frantic work ethic and tireless ambition, his quest to be “the best ever”. He attacked life and career knowing he had so little time.
“We were so poor my cradle was a cardboard box,” he told me. Bobby grew up in a run-down Bronx tenement near Harlem. An undernourished and sickly boy, he was determined to escape poverty. In 1959 he told Life Magazine, “I want to be a legend by 25.” He truly didn’t think he’d last beyond 30. I asked Bobby if he’d like a hobby, as an outlet for his obvious stress. Since 1958 I’ve been a rare stamp and coin dealer (Americana Stamp & Coin Galleries, Inc.), so it was a natural question. He replied “I don’t have the time,” but I thought he meant time from his career. Later I realized he had been subtly trying to prepare me, he knew he was really running out of time.
Bobby’s pain, shortness of breath worsened in 1971. He agreed to long-dreaded open-heart surgery. I got chills when he said “Jay, I’m toast, my chance for survival is 10%.” He sold or gave away possessions. I refused gifts, assuring him (and myself) all would be just fine. During stage shows he created clever false-endings, dashing to the side for a quick oxygen fix, without the audience knowing. He wanted adulation, respect, love, but not sympathy.
Dick Clark rejected Mack the Knife, a song from the musical “Threepenny Opera,” and urged Bobby not to record that tune. Bobby’s other advisors unanimously said his loyal Splish Splash, Dream Lover fans would resent a non-rock song. But in 1959 Bobby had guts and followed his own instincts. He liked Mack’s offbeat jazzy tempo and sharp, dark, violent lyrics. At age 23 he refused to “play it safe” and that single decision changed his life. Mack the Knife rose to Number One nationally for an amazing nine consecutive weeks, and was in the Top Ten for 22 weeks!
He won Record of the Year and two Grammy Awards. He soon had primetime network television shows, mainstream radio play, swank nightclub dates and posh resort bookings. Bobby was the youngest-ever headliner at the prized Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, where in 1962-63 I was a busboy and waiter. The Sands was the center of show business, home of the notorious “Rat Pack” of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. Mack the Knife transformed Bobby from a rock star to an international musical icon. National Public Radio added Bobby’s Mack the Knife to “The 100 Most Important Musical Works of All Time.” It has sold in the tens of million and is Bobby Darin’s signature classic, his crowning lifetime achievement, his timeless contribution to our culture.
“Bobby Darin topped Sinatra,” some critics would say, which always sparked lively debate. In the ‘50s and ‘60s Bobby prowled Broadway’s famous Brill Building, music’s nerve center, honing his songwriting and performing skills. He worked with and dated stars like Connie Francis. NY press agents (like my dad Jack Tell and his partner Eddie Jaffe) kept celebrity names in newspaper columns like Walter Winchell. Not a flash-in-the-pan or one-hit-wonder, Bobby had the lasting appeal and tenacity to record more than 150 songs and 30 LPs. He had an amazing range, rock, smooth jazz, rhythm ‘n blues, folk and country songs which captivated very different audiences. Each generation discovers anew Bobby’s enchantingly beautiful ballads, his timeless timbre and sweet vocal bouquet.
His greatest inspirations? He told me Al Jolson, “for his golden throat and perfect pitch.” Sinatra, whom he tried so hard to emulate and surpass, “for his stage presence, humor and finger-snapping independence.” Elvis, “for his courage to defy rules and project taboo sex appeal.” The Beatles “for their original sound and songwriting genius.” Big Crosby, Perry Como, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole “for their relaxed approach.” Judy Garland, (they sang a TV duet in 1963) “whose pain came through in her songs.” He became a little of each, creating a remarkable package of multiple stage personas, the delicious recipe, the unrivaled niche he molded into the unique Bobby Darin.
Bobby gave “Danke Schoen” to Wayne Newton, a gift from his heart, which in 1963 became Newton’s first hit and launched his worldwide fame. Bobby graciously loved helping people and treated others with respect. When a band member’s father needed surgery, Bobby gave his support. His stimulating spin, his unmatched style and tempo, inspired Tony Orlando’s “Tie a Yellow Ribbon…” and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.” Few knew it, and it surprised me at the time, but when alone Bobby often listened to classical music, his private respite and sanctuary.
He was in 13 films, composed two full movie scores, and five title songs. He was a music publisher and record producer, who knew the ropes inside-out. He appeared on Steve Allen, Bob Hope and Ed Sullivan’s popular TV shows, with luminaries Dean Martin, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Peggy Lee, Paul Anka, Phil Silvers, Andy Williams, Nancy Wilson, Tom Jones, Patti Page, Lisa Minnelli, Alan King, Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme, and many others. His mentor George Burns said Bobby topped George M. Cohan, so Bobby starred in Kraft Music Hall’s “Give My Regards to Broadway” and became America’s Yankee Doodle Dandy and Little Johnny Jones.
In 1963 Bobby sang at my brother’s nightclub, the Twin Lakes Twist, and held thousands of adoring Las Vegas fans in the palm of his hand. Seems like yesterday, his vibrant velvet voice, sly sex appeal and impromptu style captivated all ages. He sang his million-sellers, Splish Splash (which he wrote in a half hour), Dream Lover, Mack the Knife and Queen of the Hop. And, 18 Yellow Roses, Things, Clementine. And the smash hit Beyond the Sea, the title of Kevin Spacey’s Bobby Darin film. In his later blue jeans protest period (If I Were a Carpenter, Simple Song of Freedom, which he wrote) his loyal fans often demanded the earlier favorites.
His Oscar nomination was for a hypnotic 1963 performance in Captain Newman, MD. He played a decorated WW II aviator and psychiatric patient who thinks he’s a coward for not saving his friend from the burning plane. Bobby also won the coveted Golden Globe / Foreign Press Association and French Film Critics acting awards. This brash teen started with a Catskill Mountain jazz combo, and later drew bigger audiences than Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Perry Como and Sammy Davis Jr. at New York’s famous Copacabana. He performed at a hundred other clubs, including LA’s Troubador and Ciro’s. He opened San Francisco’s huge Mr. D’s with a 23-piece orchestra. He was the first young vocalist to appeal to adults, and his legions of admirers came out in force every time.
He became part of my family. When “desert throat” struck, we flew in my relative Marty Lawrence, a world-renowned NY Metropolitan Opera singing coach. When Bobby stayed at my home we confided, shared stories. I was his safe haven from managers, lawyers, producers, media. I never met Sandra Dee, but did meet girlfriend Andrea Yeager. Later, for a brief time, they were married. She was a beautiful legal secretary, regal like Jackie Kennedy.
Bobby sang to my daughter Robyn: 18 Yellow Roses, You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby, You’re The Reason I’m Living, For Once in My Life, Baby Face. During 1970-73 from infancy on, he often held her. He called her “My Dyn-A-Mite!.” He brought, what else, 18 yellow roses. Since three I’ve told Robyn stories of Bobby’s warm visits.
After so much pain in his life it seemed we were the family he craved. He knew my devoted parents Jack and Bea Tell and their Las Vegas Israelite. Dad told us stories from his editorial days on The New York Times, and as publisher of Mark Twain’s Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City. Together we saw The Godfather masterpiece, and Bobby said “Good thing the fearless Tells have two newspapers, they might kill one of you but not both.” Bobby and I were bonded through my paper, the Free Press. We both knew America’s real strength was the First Amendment.
Bobby loved the Las Vegas Free Press. We supported our troops but strongly opposed the Vietnam War. We backed the N.Y. Times and Washington Post publishing the infamous Pentagon Papers which led to the historic Watergate scandal. We were the first to expose Las Vegas Sun publisher Hank Greenspun and Howard Hughes’ CEO Robert Maheu, who fleeced the billionaire of $20 million, which became a major story for years.
The notorious Howard Hughes proxy battle would determine control of an Empire. Bobby and I were in court when Federal Judge Roger Foley entered my newspaper into evidence, saying from the bench, “The Las Vegas Free Press is the only newspaper in the nation to get the story straight.” Bobby respected bold investigative reporting, admiring courage to challenge the powerful. He joined me on some interviews, respected story accuracy, had great ideas, sometimes spotted errors, and was intrigued by the art of clever headlines. In 1971 he asked to be my partner.
We fought for minorities, a woman’s right to choose, the environment, and Israel’s right to security as the Middle East’s only democracy. We were passionately patriotic, were appalled at President Nixon’s broken campaign pledges to “end the war in 90 days,” and stunned by Nixon’s blatantly unconstitutional “no knock” laws. Our paper (“Voice for the Voiceless”) was on the front lines of progressive social issues, fighting bigotry and adult censorship. We ran many stories on the dangers of drugs, which we viewed as a medical problem needing education, not prison. Back then, decriminalization with strict controls was a new idea, but has gained acceptance today. Bobby’s career prevented him from publicly voicing controversial opinions, so he vicariously spoke through my paper.
Rolling rhythm of a pulsing press serenaded the First Amendment, as Bobby and I watched the paper printed. He said, “Jay, you have printer’s ink in your veins.” He loved our puncturing stuffed shirts, cutting frauds down to size, and backing underdogs in upset election wins. Feared Las Vegas Sun columnist Paul Price ran for City Commissioner. He was a 20-1 “cinch” against an unknown opponent, until we ran 15,000 extra papers for eight weeks. We revealed his shady past, underhanded methods, and stopped him cold. We ran big stories on medical care, legal aid, and the Bill of Rights. We were the first to support Nevada’s Equal Housing Laws. When four Hispanic families came to our office to report discrimination, Bobby surprised us and sang La Bamba. Everyone stopped work to listen and applaud. “Why?” I asked. “Hey, can’t resist an audience,” he winked with his warm grin.
Bobby considered politics. He was smart, articulate, handsome, caring. I took him to friends like Gov. Grant Sawyer, Supreme Court Justice John Mowbray, to explore Bobby’s political viability. They thought he could be mayor, senator, governor. Bobby was first a friend who enriched my life and later my partner. We received Federal approval for a public stock offering, a registered SEC prospectus (for a daily newspaper). Bobby’s name was proudly included.
He was an exciting entertainer with a sparkling personality. Few knew it, but Bobby was an authentic genius, a Mensa member, with an IQ of 137, in the top 2%. He was a 22-year show-biz veteran with a polished stage presence, a gift for comedy sketches, and natural timing for actual or rehearsed ad-libs. He did great impressions of James Cagney, Clark Gable, Jerry Lewis, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Rex Harrison, Walter Brennan, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Mitchum, Burt Lancaster, Marlon Brando and Cary Grant. He had magnetism, danced and choreographed with gusto, and played musical instruments well, including piano, guitar, vibes, harmonica and drums.
Bobby sang to each of us, a very personal connection. His allure was honesty direct from his soul. He was animated, flippant yet friendly, rebellious yet relaxed, sassy yet suave. He had a 10-piece or larger band with back-up singers; often performed in a tux. He was a perfectionist and told musicians, “If you screw up they blame me, not you.” Excellence was his goal. Self-confident outside, down deep he was sincere, unpretentious, yet seriously misunderstood. Lifelong pain affected his music, but never lessened his commitment to do his best every time.
Triumphant 1970-71 Vegas shows re-started his career, Mack was back! Thrilled to help launch his “second” career, I negotiated his highest-ever salary, $40,000/week. He offered 10% but I wouldn’t accept. Those Landmark, Desert Inn sellout runs ended a quiet period, and he achieved national fame. Rushed by ambulance to his first open-heart operation and plastic heart valves, he recovered, continued his soaring comeback, but had a second surgery, only to succumb in Dec 1973. He worked so hard, as if each show was his last. One time, tragically, it was.
In 1972-73 he starred in two NBC-TV primetime variety shows, his most important TV ever. After his Las Vegas comeback and first surgery, he required antibiotics before routine dental work. One time he forgot. A major infection put strain on a lifetime of illness, requiring a second operation to replace now-faulty valves. Doctors called it “heart failure,” but we who knew him respectfully disagree. “Bobby Darin’s heart never failed anyone.”
“Bobby’s Groucho Marx impression is so good, even Harpo shouted praise,” I said, after Bobby brought down the house. Groucho’s brother Harpo was famous for never speaking. Bobby’s April, 1973 NBC national TV show was done “concert style.” His solo guest star for the entire hour was the beloved Peggy Lee, and this show turned out to be Bobby’s TV finale. A Las Vegas Hilton run followed, and became Bobby’s last live performances. No one, least of all me, believed his time was running out. Isn’t denial grand? But a few months later, on Dec 20, 1973, he was gone, just when offers were multiplying, just when Bobby’s lifelong dream was coming true.
The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame posthumously inducted Bobby in 1990, with son Dodd Mitchell, then age 29, accepting. In 1999 his composing accomplishments were embraced by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He may not have been considered “the best ever” by age 25 as he once hoped, but lately there’s a surge of interest in the multi-talented Bobby Darin. His many dimensions and wide variety of skills place him in a special class, almost like Jolson, Garland, Sinatra, Streisand. The tragedy-plagued Bronx boy finally may have achieved legendary status he craved.
His final utterance was his childhood phone number. On his deathbed was he reaching back to the Bronx High School of Science or Hunter College? Or trying to connect with his mom and grandma to ask why? Bobby’s tragic passing surely devastated Dodd, Sandra, Andrea and their families. To them I send warmest wishes. Bobby supported Heart Fund and other charities. He enjoyed doing benefits; I can’t recall him ever turning one down.
He made people happy, even in death; his body going to UCLA Medical Research Center. No gravesite exists. His melodious, matchless music mosaic is his only true monument, his lasting memorial. His fiery, flamboyant flair, his ageless ongoing talent has clearly stood the test of time. His charisma and songs will continue to give pleasure to millions yet unborn. [This tribute has been published on many websites, traveling the globe via address books. I never expected this outpouring. Numerous appreciative, glowing emails have been received from Bobby's loyal fans around the world. To publish this tribute, in honor of Bobby’s unparalleled life, email jaytell @ hotmail.com.]
Its been suggested I write Bobby’s definitive biography or screenplay. This tribute was written as a “labor of love” from the heart. At the time Bobby’s biography never entered my mind. If done, one chapter would be new worlds Bobby might have conquered, in politics, theater, advancing the arts; film director, producer, TV host, philanthropist, media owner. He genuinely cared about humanity and wanted to make the world better. Radio DJs get sentimental about Bobby, like reminiscing about a friend, which he still is, to hundreds of millions of fans worldwide.
Bobby's "Horatio Alger" rags-to-riches story is one of exceptional drive, ambition, rare courage, moving human drama, intense personal tragedy. It spans an epic period from the late 30s to the early 70s. Bobby’s life was filled with the cruel knowledge he was "running out of time." Had he lived, I’m confident the gifted, dynamic entertainer would today be a superstar. He was so alive, full of energy. His music improves with age like fine wine.
Bobby would now be older, but remains forever young in our memory, a boyishly handsome freeze-frame from a more innocent era. Teary-eyed, I remember magical mellow moments with a true-blue pal, a dedicated, original craftsman. Rest well, Bobby Darin, you earned it. ###
Thanks to Jay Tell, president Americana Stamp & Coin Galleries Inc. email: jaytell @ hotmail.com for submitting the biography.
Please click here to submit the latest Bobby Darin biography
can't stop crying | Reviewer: Robby Knox | 6/3/13
Bobby Kennedy and now because I've read, through you, about Bobby Darin's passion for his namesake, I can't stop crying. I have never been able to manage my sorrow for those times and subsequently don't let myself revisit them. But as luck with have it, I watched B.Y.the Sea and searched for the words that would provide some insight to this man's life. A heartfelt thanks to you for taking me back to our more innocent times and the stinging tears that I thankfully still shed.
The most sincerest of thanks,
Jay, thank you much for letting me know about Bobby's life | Reviewer: Cistina Bazan | 11/19/12
I came across Mack the Knife by Bobby Darin, on the Web, post it on my FB page and all friends were just as marvelled as I. Every Friday night I meet with friends who like to sing for the fun of it, and Mack the Knife, under Bobby Darin's contageous thrill, of course, became the audience favorite. Thank you much, Jay and sing365. Greetings and love fom Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Unrivaled Talent | Reviewer: Emily | 11/4/12
Thank you for writing this. I was born long after he died and I've just recently discovered Bobby Darin but I love his music and him as a person. This just really touched my heart. May Bobby Darin rest in peace and be forever known as one of the greatest performers to ever live.
confusion | Reviewer: sara l. | 5/9/12
i dont know this man i wish i did though, the sad thing is he died years before my birth and a day after my birthday dec. 19th. i just wish i would know him better. he is a real cutie.
so im so confused!
A hero for our youth to learn about. | Reviewer: Anonymous | 12/21/11
So here I sit…falling upon satellite TV…on the AM of December 21, 2011..running across the Bobby Darin story (Under the Sea) played by Kevin Spacey (one of my favorite actors). I was born in May of 65 and I knew of the music that he created, but never put the name or face to him until now. What an impression his story has just left on me and a great inspiration for me to remember to teach to others. I am a school counselor and I work hard every day, to teach meaning, drive, desire, purpose, and the “who am I, what do I want to do, and how am I going to get there” concepts to our youth. Bobby Daren (Walden Robert Cassotto) is my new hero…and a hero for our youth to learn about. I will pass on his story to the many youth I talk to daily. I am moved, inspired, and energized now after researching for hours of his life. I have included my 8 year old daughter with his story, music, beliefs and we are now better because of him. His spirit lives decades after his death. How strange, I was 8 when he died and knew nothing of him, but now I teach my daughter of 8 his story and she can remember his greatness, and possibly benefit from them. Memories are like moon beams, memories never die, and Bobby lives on!!!
KING OF COOL | Reviewer: christo1952 | 9/3/11
This guy had it all like a five tool athlete and he never let us know for one bit that he was in trouble from a disease that I beat as a child I am now 58. Anyway he was and is up there with dean martin, sammy davis and frank to a lesser degree. His music plays on my I pod especilly his live shows from vegas.
A Legend Lives Forever | Reviewer: Gwen Miller | 8/1/11
If there is an afterlife, I hope to see Bobby Darin, so I can tell him how much I love everything he did, especially "Simple Song of Freedom." That is on par with "Imagine" in my estimation (and I am a huge John Lennon fan). I love watching the DVD that came with my Aces Back to Back set. I love listening to Bobby sing and watching his movies with Sandra Dee. I wish I could have known him.
Far away | Reviewer: Mario Almendrades | 1/25/11
First time I listened Boby Darin was in my home country Peru in 1966 at my HS prom party, "Nature Boy". I live now in Canada but will never forget his voice. One of my HS prom sent me a Youtube link to this song and I couldn't hold tears runing down my cheeks.
Was this song (Nature Boy) inspired in someway by his hardship childhood you describe in his biography?
Thanks for letting me air out my feeling about this formidable singer.
Ottawa, ON, Canada
Another short life for a Great | Reviewer: Blanche Lee | 12/30/10
Years have passed and I STILL miss Bobby Darin! He was rare. He invigorated and inspired many with his talent. I was never a "groupie" but I admit he always made me want to get on stage and dance while he sang and made his groovey moves. I was surprised about his health problems because he was so with the music and performing before his audience, it's incredible that he could be so into it with no appearance of problems! I admire him all the more,even as I wish he had taken better care of himself so we would still have him in our world. But he is (to steal a line from Nat King Cole)-"UNFORGETABLE!
Enjoy the stars we still have | Reviewer: hike | 4/11/10
Bobby Darin gave everything in his short lifetime others don´t give in a long life. Hard to believe-but often the warmhearted intelligent persons have to leave earth too early. Like Elvis, John Lennon, Roy Orbison, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana and many many others.As if they all knew about it, they lived their life like a candle in the wind. Thank God, we still have a lot of very good people and stars whith us. Let´s enjoy them.
Never Forgot | Reviewer: Matt Anthony | 12/18/09
A thought crossed my mind about a moment in time when my mom took my sister and I to Melodyland across the street from Disneyland. She handed us two tickets and we went in. I was not prepared for what I was going to experience. I was at the time into rock music and all these years later still am. I listen to the Beatles, Hendrix, Cream, Iron Butterfly, Steppenwolf etc. but I have never forgot that night, Bobby Darin, it was the first live show I attended and he was fantastic, in your face, excellant. I have learned to listen to other styles of music but still a die hard fan of rock but Bobby Darin made an impression on me I will never forget, a total class act.
thanks | Reviewer: chicago mike | 9/21/09
Thank you for this website. I've just starting listening to Bobby, didn't see the movie, and just read about his history. It's quite moving and I wanted to thank you again for the website. Time to rent the movie and listen to more Bobby.
There will never be another "Bobby Darin " | Reviewer: Vincent LaBarbera | 8/10/09
In addition to Sammy Davis Jr--Bobby Darin was
The greatest -Most versatile entertainer who ever
lived--Both could sing-play many instruments-
Do many impressions--act--The only thing Sammy
Did better than Bobby was Dance--Saw them both
At the "Copa " NYC--"PRICELESS "
He Was A Gift From God ! | Reviewer: Francy | 4/21/09
And was one of those special people that had the abilty to move people with his voice.....he was right up there with many of the greats from the 20th century, like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Gene Pitney, Art Garfunkel, Brian Wilson....all the genious's ! All gone too soon ! rest with the angels Bobby.
I worked w/ Bobby, as kid. | Reviewer: Johnny | 3/15/09
As a kid, I worked several times with Mr. Darin I learned the biz fast & at times very tough, from 1959-1969. I was part of our family song & dance group & he asked my parents if I could work with him. I have many story's good & not so good but he was the best task master,I ever worked with, even on B.Way. I just saw his movie, not real but I sure miss him, sandra and his son "monkey" John
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