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Teen idol and Time Tunnel star James Darren took his name from a failed 1940s sports car

Never underestimate the power in a pack of teenage girls. It was the early 1960s, and James Darren was arguably the top teen idol. He was Moondoggie, after all, the main squeeze of Gidget. The beachy sequel Gidget Goes Hawaiian had just come out. Better yet, Darren had a smash hit at the top of the charts, "Goodbye Cruel World," a tale of a heartbroken man who becomes a circus clown. It was a different time.

Anyway, Darren found himself in San Francisco, plugging his pop music on a radio show. A gaggle of girls turned violent. 

"They broke down the plate-glass window and pulled me out on the sidewalk," Darren told the Newhouse News Service in 1983. "They… started to rip my clothes off, screaming all the time. I remember lying there out on the street on my back and looking up at all those faces in the sky."

He was hardly traumatized.

"And know what?" Darren confessed. "I loved it. Loved it!" 

What many of them did not know — and what you might not know — is that "Darren" is not the man's real name. He was born James Ercolani, an Italian-American kid in Philadelphia. He started performing at the age of 12, belting tunes at bar mitzvahs and weddings around Philly. Once he got a little older, he began commuting to New York City on a motorcycle to take acting lessons.

"Ercolani admired a failed car from the '40s and adopted its name," that 1983 newspaper profiled explained.

That car would be the "Darrin," the convertible sports car with the curved doors produced by Packard in the early 1940s. The cool ride was named for its designer, Howard A. "Dutch" Darrin. It might be unfair to call it a "failed" car, as production was stopped due to World War II.

Darren parleyed his teen idol status into television stardom. In 1966, he landed a lead role in The Time Tunnel, a history-hopping sci-fi adventure from Lost in Space creator Irwin Allen. Oddly, it would be his only major TV role for 16 years, until he joined the cast of T.J. Hooker. That is why newspapers were again profiling him in 1983.

So what happened in the gap?

"I got a lot of film offers after Time Tunnel, but they were all things I didn't want to do," he explained. "I hit the nightclubs and never looked back." 

By "hit the nightclubs," he means crooning for the cocktail crowd, singing oldies. "Some of it's time warp stuff, sure," he admitted, in a funny, unconscious reference to his time a TV time traveler. "Why not? That's what people remember. That's why I'm there."

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