Trailblazer Pat Boone Turns 80!
by Jim Longworth
Like his pioneering great great great great grandfather Daniel, Pat Boone is a trailblazer in his own right.
He was the first singer to mainstream R&B into the pop charts.
He has sold over 45 million records, and has recorded more songs than even Elvis or the Beatles.
He once stayed on the pop singles chart for 220 consecutive weeks,
something no other artist had done before or since.
He hosted his own television show, and never endorsed a product unless he believed in it.
He has appeared in over a dozen films.
He runs his own record label.
He has authored several books, the first of which was a number one best seller.
He is also a song writer, and penned the lyrics for the title song of the film Exodus.
Pat even has his own 24 hour internet radio station.
And, on June 1, Daniel Boone's descendant turns 80 years old.
I asked Pat how he stayed so healthy and youthful looking.
PB: I work out in the gym three to four afternoons a week. I swim three mornings a week, and I ride a bike to my office and back which is about three miles. And I play tennis on Fridays, and golf whenever I can, so I really try to stay in aerobic good shape.
Pat is also keeping his instrument in shape. Just before we spoke, he had completed a voice lesson to help him tune up for his new album, titled, "Legacy".
PB: My voice coach is Richard Fredericks, who sang at the Met. He's affirming to me that I still have the same range, and he's re-training me how to support the tone, because this new album is important to me.
That dedication to excellence has driven Pat his entire life. By age twelve he was competing regularly at Nashville's Belle Meade Happiness Club talent show, and won repeatedly because he really wanted the top prize - a banana split. He was a straight "A" student, Captain of his high school baseball team, and President of the student body. Then he became our nation's original American Idol, winning Ted Mack's Amateur Hour contest for three weeks in a row. He would have continued that streak except Mack wouldn't let him return because, in the interim, Pat had appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts TV show for money, thus voiding his amateur status. Not long afterward, the newly turned professional singer found himself atop the pop charts with one hit after another, and that led to a hosting gig on the Pat Boone Chevy Showcase.
Having succeeded in both music and television early on, Pat completed the hat trick by tackling feature films.
PB: In motion pictures I enjoyed taking on somebody else's persona, who mostly looked and sounded like me, because I'm not John Gielgud. The characters I played bore a striking resemblance to me (laughs). I could experience things as someone else, and that was fun. But television was my favorite because it's me being real, usually in front of a live audience. It's improvisational and spontaneous.
Yet for all of the things Pat Boone is known for doing, he is also famous for two things which he didn't do. He didn't kiss Shirley Jones in the film "April Love", and he turned down a chance to co-star with Marilyn Monroe. First, the kiss story.
One day while filming a scene atop a Ferris wheel, the director asked Boone and Jones to do an unscripted kiss.
PB: I never refused to kiss Shirley Jones, I simply asked the director, Henry Levin for a delay. I said, "Henry can we wait a little on this? This is just my second film, and I haven't even talked with my wife Shirley about kissing scenes, and I just want to make sure it's not going to be a problem with her". And Henry thought it was funny, so he said, "OK, we'll do it a little later in the film". I went home and talked to Shirley and she said, "Look, I know if you're going to do movies, there's going to be kissing involved, but just make me one promise". And I asked "What's that?", and she said, "Promise you won't enjoy it".
Meanwhile Levin had spread the story around Hollywood, and suddenly the world press was reporting that Pat refused to kiss Shirley Jones.
PB: The mail came in from all over, some folks telling me to stick to my guns. But then there were letters from guys who said, "Hey, if you don't want to kiss her, give me a ticket, and I'll fly out and kiss her for you!"
When filming resumed there was never another opportunity for a passionate kiss, but last year at a retrospective of "April Love", the two co-stars finally sealed the deal. There was, however, no such fairy tale ending to the Marilyn Monroe story.
PB: Marilyn and I were both under contract to 20th Century Fox, and we were both making hit movies, so the studio said, "Hey let's team up Boone and Monroe". It was a story about a slightly over-the-hill cabaret singer who goes back to a small town to re-group, and this young kid becomes infatuated with her, and they have an affair. It was like what's happening today with students having sex with their teachers. The studio could smell the box office success.
But the smell went bad when young Pat told studio head Buddy Adler he couldn't do the film.
PB: I said, "Mr. Adler, I've got millions of young fans and, like it or not, I have some influence over what they do. They tend to imitate me, even in the roles I play, so I can't play a role in which it makes this affair between a kid and a woman OK." And he said, "You know we can suspend you, and if we do, the other unions in music and TV will probably go along with it". And I said, "I understand, and you have to do what you have to do, but I cannot play this role. Not that I wouldn't love to do a movie with Marilyn, but not this story".
The film was eventually released in 1963 without Monroe or Boone, and titled "The Stripper", starring Joanne Woodward. Pat wasn't blackballed right away, but later on, his moral and political beliefs would work against him in Hollywood.
PB: My being conservative has been a real detriment in my career. It has cost me film roles and guest spots on TV.
I asked Pat if celebrities should refrain from being vocal about their personal views.
PB: Just because you're a celebrity doesn't mean you can't be a citizen first. I have the same right as any other citizen to speak out. But because you've been given more influence, you better exercise more responsibility in what you say. You need to consider the consequences of things that you may espouse.
I don't agree with some of Pat's political views, but I respect the man for putting his career on the line time and again by sticking to his principals. It sort of puts you in mind of another courageous Boone.
I wondered if Pat thought his famous ancestor might have also been a good singer, as well as an accomplished frontiersman.
PB: I've never been asked that, but yeah, he must have been because he was out in the woods by himself for years (laughs). I mean he spent at least a quarter of his life alone, so I have a feeling he probably sang robustly.
And what does he think would have been old Daniel's favorite Pat Boone song?
PB: Exodus. (he breaks into song) "This land is mine. God gave this land to me".
Pat and I spent an hour on the phone, and then, not surprisingly, he had to leave for another activity - skydiving for all I know. The man is a perpetual motion machine, so I asked the obvious question.
JL: What's the best thing about being 80?
PB: That you're still here (laughs). Some of my friends can't say that. In fact they can't say anything. My wife Shirley and I have been married 60 years, and we made Moses our role model. He lived to be 120 years old.
If any man can blaze a trail to 120, it's Pat Boone. Besides, Moses never went to the gym four days a week.
(For more on Pat's life and career visit www.patboone.com)
Jim Longworth is a columnist for YESWeekly.com, and author of the "TV Creators" series of books. He also serves as judge for the primetime EMMYs, and hosts a weekly TV show for Sinclair stations.
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