Earlier this year Rhonda Fleming arranged for us to have an interview with legendary Christian performer, Pat Boone. We not only were able to talk with him, but Pat sent us a copy of his outstanding book, Pat Boone’s America 50 Years: A Pop Culture Journey through the last five decades. This is also the story of Pat’s wife Shirley, the daughter of music greats Red Foley and Eva Carter. The Boones have four talented daughters Cherry, Lindy, Debby and Laury. Pat himself has a heritage in that he is a direct descendent of American pioneer Daniel Boone. Pat and Shirley have 15 grandchildren. (Editorial questions and comments are in bold face.)
Ed.: It is a real pleasure to talk with you. I have of course done some advance research, but I also have my own memories as we are about the same age. Except you look about twenty years younger.
Pat: (Chuckle) Well, I think we’re both about 45
Ed.: The obvious question is that as a former Southern boy, first Florida and then Tennessee what inspired you to get into the music and film worlds?
Pat: The first answer to that is Bing Crosby. My dad, Archie Boone, was a building contractor and my mom, Margaret, was a registered nurse. Nobody in our family was ever in the entertainment business. It was sort of expected I would become an architect and building contractor and follow in my dad’s footsteps. My family were Christians and very involved in church. I went to a Christian high school and college at David L. Lipscomb in Nashville with the idea that I might be a teacher/preacher which is what I did decide to do; but growing up my folks had Bing Crosby records. I loved them, I listened to them and I fantasized when I was milking the family cow, Rosemary, about becoming a singer. It became known there was this kid who lived out in Lone Oak Road who kept up with the current pop tunes and had a lady piano teacher friend who would accompany me and never asked for anything in return. Never asked for money. We would sing at ladies club luncheons, business men meetings, high school assembly programs and even contests. I did it for the fun of living this fantasy that I was a young Bing Crosby. I was even introduced that way sometimes. Bing was my original influence. Later Shirley’s dad Red Foley influenced me greatly in the way he sang country music. Red Foley’s wife and Shirley’s mother was Eva Carter, who sang with her sisters in “Three Little Maids”. Those were my big influences.
Pat Boone also had a good start on the Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. This later led to great success on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts. Godfrey was a major fan of Pat and he was welcomed back even when Pat had his own TV show.
Ed.: We remember you whistled in some of your songs the way Bing used to do. I think you and Bing are the only two that ever did that as far as I can remember.
Pat: Whistling is something I loved to do. I looked for excuses in the recording when we would be rehearsing. I would whistle along in the instrumental portion. Even when the band was running down and I wasn’t singing I would whistle. In Love Letters in the Sand, the original recording had a whistling intro, because Randy Wood, the head of the record company, liked the way it sounded and I also whistled in the middle part. It was the biggest selling record I ever had. Eventually when they put the record out they lopped the whistling introduction off. So it started (Pat sang) “On a day like today…” which grabbed people’s attention immediately, but it lost the whistle. I just whistled on the bridge and it seemed so different from other records. I think that made it a huge hit.
Love Letters in the Sand sold three million copies on the singles chart and made the top list of songs for six months.
Ed.: Your Rhythm and Blues music paved the way for Rock and Roll. We don’t hear you credited as much in this regard which is hard to understand. When we visited the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, we were shocked that you weren’t there.
Pat: Well, some kind of perverse rendering of history or mis-rendering had occurred because over the years, first of all I didn’t live a Rock and Roll lifestyle. I did the unforgivable. I recorded things besides Rock and Roll. I mean I did movie themes, my own movie songs, of course Elvis Presley did too. He was much more identified with Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll with numbers like Hound Dog. Even his ballads had a certain rock sensibility. Whereas if I was going to sing Friendly Persuasion, it was really a classy ballad. Even Love Letters in the Sand and April Love were ballads. So people didn’t think of me as a Rock and Roll singer though I had all these huge hits and I consider myself a midwife at the birth of Rock and Roll. I even preceded Elvis in singing Rhythm and Blues songs that we called Rock and Roll. This is unbelievable, but in my autobiography, Pat Boone’s America 50 Years I had to do some research. I had somebody researching for me and when he put the dates in front of me I couldn’t believe it myself. From March of ‘55 to February of ‘56, before Elvis’s record Heartbreak Hotel I had six million selling singles, two of them number one. Two of them back to back, Tutti Fruitti and I’ll Be Home. This was all in eleven months, which is unprecedented and may never be repeated I’m sure. Nobody would think about putting out that many records in less than a year. The record company, Dot, where I was and Randy Wood who ran the company when a record peaked, wherever it was on the chart, would immediately come out with another record. So one was going down while another was going up. I had such a rush, six million sellers in eleven months, it helped me weather the Elvis Tide. I was considered his chief rival. A lot of people said they preferred my version of some of the same songs we did. I think we underestimated, I know I did, his enduring talent. He sounded a little raw, a little shaky on some songs, his singing was certainly untutored. I didn’t have much but I had had more of it. I think we underestimated that visceral appeal that Elvis had and would continue to have even to this moment.
Pat Boone is in the Country Music, Gospel and Hit Parade Halls of Fame. There is a movement to also get him included in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, and we strongly support that effort.
Elvis had great respect for Pat and when they first met he was so much in awe he was shy about speaking to Pat. Later Elvis and Pat exchanged home visits. Pat wanted to do an album in the early ‘60s titled Pat Sings Elvis, however Col. Parker wouldn’t let the name be used without royalties so it was re-titled Pat Sings Guess Who. Elvis himself liked it and felt complimented.
Ed.: You sound like a friend of ours whom we had the good fortune of meeting and interviewing for this publication last year, Jody Miller. She preferred ballads and your type of music and like you had a classical way of singing pop. She was surprised when Queen of the House won a Grammy for country and it wasn’t intended to be in that category. They didn’t know where to put it.
Pat: (Chuckling) Well, Debby my daughter was like that. I was delighted to be thought of as a country artist for a while and at various times, because I had country hits. Even Love Letters in the Sand became a big hit in the country field. It was a huge pop hit, but sort of leaked over. Debby’s You Light Up My Life was also a big country hit. She had had two or three others that were decidedly country and meant to be. She had a number one country hit. On The Road To Loving You. But Debby, like Jody, didn’t want to be thought of as country. I was tickled to death to be because my wife Shirley’s dad, Red Foley, was a great country singer. He was in the Country Hall of Fame eventually. To me that was just as good as pop recognition.
Debby’s You Light Up My Life won an Academy Award. She felt she was singing to Jesus.
Ed.: You’ve also had some great films. Some that have been used in the classroom.
Pat: That’s what I wanted to be, a teacher.
Ed.: Among the films we’ve seen used in schools have been The Greatest Story Ever Told and Journey to the Center of the Earth. However one that is very special and still shown in churches was The Cross and The Switchblade. How significant was this film to you?
Pat: Oh my goodness. People ask me from time to time “What is your favorite film made out of the fifteen or so in your career?” I always say The Cross and the Switchblade.
It was also such a tremendous, eternal honor to be selected by George Stevens, the great director/producer, to be the man at “the tomb” in The Greatest Story Ever Told. saying the most important words that were ever spoken in all the history of mankind, “He is not here, He has risen just as He said.” I got to say those words and I have marveled at that for many years. Of all the actors he could have chosen he had chosen somebody unknown. I think I would have done that as I wouldn’t want someone at that moment to look at the screen and say, “Oh look, that’s Pat Boone.” He did it in such a way, my head was shadowed, I had a hooded robe and the shadow was across my face. At the premiere at the Cinerama Dome out here I had some friends with me and when the lights came up at the end of the film they turned to me and said “Did we fall asleep, where were you?” They hadn’t recognized me even though they were with me which was good, which was wonderful.
Anyway, in The Cross and the Switchblade, to play Dave Wilkerson in the true story of a man who just obeyed God and went into the worst section of the country to try to help kids was a signal honor in my life. It was a real challenge for him to risk his life over and over to save other kids’ lives. That film by the way, just like The Greatest Story…. has gone all over the world and has been translated into many languages. It has been credited with causing or bringing about the salvation of many many people. Even in Iran there was a Catholic priest who took it as his ministry, Father John, he’s gone now, but he saw to it that the film was translated into Farsi, the Iranian tongue. It played all over the nation for years. Even though it was a strong Christian message, it was also a very strong anti-drug message. In Iran that is ironic, as in Iran and Afghanistan, that part of the world, they grow the poppy, the basic ingredient for the large drug traffic around the world. It plays a big part in that economy. But they don’t want their own people being on drugs. It was an anti-drug film, but it caused many people to look at Jesus and to become Christian too. Other films I’ve made were bigger box office, but those two have had greater significance. I think the Lord will smile at me much more on me than let us say Goodbye Charlie and even Journey to the Center of the Earth which was a huge success.
At the climax of The Cross and the Switchblade film Pat delivers one of the most powerful sermons we have ever seen on film. He could easily have been a preacher. In a sense he is.
It must be added that the science fiction film Journey to the Center of the Earth had its own distinction as it was credited by some analysts, at the time, with saving 20th Century Fox which had money problems.
Ed.: You are also an author, in addition to your autobiography you have written books for young people. Are you going to continue your writing projects?
Pat: I seem to be unable not to write. I’m writing weekly columns for World Net Daily and News Max, two conservative web sites. Every week about mid week I get antsy to write. Not everybody knows about these columns if they don’t visit the conservative web sites.
I’m writing on all the current themes of the day. Some that are pretty deep like the question of evolution and abortion and homosexual rights. The latest running on News Max and on the weekend on World Net Daily is Global Warming: Fact or Fable. Of course race and gender in the political campaign. Both Barack and Hillary have said race and gender are not issues in this campaign and I said, “Who told you that?” They are decidedly issues and should be. They made them bigger issues saying they shouldn’t be considered. The news media has made them issues. That’s the way politics is played. I feel like I have a soap box provided to me. I have already written enough columns on various issues that I bet we could put together a couple more books. Sometimes those books are widely read and popular. I feel like I have things to say and I was planning to be a teacher, I wanted to point young people in the right direction. Like the teachers who had me. I’ve been asked to write the forward for a book by a professor at Pepperdine. I finished the book recently, a big book and it really swept me through it. I’m going to write the forward and the book title is The Joy of Anonymity. As he correctly points out there has not nearly been enough written about what Jesus instructed “to let your good works be done without notice, go into a closet and don’t look for a reward from man. Let your Father reward you openly for what you do in secret.” Our vanity compels us to let people know when we have done something good, that’s understandable. But the joy of random acts of kindness with no expectation of notice is reward enough. It is a deep joy and very close to God’s heart. He writes a lot of stories in his book about people who have quietly and unobtrusively gone about their work influencing the lives of many others. For instance he mentions a guy’s name, I didn’t know, who was a great influence on Martin Luther. This man contributed strongly to the thinking of Martin Luther, who led the Reformation. It wasn’t his (Luther’s) own solo contemplation, it was interaction and discussion with this other man. You think about the guy not known, like a teacher. This is the sort of thing that attracted me to being a teacher. I felt I may not be widely known as a teacher, maybe in the course of my career I will influence in a good direction someone who will become known and do good things, rather than letting your talents be wasted on non-productive and even counter-productive things. I’m going to quote in the introduction a man named John L. Rainy, a Bible teacher at David L. Lipscomb in Nashville who influenced me a great deal.. We used to joke about him, he was a heavy set man, pretty stern, he had a sense of humor. His wife had died and he lived across the street from the campus in a house that looked sort of run down and we heard he collected rain water for use in his house. He only had one light bulb burning in his house at one time. His collars were dirty and frayed. We felt what a penny pincher on himself. But, when he died he left, for that time and for a school teacher, a remarkable amount of money to David L. Lipscomb School to go on teaching students. He didn’t spend anything on himself, but he not only taught us “Students, it’s always right to do right. It’s always wrong to do wrong.” It may sound simple, but we have never forgotten it.
Ed.: That sounds kind of like the novel by Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet In Heaven, that Deanna Lund passed on to us for review. Though a work of fiction it does point out the influence a person may have and not realize it. I suspect you have influenced people who may not have realized it at first and then it hits them, “This is not only me doing this, it is Pat Boone.”
Pat: Yes, in fact I have honored my early desire to be a teacher in some ways that I know about. Some I don’t. By the time I got out of college my career took off so wildly, but I was determined to get my degree and graduated from Columbia University. Up to the day I took my last test I thought I would be teaching. Therefore I needed that degree. Before I graduated I already had a number one best seller Twix Twelve and Twenty. It was a book of advice for teens which went into every high school in America as well as libraries and churches. It sold well over a million hard cover copies. All the money went to start a Christian college outside Philadelphia which is now fully accredited called Northeastern Christian College, (NCC). This was before I got out of college and I said, “Hey, this is what I want to do with my life.” It was beyond anything I imagined. “Now what am I going to do with the rest of my life?” That was one thing. And I serve as chairman of the advisory board at Pepperdine University and have for a dozen years. So I’m involved in education. But people in Japan, where I have had a curious popularity after all these years, I have had teachers tell me they use my music to teach English. What I thought I was going to be as an English teacher. In Japan both Elvis and I were very popular, but they couldn’t understand Elvis. My words were sung and spoken clearly so they would use my records to teach proper pronunciation to Japanese students who were studying English. So here I am by proxy, not teaching English in the United States, but in foreign countries through my music. It was an amazing development.
Ed.: I’d like to cover one more area. When our friend and Advisory Board member, Rhonda Fleming, made this interview possible, she mentioned that your wife Shirley has a fantastic ministry herself. We know you two work as a team. Could you tell us something about that?
Pat: We’ve been married fifty-four years and she has picked up my option for another year so we’ll make it to fifty five at least. We were going steady literally for three years from age sixteen to nineteen in high school and over into college. So we have really been together in love fifty seven years.
In his book Pat frankly admits that his success put a real drain on their marriage and how God saved it first through Shirley’s prayers and then his.
Pat: We have learned through some rocky times and adjustments, we’ve learned that sometimes those peculiar quirks that seemed so cute when you’re dating get to be real irritants when you are living together for years and we’ve had to maneuver to let each other rub the sharp edges off over the years. It’s wonderful because now we have been totally bonded. Shirley does have her own ministry but she’s also been an invaluable aid to me all along and partner in almost everything I’ve done. I’ve said her name should be on my diploma, for example, from Columbia. I would never have been able to graduate with honors with four daughters at age twenty-three and a career in full raging bloom. That’s two mixed metaphors, but anyway Shirley wanted me to achieve my goals and one of those goals was that I did graduate. She didn’t because of our four kids. She started her own ministry called We Win. It started out as Women Empowering Women. You go to the web site and there it is We Win. But now it’s We Empower Women because she wants men to realize it is a partnership. I help her with her’s as her’s is in spurts. She feels she has to take time off and think, and be sort of fallow and let what’s up on the web site and what’s been recorded on DVDs do the job. She had a big seminar last Fall. It was an all day seminar at church and was well attended. It was recorded and videotaped and we are offering that on the web site. Women who have endured and triumphed through some of the toughest situations imaginable, cancer, divorce, children molested and taken by witches (Wicca). That is children whose trusted baby sitters were witches and actually took these little infants to covens and they were, well I don’t have to go into all the gory details. (This has recently been on national news. Ed.) Abused by people they trusted to look after them.
Shirley’s intent is to help women with all kinds of problems, difficulties, questions and have resources and testimonies that can help and guide them through dark times. Shirley has written her own book, One Woman’s Liberation. I tried to help her with her book, she did help me with mine. But then we wrote a book together, The Honeymoon is Over, subtitled But The Marriage Has Just Begun. We wrote that together, each writing separate chapters. We discovered we remembered some of the very same events and periods that we lived through together differently. (chuckle). She’d say, “That’s not the way it was” and I’d say, “Yes, it was.” I’d say, “Here’s how it happened” and I’d write my version and she’d write hers. We realized we just didn’t flat remember some of the events and statements and moments exactly alike so that’s how we decided “You write a chapter, I’ll write a chapter. When we get to the end if we’re still together we’ll put the book out.” I use the example of a butterfly struggling to get out of the cocoon. In an effort to help the butterfly a fellow took a pocket knife and split the cocoon down so the butterfly could get out. To his dismay he saw the butterfly flutter helplessly and then die. The lesson is that the struggle is necessary to have the strength to survive and reach our goals. Without struggle, without obstacles, without opposition we’ll never develop muscles. So we applied that to our marriage, that these difficulties and disagreements and sometimes trying moments in periods in a marriage develop not only wisdom, but a bond.
Pat also has this bond with all his children and they have traveled around as a team breaking attendance records. They also made successful family gospel albums The Pat Boone Family and The Family Who Prays. In his book Pat states, “The sense of decency and family that used to have center stage in American life is fast becoming a footnote of history…Sometimes I look around and say, ‘Where is the America I used to know? It seems like it was here just a minute ago.What happened?Where did it go?’”
Ed.: We certainly appreciate the time you’ve given us, and Rhonda for uniting us.
Pat: She is one absolutely beautiful woman up close and in person as well. In her character and spirit she is one of the sweetest and most beautiful inside and out people we have had the pleasure of knowing.
The only thing that would make my interview more interesting would be the crazy diversity of activities in my life. My wife feels she has married triplets and wishes two of them would go away. I cannot cut out curiosity and the feeling that I want to participate in something that seems worthy whether I am booked up totally or not. Life gets more complex all the time.
For more information about Pat Boone and family visit his website www.patboone.com
. You will also have an opportunity to listen to his music and order some outstanding books and CDs.