Photo: Harry Langdon
Pat Boone Interview:
Up Close and Very Personal
your musical tastes were back in the late 50s and early 60s, there's
no denying the extraordinary success of Pat Boone, whose all-American
boy-next-door looks captured the hearts and souls of millions of people
around the world. Racking up 38 top 40 hits, Billboard placed him as
the second biggest artist, right behind Elvis Presley.
Boone achieved one hit after another by recording some
songs popularized by Black singers and still holds the Billboard record
for being on the charts for 220 consecutive weeks with more than one
song. Some of his most memorable hits include Two Hearts, Two
Kisses, Love Letters In The Sand, I Almost Lost My Mind,
April Love, Ain't That A Shame, Friendly Persuasion,
and Speedy Gonzales. He also wrote the lyrics for the theme song
from Exodus and is a member of the Gospel Hall of Fame.
The following exclusive, deeply personal interview,
which has been edited for print purposes, is in two parts: Part 1:
The Early Years and Part 2: Career and Family Challenges and
Part 1: The Early Years
Pat Boone and Ted Mack in Palm Springs four
years after Pat's first appearance on the Ted Mack Original Amateur
Hour. Photo: Albert Fisher
You were actually the first "American Idol," winning
Ted Mack's Original Amateur Hour and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts.
Did you have any idea that you would eventually sell 45 million records,
become a TV and film star, and an entertainment legend?
Boone: I had no idea what my singing would lead to.
I started singing in grade school in Nashville and I also sang at our
family gatherings. Then in my teens I led the singing at our church.
It was all a capella, four part harmony. (He sings: See The Wondrous
Love of Jesus.)
How did you begin to branch out with your singing?
Boone: I started entering contests in Nashville but
never won, always coming in second or third. If a piano player or tap
dancer or musician was good, the audience voted for them because they
worked at developing their skills and I'm just walking on stage and
singing a pop song.
What talent shows did you audition for before your big
Boone: I auditioned for Horace Height who had an orchestra
- Horace Height & His Musical Knights. He conducted talent shows and
once in a while he would pick a winner to travel with him and do some
singing on the road. I auditioned for that - nothing. Ted Mack auditioned
in Nashville - nothing. But then I entered an East Nashville High talent
show and the first prize was a trip to New York and an audition with
Ted Mack. In that audition I did the weirdest thing. I couldn't make
up my mind whether to sing an up-tempo finger-snapping song or a ballad
with a big finish so I got the idea of doing a medley. I sang (he sings)
Oh we ain't got a barrel of money, maybe we're ragged an funny," and
after "side by side," I went into (he sings) "I believe for every drop
of rain that falls." Neither song had anything to do with the other
and it was a very strange combination, but it had a big finish.
What happened after the audition?
Boone: After I sang, I figured I would come in second
or third and went out to the parking lot to meet mom and dad. Somebody
came to the back door of the gymnasium shouting 'Pat Boone, where are
you?' 'You won!' I went running in and the audience was still applauding.
This meant I would go to New York and audition with Ted Mack. I did
get on and I think I sang I Believe, which is my lucky song.
Originally I didn't have any goals other than to get through the show,
sing a good song, and go home.
What happened after that?
Boone: I went back home. It was summer of 1953 and I
had plans to go way out in the country and lead singing for a Gospel
meeting. It was so far out that they didn't have phones. If anyone wanted
to make or receive a phone call, they had to go to a switchboard in
a lady's house in the next town. It was the middle day on a Thursday
and I was with the preacher and his family gorging myself on this great
food and car comes rattling up in the driveway, scattering chickens
in all directions. A man comes up on the wooden porch and knocks on
the screen door and says 'Is there a fellow named Boone in there?' Someone
replies, 'Yeah, he's in here eating his third plate.' He said a man
was trying to reach me from New York City. It turned out be the producer
of the Ted Mack Show who said I was the winner and had to get
back to New York. So I flew back for my second appearance and sang Eddie
Fisher's I'm Walking Behind You On Your Wedding Day. I won a
total of three times and had to wait until there was another three-time
winner, which didn't happen until a year later.
What did you do in the meantime?
Boone: I married Shirley, was in college, was expecting
our first child and was preaching in a small country church in Texas
and pretty much forgot about the Ted Mack Show. The call finally
came and I went back to New York. Just like American Idol, the
viewers selected the winner and I was ahead in votes.
Arthur Godfrey appeared as a guest on The Pat Boone
Photo: Pat Boone Enterprises
Boone: I decided since I was there, I would audition
for the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show so I went over to CBS,
did an instant audition and they put me on the show that night. I won
and ultimately signed a recording contract with Dot records.
Did you grow up in a happy family?
Boone: Yes. I have a younger brother and two younger
sisters. We were active and popular in school. I was student body president
in high school, a cartoonist, and on the athletic teams. We were a very
happy church-going family and had fun together. We lived in a modest
house on ten acres next to my grade school that I would get to by walking
through the back pasture. We had a run down old barn and a cow named
Rosemary who I milked every day. At one point we had pigs, chickens,
rabbits, and a vegetable garden because we were augmenting daddy's thin
income that had to take care of a wife and four kids. We were lower
middle class like Elvis. Momma played the ukulele and sang and taught
me some chords. Daddy sang bass in church. My family was musical, but
What did your dad do?
Boone: My daddy was a building contractor making a very
modest living so there were financial worries about making ends meet.
We had a company pick-up truck with Boone Contracting Company written
on the side. My brother and I, unless it was pouring rain or sleeting,
would ride in the back of the truck on a wooden bench daddy had made
because he was a carpenter. If it rained or if it was bitter cold, then
all six of us piled into the cab. I used to beg my dad to buy a car
but he would say that we couldn't afford it. Actually, we didn't have
a car until I was in the eighth grade when he bought a two-door black
Chevy. It only had a heater, no radio, but I thought it was the most
beautiful car I had ever seen in my life. A car with a roof on it!
What were some of the early influences that still drive
Boone: In high school I read something that I think
was attributed to Einstein; that the most brilliant man uses only about
a tenth of his brain capacity. That triggered something in me so I became
determined to use every brain cell and every ounce of energy for something
good, productive, and fun and something that would benefit somebody
else, not just me. I think that's what spurred me on subconsciously
to be so involved in so many things. I've never said this to anyone,
but because I'm overcommitted and spread myself so thin, I begin almost
every letter I write with an apology for responding so late.
Were you exceptionally bright as a youngster?
Boone: I'm very grateful that when my IQ was measured
in high school, it was very high and I was told it was at genius level.
I discount that because you can have a high IQ and not be a genius and
no one has ever accused me of being a genius, come to think of it. But
with a high IQ came energy, inquisitiveness, curiosity and a sense that
I could do almost anything and I've actually gotten a lot done.
The young Boone family: Front Row - Laury,
Debby, Lindy, Cherry. Back Row - Shirley, Pat. Photo:
Pat Boone Enterprises
Where did you meet your wife Shirley?
Boone: We met when we were 16. Shirley was Homecoming
Queen in high school. We would hold hands, but it took nine months before
I kissed her. I was nuts about her but had gone steady with two other
girls for about a week and I no sooner made that stupid commitment,
then I wanted out. I thought wait, this girl thinks I'm going to call
her every afternoon. We had just been together all day at school and
I wanted a life. So, I didn't want to subject Shirley to that, but our
first kiss was a little peck as I dropped her off after a hayride at
the start of our senior year. I was so jazzed I felt like I was floating
behind the steering wheel and don't think my rear end hit the seat.
Boy was I a tingle.
What was Shirley's reaction?
Boone: 'I waited nine months for that?' She thought
after nine months she was going to get more than just a little peck.
But, we were hooked on each other.
Talk a little bit about your upcoming show at the Skirball.
Are people going to find out something about you that they didn't know
Boone: Yes because it's not a straight musical concert,
although I will be singing. I've never done this before and we're calling
it An Evening With Pat Boone, which celebrates my 50 years in
show business. I'll be showing film and television clips as well as
special moments with other performers like Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King
Cole, Tony Bennett, and Perry Como. I'll tell stories about what went
on behind the scenes and I'll also share some of the most embarrassing
moments of my career. There will be a Q & A with the audience and
I think this will be the model of future shows. Shirley wanted to know
if I'll be hitting the road again but I assured her I would only be
doing two appearances a month.
Pat Boone entertaining Vietnamese refugees at California's
Photo: Pat Boone Enterprises.
You are the consummate performer and have to perform!
Boone: That's right!
Part 2 will reveal Boone's most embarrassing moment
of his career, his marital and career challenges, his latest CD and
his future surprising plans, so stay tuned