This portion of the exclusive, deeply personal interview with the iconic Pat Boone focuses on his career and family challenges, as well as his future personal and professional plans. The following has been edited for print purposes.
You spoke of your first kiss with Shirley so speaking of kissing, what’s the real story on the press you received about not wanting to kiss Shirley Jones during the making of April Love?
Boone: I’d like to set the record straight and put in the context of my life at that point. Everything was happening so fast that Shirley and I were holding on for dear life. I was busy doing my television show, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, making recordings and films, doing concert tours, and having kids. We were still in church every Sunday and Wednesday, if I was home, but it was a challenge to combine the personal and the professional and I didn’t want to rock my marriage boat. So, I hadn’t refused to kiss Shirley Jones for religious reasons, I just wanted to stay married.
What actually happened on the set?
Boone: I was singing to Shirley Jones on the Ferris Wheel and as the song ended, the director, Henry Levin, leaned over and said, ‘Take your time and gently kiss her.’ I took Henry aside and said that the kiss wasn’t in the script. He said he knew that but it was the right way to end the scene because our two characters were obviously feeling something very strong for each other. I told him I had not talked to my wife about kissing scenes and didn’t know how she would react. He said to give me time to talk to her, we would do the close-ups in L.A., and that I didn’t have to kiss my leading lady right then. Later, I discussed it with my wife and she said that she knew if I were going to be making movies, there would be kissing scenes, but that I should try not to enjoy it too much. The fact is I’ve kissed a number of leading ladies, including Ann Margaret, Barbara Eden, Debbie Reynolds, and Diane Baker. It was such brouhaha that an actor refused to kiss his leading lady that like today, I’m still asked about that incident.
At some point did you run into difficulty managing career and marriage?
Boone: In the early days if I wasn’t out on the road, I was home and very involved with my family. Shirley wanted to settle in one place and wanted me home at night for dinner. That’s when we moved to California and bought a house in Beverly Hills where we’re still living 50 years later. We kept it together beautifully, but after four kids and travelling a lot, eventually my career commitments, which one year kept me away for 50% of the time, did impact negatively on my marriage. We had several rocky years where we were living like two people in a boarding house, not as husband and wife. At one point, Shirley had some physical difficulties that we didn’t understand and she didn’t want to go to the doctor. That created an additional strain, which is not an excuse, but it is a reason or a rationale. I never got drunk or did drugs, but there are other kinds of temptations when you’re on the road. You know, I thought I had my legitimate gripes and she certainly had hers and we didn’t see them as reconcilable.
Was there one seminal moment that led you back to your marriage?
Boone: On our piano was a picture of Shirley when she was about two or three with her mom and dad. Her dad was Red Foley, the great country singer. She had her arms around his neck, with her mom standing right behind them. That picture always touched me because it’s so sweet. One day, I was looking at it and it hit me that she is still that little girl. Her dad’s dead and I realized her arms were supposed to be around me now, giving her strength and security, comfort, and love. So that’s what led to the recommitment to each other and to God. We were holding hands again and prayed together as a family and our four daughters, who were entering their teens, could see that something wonderful happened and that they would not be in a divided family like so many of their friends.
Did forgiveness come easily?
Boone: First of all, we loved each other deeply and even though I hurt her, she forgave me. Also, we found out what her physical problems were and did something about it. We’ve both written about our challenges. I’m ashamed that I did not live up to all my vows, but I’ve lived up to most of them. Although the things I needed to be forgiven for were a lot more serious than hers, she had trouble feeling forgiven, whereas I’m a happy-go-lucky guy and I know I’ve been forgiven and that a new life began and we’ve been living it for the last 40 years. Shirley’s always afraid that somebody digging for dirt will come up with something to smear my reputation and I tell her ‘honey, I’ve already written about it and there’s nothing new to reveal.’ Even if someone came up with something, we’ve proven that we love each other and that we’re trying to live a moral life.
What was your attitude when the girls started to date?
Boone: It’s a big responsibility to raise four girls and to try to get them married to good guys. I became a very protective father and some would say overprotective. I knew no one is a perfect parent and that you could be either overprotective or too lenient, so I figured I’d rather be overprotective.
Can you give an example of how you were overprotective?
Boone: Debby was still living at home at 21 when her record took off (You Light Up My Life.) She had a date with Jimmy Connors. I never met him and was talking to him at the front door. It went like this:
Me: Where ‘ya going?
Jimmy: We’re going to a movie.
Me: Then what?
Jimmy: We might get a bite or something.
Me: Okay. Where do you plan to go?
Me: Oh, I like that restaurant. Maybe I’ll drop in on ‘ya after the movie. You don’t mind, right? And I guess you’ll bring her home around 11:00?
Jimmy: If that’s what you want.
Me: Yeah, around 11:00, 11:15.
So they had their first and only date. Several years later he married the Playmate of the Year. I bumped into them on the way to a movie and he told Shirley that he only had one date with Debby and never wanted another one. (laughs)
What was the most embarrassing moment of your career?
Boone: Dave Letterman was filling in for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show. I was going to sing my big hit, A Wonderful Time Up There, a fast-moving Gospel song that was #1. (he sings a few bars.) Because it was a big hit, I didn’t put the words on the teleprompter. The words go by really fast and the thought entered my mind that it would be awful if I forgot the lyrics. Well, every performer knows that if you let that thought enter your mind, you’re going to get messed up, and I did. I was singing the wrong words and finally stopped. The band is still playing, the singers are still singing and the producer, Freddy de Cordova, is signaling me to keep singing. I knew they were taping the show and sending it to New York and that it wouldn’t be seen for a few hours so I thought we could start over. But, he kept signaling me to continue so I tried to get back in, but got lost again. It was in total shambles.
What was the audience’s reaction?
Boone: The people are cheering, Letterman is standing, I’ve made a total boob of myself, and the audience loves it. I stagger over to the couch and as the applause begins to die down, Dave says: “Now folks we have these auditions every Friday night, so if there’s a song you’d like to sing, come on down.” (Alluding to Boone’s start on Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour)
Could you comment on the influence of some of the young female singers on teenage girls?
Boone: I’m concerned about young performers like Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, and Miley Cyrus, as well as the influence they have on other girls. Don’t forget, I’m the father of four girls and 15 grandchildren, 10 of whom are girls. When Madonna came along, she did crazy sacrilegious things to shock and to keep her career going. One clip I remember was her making love to a priest on top of a coffin. It bothered me that parents were letting their eight-year-old little girls dress like Madonna making them look like little hookers. Now Lady Gaga is saying she’s not bisexual, but asexual and doesn’t want to have sex at all as her creativity would escape through her vagina. She’s already created the image of a total wonton being and teenagers are getting unhealthy role models.
Can you talk about your new CD?
Boone: The name of it is “Near” and I think it’s the best love song album I’ve done at this age. It includes some of my favorites such as Nearness of You; Body & Soul; More Than You Know; and Moonlight Becomes You. Because of the title and the purpose of the album, I just wanted a close-up of my face. I worked with a husband-and-wife team. He takes the shots and then she paints over the pictures, putting in romantic backgrounds. She very kindly took out every wrinkle and crease so I look like I’ve been Botoxed and I don’t know if it even looks like me. I think it looks more like my grandson. (laughs)
You’re an American icon, a living legend who has had a remarkable career. What’s next for you?
Boone: I’m part of several start-up companies, one of which has the franchise to import a car that runs on a cylinder of highly compressed air and is being manufactured in India. The first shipment will be coming in this month and we are providing free cars for testing in nine cities, including Detroit, New York, L.A., Chicago, Boston, Houston, Dallas, Colorado, and Philadelphia. As an energy source you can’t get a more abundant, free, environmentally perfect fuel than air and I think this is a huge development for the future.
What else are you working on?
Boone: I’m involved with a meat company in Denver that’s going to produce Pat Boone’s All American Meats. There’s a big charity component as we are patterning it after Paul Newman’s Newman’s Own that has raised close to $300 million for his charities. I also have a few more books to write, have two more albums in the works, and am helping with the development of a few television series. I’m going to be 81 in five years and plan to use every brain cell and every ounce of energy.
How does your wife feel about your unbridled energy?
Boone: Shirley says she feels like she’s married to triplets and wished two of them would get out.
It’s been an absolute pleasure spending this time with you and best of luck with all your projects.
Boone: I enjoyed this interview. Thank you.
To read Part 1 of this 2 part series click here