Boone, Pat (1934—)

views updated

Boone, Pat (1934—)

With his boyish charm, unfailingly cordial manners, and firm beliefs in religion and the family, singer Pat Boone became the parentally approved antidote to the sexually charged rock 'n' roll acts of the 1950s. The precursor to the "safe" teen idols of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Boone has long been lampooned by critics and historians for his squeaky-clean image, and because he rose to fame by singing cover versions of tunes initially performed by black artists. But by no means was Boone an untalented nor an irrelevant musical force.

At the time that he was delivering renditions of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill," many mainstream radio stations did not play so-called "race" artists. Certainly, Boone's versions were tame compared to the raw delivery of the original artists, but they also allowed the music to be introduced to audiences who otherwise wouldn't have heard it. Moreover, once Boone moved into pop ballads, with songs such as "April Love" and "Moody River," he became a respected artist in his own right. The mellow-voiced singer was unquestionably popular: following the volatile Elvis Presley, Boone was the second top-selling artist of the era. Since both Boone and Presley hailed from the South, and because they appeared to be polar opposites, they were frequently pitted against one another in the press. In truth, the men were friends; each respected the other's work. But where Presley was single and on the prowl, Boone was a devoted family man who advised young women of the day to refrain from premarital sex. In many ways they represented the duality of the decade.

The great-great-great-great grandson of frontiersman Daniel Boone was born Charles Eugene Pat Boone in Jacksonville, Florida. Raised in Nashville, he grew up singing at picnics, ladies' club meetings, fraternal organizations, and prayer meetings. A high school overachiever, he was captain of the baseball team, president of the student body, and voted most popular in his class. At seventeen he was singing on his own Nashville radio show. At eighteen he won a talent contest which took him to New York, where he appeared on a trio of Ted Mack's Amateur Hour television shows. He was nineteen when he married high school sweetheart Shirley Foley, daughter of country star Red Foley. At twenty, following an appearance on TV's Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, he was contracted by Dot Records.

Boone enjoyed his first hit with a cover of Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame," which went gold. Ensuing tunes climbed the charts. By 1956, Boone had signed a seven-year contract, worth one million dollars, with Twentieth Century-Fox. He also had one million dollar contract with ABC for his own weekly television series, The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom, which premiered in October 1957, airing in prime time for three years. Ever pragmatic, Boone also continued his studies. Majoring in speech and English at Columbia University in New York, he was graduated magna cum laude in 1958. By this time he was the father of three daughters. There would later be a fourth.

Boone's movie career began with the back-to-back 1957 teen-oriented musical romances Bernardine and April Love. Both films generated number one singles, "Love Letters in the Sand" and "April Love," respectively. With the latter, Boone made headlines with his refusal to kiss leading lady Shirley Jones on the lips. In later years, in more adult roles, he did kiss his female costars; but as an actor, he was never able to transcend his image.

Known for the white buck shoes, which inadvertently became a trademark, Boone never made any attempt to downplay his God-fearing beliefs. For instance, the Pat Boone charm bracelet included charms of a 45 rpm record, shoes, a TV set, and a tiny Bible. Nor did Boone hesitate to moralize when he authored Twixt Twelve and Twenty, the 1959 teenage advice book. The year's number two nonfiction best-seller, it sold an amazing 207,000 copies during its first eight weeks. In discussing the subject of kissing, Boone wrote, "Kissing for fun is like playing with a beautiful candle in a roomful of dynamite! And it's like any other beautiful thing—when it ceases to be rare it loses its value … I really think it's better to amuse ourselves in some other way … I say go bowling, or to a basketball game." The man who had married at nineteen also said he did not approve of teenage marriages, "unless your maturity check sheet is literally covered with gold stars."

Like many of his contemporaries, Boone saw his career go stagnant in the midsixties, but he proved resilient, even taking his wholesome singing act to Las Vegas showrooms. In the seventies, he became heavily aligned with Christian ventures, including Jim and Tammy Bakker's PTL Club. He also poked fun at his goody-two-shoes image by doing TV commercials for milk. Following the success of daughter Debby Boone's 1977 single "You Light Up My Life," father and daughter sometimes performed together.

The 1980s found the healthy-looking Boone delivering workout tips to the over-forty crowd via the video Take Time with Pat Boone, and he was a pervasive presence on Christian broadcasting venues. In the nineties, he found eager audiences in the resort town of Branson, Missouri, marketed an extensive line of Christian publications and videos, and briefly reinvented himself with a turn as a heavy-metal performer. In the 1997 album In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, Boone delivered versions of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and Mettalica's "Enter Sandman" with big band arrangements and guest musicians including Alice Cooper, Eddie Van Halen, and Slash. To promote the venture, Boone appeared on TV in black leather and wearing an earring. Not surprisingly, the novelty was off-putting to some of his older fans, but the younger generation accepted it for what it was: a grand put-on. The music world's biggest square had pulled off a hip act.

—Pat H. Broeske

Further Reading:

Anderson, John. "Rock 'N' Roll's Great White Buck." Rolling Stone. January 29, 1976, 27-31.

Boone, Pat. Twixt Twelve and Twenty. New York, Prentice-Hall, 1959.

Bronson, Fred. The Billboard Book of Number One Hits. New York, Billboard Publications, 1988.

"Pat Boone Boom: He Sets a New Style in U.S. Teen-Age Idols."Life. February 2, 1959, 75-81.

Torgerson, Ellen. "Pat Boone's Cup Runneth Over—With Milk."TV Guide. April 1, 1978, 32-34.

Whitcomb, Jon. "An Interview with Pat Boone." Cosmopolitan. November 1957, 66-71.