We have had occasion to refer to Pat Boone (b. 1934) in the past, and he figures in American show biz history, though we don’t count ourselves a fan of the man or his music.
A descendent of pioneer Daniel Boone, Pat grew up in Nashville and married into country music royalty at the age of 19, when he wed Red Foley’s daughter Shirley, also a singer. Less than two years later he began having his own hit records, and between the years of 1955 and 1962 Boone was one of the most popular recording artists in the country, second only to Elvis Presley. This was always a bit of a mystery to us as kids in the ’70s. Boone was still very much present in pop culture at that late date as a frequent guest on television programs. But his records themselves did not survive. They weren’t even played on the oldies stations. There is a cogent reason for this. Many (though not all) of Boone’s hits were “white” covers of black R & B hits by people like Fats Domino and Little Richard. They were in fact a gateway for white audiences to appreciate African American music, in a way that simultaneously sanitized it, exploited it, and left the original artists out in the cold. Popular ’60s rockers however were fans of the originals, and they helped raise awareness of the earlier versions so that by my day people just listened to the authentic sources, rather than Boone’s somewhat embarrassing versions of “Ain’t That a Shame”, “Tutti Fruiit” and “Long Tall Sally”. That said, not all of Boone’s hits were of this sort. He sang a version of the theme to the 1956 movie Friendly Persuasion, for example. Once he became a film star himself, Boone recorded tunes more in the musical theatre/ Tin Pan Alley vein, which frankly suited him better. His last top 20 hit was the novelty song “Speedy Gonzalez”, about the racist Warner Brothers cartoon character, with Speedy’s voice provided by Mel Blanc.
Whatever you thought of Boone’s records, he was a good-looking guy. The camera loved him and from the outset he was on such television shows as Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour, Arthur Godfrey, The Gale Storm Show, Kraft Music Hall, The Steve Allen Show, and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show. This culminated with his own variety show The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom (1957-60). Woody Allen was briefly the head writer for this show! Now THOSE are strange bedfellows.
Boone also had a better than decent movie career for about a decade, and usually sang at least once in the picture, often performing (as in the first couple) the movie’s hit theme song. Boone’s movie career was much more substantial than those of most similar idols, and I may be expressing a heresy when I saw that like him in narrative films than Elvis, whom I find to be awkward and self-conscious in speaking dialogue. Boone’s films include: Bernardine (1967), April Love (1967), Mardi Gras (1958), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), All Hands of Deck (1961), State Fair (1962), The Main Attraction (1962), The Yellow Canary (1963), Never Put It In Writing (1964), The Horror of It All (1964), Goodbye Charlie (1964), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), and The Perils of Pauline (1967).
When I was a teenager, my girlfriend gave me an ancient copy of this book for my birthday for a joke. Penned in 1958, ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty: Pat Talks to Teenagers was Boone’s “advice to youth” book and dealt with things like the horror of acne, and why nice kids shouldn’t go “too far” in the physical intimacy department. He later released a hit single with the same title and message.
By the late 1960s, Boone and the culture at large had grown very far apart. As society grew more adventurous and permissive, Boone dug his heels in conservative Christian culture. He turned to gospel music and messaging. His records from this period include Songs for Jesus Folk (1970), In the Holy Land (1972), Born Again (1973), and Pat Boone S-A-V-E-D (1973). He appeared in the 1970 film The Cross and the Switchblade. A 1971 Night Gallery episode was one of the few mainstream acting gigs he got. But he got plenty of bookings on variety television, and this is where I caught him a lot during that decade, on shows Like Flip, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, Mike Douglas, Dinah!, Merv Griffin, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Bob Hope specials, etc. In 1970 his daughter Debby Boone had one of the biggest hit singles of all time with the song “You Light Up My Life”.
In 1997 Boone set tongues wagging on his account for the first time in decades when he released this big of strangeness, Pat Boone: In a Metal Mood, which included cover versions of the best known heavy metal classics, which he performed in a big band style. Boone promoted the record wearing leather gear, including a dog collar. It remains a head scratcher to this day. It seems like it HAS to have been a goof, yet the guy has hardly ever shown any evidence of Andy Kaufman levels of irony or cleverness. It seems more likely a simple complication, a business decision. And it was one that worked, for the album charted, his first music business success in years. He was on TV a lot during this period. Young people teased him, though many in his own fanbase excoriated the sinful pact with the devil he had seemingly made. They need hardly have worried. Boone rapidly reverted to form and then some, becoming a Fox and 700 Club style commentator, spouting filthy conspiracy theories and slurs against President Obama and the usual torrent of hypocritical, slanderous sewage and hate-filled rhetoric that passes for Old Time Religion these days.
To learn more about show biz history, including television variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous