Christian Movies: Interview with Pat Boone

Christian Movies: Interview with Pat Boone

I have been a fan of Pat Boone for easily 60 years. The opportunity to talk with him for an interview was welcome, plus 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. It is a shame this is not audio as well as print. Pat is heart and soul a singer and when talking about a song he would break out and sing it.

Fred: The obvious first 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.

Fred: I 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.

Fred: 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.

Pat:  Well, some kind of perverse rendering of history or mis-rendering has occurred 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.

Elvis and I exchanged home visits. I  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.

Fred: You’ve also had some great films we need to talk about. Especially The Greatest Story Ever Told and Journey to the Center of the Earth. However one that is very special and is 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. 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.

Fred: 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. 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. 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 wrote the forward for a book by a professor at Pepperdine. 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.

Fred:  Your talents continue to bless us to this day.

Dr. Fred Eichelman About Dr. Fred Eichelman

Dr. Fred Eichelman is a retired educator and one of the founders of Point North † Outreach, a Christian media organization. He is the editor of its publication, Point North † Tidings. For information about this organization or to subscribe to receive it free on-line, contact: or visit: