Pat Boone is a singer first and an actor second and recording is his favorite thing to do.
He started singing with his younger brother at family gatherings while he was growing up. In grade school and high school, Boone said any time there was a call for someone who could carry a tune he’d raise his hand.
It wasn’t long before he was singing at businessmen’s lunches, talent shows and ladies’ club meetings. Eventually, Boone entered a couple of contests, but said he kept coming in second. He didn’t get upset. Boone admitted the performers who won always seemed to have had a lot of lessons, whether in tap dancing, opera or piano.
“I was just the guy singing pop tunes so I didn’t feel I deserved to win. But I did win a contest in Nashville after I graduated from high school. First prize was a trip to New York and an audition with “Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour,” the “American Idol” of its day,” Boone said.
Viewers selected the winners on the show by sending in cards and letters for their favorites. Boone won three weeks in a row, which amazed him. At the same time he was competing on the show, he also won the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout Show. In the midst of all of the excitement, Boone had married and the couple was expecting their first child.
Boone said, “All the hullabaloo about winning those national contests led to a recording contract with DOT records. My first record was a Top 10 hit that sold a million copies called “Two Hearts, Two Kisses.” Next was “Ain’t that a Shame,” which went to #1. I had a single on the charts for 220 weeks, a record I still hold in the recording business. It (success) happened overnight and it happened dramatically.”
By the time Boone graduated from Columbia University at age 23, he had made three movies, sold eight million records and had his own network TV show, “The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom.”
“I was the youngest guy ever to have his own network TV show. By then I also had four kids. Everything was just one big headlong rush,” said Boone.
He likes songs that are singable or memorable, but they also have to have lyrics that are catchy or different. According to Boone, he can hear something good in almost anything. And his tastes run the gamut from pop and heavy metal to gospel and folk.
Several years ago, Boone recorded a unique cover of Queen’s hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” He used his voice to make every sound on the record, including percussion, background vocals and instrumentation.
“I did it with my conductor/pianist who is sharp with computers. We sampled my voice making all kinds of sounds and then fashioned from that what sounds like an instrumentally and vocally supported record – me singing a vocal of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and I did it all myself. It’s just having fun and being creative with music,” Boone said.
Film historian Bruce Crawford presents a salute to the 1959 adventure classic Journey to the Center of the Earth at the Joslyn Art Museum. This is his 30th classic film event. Boone starred in the film and will be in attendance.
When Boone was offered the role of “Alexander McKuen” in Journey, he balked. He felt he should be doing romantic musicals if he was going to do movies at all. Boone said his role model was Bing Crosby. He wanted to emulate Crosby’s ease, naturalness and musicianship. 20th Century Fox told Boone they would put some songs in the film, but Boone was uncertain if that would work in a science fiction film.
One of the main songs Boone sings in the film is a Robert Burns poem set to music by Jimmy van Heusen, called “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.” Boone thinks of this as the pearl of his singing.
“I don’t think I ever sang anything better or that I would be more proud of than that little song. It’s a lovely, heartfelt song. I sang it with almost no accompaniment and it fit the film. So I had to have my arm twisted to do the film but have been very glad ever since,” Boone said.
But everything wasn’t rosy on the set. In fact, Boone almost died during the filming.
He said they were shooting a scene where his character was lost somewhere deep in the bowels of the Earth, cut off from his friends and in a desperate situation. His character slips into an underground tunnel where salt is supposed to fall on top of him. Instead of salt, the director used fine gypsum crystals because they couldn’t penetrate the skin.
Boone said, “When I fell into this pit, several hundred pounds of gypsum crystals were poured on top of me. The director told me to stay down after I fell or I would ruin the shot. So I stayed down in a fetal position and this stuff poured in on top of me and pretty soon only my eyes and nose were above this cascading stuff. I couldn’t take breaths in because I knew I would suck all this gypsum into my lungs and it would never dissolve. It would fill my lungs and I would suffocate.”
He couldn’t yell because he was literally being buried alive. The director had not yelled cut because he was checking with the cameras to see if they got what they needed. Boone said somebody up in catwalk yelled out, “Mr. Levin! You better get Pat out of there quick!”
“And they dug me out seconds before I would’ve had to start taking deep gulps of air. With a few hundred pounds of pressure on your limbs, you can’t move. It’s very scary,” said Boone.
Though it was a physically tough shoot, there were moments of levity. Boone remembered a scene where the actors were latched onto a raft, caught in a whirlpool toward the center of the Earth. Boone and costars James Mason and Arlene Dahl were being swirled around and deluged with water. Dahl screamed, “Get me off! Get me off! Stop!” To which Mason replied, “Quiet woman or they’ll make us do it again!” Boone was laughing so hard he had to hide his face from the camera.
Dahl’s comments aren’t in the finished film but Boone said her screams were authentic.
Boone is proud of the film, which literally saved 20th Century Fox from bankruptcy. The banks were about to close the film company down because of the avalanche of debt they had from “Cleopatra.” Boone said when Journey came out and grosses were so good so fast, it convinced the banks to keep 20th Century Fox alive.
Boone said, “I’m proud of the film, what it meant for 20th, what it meant in my career and that people still love it.”
Journey to the Center of the Earth runs Saturday, May 19th at 7:00 p.m. in Joslyn Art Museum’s Witherspoon Concert Hall. Pat Boone speaks prior to the screening. Tickets are $25 at Omaha HyVee Food Stores. Proceeds benefit the Nebraska Kidney Association.