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Will Tv Be Another Page In Patti's Songbook?

January 31, 1985|JACK HAWN

Smartly dressed in a gray suit, blouse and heels, she strolled down the street, entered a restaurant and sank into a booth for a bowl of soup.

At 57, Patti Page--the recording star of a few decades ago--seems to have aged gracefully, yet few heads turned.

Too bad she hadn't been humming "Tennessee Waltz," "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window," "Mockin' Bird Hill" or any of her other major hits of yesteryear. Heads would've turned then for certain.

You don't mistake that voice, even now.

Known at the peak of her career as "the Singing Rage," Page employed an unusual recording technique in which she harmonized with herself, sometimes in four parts--a technique also favored by Les Paul and Mary Ford. Page, however, claims to have originated it.

But it wasn't any recording gimmick that distinguished this talented vocalist, whose career has spanned almost 40 years. Nonetheless, her media exposure has been limited.

In a rare TV appearance Friday, Page will return to the spotlight with hostess Toni Tennille, Johnny Mathis and others on KTTV (Channel 11) in an hourlong show called "Music of Your Life," a pilot for a possible series.

In the '50s, Page had her own TV shows--on all three networks at various times. The one on CBS, "The Big Record," was, she said, the network's first in color. Others were "Scott Music Hall" (NBC), "The Patti Page Show" (NBC) and "The Patti Page Olds Show" (ABC).

And so, a comeback, right?

"I never left," she said, referring to work other than television. "I've never stopped working, although I'm busy probably only about half the year."

She regularly plays all the Harrah's hotels (Reno, Tahoe and Atlantic City), sings in clubs, does benefits and frequently performs in the Orient.

"I was in Taiwan and the Philippines in 1983 and Hong Kong the July before that," she said. "It was the second time I had been at the college there. It was unbelievable the young people that filled that auditorium."

Page, who has visited the Orient "17 or 18" times, recalled her first trip to Japan in the early '50s, when she introduced "Tennessee Waltz," one of 13 hits that earned her gold records.

Her first, "With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming," had an unusual Mercury label: "Vocal by Patti Page, Patti Page, Patti Page, and Patti Page." Indeed it was.

But "Tennessee Waltz" remains her top seller: now more than 7 million copies.

" 'Tennessee Waltz' was one of the first American songs to take over in Japan," she said. "A couple of singers, well known in Japan, recorded it. They didn't know what they were singing at the time."

A former barefoot country girl from Claremore, Okla., where she was born Clara Ann Fowler, second youngest of 11 children, Page was naturally inclined toward the country music market, in which she has been a consistent seller.

In fact, she recently was elected to the board of the Academy of Country Music and is working on the awards show scheduled this spring.

However, her selections--contemporary material included--cover a wide range.

"I don't do any hard rock stuff," she said, "but a lot of country. I don't know what to call it anymore, there are so many labels."

Her favorite song?

"I like the things that Barbra Streisand does," she replied, then added that "Cape Cod" is among her favorites.

"Tony Bennett's 'Emily' is one of the prettiest I've heard, but I don't do that one. I can't do it; it's about a girl."

Currently, Page is preparing to host a benefit Feb. 9 at the Palomar Airport in San Diego, near Rancho Santa Fe, where she has lived for more than 10 years.

"A little over a year ago I moved into my present home," she said. "It's smaller than the other one, and I miss the tennis court, but I have three acres.

"There's no mail delivery and nobody bothers you. They don't really care who you are."

Divorced in 1972, Page lives alone but has an adopted daughter--Kathleen, 22--and a granddaughter she frequently sees in nearby Escondido. She also has an adopted son, Danny, 20. Retirement?

"I have always said if the voice goes, I won't try to sing," she replied. "I stopped smoking almost nine years ago. I'm sure if I had kept smoking, I wouldn't have been able to sing now.

"I was just tired of it consuming me and taking over. I was up to three packages a day. I couldn't leave the house without a carton of cigarettes. I went to a hypnotist. I saw him one time, and I haven't had a cigarette since."

Page went to the same hypnotist for a weight problem ("I diet all the time"), but "it didn't help. He just said, 'Too bad, Patti.'

"I'm so short (5-3) and it just seems . . . the pounds, if you add them, you're just dumpy. Terrible!"

Perhaps the figure may not be as trim as it once was--although she has shed a few pounds since filming the KTTV show--and the face may not be as familiar, but the voice chirps on, seemingly as youthful and vibrant as ever.

And with each song, a flood of memories turns back the clock, perhaps as much for Patti Page as anyone.

"I love to sing," she said. "I really do."

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