Pat Boone would like to set the record straight: He never had a clause in his movie contract at 20th Century Fox that he wouldn't kiss his leading ladies. To prove it, he ticks off a list of actresses he kissed, including Diane Baker in 1959's "Journey to the Center of the Earth", Barbara Eden in 1961's "All Hands on Deck", Debbie Reynolds in 1964's "Goodbye Charlie" and even sex kitten Ann-Margret in the 1962 musical "State Fair."
Still, he jokes, "I guess my love scenes didn't set the screen afire."
Audiences can watch that kiss and hear Boone talk about "State Fair" on Thursday evening when the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre screens the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. The film also stars Bobby Darin, Pamela Tiffin and Alice Faye.
FOR THE RECORD:
Pat Boone: The Classic Hollywood column about Pat Boone in the Aug. 11 Calendar section said that the entertainer has sold more than 45 million albums. Boone has sold more than 45 million records. Also, the name of his daughter Debby was misspelled as Debbie. —
The kissing controversy came out of his second film, 1957's "April Love," which starred Shirley Jones. Boone had made his film debut that year in "Bernardine," but wasn't called on to kiss his leading lady.
But that changed with "April Love."
"Henry Levin is the director and it's a musical," the 76-year-old, still chipper, Boone recalls on a recent morning in his memorabilia-filled West Hollywood office. "We are doing a Ferris wheel scene in Lexington, Ky. We are getting to the end of the song, which I am singing to her in the Ferris wheel, and Henry said, 'As the song ends, lean over and kind of tentatively kiss Shirley Jones.' "
The staunch Christian with a young wife and daughters was flummoxed. "I said, 'Henry, that wasn't in the script. I haven't talked to my wife. I haven't asked her how she is going to react if we do kissing scenes. Can we do this tomorrow?' "
Levin agreed and that night, Boone asked his wife, Shirley — daughter of country music great Red Foley — whether it would be OK if he kissed Jones. "She said, 'You just have to promise me you won't enjoy it that much.' So I came back puckered up and ready to go the next day."
But instead of bussing Jones, he had to face the wrath of producer Buddy Adler. Someone had leaked the story to the trades that he wouldn't kiss Jones, citing his religious convictions as a reason. Adler was ready to tell the press he would be kissing Jones. But Boone told Adler that having a story run so soon that he would do a love scene would make people think he had given up his religious convictions for Hollywood. He told Adler that he would do a love scene later in the production.
"The telegrams, the letters, the response that came flooding into 20th that said stick to your guns, boy," Boone remembers about the reaction to his decision. The result? "I ended up not kissing her in the movie."
He also turned down a chance to work with Marilyn Monroe on the movie that would become 1963's "The Stripper," with Joanne Woodward and Richard Beymer.
" William Inge had written it and it was very much like 'Bus Stop.' I risked suspension [from the studio]. I know that sounds so straight-laced and old fashioned and — who knows? — dumb maybe from a career standpoint.
"I was so concerned about the … influence a performer has on people. Frank Sinatra said I don't owe anything to anybody but a good performance. I never agreed with him."
Boone was born in Jacksonville, Fla., but primarily raised in Nashville. His first big break came in the early 1950s as a multiple winner of "The Original Amateur Hour," a televised talent competition (think an early version of "American Idol"). He began to record for Republic Records in 1954, and signed with Dot Records in 1955. His career took off that year after covering R&B songs done by African American artists, including Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame," the Charms' "Two Hearts, Two Kisses (Make One Love)" and Little Richard's "Tutti Fruitti."
Boone has sold more than 45 million albums, has had more than three dozen Top 40 hits and has starred in 12 movies. He says he feels a kind of kinship with Elvis Presley, though he notes that in many ways they were polar opposites. "We were salt and pepper, though we had a lot of the same fans," Boone says. "He appealed to the rebel side in people and winning big and I was the guy playing by all the rules and also winning big."
He continues to record songs on his Pat Boone's Gold Label. "It was a label I created for iconic performers I admired who had been dropped by their labels," he says. Other artists on the label include Cleo Laine, Glen Campbell and Boone's daughter, Debbie. It was under the Gold Label that he recorded the 1997 album "In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy," which got him kicked off the Trinity Broadcasting Network for a while.
"I enjoyed the whole fracas," he says, smiling. Eventually, he got reinstated.
Boone has a new album of love songs tentatively titled "The Nearness of You" coming out Sept. 28 — and he'll be premiering his new one-man show "Music and Memories," in which he talks about his life and career, mixed in with in with some songs, at the Skirball Center on Sept. 22.
"I am in the last round-up," he says matter-of-factly. "I am doing the last things that I will ever do professionally."