By Peg Carmack Short
IN 1954, there was still a mood of post-war optimism. It was an innocent cotton candy time when I Love Lucy was the most popular TV show, Hank Aaron was just beginning his baseball career, and TV dinners and Play-Doh were being introduced into the marketplace. And although crooners like Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby were still “dah, dah, dumming,” a new kind of music was starting to burst on the scene: Rock and Roll.
Though many parents resisted this new music phenomenon and were shocked by singers like Elvis with his gyrating hips, a young man by the name of Pat Boone was giving his own spin to Rock and Roll and winning the hearts of American teens and adults alike. With his white bucks and clean-cut all-American good looks, he was the epitome of American values.
Today Pat Boone is recognized as a true legend in entertainment history. With over 45 million records, albums and CDs sold and 38 top 40 hits, he’s been recognized by Billboard Magazine as the #10 top rock recording artist in history. In addition to being a chart-topping recording star, his credits include movie star, best-selling author, successful entrepreneur, and noted humanitarian. But perhaps even greater credit is due because despite the fact that Hollywood and the music world are a tough place for those with Christian ideals, Pat has been able to remain faithful and inspire millions with his positive outlook and family values. This father of four daughters, grandpa of 15, and church elder will celebrate 53 years in show business and 54 years of marriage to his wife Shirley Foley in 2007—a remarkable milestone by all standards. So how has Pat managed to have a marriage that lasts in a town where divorce is as common as breathing? “We made commitments to God as well as to each other,” says Pat.
But the road to marital harmony hasn’t always been easy for Pat and Shirley. There have been struggles and times when instead of making beautiful music in their life together, things were slightly off key. In an interview with Significant Living’s ministry partner, TLN, Pat reflects on his marriage and the challenges of living, loving, and being a man of faith in Hollywood.
According to Pat, much of the secret to a long marriage lies in the word “commitment.” Even in their early days of marriage and life in Hollywood, the Boones approached their marriage with different standards than many other entertainers. At the peak of Pat’s movie career, during the filming of April Love with Shirley Jones, the press had field day with a story that he refused to kiss his leading lady in the movie—“because he was a happily married man.” But Pat tells the story a little differently.
“There was no kiss in the script,” says Pat. So when director, Henry Levin, got to this point in the musical and suggested that Pat lean over and kiss Shirley lightly on the lips at the end, Pat hesitated. “I’ve never talked with Shirley about this, so could we just wait until tomorrow after I’ve had a chance to talk with her?” he asked. While Levin was okay with that, somehow the story got out and the trade papers exploited it.
At home, Pat and Shirley discussed the issue and Shirley was fine with it. “I knew if you were going to do movies, you were probably going to do some kissing scenes. Just try not to enjoy it too much!” she joked.
But while Pat came back to the set the next day ready to do the kissing scene, the head of the studio, Buddy Adler, called him into the office and was livid. “Look at this,” he said showing him a newspaper article; “Boone refuses to kiss leading lady!”
Pat says, “They all assumed it was for religious reasons, but I just wanted to stay married!”
His commitment to his marriage could have cost him the movie and his career, but fortunately telegrams started coming in from all over the nation. People said things such as, “Stick to your guns boy. If you don’t want to kiss Shirley Jones, I’ll come out there and do it. If you’ve got convictions about it, don’t do it!”
Even though the Boones were deeply committed to one another, a time did come in their marriage when disappointments and thinking about themselves first caused Pat and Shirley to consider wavering on their marriage vows.
“Too often today you can rationalize breaking the commitments that you make to each other,” Pat notes. “Maybe you don’t mean to, but in one way or another commitments waver. In my case, Shirley knew that I was not remaining true to everything I’d promised her. And perhaps because of these disappointments, she could feel justified in leaving or starting over and trying to find someone that she thought would be more what I would be for her.”
Because of their belief in God and what the Bible teaches about marriage, each of them separately sought God’s will for them. Without knowing what the other was doing, each individually made a new commitment with God. First Shirley made her promise that she would put herself and her needs further down on the priority list. She prayed, “Help me to be what my husband needs and what my kids need, and not what I need or want. I’m willing not to be happy if that’s what it takes.”
Around this same time, Pat had begun to pray, “Lord, help me be what my kids need and what I promised her I’d be—even if I never have out of our relationship what I think I’m entitled to.”
That, Pat reflects, is often one of the problems in too many marriages today. “Generally what happens in divorce is that people think: What did this person do to me? I deserve better than this. I’m number one.”
Just as the Bible taught, Pat and Shirley began to love each other unselfishly. “The incredible thing is,” Pat says, “when Shirley made that commitment to me and I found her loving me and treating me with love, though I hadn’t changed yet, I knew something had happened inside of her. I knew I needed that to happen inside of me, too.”
The Boones both made their vow to love the other unselfishly—even if it meant that they might have to go without, what they called “love,” for the rest of their lives. But to their great surprise, this change of attitude and heart gave them back the love they thought was lost. “What we found out,” Pat says, “is that real deep and satisfying love is not what somebody does for you, but what you do for them.”
This philosophy has helped the Boones to weather even life’s difficult moments. One of those has been Shirley’s decade-long struggle with depression and the pain of fibromyalgia. Though the medical community has provided little help with either, Shirley found relief for a while after receiving healing at a Bennie Hinn prayer service. During this time, there was no depression. “Shirley was her old effervescent, energetic self for a period of months,” Pat confirmed. But then her circulatory problems began to return. “When her ankles swelled, the doctor recommended that she sit back in her chair and put her feet up. When she did, she drew the drapes again, shut out the light, and she began to slip back into the old withdrawn feelings.”
Despite this problem, Pat’s faith remains strong and he trusts God’s sovereignty. When asked if he was upset and angry with God because of this difficulty he says, “I keep looking at stories in the Bible like Job’s and Joseph’s. They went through years—at least for Joseph—of apparently being rejected by God and being punished for doing good.” With these stories as role models, Pat understands that even good people suffer.
Pat and Shirley continue to walk the road faithfully with God and in their marriage. A beautiful quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “The meaning of marriage begins in the giving of words. We cannot join ourselves to one another without giving our word. And this must be an unconditional giving, for in joining ourselves to one another, we join ourselves to the unknown . . . You do not know the road; you have committed your life to a way.”
After almost 54 years of marriage, the Boones are still committed to the journey and going the distance together. They continue to walk hand-in-hand and in perfect harmony.
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