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Pat Boone and Shirley Foley: “We had to Elope”

Pat held her hand, tight. “What’re you crying for, Shirley?” he asked. He wiped the tears from her cheeks with his handkerchief, gently, one by one. “What’re you crying for?”

Shirley tried to talk. “My daddy . . .” she started to say. But then she could say no more. She—pretty, redheaded Shirley Foley, the lively always-bubbling queen of Nashville, Tennessee’s LIPSCOMB COLLEGE—could say no more, and he—Pat Boone, the happy-go-lucky always-smiling guy and one of the most contented, well-liked people around—could do no more than hold her hand and wait for her to stop crying and tell him what was wrong. He waited for a few minutes. The crying didn’t stop. He looked around the crowded, noisy ice cream parlor, the out-of-their-neighborhood place where nobody knew them, where they’d been meeting accidentally-on-purpose in that back booth for the past few months. “Let’s get out of here,” he said. “Let’s go someplace where we can talk.”

It was a beautiful night out—a cool, clear night with thousands of stars in the sky and a big smiling Tennessee moon directly overhead.

They walked for a few blocks, Pat Boone and his girl. They didn’t say anything. They just held hands and walked. And then suddenly Shirley wiped the tears from her face and turned to Pat and said, “My daddy’s got an offer to take a singing job up in Springfield, Pat. I think he’s going to take it and we’re going to have to go away.”

“Springfield?” Pat asked, softly.

“The Springfield in Missouri,” Shirley said, “and that’s I-don’t-know-how-many miles away and I-don’t-know-how-many hours just by train and I’ll never see you again, Pat, I’ll never see you again.”

Pat grabbed her. Right there in the middle of the street he grabbed her and he whispered, “Tomorrow, Shirley. Tomorrow, you and I—you know what we’re going to do? We’re getting married tomorrow, Shirley. All these years . . . all these people telling us that we’ve got to test our love, that we’ve got to wait, that we’re too young . . . all these years and all these people are going to disappear behind us tomorrow, Shirley, because we’re getting married, we’re getting married.”

Pat held her close now, very close. And as he did Shirley closed her eyes and suddenly all those years Pat had just talked about and all those people and all those cries of “Too young . . . Too Young!” rushed to her head and she smiled through her tears now and she remembered that time, that first time nearly four years earlier, when they’d first seen each other and when they’d first known that eventually this night would come. . . .

It was a Monday in January, 1949, the first day of the second semester of the school year.

Lunch hour was just about over and Pat was standing outside the LIPSCOMB HIGH cafeteria with a buddy of his, a basketball teammate. He’d heard earlier that day that Shirley Foley, the daughter of one of his idols, famous western and hillbilly singer Red Foley, was transfering to LIPSCOMB from a school across town and he’d been curious io have somebody point her out. Now his buddy had pointed her out during lunch hour. Pat had looked, gulped what he was eating and asked if he could meet her.

“She can’t sing like her pa,” his buddy said as they stood there, waiting.

“I hope her voice is a little bit higher than Red’s.” Pat said as he scanned the hundreds of faces of the other kids who came streaming out of the lunch room. “You’re sure you know her, now?” he asked his pal, his eyes darting from one face to another. “I mean, you know her well enough to give me an introduction?”

His pal nodded. He was about to say something when he spotted a pretty girl with long red hair and called out, “Shirley, here Shirley, there’s a fellow here I want you to meet. His name’s Pat Boone.”

Who’s got a fever?

The girl stopped and looked over at Pat. “Hi,” she said, smiling. “I’m so glad to meet you. I’ve heard you sing around town and I like your voice so much and, well, I’m so glad to meet you.”

Pat smiled back and shrugged. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but he blushed instead. He turned to his buddy.

“See you, Pat,” his buddy said, winking, and he rushed off.

Pat turned back to the pretty girl with the long red hair. “I . . . I didn’t think you’d know who I was,” he said.

“Well, you’re pretty much of a celebrity around these parts,” Shirley said. She looked into Pat’s eyes and he looked into hers. “Tell me,” Shirley said, finally—beginning a line she enjoys teasing Pat about to this day, “is there something wrong with you? I mean, your face is kind of flushed. Do you have a fever or something?”

“Shirley,” Pat said, very quickly, bringing his hand up to his face as if to wipe away some of the red, “would you think it rude of me if I asked you for a date?”

Shirley shook her head. “I’d think it very nice,” she said.

“Even if I made it for tomorrow night?” Pat asked, still rubbing.

“I’d think it very nice,” Shirley said again and—as she’ll admit to Pat now—beginning to feel her own face get red.

Pat’s vow

Pat picked her up at seven o’clock that night, the night of one of the heaviest snowfalls Nashville has ever seen. He met her mother and father, asked very formally for their permission to take their daughter sledding with a group of his friends, and they left on their first date.

It was a wonderful evening from start to finish and when it was over Pat took Shirley home and stood holding her hand at the door. He wanted to kiss her goodnight, but he didn’t. A little while earlier, he’d broken up with the second girl he’d ever gone steady with and he’d vowed to himself at the time that he’d never kiss another girl again, no matter how much he wanted to, till he knew that this was really the girl for him.

And so he stood there now, knowing Shirley for only a few hours really and liking her very much and wanting to kiss her but remembering his vow and, even though it was hard, sticking to it.

“Good night,” he said when it had got too cold just to stand there holding hands and looking at one another. “I had a real nice time tonight.”

“So did I.” Shirley said.

Pat let go her hand, opened the door for her, watched her take a step inside and started to walk away. He’d got to the steps at the end of the porch when he turned. “Shirley,” he asked, “you doing anything Saturday night?”

“I’d been thinking about maybe going to the movies,” Shirley said.

“Will you come with me?”

“Yes,” Shirley said. “Yes. . . .”

For the next nine months, Pat and Shirley went to the movies together every Saturday night—with a few Tuesday and Thursday and Friday night dates stuck in here and there. Once in a while he asked her to come to the big white frame house where the Boones have lived ever since moving up to Nashville from Jacksonville, Florida where Pat was born—and just sit and talk with the folks and his kid brother, Nicky, and his kid sisters, Margie and Judy.

“We called him Pat shortly after he was born,” Mrs. Boone told Shirley once, “because his daddy and I were counting on a girl and we had it all planned we were going to call her Patricia. Actually, we started out by giving him the name Charles Eugene. But a few weeks later one of us said ‘Pat’ and it’s been that ever since.”

Getting to know Pat

“When Pat was about seven,” his father told Shirley, “we had a cow named Rosemary. I told Pat that Rosemary was his responsibility. Well, he didn’t like the cow much, but he sure liked her products. I remember he used to tell everybody at school that he had to get home to milk the cow. But he always found something else to do. There was no telling what time poor Rosemary got milked. There was no telling how much of that milk he’d drink, either. Two quarts at one sitting once.”

“How about William Green Hill?” sister Margie chimed in. She turned to Shirley. “William Green Hill was one of two goats daddy gave the boys one Christmas. Miss Minerva was the other. Miss Minerva wasn’t much bother, as I recall. But William Green Hill was always getting those horns of his stuck in the fence and it was always Pat’s job to go get them pulled out. We didn’t keep the goats long.”

“Nor Black Magic, the pig,” said sister Judy. “Pat and Nicky were the ones who had to feed him. That was the same time we had all the cats, about twenty-one of them. Remember Toby, Pat—the persian with the white mustache? He was your favorite. He was much neater than Black Magic. Especially at feeding time.”

“One summer dad had some logs in the back yard,” Nicky told Shirley another time. “He said he was going to build a fence with them, but he never did. So Pat and I took them and made log houses. We criss-crossed them, and really did some fancy building. One of them even had two stories in it. We never did spend the night in them, though. We couldn’t figure out a way to keep the wind from coming through the cracks and somehow our beds felt a lot warmer than sleeping out there.”

Perry Como . . . a favorite

“Pat used to love to sit and listen to the radio,” Mrs. Boone said once. “Even before he started to school, he used to harmonize with the singers. We encouraged him to sing, but he never had any special training when he was in elementary school . . . Who were his favorites? Well, I’d say Perry Como was one. And your own daddy was another, Shirley. And once, I’ll never forget it, Pat was asked to sing at a movie house on a Saturday afternoon and the announcer said, ‘We will now hear a rendition of “Single Saddle” by that young Bing Crosby, Pat Boone.’ I think that tickled him the most.”

“He’s a good religious boy, Pat is,” his dad told Shirley once. “His mama started taking him to the Church of Christ when he was six weeks old. When he was growing up, he attended Sunday school, church, Sunday night services and usually prayer meeting on Wednesday. I guess he still attends them, all but Sunday school.”

“When he was two-and-a-half years old,” his mother said once, “his daddy bought him a tricycle, a beautiful red and white one. Well, one day he was blithely riding the bike down the sidewalk when something happened and it veered over into the street. A neighbor woman happened to be out there at the moment. Later she told me that as the bike went into the street a big school bus came speeding around the corner. The bus headed straight for Pat, she said. She stood panicky for a split second and then with some unknown strength she ran and pulled Pat off the bike. Another second later and the bike was crushed under the bus wheels . . . I often thank God for the time He took that special watch over my little boy. And I think that He’s glad that my boy has such a special love for Him.”

Yes, there was very little that Shirley Foley didn’t know about Pat after those first nine wonderful months together—months that happened to be leading up to the two most dramatic moments of Shirley’s life.

The first moment came suddenly, cruelly. It was the death of Shirley’s mother.

The second moment came about a month later. It was Pat’s declaration of love. As Pat himself tells it:

“We’d known each other for such a long time. We’d been through so much together. But we’d never said anything personal, anything about us . . . Then one night we were alone together. I remember we were sitting there in Shirley’s house, holding hands, not saying anything, just holding hands. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any more. I leaned over and I kissed Shirley. And as I kissed her—the first time Id kissed her in the ten months I’d known her—I knew that I was in love with her and that she was in love with me and that some day we were going to be husband and wife. Just that simple, I knew it”

As it turned out, things weren’t just that simple.

Their thoughts to themselves

On the surface they might have looked that way. Sure, Pat and Shirley dated more than ever now. Most of the dates consisted of baby-sitting for the children of Hugh Cherry, Pat’s friend and a TV master-of-ceremonies who had put Pat on one of his shows; of sitting together at Shirley’s piano and harmonizing; of rehearsing sermons Pat would give at church services every Wednesday night. Sure, everybody thought it was a real cute sign of puppy love when Pat broke his nose playing basketball one afternoon—as a kid he’d had a broken elbow, collarbone and wrist, all from sports accidents—and Shirley would come running to his side every possible moment during those next uncomfortable weeks . . . and how she’d cry at the mention of her poor suffering Pat. Sure, lots of the kids giggled the night Pat won the big local Discovery of the Year award and he turned, right after the announcement, and ran to grab Shirley in front of all those people and hugged and hugged her.

Deep down it was love, strong love—and this a few people, important people in Pat and Shirley’s lives, found it hard to take seriously.

For the next year or so, Pat and Shirley managed to keep their true thoughts about one another to themselves. Then, a little bit at a time, hints began to fall from them—hints like how nice it would be to get married, how nice it would be to have a little house, how nice it would be to have four or five children some day.

In time,” they were told

At first, Pat’s folks and Shirley’s father did their best to humor the couple along. They tsked-tsked any mention of marriage with big parental smiles and all sorts of nice soothing bits of advice.

“In due time,” Pat’s mother told him once when he mentioned the possibility of marrying Shirley some day. “In due time.”

“You talk like there’s no tomorrow, Shirley,” her father told her once when she mentioned the possibility of marrying Pat some day. “There are years ahead for getting married . . . years and years.”

Pat and Shirley waited one more year, and then a little over that. Things had happened in that time, too, to make the prospect of marriage seem more and more a possibility.

For one thing, of course, they’d grown older—they were both seventeen now. For another, they’d both been graduated from high school and were in college—Shirley studying nurse’s training, Pat majoring in English. For still another, Pat’s popularity as a singer was really beginning to zoom.

“Although he was doing most of his singing for free,” a Nashville friend remembers, “there wasn’t a social or religious club in town that didn’t ask him to any occasion they had. And although he wasn’t getting paid for it, he did have his own radio show on Saturday mornings. This was also at just about the time he was invited to go to New York by Ted Mack to appear on his TV contest show. There was no question about it; Pat was really beginning to come into his own as an entertainment personality.”

Yes, Pat and Shirley had waited and waited. And things had got better and better for them. Except for one big thing, that is: their parents’ consent.

The opposite effect

Pat tells what happened next this way:

“When it was known just how serious Shirley and I were about each other and about getting married, my folks objected in no uncertain terms—and Shirley’s daddy felt fairly much the same about it. Their complaint was that we were too young. They said it would be fine for us to get married . . . some day. After college, maybe, they said. But no, not now.

“At one point they suggested that we stop dating for a while. I know what they figured—that we’d grow out of love and gradually get to forget one another.

“It ended up having just the opposite effect. We didn’t make actual dates. But it happened over and over again that we would find ourselves meeting here and there, meeting accidentally-on-purpose, meeting on what amounted to the sly.

“This went on for a while. Then one night Shirley and I were sitting in an ice cream parlor in a part of town where not too many people knew us and Shirley started to cry and she told me that her daddy was planning to take a permanent singing job in Springfield, Missouri, that this was really going to be the final break between the two of us.

“I proposed to Shirley right there on the spot. I told her we’d been forced into eloping and that’s just what we were going to have to do. She asked me if I didn’t think I should tell our folks. I told her I knew I couldn’t tell mine, that they wouldn’t understand. She said she’d feel a lot better if we told her daddy, that she knew how much he liked me, how much he wanted her to be happy, that he would probably understand.

“I took her back home and had a talk with her father. At first he didn’t say anything. But then he looked at the two of us and he smiled and this man Id loved so much as a kid just from listening to him on the radio, I loved now as the man who was consenting to my marrying the only girl in the world I would ever want to call my own.

The elopement

“The next morning, a Saturday, I got up and packed some shirts and underwear into a valise. The folks didn’t see me leave the house. I got into the car and drove over to Shirley’s and picked her up.

“The wedding ceremony was short, very short. As soon as it was over, we went to the church and took part in the prayer meeting. The church, by the way, sent us our second wedding present—a pair of silver candelabra. My pal and high school principal, Mack Craig, and his wife gave us our first present—a leather-bound copy of the New Testament, engraved Mr. and Mrs. Pat Boone.

“Anyway, we stayed at the prayer meeting for a few hours and then we faced the hardest part of all, calling my folks. We put it off for a little while. We stopped at a restaurant to eat. We drove around. We parked and sat and held hands and talked. We did just about anything we could not to get near a phone. But eventually I knew we’d have to. So we called.

“I spoke to my daddy first. He didn’t say much. Then I asked to speak to my mom. I could tell as soon as I told her that she was shocked by the news. She managed to say that she liked Shirley fine. But I could tell that she was shocked.

“And the next night when Shirley and I came back from the one-night honeymoon we had, I could see that my mom was shocked. Looking back, I can sort of understand her feeling. After all, I was young and there was a chance that Shirley and I were making a big mistake. And I was the oldest child in the family and the first to leave the family nest.

“But I’d taken the step, I’d taken the girl I loved so much to be my wife, and I felt that there was nothing that anyone could do about it. I was married and now I’d prove that Id done the right thing.

A paying job!

“The following day was a Monday and both Shirley and I went back to our classes. After school, I took a ride down to the radio station where I’d been doing that free radio show on Saturday mornings. I asked the owner of the show if there was anyway that I could start earning some money now that I was married. I nearly fell over when he shook my hand and told me that I could have a job as a part-time announcer—at $60 a week.

“To Shirley and me this was the best possible news in the world. We thought that when my folks heard it they would figure we were off to a better-than-average start. We figured they’d break down and tell us all was forgiven.

“But, well, it just didn’t turn out that way. They still seemed hurt, and it made it very hard for me and Shirley.

“So after a few months I told Shirley that I thought it might be best all around if we got out of Nashville for a while. That’s when we moved to Denton, Texas, and when our lives—despite all the time we’d known each other—really began.”

They had chosen the small Texas city because Pat wanted to continue his studies at CHURCH OF CHRIST UNIVERSITY there. The Boones didn’t know anybody in Denton when they drove into town that first day. But this didn’t stop them from being, as they wrote to a friend shortly after they arrived, “the happiest couple in this whole big world of ours.”

Four days after they arrived Shirley, a gleam in her eye, prepared a big steak for dinner.

“But, honey. . . .” he said when he sat down at the table. He looked confused. He looked up at Shirley as if to say look, I like steak, but it costs a lot and there are lots of things that cost less and do you remember Saturday night how we thought twice about spending half a dollar on a movie and. . . .

“Pat,” Shirley said. “Pat . . . you’ve got to eat that and get strong because—you’re going to be a father.”

“But, honey. . . .” Pat started to say again. Then, suddenly, he jumped up from his chair. “Honey!”

The expensive steak barely got touched that night.

A call from Godfrey

A few days later, Pat landed an after-school job. That morning he’d gone to a radio station in nearby Fort Worth for an audition and was turned down. “They told me I didn’t sing loud enough.”

Then he went over to a TV station in Dallas. He sang three numbers and was signed on the spot—for $44.50 a week. “I guess they assumed I could do little else being a boy from Nashville,” Pat says, “so they signed me to sing hillbilly songs on a barn-dance program. Funny thing was the sponsor was a local dairy and nobody can ever say that Shirley and I didn’t go to town on all that free cottage cheese they used to send over.”

By the time Pat and Shirley’s first baby, Cheryl Lee, arrived things were really looking up for the young couple. Pat was called up to New York for another appearance on the Ted Mack show; he eventually won. Then Arthur Godfrey called him up to ask him to make an appearance on the Talent Scouts. And then Randy Wood, owner of DOT RECORDS, signed up Pat to make his first record, the very successful Two Heats, which shot up to the top ten within a matter of weeks.

Shirley was expecting their second child when Godfrey phoned Texas for the second time, congratulated Pat on his hit record and asked him if he’d like to return to New York, on a permanent basis.

Pat had a long talk with Shirley that night. He had a hunch what New York would mean to him at this stage of the game—lots of appearances on the Godfrey shows, lots of records because the DOT people had begun clamoring for him at this time too, and lots and lots of money.

“But I’ve got school to finish,” he told Shirley that night. “More than anything I want to finish school . . . And the church meetings; I want to keep going to church and preaching when I can and thanking God when I can.”

Sometime that night, Pat decided to take the chance. After talking it over some more with Shirley he figured that he could finish his studies by enrolling in COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, which he’s attending right now and where he’s affectionately known as the millionaire senior, that he could find a CHURCH OF CHRIST where he could continue attending prayer meetings and doing a little preaching and that maybe he and Shirley could even find a little house somewhere outside of New York. “We’ve got a wonderful little house in Leonia, New Jersey,” Pat says now. “We’re country people at heart and this is just the place for us. It’s got a garden and trees and you’d barely know you were so close to such a hectic place as New York.”

The rest, as anyone who’s ever turned on a TV set knows, is history. Within a year, Pat had zoomed from $44.50 a week and all the cottage cheese he could eat to well over $1,000 a week—an amount which could easily have been tripled, one of his managers says, if he hadn’t been so darn earnest about continuing his studies at college and staying home lots of nights just! to get his homework done. In the course of that year, Pat appeared on the Godfrey shows countless times, taped a batch of hit records and—study-time permitting— made personal appearances at some of the swankiest night clubs in the country.

In the course of that year, too, Shirley Boone gave birth to their second daughter—“a doll named Linda Lee,” says Pat.

Sickness strikes

Their third daughter, Deborah Ann, was born with the usual happy fanfare. But a few months later—and just a few months ago—Shirley started feeling a little sick. Just a pain here and there at first, and then much more serious trouble.

Pat called in a doctor. The doctor examined Shirley, then called for an ambulance and rushed her to a hospital.

The next twenty-four hours were torture for Pat. He kept phoning the doctor to know how Shirley was, to know why he wasn’t allowed to visit her.

“We’re not certain now,” the doctor said. He tried to keep the darkness from his voice, but he didn’t succeed very well, “We’ll let you know when we’re sure.

“But how serious is it, Doctor?” Pat pleaded.

“We’ll let you know as soon as we’re sure,” the doctor repeated.

Pat had planned to attend a prayer meeting of the CHURCH OF CHRIST that night. A friend of his persuaded him to go, anyway. “I’ll come with you, if you want,” his friend said. “My wife can stay and take care of your children.”

His friend tells about what happened at the prayer meeting that night. “When we arrived, somebody suggested to Pat that he preach. He looked as if he were in a daze, but he said yes anyway. I’ll never forget it, how he stood up and how very quietly he began to talk to the fifty or sixty people there.

Pouring his heart out to Shirley

“I remember how he talked a little about religion in general. ‘We shouldn’t think in terms of the uncertain future,’ he said, ‘but of good works on earth here and now. In that way we can build up treasures in Heaven. Treasures on earth are too frequently pitfalls of the devil.’

“And then he started to talk about Shirley. He didn’t say anything about her being in the hospital at that moment, about he doctors being worried about her and not knowing exactly what was wrong with her. He talked instead as if she were sitting just a little ways from him and he and she were alone in that church and he just happened to be pouring out his heart to her. He talked about the happiness she had brought him.

“He told again how grateful he was to God for providing him with such a wonderful wife.”

Pat had a few tears in his eyes as they left the church. He and his friend went back to Pat’s house, neither of them talking during the drive.

And as soon as they got in the house the phone rang. Pat picked up the receiver. It was the doctor, calling from the hospital. Pat whispered something and hung up. He turned to his friend, smiling.

“Shirley’s going to be all right,” he said.

Then like a ball of fire he grabbed his boat, reached into a vase and took out a single flower, and rushed out of the house to his wife, the pretty girl with the long red hair; the girl they’d said he was too young to love and to marry, the young girl who was woman enough to know—“we had to elope!”



Watch for Pat, who will soon be in his first film Bernadine for 20th Century-Fox.



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