celebrity speaks out — on Teen Challenge, Hollywood,
patriotism and more
Boone is a Grammy-winning recording artist, star of
stage, screen and television, and entrepreneur. At
one time a Top 10 box office draw, he currently hosts
a gospel music TV program, as well as a
weekly syndicated gospel music radio program and two
hours a week on
The Music of Your Life. Boone has been an
elder at The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif.,
for 30-plus years. He spoke recently with Ken Horn,
You’ve had a wide-ranging career in entertainment
over the years, but many people remember you for one
movie role in particular — that of David Wilkerson
in the film adaptation of The Cross and the Switchblade.
of the 45th anniversary of Teen Challenge, could you
talk about how you came in contact with the book and
I was on my way to Mexico City and at the airport
I picked up a paperback copy of The Cross and the
Switchblade. I was curious how they combined
those two images in the title. I started reading it
on the plane and by about page 31 or 32 I was getting
goose bumps. I kept asking myself if this was supposed
to be a true story. David Wilkerson was detailing
an absolute miracle that happened on the streets of
New York City. I’d been taught in my church
background that God doesn’t do miracles anymore.
I couldn’t put it down.
got back to L.A., I called David Wilkerson in New
York. I’d never met him. I said, “I’m
Pat Boone, the entertainer,” and I started to
explain. “I read your book. Did all these things
you talk about really happen just that way? …
I really think there ought to be a movie made of this
book. I think it would be a very successful film.”
less than enthusiastic. He told me he thought Hollywood
would twist the story around. Then, all of a sudden,
he began to pray about it over the phone. “Lord,”
he prayed, “my life’s Your life, my story’s
Your story, and if You want anything made of this,
then You do it. You know Pat Boone; I don’t.
You know whether he should be part of it.”
the pieces together and did a wonderful work in my
life. By the time we started filming, I had been baptized
in the Holy Spirit.
Did you face any challenges in making the film?
here or call
in a cab in mid-town Manhattan to go deep into Harlem
for the day’s shooting, and the cab driver would
say, “You want to go where? That’s a dangerous
neighborhood, man.” I’d give him his fare
as we got close to the day’s location and he
would only slow down enough for me to open the door
and hop out and he was out of there.
filmed, we went into the very streets, alleys and
basements where the story had been lived. I felt very
inadequate to play David, but I prayed continually
and I knew God was doing something. After we had been
filming a few days, David came on the set in a basement
in Harlem. Then he went to see some of the film we
had shot the day before. After they rolled the shots,
the lights came up. David looked at me and said, “You’re
starting to look like me.” Right then, I knew
the Holy Spirit was doing something. The film became
the most successful independently produced and distributed
film ever up to then.
The movie has continued to be a blessing over the
It never got the kind of big splash on neighborhood
screens that it should have had. But The Cross
and the Switchblade has been translated
into 15 to 20 languages. I’ve had people from
Iran and Iraq tell me they’ve seen the film
in their language. Those countries consider it an
anti-drug film. Even with its strong Christian message
it is still seen around the world in all these languages
and even in Muslim countries. They’re looking
for something that will discourage drug use, and this
film does it.
How did you come to know Christ?
Well, thank God I was born not only in America, but
to Christian parents. A lot of us have had those blessings,
and we take them for granted.
a building contractor and Mom was a registered nurse.
I was their first child followed fairly quickly in
the next six years by a brother and two sisters. My
parents were very serious about church attendance
and involvement. I sat with my parents on the front
row or no farther back than the second row for all
of my growing up days. We went to Sunday morning service,
Sunday night and Wednesday night. We tried to go to
every revival service. Plus we had Bible reading and
prayer and devotionals at home. Even though it got
tiring to us kids at times, we realized that church
was as important to our parents as eating, sleeping
or anything else. When I was 13, I confessed Jesus
Christ as my Savior and was baptized in water.
my parents if I could have the unfinished attic as
my bedroom. So Mom and Dad let me have a bed upstairs
among all the boxes and clothes and all the paraphernalia
that six people in a family collect. And that was
a precious place to me. I remember many, many times
on my knees, looking out the window of the attic into
the side yard and up the street and asking the Lord
to use my life, and to use me.
How did God begin to direct you?
I loved singing. I sang at every honorable opportunity.
I turned down opportunities to sing with dance bands
and supper clubs because of my faith. Because of the
invitations I turned down, I started to think there
was no chance for me to be a professional singer.
I’d pray about it when I was milking the family
cow, Rosemary. I would talk to the Lord and say, “I
wish I could be a singer like Julius LaRosa on Arthur
Godfrey and His Friends.” You know,
within about two years of those prayers, I was a regular
on the show. I was at school at Columbia University,
married to Shirley, my high school sweetheart, and
I was a father. God just had His hand on me.
Not many people realize you were also involved in
ministry during your early singing career.
When I first went to college I was preparing to be
a teacher. I was preaching in a little country church
in Slidell, Texas. They had students come preach for
them because they couldn’t afford a regular
preacher. There were only about 30 or 40 people out
in this rural area. For months I was their regular
preacher while I was at school at North Texas State.
was on Arthur Godfrey and His Friends and fulfilling my recording contract, I was enrolled
in Columbia. I became the song leader and Sunday school
teacher at a little church in Manhattan. I was in
college and having kids and living over in New Jersey
and starting my own weekly television show for Chevrolet
and making some movies for 20th Century Fox. But every
Sunday and Sunday night, just like when I grew up,
I was at that little congregation in Manhattan.
You’re known as both an outspoken Christian
and successful entertainer and celebrity. How do you
balance those roles?
always balance them that well. In the beginning, I
had a very special sense of God’s miraculous
provision. I remember turning down a role that I thought
would compromise my testimony, even though I can look
back now and see that it was an honorable role. I
made some people very angry. Little did any of us
know that my turning that role down would lead to
my doing Journey to the Center of the Earth. I
did what I thought God wanted me to do, and He honored
reputation made people think I was too good to be
commercial, and a kind of squeaky-clean image grew.
And I started to chafe at that. I made concessions
and I did things I didn’t think were right and
gradually I sold out more and more until I nearly
lost marriage, family, reputation … everything.
I wrote about it all in my book A New Song.
All the crumbling and caving in to pressures brought
me to a new commitment and a realization — I
could not work
out my own salvation with fear and trembling. We read
Philippians 2:12, “Work out your own salvation
with fear and trembling,” but we never go on
to the next verse. There’s only a comma between
verses 12 and 13. Verse 13 says, “For it is
God who works in you both to will and to do for His
good pleasure” (NKJV). I needed to invite the
Lord not just to save me but to fill me and to inhabit
me and to be my Lord and to baptize me in the Holy
Spirit and to give me the power, not only to do His
will, but to want to do it. When Shirley and I were
both in our mid-30s, we received the baptism in the
Holy Spirit. It changed our lives, even though it
cost us continued fellowship with the church I had
been raised in.
Where did you find a church home?
We wound up at
The Church on the Way with Pastor Jack Hayford. It
was only about a hundred members then. We didn’t
come close to filling the building, but every service
there were things that were said and done and prayed
that brought us to tears and worship in a way that
we never had experienced. Every service was vital
and real and a visit with God, and we couldn’t
help but invite friends to come. We wanted them to
experience what we experienced. I’ve been an
elder there for about 35 years now. We’ve watched
the church grow to more than 10,000 members.
How did the Baptism continue to impact your life?
Once I had been filled with the Spirit, I discovered
I don’t have to be one person when I’m
with show-business people, somebody else at church,
and somebody else in the business world or on the
sports field or wherever. I can be the same person
all the time. And I’m not going to be ashamed
of the gospel, and I’m not going to be ashamed
of the Lord, and I’m not going to be ashamed
if they want to call me Goody-Goody or whatever they
want to call me. That’s OK. At least people
know that I’m a Christian, and to me that’s
the most important designation that can be. Once that
was settled in my own thinking, a lot of my decisions
became easy, about where I go, who I’m with,
what I do.
led me into some things that I would not have intellectually
chosen for myself. For instance, having Ozzy Osbourne
move in next door to me and eventually declare on
his TV show that I am the best neighbor his family’s
ever had. They’re lovable people. But their
lifestyle — the things that seem so funny and
that people actually want to hear and see from them
— are certainly not a good, regular diet for
us in an already polluted environment. Kids around
the country will start emulating them. But, you know,
when I went to visit with the Osbournes, I never heard
them using all that language.
At a recent
benefit for Larry King’s cardiac foundation,
Dana Carvey was introduced. I was way at the back
of the room. Dana said, “I’ve got to keep
it PG tonight. Pat Boone’s here.” Years
ago, Don Rickles and I were on the Tonight Show together. Don started to say something to Johnny Carson,
then he looked over at me and did a sort of double
take and said, “I can’t tell you that
with Boone sitting here.”
not trying to intimidate anybody; they’re free
to do what they want. I do what I think is right.
But it is a restraining influence. It has an effect
on their behavior.
Your latest project has given you another great opportunity
to talk about God to a lot of people. Could you tell
us more about it?
This is a real phenomenon, and it’s just God.
I recently put out an album called American Glory.
It’s full of patriotic songs, and it reminds
people that our patriotic songs point us to God. A
song I wrote for the album, “Under God,”
has even made it to the top-100 chart. We call these
songs “patriotic,” but every one of them
mentions God as our Source, our Defender, our Hope
and our Strength.
Ollie North, a wonderful Christian guy and a retired
Marine colonel, “When’s the last time
you heard somebody sing the Marine hymn except Marines?”
He scratched his head a second and said, “I
can’t remember ever hearing anybody sing it
except Marines.” I said, “One proud non-Marine
is singing your hymn in gratitude to God for you.”
What inspired you to put together such an album?
The inspiration for the project came to me last year
when Michael Newdow in San Francisco stunned the nation
by getting some liberal judges to side with him in
his assertion that “under God” violated
some separation of church and state principle. He
didn’t want his daughter in school to be saying
“under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance
sanctioned by the school. And these two judges agreed
in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
to fight this the only way I can, with music. And
I wrote “Under God.” I thought we needed
a refresher course in American history. So I started
with the pilgrims and then went to George Washington
at Valley Forge, and then to the Constitutional Convention
where Ben Franklin called for daily prayer as they
were trying to draft the Constitution itself, and
then to Thomas Jefferson. In the last chorus I sing,
we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States.
And I do the Pledge of Allegiance at the conclusion
of the record with a lot of school kids saying it
with me. And that’s the way the record ends
— on the triumphant note, “under God,
with liberty and justice for all.”
What kind of response have you seen?
At personal appearances there would be veterans in
wheelchairs sometimes pushed by their wives and they
had on their Marine or Navy caps. They would say,
“I want to thank you for doing my song,”
and their chin would be trembling. And I’d say,
“Brother, I did the song, but I want to thank
you. I’m thanking you for what you’ve
done for this country and for me and for my family.”
Any other thoughts?
I want to be
like Jesus, who was willing to seek out people and
take time with them, while never losing sight of who
He is. Jesus was castigated by religious leaders and
even questioned by His own disciples about fellowshiping
with publicans and sinners. He was never compromising
who He is, but He loved the people and He wanted them
to know it. He was not embarrassed to be associated
with them because He came to save them. We think we’re
so pure, and, like the Pharisees, don’t want
to have anything to do with the publican and the sinner.
Yet Jesus would go right into their home and sit down
and say, “What’s for dinner?”
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