Pat Boone's in Tune With Orange County

Pat Boone has lived and worked in Beverly Hills for 25 years, but lately the youthful-looking, 50-year-old entertainer has been forsaking the comforts of his $4-million Sunset Boulevard estate for a hotel room in Orange County.

The reasons: Since late last summer, Boone has been spending at least part of virtually every week taping a new television show, checking on the operations of Anaheim television station KDOC, of which he is president, setting up and promoting business deals, doing charity and volunteer work and, in his spare time, visiting friends, business associates and a daughter who lives in south Orange County.

In short, Boone spends more time in Orange County than a lot of people who live here.

"My involvement began in earnest 15 years ago with KDOC," he says. "I was one of the original investors in the station, and as time dragged on in getting the station opened, I wound up as president and a 37% owner.

"It's really more than that, though," he adds. "I've always been impressed with Orange County and with its potential. In fact, that's one of the reasons I invested in KDOC in the first place. It's my kind of place--fresh and vital and full of upwardly mobile, conservative, civic-minded people."

The traits Boone ascribes to Orange County residents are a fairly accurate description of the entertainer himself. And if Boone is making any concessions to middle age, it's not readily apparent.

He looks, and apparently feels, terrific. He is a one-man business conglomerate, with new ventures springing up constantly. And, shades of 1960, he recently was nominated for a Grammy award--for a Christian recording on his own label.

It's enough to make anyone over 50--particularly a spouse--envious, says Shirley Boone, Pat's wife of 32 years. "Here I am, trying to lose a few pounds and stay reasonably fit, and he's trim and almost wrinkle-free and is off playing full-court basketball with young men half his age. He says he wants to be able to play basketball with his great-grandchildren, and at this rate, I think he'll make it."

The night before, Boone had played in a charity basketball game in Lynwood, and had relished every minute of it. In fact, he arrived at his Sunset Strip office the morning after looking as though he was ready for a game of "one on one"--in sneakers, white warm-up suit and baseball cap, his usual office attire, according to Maureen Mata, his secretary. The Lynwood game was still on his mind.

"To tell you the truth, I wanted to handle the ball every time down the court, and I didn't want to come out of the game, even for a minute. My age hasn't lessened my passion for participating in sports. I play basketball, golf and tennis, swim and work out whenever I can and run two to three miles four times a week."

It shows. Boone is a compact 6 feet and 180 pounds--only five pounds over his weight when he was captain of his high school baseball team. Still, he frets about those five pounds. "Maybe those exercises I'm doing at the gym are causing me to bulk up," Boone says. "I'd better look into that."

Boone's concern over his appearance isn't just another example of a runaway Hollywood ego. Rather, it appears to be a product of the singer's obsessiveness, which he admits has led to many of his successes--and failures.

"I sometimes don't know when to stop," says Boone. "Several years ago, I was involved in about 50 different projects, and about 30 of them weren't even related to the one business I knew something about--entertainment. I was into restaurants, a chain of TV repair shops, you name it. And I felt a keen sense of responsibility toward each of those businesses.

"Some, of course, made it, and others didn't. And the time I devoted to each of them had little or nothing to do with which made it and which didn't. Since then, I've learned when to throw in the towel and when to cut my losses."

Boone's frenetic schedule during that period also put a severe strain on his and Shirley's marriage. "It was a very difficult time for us," Shirley says. "We were floundering and drifting apart. Pat was having a hard time just trying to be Pat Boone, whoever that was, and had little time for his family. And I was emphasizing the negatives in Pat and in our lives, instead of the positive things we had going for us."

Shirley says they pulled their relationship back together by reaffirming their commitment to their family and faith.

She reflects: "Really, compared with the everyday problems of drugs, suicides and broken marriages in the entertainment business, our problems weren't that bad. But we went through a lot of pain then, and we learned from it and profited by it."

Says Mata, who was president of Boone's European Fan Club and became his secretary shortly after coming to the U.S. from England in 1960: "Pat is one of those rare people. He's compassionate, dedicated and giving. He has always been that way. But today, he's more aware, more conscious, and more dedicated to God than he was earlier. Then, he was more dedicated to what Pat Boone wanted. Now, it's God first and Pat Boone second."

If Boone has slowed down as he, his wife and secretary say, he must have been in perpetual motion earlier in his career. He is currently involved in a number of businesses, partnerships and entertainment ventures, including a new television talk show, "Pat Boone U.S.A.," which he hopes to get into syndication this year.

The show is being aired nationally over the Christian Broadcasting Network, but Boone says, "We need to reach the second rerun stage through syndication before we can begin to turn a profit." He has taped 65 one-hour shows--or 13 weeks' worth--thus far, and plans to resume shooting once a syndication agreement has been signed.

Like many of his more recent ventures, "Pat Boone U.S.A." has a definite Orange County flavor. Of the 65 shows, 52 were taped at Knott's Berry Farm, and Boone hopes to do the show there again once shooting resumes. "It feels natural to me," he says. "My association with Knott's Berry Farm goes back to the days of Walter Knott, when I first came to California from New York."

Boone also has an oil and gas exploration and production partnership in the Appalachian region of Kentucky and Tennessee with Harold McNaughton, a long-time Orange County friend and associate, and is completing a deal with Ivan Katz, publisher of Business-to-Business Magazine, to package a KDOC program on business leaders in the county.

Boone also has on the drawing board a partnership in a new Anaheim savings and loan association, Certified Family Savings, and a prospective interest in the food business.

The crown jewel of his Orange County activities, however, is his interest in KDOC, Channel 56, in Anaheim. His hopes for the station are high. In fact, he compares its potential to that of Ted Turner's Superstation in Atlanta.

"Why not?," Boone says. "If Ted Turner could do it in Atlanta, we can do it here. We have the potential to do eight to 10 hours a day of quality local programming. And we've got great sports teams just a stone's throw away. I'm talking to Gene Autry (owner of the Angels), Georgia Frontierre (owner of the Rams) and Donald Sterling (owner of the Los Angeles Clippers) to see whether we can work something out.

"I'm trying to convince Sterling to play some of the Clippers' games at Anaheim Convention Center, to build up a strong identity with Orange County. It would be a natural for them. Look what the move to Orange County did for Gene and the Angels. It gave them a new identity and helped them survive and prosper in the same market with the Dodgers."

Boone's position as majority owner and president of KDOC came about more or less by default. "I didn't expect it to happen that way," he says, "but it took us 15 years and $3 million to get the station open, and some investors either dropped out or died."

It was worthwhile, though, Boone says. "We're already operating in the black, and the market value of the station is several times larger than the amount we have invested so far. But 15 years is a long wait, particularly if it's your own money you're sitting on."

The fact that he stayed with the KDOC venture so long is characteristic of Boone. He seems to specialize in long relationships and associations, and is not into giving up easily.

Consider these examples: A 32-year marriage, close relationships with his four daughters (Cherry, Lindy, Debby and Laury) and eight grandchildren, 25 years in the same house in Beverly Hills, 15 years in the same West Hollywood office, 30 years with the same business manager, Jack Spina, and same accountant, John Mucci, and 25 years with his secretary.

"Strong relationships are very important to me," Boone says. "Because of my early success, I've had the luxury of being able to work with people of my choosing whom I like and trust."

He also points out that stability has its rewards. "We bought our house on 1.3 acres at the corner of Beverly and Sunset in 1960, for $160,000. It's worth 25 times that now. That works out to an average of a 100% increase in value per year for each year we have lived there."

Mata works with nine others at Boone's fifth-floor suite of offices, which is at the line between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, a short distance from home.

"Pat treats us like part of the family," Mata says. "In fact, I even lived with Pat and Shirley for a time, when I first moved to Los Angeles. We all respect his privacy, but we feel very close to his family. It's a great place to work, or all of us wouldn't have stayed so long."

To illustrate the strength of Boone relationships, Shirley Boone points out: "His manager, Jack Spina, has worked with him for 30 years without a contract. Can you imagine that--in Hollywood, of all places?"

Boone's closest friend and business associate, Don Henley, died last year of a heart attack. "Don's death hurt Pat very deeply," Shirley says. "They had been friends since elementary school in Nashville, and Don was with us every step of the way until his death. He traveled everywhere with Pat in the early days, and was his personal manager in New York and then here. We all miss him very much."

Boone's daughters, with the exception of Cherry, live nearby. Debby, who has been nominated for two Grammies this year for recordings on her father's label, lives five minutes away, Lindy lives in El Toro and Laury lives in the San Fernando Valley. Cherry, who recovered from anorexia nervosa a few years ago and wrote a book about her struggle with the eating disorder, lives in Seattle with her husband and two children.

"Cherry's doing fine now, but she's still something of an over-achiever, like me," says her father.

As he moves into his fourth decade in the entertainment business untarnished by Hollywood scandal, Boone says he's thankful he had the moral foundation to handle his sudden rise to fame while he was still in college.

Nothing was more indicative of Boone's stability than his decision to stay in college, despite the fact that he had just signed two $1

million contracts--one with a recording company, the other with network TV--and had just nudged out fellow Tennessean Elvis Presley for "Male Vocalist of the Year" honors in 1957.

He not only stayed in college, but graduated magna cum laude in 1958 from Columbia University, New York, with a BA in speech and English. "I still didn't trust show business as a career," he recalls, "and besides, I didn't want to miss out on the full college experience."

Boone's 78-year-old father and 75-year-old mother live in the same Nashville house where Pat was brought up, and the elder Boone still runs his own construction business.

"They are a close, loving family," says Shirley, "and they instilled values into Pat that helped him keep his balance in the early going, when everything was happening so fast."

"I was brought up in the Church of Christ in Nashville," Boone says. "For people not familiar with the Church of Christ--well, it makes the Baptist Church look liberal. It gave me a strong knowledge of the Bible."

Boone is now a deacon in the nondenominational Church of the Way, in Van Nuys. Some of his closer friends in the entertainment business--Efrem Zimbalist, Dean Jones, Susan Howard and a few others--also are active in the church.

"Today, I just consider myself a Christian," Boone says. "I am not affiliated with any particular religious group or sect--just the Church of the Way. I simply believe in God and want to work His will."

Boone's schedule of charitable and volunteer activities is as full as his business calendar; he works for Easter Seals, World Hunger, Boy Scouts, the Teen Challenge Drug Program and many others. For example, he recently filmed two public-service announcements for an Orange County-based drug and alcohol abuse prevention organization during breaks in the taping of three one-hour segments of Pat Boone U.S.A.

He is very discriminating in his activities and ventures, however. What he will and won't do is governed by a strong personal code. "A lot of people thought--or maybe still think--I'm self-righteous in my attitudes," Boone says. "I am not, though. I don't judge what others do by what I do or don't do."

Boone's criteria, put simply: Does the project meet his legal, ethical and moral standards, who else is involved, is it a good idea and will it work?

Boone says he added the third point after a few of his ventures went sour. "I'm always learning," he says. "You can be very moral and very ethical, but you still need to exercise sound business judgment if you want to succeed."

He is constantly tinkering with his own business operation. One current project involves developing a new name for his holding company, now called Cooga Mooga Inc. "I picked that up from a disc jockey in New York in the 1950s. I thought it was appropriate then for a young, unpretentious singer. But I think the time has come to update my corporate image," he says with a smile.

That updating began a few years ago, when he sold Cooga Mooga's old record label to Paramount. Its name was: Agoom Agooc, or Cooga Mooga spelled backwards. Paramount changed the name.

Boone thinks he'll probably change the name of his holding company to Boone Productions. It seems more befitting the mature entrepreneur.

On the basketball court, though, he will probably continue to demonstrate his earlier Cooga Mooga-like moves.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World