On July 24, 1957, Fox Twentieth-Century Fox premiered Bernardine, starring one of America’s most popular teen heart-throbs. Concerts and albums already had this twenty-two-year-old in the millionaire club. You’d be forgiven for assuming we’re talking about Elvis – but his star turn premiere had already opened on July 10th to adoring crowds (see Loving You).
No, this “clean-cut,” married man with three daughters wore white bucks, not blue suede shoes. Fox wanted a wholesome alternative to Presley, and after Robert Wagner bowed out, Pat Boone was given a chance. Top talent joined him both in front of and behind the camera. They included:
- Dick Sargent (future husband of Samantha in Bewitched)
- Janet Gaynor (playing Dick’s mother, Mrs. Ruth Wilson)
- Ronnie Burns (son of George Burns and Grace Allen)
- Natalie Schafer (the delightful future Mrs. Thurston Howell, III)
Based on a play by Mary Chase, the titular Bernardine is a fantasy girl – Bernardine Mudd of Sneaky Falls, Idaho – dreamed up by three teenage boys (Boone, Sargent, and Hooper Dunbar). Basically good kids, they take time out from school, racing cars and boats, and just plain hanging out, to pester telephone operators to connect them with Bernadine Mudd (of Sneaky Falls, etc.). One of those operators sounds so nice that Sanford Wilson (Sargent) asks her out on a date and falls for the girl not from Sneaky Falls. But then his grades fall . . . .
Fox and producer Buddy Adler weren’t sure how Pat Boone would perform in this, his first film. They needn’t have worried. Bernardine was a big hit, ending up one of the top twenty box-office draws for 1957. Three of the Johnny Mercer-penned songs recorded by Boone for the soundtrack were also hits. These included the biggest hit of his career, Love Letters in the Sand, which went gold with four to five million records sold.
To the critics, Bernardine was likeable, lightweight fluff. But the New York Times reviewer – don’t ask him to pick a winner – wrote, “Move over Elvis Presley. And welcome, Pat Boone, his exact antithesis . . . with a real screen future.”
Image Credit: Twentieth-Century Fox