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April Love

April Love(1957)

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teaser April Love (1957)

A musical remake of Home in Indiana (1944), April Love (1957) is a chaste teen romance starring squeaky-clean Pat Boone in his second film. His character suffers a minor brush with the law and heads to Kentucky to rehabilitate himself, where he falls in love with local girl Shirley Jones.

Fox studio executives were so happy with the rushes from Boone's first film, Bernardine (1957), that they green-lit him for April Love before Bernardine had even finished shooting. Boone, then almost 23 years old, was thrilled when he read the script. "This is what Bing Crosby would have done," he later remembered thinking. "It was a great script... tailor-made for me."

Shirley Jones was also 23 but more experienced, having already performed in two big Fox musicals: Oklahoma! (1955) and Carousel (1956). But she was concerned about being pigeonholed in the genre, and after Carousel, she was turned down for serious parts again and again -- when she was even considered in the first place. She demanded to know why, and was told, "Because they weren't musicals."

"The studio's idea of consoling me," she later said, "was the role of the leading lady in April Love, another musical, with Pat Boone." Soon, however, she'd get the chance to dazzle in the drama Elmer Gantry (1960), opposite Burt Lancaster, for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

The most famous anecdote involving April Love involves "the kiss" -- or, more accurately, "the near-kiss." For a scene on a Ferris wheel, Boone was supposed to kiss Jones, and Boone, married in real life, wouldn't do it for religious reasons. At least that's the way the story was told at the time. Indeed, as late as 1996, Jones told People magazine that Boone "was very religious, and his wife had decided that he wasn't allowed to kiss another actress. We had this scene on a big Ferris wheel -- we were supposed to have a big kiss -- and he wouldn't do it. I said, 'But you're an actor.' He still wouldn't. The terrible thing was that in his very next film, he kissed the girl."

But in a 2010 interview with the Los Angeles Times' Susan King, Boone explained that the incident was actually a little more complicated. The kiss, he said, was not in the script but was ordered by director Henry Levin on the day of shooting. As he didn't want to kiss Jones because he was worried about offending his wife, he asked Levin to delay the shot for one day so he could discuss it with her. Boone claims that his wife relented, with the proviso: "You just have to promise me you won't enjoy it that much." So Boone returned to the set "puckered up and ready to go."

But the story had been leaked overnight, with religious reasons cited for his refusal to kiss Jones. Now Boone realized that if he really did kiss her, it would look to the world like he was going against his religious convictions -- so he again refused to do it. Indeed, Boone recalled that letters and telegrams poured into 20th Century Fox telling him to stick to his guns.

Levin solved the problem on set by having the screen kiss be interrupted at the last moment by a taunting bystander. But the studio refused to reveal this to the press or the public, saying they would have to wait to see the final movie to find out how "the kiss" had been resolved. It became an unexpected publicity angle. When the film opened, audiences debated whether Boone had been overly moralistic or if the whole thing had just been a gimmick, and Fox enjoyed a healthy box-office gross of over $4 million.

April Love was shot in and around Lexington, Kentucky. For the song "Clover in the Meadow," five acres of Kentucky Blue Grass were dyed yellow to be more visually appropriate. Boone and supporting actor Arthur O'Connell became lifelong friends as a result of this film. They even bought a racehorse together that they saw on a farm used for filming, and named her April Love. (Unfortunately, the horse turned out to be a money-loser.)

While audiences lapped the movie up, critics were more restrained. Trade paper Variety deemed the film "a good family entertainment with emphasis on teenage audience tastes... Boone is a more assured performer in this second film, turning in an easy, affable performance."

But The New York Times chided, "Now what could be more apt on Thanksgiving Eve than a wholesome, pretty little family picture about a girl, a boy and a horse in the Blue Grass sector? If only April Love had a modicum of spunk, say that of a fiery old turkey gobbler resisting fate. It has, instead, Pat Boone and Shirley Jones, two of the nicest-looking young singers to be found anywhere, a batch of pleasant tunes, some nifty Kentucky scenery in good color and absolutely no plot... Mr. Boone no more suggests a mild, urban delinquent than he does John Dillinger. But it's high time they gave such a nice lad a picture with a few teeth to it."

Sammy Fain and Paul Francis Webster's title song, sung by Boone, became a million-selling hit weeks before the film even opened. It was nominated for an Academy Award but lost to "All the Way," from The Joker Is Wild (1957).

By Jeremy Arnold

Richard D. Kibbey, Pat Boone: The Hollywood Years
Shirley Jones and Marty Ingels, with Mickey Herskowitz, Shirley & Marty: An Unlikely Love Story

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