Patti Page: Singer who sold 100m records but is best known for '(How Much Is) That Doggie'

 

In 1997 Patti Page was given an industry award for selling 100 million records and yet she rarely had critical success. Her detractors thought her records bland and banal and too often associated with novelty, notably "(How Much Is) That Doggie In The Window". Nevertheless, the record-buying public of the early 1950s loved her work and "Tennessee Waltz" sold 10 million copies, at that time becoming the second biggest selling single and only losing out to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas". Patti Page's impact in the UK was reduced because of local artists covering her hits.

Patti Page was born Clara Ann Fowler in Claremore, Oklahoma in 1927, one of 11 children born to a railway worker, Benjamin Fowler, and his wife, Margaret, a church organist. Benjamin gave her a love of country music, which proved invaluable once she stopped having pop hits.

When the family was in Tulsa in 1943, she delivered singing telegrams for Western Union. She sang on Radio KTUL and when a singer gave up hosting, Meet Patti Page, for Page Milk, she took over the show and the name, which she used elsewhere.

In 1944 Jimmy Joy's orchestra was playing in Tulsa and the saxophonist Jack Rael heard Page on the radio. He offered her a job with the band. Page was going to marry a station announcer but as he had jilted her, a move from Tulsa seemed ideal.

Soon Rael suggested that they both leave the band and he would manage her solo career. The deal was simple: Rael wanted 50 per cent and in return he would find bookings, choose songs, develop arrangements and lead the band. To quote Rael, "She would do the singing and nothing else."

In 1947, Rael arranged a contract with Mercury, which was having success with Frankie Laine. Her gentle ballad, "Confess", became the first hit record to feature vocal overdubbing. Because of it, she became known as the Singing Rage and her album covers often showed her in duplicate or triplicate. Her 1950 hit, "With My Eyes Wide Open, I'm Dreaming" featured her vocal overdubbed three times and was released as by the Patti Page Quartet. Page couldn't duplicate this sound on the road, but she would tour with her sister, Rema.

Page had her first US No 1 in 1950 with "All My Love" and she followed it with "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus". The dis -jockeys and public alike preferred the B-side, "Tennessee Waltz", which became her biggest record.

The songwriter Bob Merrill had seen prostitutes offering their services in Amsterdam and this prompted "(How Much Is) That Doggie In The Window" (1953). Page recorded it with two musicians making canine noises and it was another US No 1. It made the UK Top 10 but it was a British singer, Lita Roza, who topped the chart here and wished she had never recorded it. Page had no such reservations and made several children's singles about Arfie, the doggie in the window.

Page recorded with Vic Damone, Rusty Draper and the cowboy actor, Rex Allen, but her successes came with solo recordings, "Mockin' Bird Hill" (1951), "Let Me Go Lover" (1954) and "Allegheny Moon" (1956). In 1955, she was the first singer to record a Burt Bacharach song, "Keep Me In Mind" and Bacharach commented, "It's the hardest thing in the world to write a simple melody that's fresh and doesn't sound stolen."

In 1957, a surgeon's wife, Claire Rothrock, wrote a song about an idyllic holiday, "Old Cape Cod". Page's delightful record is mentioned in "Disney Girls (1957)" on the Beach Boys' album, Surf's Up. "Old Cape Cod" was sampled for Groove Armada's "At The River" (1999) and has been used on the soundtrack of Mad Men.

Page married a college student, Jack Skiba, in 1948 but they were divorced the following year. In 1956 she married the choreographer, Charles O'Curran and they adopted two children. Now based in Hollywood, Page became a TV star, hosting The Big Record for CBS and The Patti Page Show for NBC. She acted in Elmer Gantry (1960), Dondi (1961) and Boys' Night Out (1962). She stopped having hit singles, partly because she had been replaced by a more modern version of herself in Connie Francis. In 1964 she had a US hit with the theme song from Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte, a horror film starring Bette Davis and she sang it at the Oscar ceremony although it lost to "Chim Chim Cheree".

Over the years Page recorded many standards and she sang songs with innuendo such as "Steam Heat" (1954) and "Love For Sale" (1956). In 1956 she recorded a concept album about New York, Manhattan Tower, with Gordon Jenkins and his Orchestra. She recorded albums in many styles including The Waltz Queen (1957), Romance On The Range (1957) and her attempt at rock'n'roll, Golden Hits Of The Boys (1962). She had several country hits, notably "One Of Us (Will Weep Tonight)" (1960) and with Tom T. Hall, "Hello, We're Lonely" (1972). She found a new career entertaining on cruise ships.

In 1990 Page married Jerry Filiciotto and they established a maple syrup refinery in New England. Now her honeyed tones were selling Patti Page's Pure Maple Products. Page dismissed Rael in 1995 over a dispute as to whether the 50 per cent split should continue after their deaths for the benefits of their children. In 1997 Page gave a concert at Carnegie Hall and the resulting album won a Grammy. She was to receive a lifetime achievement award at this year's Grammys which will now be made posthumously.

Spencer Leigh

Clara Ann Fowler (Patti Page), singer: born Claremore, Oklahoma 8 November 1927; married 1948 Jack Skiba (divorced 1949); 1956 Charles O'Curran (divorced 1972; one adopted son, one adopted daughter); 1990 Jerry Filiciotto (died 2009); died Encinitas, California 1 January 2013.

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