Gabri Ferrer Lights Up Debby Boone's Life—and Does the Cooking and Cleaning Too
It seemed like not so much a marriage as an improbable showbiz merger. The bride at the celeb-packed Sept. 1, 1979 wedding at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood was blond Debby Boone, the fast-rising singing daughter of those goody-two-shoes Pat and Shirley Boone. The groom: six-foot Gabriel “Gabri” Ferrer, one of the chronic cutups raised by Rosemary Clooney and Jose Ferrer, and a godson of Bing Crosby. So how are the golden pair doing two years later? Says Debby, back home in L.A.’s Beverly Glen Canyon after eight weeks touring Ohio and Michigan in a new musical: “I’m loving every minute.” And hubby adds, “The physical attraction is still there—and a real closeness has developed.”
When they started dating seriously in 1977, Debby had just cut her first smash single, You Light Up My Life. Now, with two Grammys, six albums and an NBC-TV special behind her, she is debuting onstage as an actress in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, an adaptation of the 1954 movie. The play opens in L.A. next month, will travel to other cities and, if all goes well, will hit Broadway next year. Meantime, at the advanced age of 24, Debby is readying her autobiography for publication in October. Entitled Debby Boone So Far, it’s no Mommie Dearest: When Debby says “Daddy dearest,” she means it.
And what of Gabri? His most visible credit is the couple’s 13-month-old pride and joy, Jordan Ferrer. Otherwise, the 24-year-old Gabri serves as his wife’s professional and private helpmate and is on her payroll. “When she’s onstage I’ll be at the sound booth checking all the arrangements,” he explains. “When we’re in L.A., I’ll be at our office working with the managers and making decisions she doesn’t need to be involved in. I free her to do what she wants to do—just perform.” At home, he cooks (Debby does the dishes), cleans and tends their son (whom they named after the biblical River Jordan). “He’s not the kind of man who has to be macho all the time,” says Debby. “When I come home late, he has no qualms about having dinner ready for me.”
Though Debby says she was so obstreperous that her father spanked her even at 18 (for “smarting off” at him), her rebelliousness was pretty tame. For example, she says that one transgression was to arrive at school with her skirt hiked up “as far as it would go, with my underwear showing in back.” Strict parental discipline was scarcely Gabri’s problem. After his parents finally divorced in 1967, when he was 10, Gabri and the four other Ferrers lived mostly with their mother. But Clooney, as she confessed in her 1977 autobiography, This for Remembrance, was too beset by an emotional breakdown and a battle with pills to tend her brood. “Mother’s illness was just something that had to be dealt with,” Gabri says. “There were a lot of times she’d fall on the floor, but you just picked her up; that’s all.”
Clooney eventually recovered, and despite the divorce (neither of his parents remarried), Gabri carries few scars. Though he studied art briefly at Pepperdine University, he eschewed college “because I didn’t want to work that hard.” By 1975, when he met Debby, he was far into what he calls “a wild period in my life—long hair, grass, drugs, the whole bit.”
Their first encounter came one morning when his brother Miguel took Debby to a sunrise church service and stopped at home to see whether anyone else wanted to go. As Debby tells it, she and Miguel walked into Gabri’s room “and I saw this wild-looking creature with hair down to his shoulders. He looked up and said, ‘What? Go to church? You’ve got to be kidding! I’m sleeping.’ I didn’t ever want to see him again.”
A year later she did—at a Bible study session at the Boone home. Gabri had been raised a Catholic. But under the influence of a favorite aunt he had “become a Christian,” he explains. “He was cleaned up,” says Debby. “We talked and he asked me to play tennis.” Their relationship, she says, “started out casually. Gabri was younger, and I was used to dating older, more sophisticated friends.”
But she soon discovered, happily, that outings with Gabri “weren’t tense like those with older guys, who were put off by the strictness of my parents.”
Occasionally the pair had spats and split. Says Debby: “I was scared of making a commitment.” When Gabri finally proposed, she fled to Lake Tahoe alone to think things over. Gabri followed. She said yes. They wed after a nine-month engagement.
“Religion plays a big role in our lives,” says Gabri, who brings tapes of sermons along when he and Debby are on the road. What apparently doesn’t concern them is who has the starring and supporting roles in the family.
So a marriage made in Hollywood doesn’t have to be as tacky as the town. Quite to the contrary, theirs is about as squeaky clean as the inside of a Windex bottle. Which, frankly, bothers Debby just a little. Her image is too clean. “Which is fine,” she says, “but a little shallow to my liking: that of the Ail-American, wholesome girl who sings pretty and smiles pretty and that’s about it. People think I’ve come out of a mold and they regard me as a naive person living in my own bubble somewhere, but I think I’ve made intelligent choices to live the way I live.”