View Full Version : Elvis Presley's special relationship with Hawaii endures

12-11-2008, 08:17 PM
Elvis Presley's special relationship with Hawaii endures.
by Luis I. Reyes
Who would have thought that more than 20 years after his death, Elvis Presley would remain as popular as ever. Whether you like to remember a young, trim Elvis Presley or an older, sequined one, there's no denying that Elvis will forever be a part of America's history. But some of his fans may not know that the King of Rock 'n' Roll was a big supporter of Hawaii. He made three films in Hawaii and was instrumental in raising funds for the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor in 1961.

That same year, he made his first Island-themed movie, Blue Hawaii. "Hawaii has a big future. I want to become a part of it," Elvis said quite prophetically to his girlfriend Maile, played by Joan Blackman. In the movie, Elvis leaves his father's pineapple business to pursue tourism, which 40 years later is the principal economic activity of Hawaii.

The Islands are forever tied to the Elvis legend, just as he remains a part of Hawaii 22 years after his death at the age of 42. His movies and concerts employed many Islanders and endeared him to the local people. Presley's presence in Hawaii functioned as a commercial for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, inspiring a generation of Depression-era children and baby boomers to visit Hawaii.

Perfect Timing
Elvis' relationship with Hawaii came at a turning point in Hawaii's history, when it was moving from territorial status to statehood. These majestic Islands filled with ancient Polynesian lore of gods and kings made a fitting setting for the future King of Rock 'n' Roll. Elvis and his music symbolized the restless American spirit of manifest destiny, strength and youth.

The Elvis-Hawaii connection actually began with a Dutch illegal alien, Andrees Van Kujiil, later known as Col. Tom Parker. Entering the United States illegally as a 19-year-old in 1931, he hitched up with the U.S. Army for a tour of duty in Hawaii. The Army was looking for volunteers to serve on army bases in Hawaii, at the time an unpopular assignment with those who had families on the Mainland.

Kujiil served in Hawaii for two years stationed at Fort Shafter and later adopted the name of his commanding officer, Capt. Tom Parker. He returned to the South as a carnival barker and later entered artist management, where he discovered Elvis and launched him with RCA records.

Presley burst into national fame and popularity in 1956 and was promptly signed by famed Hollywood producer Hal Wallis to a movie contract. In March 1958, Elvis was drafted, served in the U.S. armed forces, and was discharged in May 1960. The seemingly wild, rebellious, dangerous, youthful hip-shaking rock and roller was being transformed into the boy next door and a cash cow.

Later, a Los Angeles newspaper ran an article outlining how $200,000 was needed to complete a memorial at Pearl Harbor at the site of the sunken U.S.S. Arizona. After reading this, the Colonel flew to Honolulu and offered Presley's services. The average age of those who died on Dec. 7, 1941, was about the same as that of the guitar-strumming 26-year-old ex-GI singer.

Tom Moffatt met Elvis in 1957 when the young local deejay introduced him before a stage show. "From the beginning, Elvis was very popular in Hawaii," Moffatt says. Elvis played two shows at Honolulu Stadium (now Stadium Park) on Nov. 10, 1957, then played to 10,000 servicemen and friends at the Schofield barracks.

On Saturday, March 25, 1961, Elvis arrived at Honolulu International Airport and was greeted by 3,000 fans. At the Hilton Hawaiian Village, another 300 girls were waiting to greet him. He held a brief press conference and later filled the 4,000-seat Bloch Arena in Pearl Harbor. The Arizona Memorial concert raised more than $57,000. The following Monday, he began filming Blue Hawaii.

Blue Hawaii Crew
Blue Hawaii became Elvis' biggest hit, earning more than $2 million in the first two months of release. The soundtrack marked the singer's 13th gold record and eventually passed the 5 million mark in sales. The handsome, sexy singer starred in three films made in Hawaii, showcasing the sights and sounds of America's newest state in Technicolor.

Frank Atienza played Ito, one of the beach boys in Blue Hawaii. "Elvis was just an ordinary guy who was professional and fun to work with," he says. "He adapted to our music, and all the songs he sang about Hawaii are still popular today."

Carey Anderson, son of Hawaiian prop man and set dresser Kenneth "Andy" Anderson, recalls being on the set as a 4-year-old. "I was at the water's edge looking at the fish when I fell into the lagoon during a take and disrupted the filming. Elvis pulled me out of the water and said, 'Whose kid is this?' My father claimed me and said, 'Don't worry, it won't happen again.' Everyone had a good laugh and continued filming."

One of the most famous images in Elvis' film history has to be Blue Hawaii's wedding scene finale at the Coco Palms hotel lagoons on Kauai. Wearing a white shirt and pants, with a red sash draping down the side, Elvis floats down the waterway on a flower-covered double outrigger with his bride, singing a rendition of the "Hawaiian Wedding Song."

Coco Palms retains its connection to Elvis and is a popular tourist stop. Bob Jasper, who runs Hawaii Movie Tours on Kauai, says, "The Coco Palms hotel is a meaningful Elvis location, because Elvis filmed there, honeymooned there with Priscilla, and visited when his daughter, Lisa Marie, was a baby."

To mark the 20th anniversary of Elvis' death, more than 400 Elvis fans from England made a pilgrimage to Coco Palms in 1997, where many of them arranged to be married Blue Hawaii style. Heavily damaged by Hurricane Iniki, the closed hotel is awaiting the outcome of a long legal dispute.

The assistant director of Blue Hawaii, Mickey Moore, worked with Elvis on six films. "He enjoyed himself over there (Hawaii), but many times he could not go out because of the fans. Girls would climb up on his hotel balcony to try to get a glimpse of him.

"Elvis had a lot more potential than the movies he was put in, but audiences would know that as soon as they saw him on screen in a canoe, surfboard or plane, he would break out in song."

Elvis' closest confidant and road manager, Joe Esposito, recalls in his book Good Rockin' Tonight, that "Elvis loved Hawaii. The weather was fabulous, and the people treated him with respect. Unlike Mainland fans, who hounded him wherever he went, the Hawaiians left Elvis alone." When the attention wasn't focused on him, Elvis could walk around Hawaii like anyone else.

Girls and Paradise
In April of 1962, Elvis stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on Oahu while filming the movie Girls, Girls, Girls. He played a charter boat pilot and part-time nightclub singer in an ambiguous warm water port. The film was shot in such diverse locations as the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor and the Kona Coast, but no recognizable Hawaiian landmarks are featured.

Three years later, hoping to regain some of his lost box office popularity, Elvis came back to the Aloha State to film Paradise Hawaiian Style. He stayed at the Ilikai Hotel in Honolulu, but locations included Kauai's Hanalei Plantation Resort and the Maui Sheraton Hotel. The Polynesian Cultural Center at Laie on Oahu was the site of several major production numbers utilizing the center's native singers. The center received a $20,000 donation for the use of its facilities that went into a scholarship fund.

In Paradise Hawaiian Style, Elvis foretold a tourism innovation by running a helicopter charter service with his costar, Hawaiian-born James Shigeta. "There weren't many helicopter services geared to tourism, let alone filming," Moore recalls. "We had to bring a helicopter from the Mainland in order to be sure of its safety factor and dropped it down on Hanalei and flew through Waimea Canyon on Kauai."

During their stay, Elvis and Col. Parker placed a wreath at the base of the white marble Arizona Memorial and were formally thanked for their help in its completion.

On Jan. 14, 1973, "Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii" was broadcast live via satellite TV at 12:30 a.m. from the Honolulu International Convention Center (Neal Blaisdell Center) in order to reach a prime-time audience in Asia. A dress rehearsal the previous evening played before a full audience of 6,000 where the then mayor of Honolulu read a proclamation declaring it "Elvis Presley Day."

Elvis' Hawaii Home
Elvis purchased a home on the North Shore hillside of Pupukea on Oahu overlooking the pipeline. "He visited here a lot more than people realize," recalls Moffatt, who today runs his own media company and still produces an oldies radio show on Oahu.

Elvis' last visit to Hawaii was in March of 1977, five months before his death. Elvis will remain a worldwide icon, but to those of us who love Hawaii as much as he did, Elvis will always be the King of Aloha.

This article was published in the July/August 1999 issue of Hawaii Magazine.


12-11-2008, 10:27 PM
Thanks Jen, I love reading these.



12-12-2008, 06:37 AM
Thanks Jen, I love reading these.



Your welcome Kimmi(y)

12-12-2008, 09:17 AM
A nice read Jen...Thank you..again! I always thought that Elvis and Hawaii were just made for each other.(y)(y)

12-12-2008, 09:35 AM
I didn't realize that Elvis actually purchased property in Hawaii as this article states. Interesting, but still a great read. Thanks.

12-12-2008, 12:40 PM
Thanks Jen. I didn't know Elvis purchased property in Hawaii either and I'm very pleased to see how well they still think of him.


12-12-2008, 03:41 PM
Can't remember..but didn't lisa marie say that Hawaii was her favorite place to go??