Wed, 19 November 2014
We are one week and 15 articles into our tribute to Hawaii Calls in honor of its host and creator Webley Edwards. As the tribute transitions from the 1950s to the 1960s, I think now is the time to unveil Hawaii Calls on video.
Few remember that for a brief period around 1965-66, Hawaii Calls made a brief entré into the world of television. Edwards felt that radio was a dying medium and that audiences deserved to see the real Hawai`i. Television was the perfect medium to portray paradise in technicolor, but as the radio program was already too costly to produce, a weekly live television show would by no means better the enterprise’s financial situation. The next best thing: Performances by the stars of Hawaii Calls shot at various locations around Hawai`i including junkets to film on Maui and Kaua`i. But this wouldn’t be easy or inexpensive either – lugging all of the instruments, hula costumes, and audio and video equipment around. So the decision was made to record the music tracks in a local Honolulu recording studio and only fly the show’s singing stars – and a few hula dancers – to various locations to film them performing to the prerecorded audio tracks. Today we call this lip synching.
In other words, Webley Edwards invented the music video before music videos were hip and cool. (OK, arguably The Beatles beat him to it by a year with A Hard Day’s Night. And the French beat them by a few years with the Scopitone, the first video jukebox. But I digress. If not purely inventive, Edwards was at least truly cutting edge.)
And because the videos were shot at various picturesque locations, the combination of setting, hula, singer, and steel guitars painted an irresistibly attractive portrait of the islands for potential visitors. For this reason, among collectors and aficionados, the short-lived Hawaii Calls TV shows are often referred to as the Travelogues.
As was to be expected, even with the prerecorded audio and the lip synching the show was extremely expensive to create and yielded little or no revenue. So after only 26 episodes, the TV version of Hawaii Calls was cancelled. The footage remains – in bits in pieces – in private collections and university libraries. I freely admit that I purchased half of the episodes from a private collector in Los Angeles more than 20 years ago at such an outrageous price that I cannot even type it again lest I start to cry. Two decades later, Edwards’ biographer Allen Roy shared the missing episodes with me – an act of kindness for which I am eternally grateful.
The rights to the TV show – or, at least, the Hawaii Calls name – are owned by somebody. So I remain appalled that to this day private collectors will post a snippet of one of these programs on YouTube and offer the rest for private sale at prices equally ridiculous as I paid 20 years ago (plus inflation). My intention over the next few days is to share a few choice snippets from the show with readers of Ho`olohe Hou since I think that seeing some of these artists in motion again is a historically and culturally important act. That does make it an entirely legal act. So if I am asked to remove these clips by their rightful owner, I will do so with contrition. In other words, enjoy them while you can.
One of the curiosities of the TV version of Hawaii Calls was that it often featured performers who were not part of the regular cast and who would not have been heard on the weekly radio shows (which continued uninterrupted even while experimenting with the TV version). Having seen and documented the action on all 26 episodes of the program, I tend to think that Edwards enlisted Hawai`i celebrities who had nationwide exposure and appeal. This was not true to the radio show and might be considered “pandering.” Worse still, the TV show’s focus on entertainers who were not Hawaii Calls cast members meant that the world never saw some of the shining lights in local Hawai`i entertainment – the very names and voices that fans of the radio show tuned in to hear every week. At worst this might be considered a huge mistake, and at best it should truly be considered a pity.
As this tribute begins to focus on the radio program in the late 1950s and early 1960s, we can at least augment our enjoyment of these voices with a little video. To be fair, these clips have seen the ravages of time. You may have difficulty believing they were filmed in color as they are now verging on black-and-white. But I believe they are worth seeing again, and I hope you do too. In the clip here you see Webley Edwards in the intro sequence that was seen at the beginning of every episode of the TV show. This sequence was not filmed anew for every episode, so if you’ve seen it once… But it is a rare opportunity to see the man we have been honoring in action once again.
Next time: A rare listen at another side of one of Hawaii Calls’ steel guitarists – one we never heard on the radio show…