Hawaii Calls – The Romantic Side of Poncie Ponce

Hawaiian Eye star Poncie Ponce was not a regular on the radio version of Hawaii Calls, and he only appeared a handful of times on the TV version of the same show (likely host Webley Edwards’ attempt to capitalize on Poncie’s well-established popularity across the nation). But on the few occasions when he did appear on Hawaii Calls, more often than not he was permitted to do something he was not permitted to do either on Hawaiian Eye or on the records he made for his bosses at Warner Bros.: Sing a romantic ballad. 

And, as you can hear here, Poncie Ponce was equally adept at Hawai`i’s romantic ballads as he was at its rollicking comedy numbers. It is a pity he did not have the opportunity to do more such performances. But such is what happens when you get pigeon-holed into a particular role in the entertainment field, and Poncie Ponce was branded – through his own actions – as the funnyman. 

The song is quite a mystery as this seems to be the only ever performance of it by any artist anywhere. Presumably titled “Magic Island,” no song by this name has ever appeared on another LP recorded in Hawai`i, and a search on the lyric reveals no song by this title either. Did Poncie Ponce write it himself? Regardless of who the mystery composer might be, I hope that publishing this video encourages other performers in Hawai`i to take up the reigns and give this song new life. (This song would sound terrific on a singer like, for example, Ioane Burns.) 

I hope you enjoyed this clip of Poncie Ponce which has remained far from sight and mind for nearly 50 years.


Direct download: Poncie_Ponce_-_Magic_Island.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 2:32pm EST

Hawaii Calls – The Regal Nalani Olds

You may have read here previously about Nalani Olds’ entertainment legacy. It was in her DNA. And she proves that she was born to sing once again in this clip from the short-lived Hawaii Calls TV show from the mid-1960s in which she sings the Charles E. King composition “Ku`u Lei Aloha” which – along with his “Ke Kali Nei Au” and “Lei Aloha, Lei Makamae” – form a trilogy which may rank among the greatest Hawaiian love songs of all time. 

Nalani’s career began more than a decade before her appearances on the Hawaii Calls TV show, and she continued on to even greater successes after – including her stints at the Hawaiian Village Hotel and with Danny Kaleikini’s show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel as well as two cherished LP recordings from the late 1970s which regrettably are out-of-print but which will get their due at Ho`olohe Hou when we continue to celebrate the incomparable Nalani Olds soon. 



Direct download: Nalani_Olds_-_Kuu_Leialoha.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 2:02pm EST

Hawaii Calls – The Crazy Hilo Hattie

You have probably already read here previously how Hilo Hattie got her crazy name from the song of the same name composed by Don McDiarmid, Sr. (composer of such beloved comic hula songs as “My Wahine and Me” and “Sadie, The South Seas Lady”). While Clara was a fine singer and top-notch guitarist, such novelty songs as the “Hilo Hop” are the songs that made her famous. Here is yet another rare performance by Hilo Hattie of just such a tune – one with a sordid history. 

The sheet music for “Princess Poo-poo-ly Has Plenty Pa-pa-ya” credits the song to Royal Hawaiian Band leader and original Hawaii Calls orchestrator and conductor Harry Owens. But did he really write it? A tradition in the music publishing industry in Hawai`i – where previously someone would write a song without thinking to publish or even copyright it, allowing it to fall into unscrupulous hands – was that the few experts in publishing (the names Charles E. King, Johnny Noble, and Harry Owens were the big three) would assist songwriters in publishing and copyrighting their works in exchange for a co-writing credit (which would entitle them to a portion of the song’s royalties). There are literally hundreds of such songs with co-authorship cited as “…and Johnny Noble” or “…and Harry Owens” where the creative contribution by the name following the “and” remains forever in question. But what reason do we have to believe that Owens is not solely responsible for “Princess Poo-poo-ly?” A conflicting account by someone who says that the song was written “on the spot” at a party in Hale`iwa by party-goers Doug Renolds and Don McDiarmid (yes, the same McDiarmid who wrote “Hilo Hattie” and the litany of songs listed above). According to McDiramid’s son, Hula Records owner Don McDiarmid, Jr., Harry Owens published the song and was subsequently sued by Renolds who – in order to help Owens save face – sold his rights to the popular song for a hefty sum. McDiarmid apparently never attempted to claim co-authorship of the song. 

We could dismiss the younger McDiarmid’s account as that of a proud son protecting his father’s legacy. But we could actually use the music itself to attempt to validate his assertion. Harry Owens is famous for such compositions as “Sweet Leilani,” “Hawaiian Hospitality,” “Hawaiian Paradise,” “Dancing Under The Stars,” and “Hawaii Calls” (the original theme song for early episodes of the Hawaii Calls radio show). All of these songs are ballads that show a flair for a romantic – not a single up-tempo or comic song among them. But, more than this, as you read here previously, during his tenure as bandleader at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, Owens would not even allow such low-brow comic hulas as McDiarmid’s “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” to be performed at such a classy establishment. How could “Princess Poo-poo-ly” be the type of fare in which Owens would be interested or that could even come from his romantic balladeer’s pen? By contrast, “Princess Poo-poo-ly” is exactly like the songs for which McDiarmid was known – having the same rhythms and rhyme schemes as “Hilo Hattie” or “Sadie, The South Seas Lady.” If one who knew Hawaiian music were to hear the song and guess who composed it, one is highly likely to guess McDiarmid. It was simply his style. 

So here is a theory: After Owens rejected the opportunity to perform “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” and it became both a critical and commercial success, might Owens have published “Princess Poo-poo-ly” in retaliation? We will never know. The true authorship of the song may forever remain in debate, but until further evidence comes to light, we can let our ears be judge and jury. 

We will hear from Hilo Hattie again and again here at Ho`olohe Hou. Until we do, I hope you enjoyed watching her in this clip that has not been unearthed elsewhere for nearly 50 years and which may be the one of the only videos of this talented lady in action.


Direct download: Hilo_Hattie_-_Princess_Pupule.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 1:38pm EST

Hawaii Calls - Emma Veary

If you are an avid follower of Ho`olohe Hou, then you may recall we already paid tribute to Emma Maynon Kaipuala Veary Lewis when we began our coverage of Waikiki night life in the 1970s when she starred in large stage productions in the strip’s most prestigious showrooms – first at the Halekulani Hotel, and then at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. She started her music career somewhat inauspiciously – singing with the E.K. Fernandez circus at the tender age eight. But after winning any number of talent and singing contests, Emma was singing at every major Waikiki nightspot while still in high school. She went on to study opera and perform in the stock companies of such Broadway shows as Carousel, Showboat, Pal Joey, West Side Story, The King and I, and Flower Drum Song. But she is best remembered for a series of four LP records she made with arranger/producer Jack de Mello. (Click here to hear clips from these out-of-print treasures which can be heard only at Ho`olohe Hou.)

The opera training made the versatile Veary perfect for such material as traditional Hawaiian standards, waltzes, and the songs of Na Lani `Eha (the four members of Hawai`i’s last reigning royal family who also just happened to be among the most prolific and artful composers in Hawai`i’s history). But for the 1970s when Hawaiian music was turning toward its more folk directions, de Mello’s arrangements may have been considered too heavy or serious – orchestral affairs involving large string sections and even a harp. This is what makes seeing this clip of Ms. Veary on the Hawaii Calls TV show such a rare delight. The group is not an orchestra but, rather, the down home Hawaiians of the rhythm section of the Hawaii Calls radio show band, and the song is not more serious fare but, rather, a novelty tune – requiring Veary to turn down the operatic technique a notch or two and just sing the song. Compared with her 1970s work, here Veary’s voice is lighter, airier, and – frankly – more relaxed. Casual, I believe, is the word I am looking for, and it is really nice to see and hear the lovely Ms. Veary in a casual mode – a side which her Waikiki audiences rarely got to see and hear.

“Blue Mu`umu`u” was composed by the venerable Jack Pitman about whom you have been reading here often as he also composed “Lovely Hula Girl” and “Goodnight, Leilani E” (which were performed earlier by Alfred Apaka), “Beyond The Reef” (sung by Nina Keali`iwahamana and danced by her sister, Lani Custino), and “Lani” (sung by Sonny Nicholas and inspired by the hula of the same Lani Custino). And the list of Pitman hapa-haole favorites goes on and on and also includes “The Sands of Waikiki,” “Fish and Poi,” and (a staple of my repertoire) the oft-forgotten “Seven Days In Waikiki.”

Like Hilo Hattie and Poncie Ponce before her, Veary appeared on the TV version of Hawaii Calls but never on the radio version which spawned it. I hope you enjoyed seeing and hearing this early clip of Emma Veary which has likely not been in circulation for the nearly 50 years since it first aired. 


Direct download: Emma_Veary_-_Blue_Muumuu.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 11:47am EST

Hawaii Calls - The Comic Side of Poncie Ponce

A welder by trade, Ponciano Hernandez secretly desired to be an entertainer. The young man was raised playing his native `ukulele but also excelled at the saxophone, trumpet, harmonica, and bongos. But his real talent was comedy. His act went over well for tourists on Maui where he was born and raised, and he fared well too in local talent contests – even winning one hosted by local celebrity Lucky Luck. So he decided to make a go of a life on the stage and took the plunge completely by moving to Los Angeles where he was discovered by a used car dealer who also happened to broadcast a local radio talent show, Rocket to Stardom, right from his automotive showroom on Wilshire Boulevard. While performing at Ben Blue’s Santa Monica as a singer and stand-up comedian, he was discovered all over again by Warner Bros. executives who thought there might be a part for him in their new Hawai`i-based TV show just going into production. They signed him to a contract with one stipulation: Jack Warner (you know – one of the Warner Brothers) thought his name was too complicated for television audiences to say or remember, and fully expecting him to become a star, insisted on shortening it to something more clever and alliterative.  

Before you know it, Poncie Ponce was one of the stars of the hit TV series Hawaiian Eye, the first regular series since the (then very recent) invention of television to be set in Hawai`i. His performance as the singing, clowning cab driver Kazuo Kim was well received – landing him on the cover of TV Guide and in the guest chair of talk and variety shows hosted by such notables as Mike Douglas, Red Skelton, Woody Woodbury, David Frost, John Gary, and Art Linkletter. Warner Bros. even enlisted him – as they did other members of the Hawaiian Eye cast (including Robert Conrad and Connie Stevens) – to record an LP – partly to tout Ponce’s vocal talents, but moreso as a shameless promotional tie-in to the TV show. The record, Poncie Ponce Sings, features hapa-haole classics performed by some of L.A.’s finest studio musicians (including steel guitarist Vince Akina) – most in the comic vein for which Ponce was noted. Billboard magazine agreed that the comedy tunes were Poncie’s strength, saying, “He does his best work on novelties.” 

Such fame can be fleeting, but not for Ponce who, after the four-year run of Hawaiian Eye came to an end, went on to perform across the country – at such prestigious spots as the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, the Palmer House in Chicago, Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and the Frank Sinatra-owned Cal-Neva Lodge in Lake Tahoe – as well as around the world with extended engagements and TV appearances in Sydney, Australia, Tokyo, Japan, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Back home in Hawai`i he had runs at both the Outrigger Hotel in Waikiki and the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo. But he appeared most frequently Las Vegas – likely because it was easy to get to from his new permanent home state of California. And he also made a film appearance as one of the pit crew in Elvis Presley’s Speedway. 

As with Hilo Hattie and others who appeared on the TV version of Hawaii Calls but never on the radio version which spawned it, show creator/host Webley Edwards likely did not choose Poncie Ponce to appear on the show so much for his popularity in his home islands as much as for his established nationwide notoriety. Here he performs one of the most notable – and earliest written – hapa-haole songs from the pen of the man largely credited for creating the genre in the early 1900s, Sonny Cunha (who is also known for composing “Boola Boola,” the still popular fight song for his alma mater, Yale University). Ponce performed “Hapa-Haole Hula Girl” on his 1962 Warner Bros. LP, but he performs it again here for TV audiences in an entirely different arrangement accompanied by the Hawaii Calls group. You can hear from this tune that he clearly excelled at this type of comedy material, and – perhaps because of breaking in first as a comedian – Ponce is one of the few performers who can actually convey the humor in the song with his voice alone even if you couldn’t also see the wink and the smile.  

I hope you appreciate seeing this clip of Poncie Ponce which has remained in a vault somewhere for nearly 50 years. 

Next time: The sensitive side of Poncie Ponce we never heard on record… 


Direct download: Poncie_Ponce_-_Hapa-haole_Hula_Girl.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 9:17am EST

Hawaii Calls – Nalani Olds

It was almost inevitable that Nalani-alua Olds Napoleon would become an entertainer. Her father was Hawai`i’s best known male hula dancer in the 1920s and 30s – dancing at the grand opening of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood and appearing in films with such luminaries as Dorothy Lamour.  Her mother was a singer, dancer, and actress during this same period. Following in her parents footsteps, the lovely Nalani also became a triple-threat: singer, dancer, and model. 

Nalani’s career began more than a decade before her appearances on the Hawaii Calls TV show. (Note that she never appeared on the radio program – only the TV program. Perhaps it was the intention of show creator/host Webley Edwards to capitalize on her beauty which would have been lost on radio audiences.) She was first the featured dancer and singer with the trio of Alice, Linda, and Sybil – also known as the Halekulani Girls for the hotel where they held court. She was then with fellow future Hawaii Calls cast member Haunani Kahalewai in her show at the Top of the Isle. Next a stop in New York City for an extended engagement at the Luau 400 Club (which would replace the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room as the top nightspot for Hawaiian entertainment through the late 1950s and 60s). And when she returned to Hawai`i, she spent six years performing with the then newly opened Hawaiian Village Hotel’s lu`au, followed by a lengthy stint with Danny Kaleikini’s show at the Kahala Hilton Hotel. During this time Nalani was also waxing singles for Decca Records – often accompanied by members of the Hawaii Calls group – followed by two enduring solo albums in the 1970s. 

I met Auntie Nalani in September 2007 when she was a judge for the Aloha Festivals Falsetto Contest. We became fast friends – bonding over our mutual love of the sounds and entertainers of Hawaiian music’s golden era. But she serves her audiences differently now – as a Trustee-At-Large for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs since 2000. 

In this performance from the Hawaii Calls TV show, Nalani performs the endearing “Pua Mae`ole” – a performance made all the more special still when we realize that the song was composed by fellow Hawaii Calls cast member John “Squeeze” Kamana. I hope you appreciate seeing this clip which likely has not seen the light of day for nearly 50 years. 

Next time: An encore from Ms. Olds… 


Direct download: Nalani_Olds_-_Pua_Maeole.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 6:49am EST

Hawaii Calls – Hilo Hattie Hops

Don McDiarmid, Sr. (composer of such beloved comic hula songs as “My Wahine and Me” and “Sadie, The South Seas Lady”) wrote the wacky “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” n 1935 when he was a member of Harry Owens’ band at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Don took the song to his bandleader boss for his approval, but Owens said they couldn’t play such a low-brow song in such a classy establishment as the Royal. But Clarissa “Clara” Haili Inter, a singer and guitarist with Louise Akeo’s Royal Hawaiian Girls’ Glee Club (the same group who performed daily for the Kodak Hula Show written about here previously), discovered the song, created an iconic hula for it, and made it her own – but, to contradict many accounts, she did so reluctantly. But it would not be long before “When Hilo Hattie Does The Hilo Hop” would be more Clara’s song than McDiarmid’s. 

Now, by all accounts the diminutive Clara was quite the lady, as all members of Louise Akeo’s Glee Club were expected to be. On stage, they carried themselves with the utmost professionalism. But on a cruise to Portland, Oregon – far from Hawai`i and reputations – Clara performed the comic hula she had dreamed up with the ship’s orchestra and nearly capsized the ship from the uproarious applause. She continued to perfect the performance – trying it out at private parties, but never in public because she felt it would not be received correctly. But then one evening at the Royal, Clara decided she wanted to unleash the number on that classy audience. The song’s composer, McDiarmid, was now the bandleader, and despite Clara’s urging, he flatly refused. But this was not because he agreed with his former boss that the song was too low-brow for the establishment by any means. No, the reason is far more shocking. As McDiarmid recounted in the April 1947 issue of Paradise of the Pacific: “I had conjured up an exotic eyeful, tall and slender, voluptuous and glamorous. Well, if you’ve seen Clara in the role, I need say no more. She is neither tall nor slender, neither streamlined nor glamorous.” This revelation took me aback since my entire life I had seen the number performed by hula dancers who might be considered momona. But in the article McDiarmid went on to say that he clearly had in mind a prepossessing someone like an Aggie Auld or a Napua Woodd – tall, slender ladies with their curves in the right places who just also happened to excel at the comic hula. But once you have seen Clara do the hula she created for “Hilo Hop,” you simply cannot imagine anyone else doing it. And, before I forget to finish the story I started, Clara got her way, McDiarmid and orchestra accompanied her on the song at the Royal that evening, and they did five encores for a most enthusiastic audience. 

Clara Haili Inter embodied Hilo Hattie. And this is why she eventually changed her name legally to Hilo Hattie. Ironically, it was Harry Owens – who at first staunchly rejected the song – who assisted Clara with her legal name change since she was contractually obligated to do so by 20th Century Fox who insisted she use the name when she was featured in their 1941 film Song Of The Islands. 

And the rest, as they say, is history. Hilo Hattie went on to international acclaim on records, television appearances, and motion pictures. And not merely a footnote to the story, she even licensed her iconic name to the retail clothing chain whose stores dot the islands. Hilo Hattie was a performer, but she was also an enterprise – an akamai lady who also possessed the charm to win over her audiences, clients, and business partners. Ho`olohe Hou will feature her again when we celebrate her October birthday next year. But, for now, I hope you appreciate seeing Hilo Hattie in this clip likely not seen anywhere else in nearly 50 years and which may be the only video in which she is captured performing the song which made her famous – and gave her that name. 

Next time: If you’re lucky, a hana hou from Hilo Hattie… 


Trivia: The Hilo Hattie retail chain existed long before Hilo Hattie leant it her name. What was the chain called before it was called Hilo Hattie’s? (Difficulty Rating: Hard as hell regardless of your sources because not a single source on the Internet gets it right. Easy if you are an aficionado of Hawaiian fashion or a collector – as I am – of vintage aloha shirts.) 


Direct download: Hilo_Hattie_-_When_Hilo_Hattie_Does_The_Hilo_Hop.m4v
Category:50s and 60s -- posted at: 5:49am EST

Hawaii Calls – Black (and White) Friday

For the last few weeks I have been teasing my readers with repeated mentions of the guest artists who appeared frequently on the short-lived TV version of Hawaii Calls but who never appeared on the radio version of the same program. At last the taunting ends as I spend the next 24 hours presenting clips by those artists who – you will no doubt agree – were some of the finest entertainers Hawai`i ever gifted to the world. And you will also understand why show creator/host Webley Edwards chose these artists as his TV emissaries for Hawai`i – because many of them were already beloved household names from coast to coast from their work in other entertainment realms, and because they were some of the most dynamic personalities of their generation in an any performance field. 

When I began attempting to restore some of these Hawaii Calls TV segments to share at Ho`olohe Hou, I was quick to mention that these clips have seen the ravages of time. You may have difficulty believing – as I did – that they were filmed in color as they have since faded nearly to black-and-white. Hence today’s theme, Black (and White) Friday. These video clips will play on your PC, Mac, iPad, tablet, iPhone, or Android phone. So my hope is that you will take a break from the hustle-and-bustle of your Black Friday shopping extravaganzas, watch one of these videos (all fewer than 4 minutes in length), take a deep breath, smile, and maybe even laugh out loud in the middle of your favorite retail store. 

This is Ho`olohe  Hou therapy. 

The Hawaii Calls TV show aired only 26 episodes during the 1965-66 season. So most of these clips have not seen the light of day in nearly 50 years, nor have most of these artists been seen in motion for some time since all have long since passed from this life. I hope that these videos recall a fond memory of happier times and places for Hawaiians, Hawaiians-at-heart, and anyone who has ever loved Hawaiian music. 

Happy holidays from Ho`olohe Hou! 

Me ke aloha pumehana,  

Bill Wynne 


Category:Announcements -- posted at: 12:01am EST