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Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox
Al Harrington


Original air date: Tues., Nov. 20, 2012


A Cup Half Full


From humble beginnings in American Samoa to a hardscrabble life in Hawaii, Al Harrington has always been able to find the positives in life: a loving, supportive family; teachers who taught the value of a good education; and friends who helped him survive when the going got tough.


Download: Al Harrington, A Cup Half Full Transcript



Original air date: Tues., Nov. 27, 2012


A Life of Gratitude


From humble beginnings in American Samoa to a hardscrabble life in Hawaii, Al Harrington has always been able to find the positives in life: a loving, supportive family; teachers who taught the value of a good education; and friends who helped him survive when the going got tough.


Download: Al Harrington, A Life of Gratitude Transcript




Part 1: A Cup Half Full


I think you see things as blessings, when other people would say, you know, My life just got torn up.


Yeah, for me, I like the cup being half full, rather than being half empty. And I’m not sure where that came from, but it’s always been a kind of a natural thing for me.


And you’ve needed that cup as you’ve gone along, haven’t you?


Right. [CHUCKLE]


A cup half full; we’ve all heard the expression, but how many of us really live on that side of life, the positive side, making the best of everything that’s thrown at us? That is the life of Al Harrington.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha; I’m Leslie Wilcox. Have you ever taken stock of the people who have influenced your life? Your teachers, friends, loved ones, all those who have helped make you who you are, and in some instances, maybe even saved your life. Al Harrington, star athlete, teacher, actor, entertainer, started his life as Al Taa. He counts his blessings every day, and he never forgets the people who have filled his cup of life.


Where were you born?


I was actually born in American Samoa, in a little town called Malaeimi, which was next to the Mormon town called Mapusaga, which is about fifteen from Pago Pago, the major harbor.


And your family, at some point, established the Mormon Church in American Samoa.


Yes. My great-grandfather was amongst the first big chiefs, a chief called Suapaia. That was the title name. And he was amongst the first to be converted into the Mormon Church. But the conversion was interesting, because what happened is, one of his sons, Uncle Salu, had fallen off a horse and had wounded his leg rather seriously. And so, like us Polynesians do, we had the spiritual people come and bless him, and do the herbs, and all of these things. But he still never healed. So, on a Sunday afternoon, the family gathered together at my grandfather’s house. And just a week before, they had brought the Catholic priest in, ‘cause we were all Catholics at that particular time. And he was supposed to have blessed my uncle, but the wound did not heal. He still walked with a limp. And on that particular Sunday that I just mentioned, two Mormon missionaries—[CHUCKLE] and this is interesting. Because in the old days, the Mormon missionaries were called kaupoi. Cowboys.




Because they all came with jeans and boots, and a lot of them wore these cowboy clothes. So, one of my uncles said to my grandfather, he says, Let’s call the local kaupoi, let’s call the kaupois come in. [CHUCKLE]   And I’m saying it just like the Samoan accent, kaupoi. It’s not cowboy. [CHUCKLE] So, they bring the two missionaries in, and they asked them, Okay, we want you to bless our uncle … my son, my grandfather. [CHUCKLE] And so, they do that. And a week later, he’s walking normally. So, being the kind of spiritual, simple faith people we are, we says, Well, maybe this more right than the other one. [CHUCKLE] So, we convert.


So, the transformation.


So much of Hawaii’s culture comes from people who emigrated here from other lands. Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and Samoans; even Hawaiians came from elsewhere. Many moved to Hawaii to find work, to follow family, to reap the rewards of a mid-Pacific paradise. And some, like the family of young Al Taa, later Al Harrington, were compelled to move because of their faith and a hunger for higher education.


So, we become converted in Western Samoa. And then the Mormon leadership was preaching to us as we get converted. We should leave Samoa and go get educated. Get education either in America, or Hawaii, and come back and build Samoa. So that’s how we get oriented towards coming to Hawaii. So that’s why in about 1950, in the 50s, late 40s and late 50s, there’s a grand migration of Samoans coming from Samoa to Hawaii. Part of it is the Mormon conversion.


And your mother was part of that.


And my mother was part of that. What happened was, my—[CHUCKLE] this is a great social drama that takes place. ‘Cause my father at that time was supposed to have been one of the great athletes of American Samoa.

Well, knowing you, I believe that.


Right. Well, there’s a line, there’s a line there. And, amongst the first to graduate from the Marist Brothers School, which is a Catholic high school. It was supposed to be one of the finest high schools in the Pacific. So he graduates, and he courts my mother, marries her, and then has me and my sister, and another brother that dies. So it’s me and my sister. So, after the marriage and settlement and so on, he’s supposed to come to Hawaii, and then work here, and then send for us. So, that’s what happens. That’s how we get to Hawaii. He comes here, and he works. But the human drama is such that when he gets here, he falls in love with this wonderful Hawaiian woman.


Oh …


The Kalama clan. See, part of the Kalama’s, Leimomi, and she was gorgeous, beautiful Hawaiian lady. And then, he ends up marrying her, and then my mom [CHUCKLE] comes here and finds out that, you know, this has happened. This is the human drama. And my mom, being the warrior woman that she is, goes to work as a nurse’s aide. Because in Samoa, she worked as a nurse’s aide on the Island of Tutuila. And she earns enough money to send for me and my aunt, Auntie Tino. But she and I come on the Mariposa to Hawaii.


And your sister is with your grandmother?


And my sister is with Grandma. Mele is with Grandma. So we come here, and then we begin our life here. And Mom is working as a nurse, and Auntie Tino goes to high school, evolves as a person, and then I go to Liholiho School in Kaimuki. ‘Cause we lived on 10th Avenue.


And you actually lived in lots of different places as you grew up.




Why is that? All over the island, it seems.


[CHUCKLE] I don’t know, but I’m not sure for all of the sociological reasons, but I only knew that, okay, Mom would say, You go stay with Dad for a while, and then I would go and stay with my dad and my stepmother, Leimomi. I was very blessed. I was very blessed with people like my stepmother Leimomi, ‘cause she was very educated. Kam School graduate, had scholarships, potential scholarships to go to University of Michigan and other places. But she met my dad, and she settled down. But she was very education-conscious, conscious of speaking proper English, and et cetera, et cetera.


Your life sure changed a lot quickly.




I mean, lots of movement. I think you see things as blessings, when other people would say, My life just got torn up.


Yeah, for me, I like the cup being half full, rather than being half empty. And I’m not sure where that came from, but it’s always been kind of a natural thing for me.


And you’ve needed that cup as you’ve gone along, haven’t you?


Right. [CHUCKLE]


To go through those transitions.


Right. So, this is what happens. I’m going between the two families, and I’m acquiring great knowledge in the Hawaiian community with Leimomi and my dad. And then, my mom now marries Harrington, who was here as a soldier. And Mom meets him on the beach, which I remember clearly, ‘cause we were all on the beach having family picnic.


And what happened?


And then, this Haole guy was out Ala Moana Beach by the reef, and he couldn’t get on his surfboard. So, I was about three years old and I’m watching this guy, we’re all watching this guy. So my mom swims out there, and helps the guy get on the board, and then invites him to come have dinner with us. So he never leaves. [CHUCKLES] So, they end up getting married, and then he becomes my stepfather. Milburn R. Harrington, who came from Iron Mountain, Michigan, up there in the upper peninsula. And through him, I acquired even greater insight in the use of the English language.


Yeah; at what point did you learn to speak English?


This is happening. This is happening as I’m going—


You’re a toddler.




You’re young.


Yeah, I’m moving back and forth. And part of it was just the fact that my dad was there, and he spoke very properly. I don’t really remember exactly when this took place, but he said to me at one time, he says, If you go Downtown, you see all the guys who work in the office, they all speak English. All the guys that work on the street, they speak Pidgin. So if you like work on the street or you like work in the office, you better learn how to speak English. So that kinda stuck. You know, that kinda stuck. So I tried, you know, I tried.


Did you speak Standard English in the home?


Yeah. Except with my mother, when she got mad at me, she swore at me in Samoan.


So, Al Harrington’s life in Hawaii as Al Taa had a tumultuous beginning—a broken family, constantly being shuffled from one home to another. And yet, he always saw the positive side of what other people would have seen as an upheaval. But Al Taa’s real journey had not yet begun. That journey started with Mrs. Abreu.


In first grade, I had Mrs. Abreu, this great Portuguese-Hawaiian woman. Big buggah. [CHUCKLE] She sit down on the chair, hang over, some stuff. But all of us small kids, we were afraid of her, ‘cause she was huge. And if you don’t get things right, man, she slap you, Mrs. Abreu. So, I figured out that if I could read well, she going like me. So, Dick and Jane books, yeah? So, I would take the Dick and Jane books, and I learned how to read before the reading lesson took place. You know, either night before, I would look at the books.


And did your parents tell you, you gotta study, you gotta work hard?






No, no. They didn’t. That doesn’t come in. It comes in more in the relationship with the teachers. Because I wanted the teachers to like me, you know.


So that you would have a pleasant time in class.




Or, so that they would respect you?


Well, part of it was respect, part of it was just needing some affection, needing some care, somebody to like you. Mrs. Abreu probably was the first affection that I’m getting outside of the family. You know, biological parents and non-biological parents. I mean, mother and father. So, she’s this big Hawaiian lady, great big smile. When she looked at you and smiled, you know, her whole face smiled. Made you feel, you know, like, Hoo, I’m good. [CHUCKLE]


So, you wanted to please Mrs. Abreu.


So, I wanted to please Mrs. Abreu. And so, that’s the beginning of my move towards academic excellence. It wasn’t just because I was interested, but I wanted to please her.


All Al Taa, later Al Harrington, was trying to do was to make Mrs. Abreu happy. But, Mrs. Abreu’s class was the beginning of Al’s journey into educational excellence. And he did so well, other teachers and school principals took notice.


So, I go to Laie, I’m living with my father and Leimomi. My mother. I feel such great affection for that lady. [CHUCKLE] So, we moved to Laie. And then, I go to Laie School, and the teacher there, Mrs. Enos, is another one. I remember teachers, ‘cause they were all good to me. So, Mrs. Enos says to the principal, I think his name was Kanahele. He was a Kanahele. And she says to him, Maybe we better move him up to the next, because we might hold him back at this grade. So, I go to the fifth grade. And that’s how I skipped the fifth grade, because again how important teachers are to kids. Because when I think about the teachers that were good to me, that’s what gave me a leg up. Gave me a leg up in dealing with the social challenges and economic challenges to come later. And then later on, we move from Manoa Housing to Halawa Housing, and then I go to Aiea School. At Aiea School, there’s the principal, Griswold, Charles Griswold. These names stick in my head. And, Charles Griswold sees four of us that are going to Aiea School, Aiea Intermediate, and he says, Four of you should go and take the test to go to Kamehameha. Because, he sees some potential in us. Again, a teacher’s vision, right? A teacher looking at a student and saying, Okay, there’s potential here, let’s see what we can do with it. So, the four of us go to take the test at Kamehameha, we all pass the test, and we’re all getting ready to go to Kamehameha School. Except, Kent was the president, Colonel Kent of Kamehameha, and they write me a letter saying that, you know, Sorry, the other three can come, but you cannot come because you’re not Hawaiian. Now, living in Halawa Housing, you’re running around with all these bla-la’s, all these bruddahs. We’re doing all kind crazy kind stuff together, and you don’t know if you’re Samoan, Portagee, Filipino, or whatever. We’re just running together.


So, all of a sudden, you became aware of this distinction between you.


Yeah; exactly.


How did that feel?


Sore. [CHUCKLE] Sore; yeah.


So, they started going to Kamehameha.




And there you were.


Of the three guys, Danny Fuller was one of the great football players who eventually goes to Purdue, University of Purdue. But Griswold says to my dad, since I didn’t get into Kam School, You should go take the test to go to Punahou. And I said to him, I no like go to that Haole school. And my dad says, Well, maybe you gotta go over there and learn how the Haoles do stuff.


Now, which dad is this? Your stepdad?


This is my adopted father; my stepdad.


So your Haole stepdad is saying, You should check out the Haole school?


Yeah. Because he’s a policeman at Wahiawa precinct, but we live in Halawa Housing.


Because he had so many kids?


[CHUCKLE] Yeah. Because now, there’s nine kids, you see? Now, there’s nine kids and I’m the oldest of the ten. So he says to me, Maybe you ought to go. And I told him, I no like go that school. It happened then, that the captain of his precinct in Wahiawa was Curtis Iaukea’s father.


Oh, Curtis Iaukea was a Punahou grad.


Yeah, Punahou grad.


The wrestler.


Yeah. My dad goes to Curtis Iaukea and tells him about what happened.


Did your dad take offense that you said you didn’t want to go to a Haole school?






My dad didn’t, because he had a sense of what Hawaii’s … that’s one thing about my dad, my stepfather, or adopted father was, he had big picture vision of things. And so, he understood what the situation was. So, he goes to Curtis Iaukea, his captain, and he tells the captain about that I want him to go to Punahou. So the captain comes to my house in Halawa Housing. And Curtis Iaukea’s father was big. I mean, when he walked in the door, he closed the light. No more light come through the door, ‘cause he’s big. As a matter of fact, the Iaukeas were consultants to Kamehameha. I mean, that family goes back to Kamehameha the Great. So, Mr. Iaukea walks in the door, and I look. I’m sitting at the table. [CHUCKLE] I said, I hope this buggah no give me lickin’. [CHUCKLE] So he walks in the door, he says, Eh, your father said you no like take the test to go Punahou. I says, No, I no like go the Haole school. And he looked at me; he says, I went Punahou. And then he looked at me and he says, So you better go take the test. So then, I said, Okay. [CHUCKLE]


So, Al was fulfilling his family’s calling to go to Hawaii to get educated. Who could ever have dreamed that this young man, the future overachiever, Al Harrington, would have the opportunity to enter one of the most prestigious learning institutes in the Pacific. As it turns out, there were many who believed in the young Al Taa.


So, there; I go to take the test at Punahou, I pass the test, and then I become influenced by some other people that eventually makes us see a bigger picture again. Amongst them, one was Dr. Fox. Dr. Fox, who was president of Punahou School. There were us Hawaiian boys that went, people from Hawaii that went to Punahou, and he kinda took us under his wing.


You’d already distinguished yourself athletically as well?


Yeah, I began to. [CHUCKLE]   ‘Cause in Halawa Housing, we’re not far from Japanese Camp, plantation camp and Borrinke Camp, Filipino Camp. And so, we all used to play baseball up in Aiea Community Center. But the best organization of baseball, and any sports, was the Japanese community. So, we were then playing in Barefoot League, playing baseball. And they were all very well organized. So, I began to play baseball.


No football?


Then, I started also playing Barefoot League. And I was only thirteen.


But people noticed.


Yeah. ‘Cause I had big feet. [CHUCKLE] But some kids that came out of there were already playing in high school. And it happened that Mr. Iaukea had heard that I had been playing in the athletic sports in these various leagues, local leagues. And so, that’s why when I went to take the test at Punahou, he kind of pushed the fact that I was also a good athlete. And at this particular time, you know, so many things happened. ‘Cause Dr. Fox was president of Punahou School, but he had not won a ILH championship in football. In baseball, he had, but in football he didn’t. But he loved football, so that’s why at this particular time, he was trying to recruit whatever Polynesians or whatever athletes he could get to play football. So, that opened the door for me also, besides the fact that I passed the test.


I read accounts of your playing football at Punahou at that time, because you were admitted.


M-hm; yeah.


As Al Taa, that was your name then.




And I know the longtime sports columnist, Bill Kwon called you up.




A man among boys, because they would pile on you, and if they managed to stop you, they’d untwist themselves from on top of you, and then you’d just get up and say, Eh, good going, good tackle. But you were hard to stop.


Well, I wasn’t the only one. Had others, like Danny Fuller, and the Abreus. There were some Abreus that were playing, and Yonamine, Wally Yonamine was before us.


What was your position?


I was a running back. I was a running back. But yes, it was nice of him to say that, but had other guys that were great too. So, that took us to Punahou.


And what about your concerns about no like going to the Haole school?


Again, you know what it is? Teachers. Having good teachers at Punahou. I remember these guys. Brogan taught me English. And this guy taught me Shakespeare. And he starts to speak in, this poetic sense of the English language. And I took to that. I said, Wow. You know. Rich; it was Mr. Rich who taught me Western Civ, and the fall of the Roman Empire, and all this kind stuff about the Mongols coming down, but made it colorful, made it real. And then, I had others who taught me economics and stuff like that. That’s what became intriguing, is the teachers that were there. There was Brogan. Kiefer was another one. And then Iams, James Iams was the athletic director.


How about social life? Because you’re a kid from Halawa Housing.




Son of a police officer.




Adopted son.




Or, he was soon to adopt you, but you were step kid to a police officer.


Never knew what Haole people were. ‘Cause us guys, we were out in the districts out in Halawa Housing. Everybody is one color, or we’re all mixed. And to be there, and then all of a sudden to see, wow. The management people were mostly Haoles at that time. Some Japanese, but mostly Haoles. So, what my father had told me, you know, began to ring true, you know, that all these guys that speak good English are the ones that are in management. Everybody else is doing the manual work. So then, I moved more in that direction, because of teachers, because of my dad.


What about friends? How about making friends there?


Oh, yeah. I made some great friends.


And when you were in sports, it is a family that welcomes you, right?




So you did a lot of stuff with fellow football players.


Yeah; yeah. The Espindas, AK Espinda and their family, they just kinda took me in. Charlie Henderson, whose father was president of Castle & Cooke, and you know, I would sleep at his house. And they had maids. And I’m looking, and then I remember this is really interesting. I went to this party at Lou Ann Dunkley’s house. And I walked in the house from the kitchen, and right as you get out of the kitchen you see this big freezer. The same kind freezer I saw at the Pake store down in Aiea. I look at the freezer, I said, Holy cow, these guys get one store in the house. So all of that kinda stuff then impacts me as to, Okay, how come they got that, and we no more that?


And what were your friends at Halawa Housing saying about, how come you never hang with us anymore?


Right. So my mother, the warrior woman that she is, I started to get famous as a football player, so the headlines were, Taa did this, and Taa did that. My mother looks at that, and she says, How come Taa, it’s Taa? He no support you. She said, Your daddy support you, Harrington support. [CHUCKLE] So, she goes to the courts and has my name changed. Changes my name to Harrington. So, I come home the summer of my my freshman year, I’m going into sophomore, and she says to me, Okay, that’s your dad now, your name is Harrington. I said, Oh, okay.


We all have difficult times in our lives, and when those difficulties do occur, we can choose to hide from the problems, or we can embrace them and learn from them. Al Taa, now Al Harrington, chose the latter. He chose the cup half full. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


People who know you well, they use a couple of adjectives to describe you most. And I think it goes without saying, you know, they feel like you’ve got a good brain and great athletic ability, but they say what really sets you apart is your hard work and your tenacity.




Where does that come from?


That comes from my mom. It’s the warrior spirit of my mother. My mother, when she make up her mind that this is going to get done, it gets done. And you know, I believe that if I don’t do as well as you do, I can either out-work you, or I’m gonna out-hustle you.


Part 2: A Life of Gratitude


I’m basically born in a grass shack.




Literally. In this little village of Malaeimi. And then I get a shot to come here … go to school, and then I go back to Samoa on a mission, and I see these kids carrying bundles of bananas and stuff to cook, and watching them. And I look at that, and I said, By the grace of God, that could be me. That could be me. But we were given a shot at it. We were given a shot at it.


And sometimes, all you need is that one shot. Al Harrington took that one shot…that opportunity, along with the many more that followed…and turned them into a life filled with teachers, mentors, academic, athletic and entertainment success, family, and gratitude.


Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.


Aloha mai kakou. If you mention the name Al Harrington to ten people, you might get ten responses as to how they know of him. Some may remember him as a star football player at Punahou in the 1950s…some may recall that he played the role of Ben Kokua in the original Hawaii Five-O. And others may fondly remember his cabaret show during the heydays of Waikiki. For every one of those roles that Al has played in his life, he can recall the person or persons responsible for his success…and the moments when these people changed his life. A life filled with gratitude.


So, your mom had said, You’re now Harrington. And you said?


Right. Oh, okay.


Just like that?


Just like that. Okay. Because … of his goodness. My dad, the Irishman that adopted me was such a big picture guy, and he knew—I mean, here I am, I’m raising his kids, all these hapa kids in the family. And I’m helping him as much as I can as a boy. But he was good to me.


Tell me how that went over with the Halawa Housing kids.




Because you went to the Haole school—




—and now you have a Haole name.


Right. So, I go to school the next—the fall of my sophomore year. And they’re saying, Al Harrington is now the running back at Punahou. And everybody in the town is saying, Who—wow, they got one new Haole kid at Punahou. And then one time when the name … the kids in Halawa Housing began to realize, ho, my name Harrington now, one of those kids came up to me when I got off the bus and he hit me like this. He said, So what, you like be Haole? Come over here, I teach you how to be Haole.


[CHUCKLE] What did you do? What did you say?


So, I had to fight my way. And then of course, we had a few bumps and grinds here, and then after that, then they accepted it. [CHUCKLE]


And how did you feel about it?


Well, I felt good about it. The real truth is I felt good about it. Because I really loved him. He never underestimated my intelligence. He always thought that whatever I wanted to do, you could do.


So the Samoan boy formerly known as Al Ta‘a was now Al Harrington. The boy who was born in a grass shack was enrolled in Punahou. With the help of so many, Al’s life was changing…his potential for success was rising. And then along came…Stanford University.


Charlie Henderson was—they lived in Diamond Head. I mean, ho, that house. It’s right next door to the Dillingham, what you call, estate. So, I used to go there and spend the weekend there. Charlie Henderson’s father, Mr. Henderson, was really good to us guys that came and spent the night. I remember sitting down having breakfast, and Charlie is showering, and the old man would come and sit down and have breakfast with me. And he would talk to me, you know. Talk to me, in his pajamas. The buggah would come and sit down, talk to me and tell me [SNIFF] ask me about what—how or day is, and how we’re doing in school, and all that kinda stuff. So that makes an impression.


Yeah, you mattered.


Yeah. Exactly. And I don’t have to, ‘cause he could buy me. The guy had enough money, he could buy my—the Halawa Housing, he could buy that building. But here he is, he sits down and talks to me and he says, Well, you guys gotta get ready for college, Charlie’s gonna go to Dartmouth. And then when it comes time for me to go to college … it’s—becomes a part of it, because the group of guys that I’m running with, running around with, they’re all oriented towards that already.




In Halawa Housing, I would have gone to Waipahu School, and I would have said to myself, Oh, I going be one mechanic, I going to do something else. But the orientation is different at Punahou.


So, you believed you were going to college, but you didn’t know how you were—




—get there.


It’s funny, ‘cause I came home one day and I said to my mom, I said, Ma, dakine, Mr. Iams and the athletic director, they said that I should go college. And my mom …




What is that? ‘Cause … she’s just from Samoa. She said … I said, That’s a school after high school. So we get ready for it. And then, my dad, he got the big picture, and he says, That’s good, let’s get ourselves ready for that.


I suspect Mr. Henderson admired you, because of what—




—you could do on the football field.


Part of it was that, because Punahou had not taken the championship in twenty-nine years, and here his son is on the team that was on the verge of making it [SNIFF], of doing it.


And it was an amazing group of guys, and—


Oh, yeah.


And you were the standout, I would say.


Well there was a lot of standouts, you know, Brooks was on that team.


Oh, that’s true; that’s true. Okay; so it was a fabulous team.


Yeah. Yeah. Curtis Iaukea was on that team, the Ane brothers was on that team.


Wow; okay.


Yeah. Then you had AK Espinda, who eventually goes to Purdue, and all of these kids what you call, Wendell goes to Cal, University of California. All of us, from there, we go on to bigger and better things, and Punahou was good to us. And then, I find myself at Stanford.


Stanford came calling.


Can you believe it?


Did you have other choices too, besides—




—Stanford? What’d you have?


Well I sound like I’m bragging. But I could have gone to Ivy League schools like Princeton, Harvard, Yale. So they sent me up there to go visit these schools. And they sent me up there when it was so cold … froze my okole off up on the East Coast. So immediately, I said, I no like go school over here. So then, Dr. Fox comes in, and he suggests that I go to Stanford. And I was—at this particular time, I had become fairly close to Dr. Fox, because he was [SNIFF] there as a counselor and all—helping all of us as members of the team. So then, that move me in that direction.


Most times, our successes define our lives. When we conquer, overcome, adapt, and succeed, we usually take a step up. But those rare occasions when we don’t succeed can also be defining moments…forcing us to consider other options, to seek a totally different direction.


Tell me about playing football at Stanford. What was that like?


Oh, my … [SIGH] … challenging. Very challenging. I found that I became much more comfortable in the classroom, and I began to get a little bit tired of football.


Why? What happened on the football field?


I wasn’t as successful as I wanted to be, number one. Number two, I didn’t know how to handle the coaches. I was the darkest guy on the football team.


Did you feel counted out by them? Did you feel minimized?


See, if I say yes, then it sounds like I’m complaining. If I say no … then it’s not the true picture, completely true picture.


So they did minimize you?


From my point of view … from my point of view, there was a little bit of that.


Why? Do you think they didn’t think you were smart?


I’m not really sure. I think a lot of it, too, was my own insecurity. There were some insecurity. As much as you say to yourself that you’re secure in the situation, but there are some subtleties of things there. So, I became very much comfortable doing what I was—I got more success in the classroom.


Really? Wow.   And yet, it seemed like sports was such a—




—natural for you, all along.


Yeah, it was. There was a naturalness. But …


Did you not get opportunities?


Yeah. I think we got the opportunities. It’s hard to put your finger on it, because the human being is full of all kinds of inconsistencies.




And so, if—when I come to that part of my life, there’s still some parts of that experience that I have not articulated.




I’m still in the process of articulating it. Yeah.


When you left Stanford—




—I understand the Baltimore Colts—




—wanted you, and you could have played with the great—




—Johnny Unitas.


Well, I wasn’t that high in the draft. So there was great possibilities that I could have gone there and not make it. So, but the possibility of going on a mission … I could make it. [CHUCKLE]




I could—yeah. [CHUCKLE]


You could work for free for the church.


[CHUCKLE] Right. So that’s basically—and it made my mother happy.




When my mom said to me, when she started to cry on the phone, and saying, Oh, we’ve been missionaries all ov—for years, and so be—make me so happy if you went on a mission.


And you had a BA in history from—




—Stanford University.


That’s right.


So, you were ready to go.


I was ready to—I was ready to go do something. I was also what you call, accepted to various law—to a number of law schools. So, I could have gone to law school also, which I did when I came back.


Oh, how long did you go?


I went for one semester, and then, my dad had a business and he went broke in the business. He had gotten into a business with this guy, another cop, and then it was cracking rocks, the rocks that they have up on St. Louis Heights. And then they crack the rocks so they can set the foundation for the houses up there. So, he got into this business, and then the guy ran off with the money. So, he was about to lose the house that we lived on St. Louis Heights. So, then he called me, and then I said, Okay. So, I left law school, and … I—


Did you like it? Did you really miss having to leave?


Yeah; I did. ‘Cause the semester exams had come out, and I was not far off from the top. Not, you know—above the middle of my class. So I left. But I always thought that I was gonna come back. But I—


And what; did you crack rocks, or what did you do?


[CHUCKLE] Well, I got out—I got out there, got off the bus going back to my apartment. I ran into Ellis Brooks Chevrolet in Mabanis [PHONETIC] Boulevard. And there was sign says, Salesman Wanted. So I get off the bus, I go into the car dealer—Gere [PHONETIC] Chevrolet, Gere Chevrolet. I walked into the Gere Chevrolet, and I filled out the application, and the guy comes out and he looks at the application. He says, Okay, we’ll call you. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.


Oh, so you were thinking, I’ve gotta make money for my dad. That’s what I—




That’s what my job now is.


Yeah; that’s right. M-hm.


Wherever I am, I’m making money.


Yeah; exactly right. [SNIFF] So, I filled the application out, and the guy says, We’ll call you. And … of course, Martin Luther King still hasn’t done his thing, right? So, this still counts. So, I’m walking out of the Gere Chevrolet, and in walks this Chinese guy. His name’s Ray Lim, and he comes in the door. And he looks at me, he says, Eh, brah.




[CHUCKLE] You’re Al Harrington. I said, Yeah, yeah.




You was at Stanford, right? Yeah. Where you going? What you doing here? I says, I was just applying for the job over there. And the guy says, And what? The guys he going—they going call me. He grabbed me by the hand, takes me right back into office, and he says to this guy—the guy’s name was Grant. He said, Grant, this is Al Harrington, he played football at Stanford. You remember, up there, Palo Alto. And he says, Yeah, I know the school. He says, Well, you gotta give this guy a job. And he says [INDISTINCT] the manager looks up and he says, Okay, we can start him next week. One person.


One; oh.


One. Well, that changed. Ray Lim becomes the guy that saved my family. So, I go in there, and I start selling cars that week, and two years time, we get the man out of hock, the old man out of hock.


When you listen to Al Harrington talk about all the different lives he’s lived…student, athlete, car salesman…it’s like watching the film, Forrest Gump, and the many coincidental lives that Forrest lead. Every turn that Al’s life took was by the good graces of people willing to lend a hand, or a good word. And being in the right place at the right time.


This is when I meet Heather, my first wife. I meet her, and then we get married. And then, the movie Hawaii is being filmed. Okay. They asked me to come home—to come home to be a part of the casting crew. To help in the cast, the cast situation. So that’s what brings me home. I come home with—I get married, and I come home with Heather. And we do the movie, and we make good money. And Heather is pregnant. So, I gotta make up my mind whether the movie’s over, and whether—I gotta make up my mind whether I’m gonna go back to Hollywood and play the game in Hollywood, and read for parts, et cetera, et cetera, or go back to law school.


Yeah, because now, you have these valuable contacts—




—in the movie business.


Right. Exactly. And so, I’m down at the shopping center, and I run into Dr. Fox. And Dr. Fox says, Eh, Al, good to see you. He says, What are you doing? I says, I just got through with the movie Hawaii, and I’m thinking of going to Hollywood. He says, Oh, no, no, no, no, this is what you’re going to do now. You’re gonna go back to the university and get your teacher’s credentials, and you’re gonna come and teach at Punahou. And so the life changes again. And so, I go to Punahou—I mean, I do exactly that. I get my credentials, and then I start teaching at Punahou. And I love it. Absolutely loved the process. James Scott, who is president of Punahou School, was one of my students. Hoo, make me feel good.


Did he act up on you?






Because he was a good student. I mean, he was not only a good student, but a good athlete, and a good person.




And then Nainoa Thompson; he was one of my students. When I think about those kids, I said, Man, I just hope that one day in that classroom that I said, Maybe one thing that might have changed their mind.


Now Al Harrington is teaching and coaching future leaders of Hawaii…giving them direction and knowledge. But this striking Polynesian man was not finished with life. Where most of us would have been content to accomplish all that Al had done so far, Al was still reaching.


And while doing the teaching and the coaching, I’m doing motivational speaking for various schools. And in the audience in one of those speeches that I do, is the casting director for Hawaii Five-O. Ted Thorpe was his name. Ted Thorpe. And he comes up to me after the speech and he says to me … [SNIFF] … I have a script that you might be interested in. And he gives me the script, he says, Read the script over and call me. So I take the script, read it. And … it’s bad guy, but it takes a lot—I mean, it takes good—bad guys to make the good guys look good. So, I get that part. And then, I’m in the door of Hawaii Five-O. And meanwhile—or I’m teaching and loving it, and then pretty soon they give me a part every year, every season, for four seasons.


Different bad guys.


Yeah; different bad guys. So and that then begins to move the other way. And then, I get involved in doing luaus, because I wanted to make more money. And the lady that opens doors for me in the entertainment field is Mrs. Flanders, Josephine Flanders. Remember her?


Who taught you ballet.


That’s right.


What were you doing, learning ballet?


Because when we were playing football, I had read in a book about this guy named O’Shesky at the University of California who took ballet and as a result, strengthened his legs. And then, I meet Mrs. Flanders, Josephine Flanders, and she loves the idea, because a football player she would never get anybody like that taking lessons. And so, she begins to teach me about the whole idea of drama in school. Josephine comes back when I’m teaching at Punahou, and my kids are born, and I don’t have enough insurance to get ‘em out of the hospital. And then, doctor—Dr. Fox gives us advances in the insurance thing so I could bring the child—get the children out of the hospital. And then, I’m looking for other ways of making money. And so, Josephine is at this particular time, is the entertainment director at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. And she has a luau there twice a day—twice a week. And her head luau person is, Ray Kinney, who, this great, great, kupuna of Hawaii that was able to take on music into all corners of the world. And he’s back home now, he’s retiring, and he’s doing just the luau. And he does a fantastic job. So, she asked me to support him. So I go and I watch him. This where I learned how to handle the visitors. ‘Cause he’s working directly with the visitors, and he’s working with this mana of aloha that is able to touch them. Ray Kinney and Josephine Flanders gave me an opportunity to come into the market. So while I was teaching school, I would do one luau a week.


That’s such a good part of island life.




And some people say it makes us very provincial, because everyone’s afraid to offend each other. But also, when you … you’re gonna run into people again, and again. And in—




—your life, they’ve come back around—




—and around, and it’s been a good thing for you.


Oh, yeah.


They’ve been really helpful to you.


Well, Josephine—


And vice versa.


Josephine she just took a liking. Just like Mrs. Abreu. She just took a liking. And then, I got Mr. Griswold at Aiea School. And then at Punahou, there was Dr. Fox. And all of these people, they come into your life, they touch you, they raise you up, they give you an opportunity to see another side of the situation.


If you’ve ever been up late at night, and turned on a good western, you may have seen a familiar face…Al Harrington, born in Samoa, raised in Hawaii, found success in Hollywood playing Native Americans.


I love cowboy movies. I’ll watch—




—any Western, any time, any place.


Me too.


I’ll watch it ten times.




You show up in the Westerns—




—as an Indian, again an again. And you have the speaking part.




I wonder how that was? And you do a great job. You—


Oh, I mean, the Indians wanted to take me home.


[CHUCKLE] You know, I’m just thinking. Hawaiians wouldn’t like—




—an Indian playing—


Playing Hawaiian.


—a Hawaiian. So, how did the Indians feel about you playing an Indian?


Well, first of all, they didn’t know.


Oh, they had to know.


Well, there was certainly—and there was a part where me and the Filipinos were getting all the Indian parts. And the—




[CHUCKLE] And the Indians were getting mad. ‘Cause some of the Indians that came to try out for the parts, they couldn’t read, because they came from the reservations, and the schools sometimes weren’t as good—


Oh …


—in the reservations. So, they leaned towards us, who could read. So, we began to get the parts. But then, the Indians started to make a little bit of—make noise, so the union passed a law that you—if you’re gonna play Indians, you gotta show what reservation you came from.


That’s a problem for you.


That’s a problem for me.




So … when I did White Fang, when I—


White Fang II.






Yeah. When I did White Fang II, the director wanted me—I mean, after all the readings, yeah? [CHUCKLE] I go for the reading for White Fang II, and it’s like a Quonset hut in Disney—Disneyland—I mean, Disney Studios. [SNIFF] And I walk in there … uku paila Indians.




Every Indian you can think of is sitting there, waiting to get to read.


And they’re going, He’s not an Indian.


No, no, no.




No, no. They thought I was Indian. And so, the whole room goes through the reading. And lo and behold, I’m the last guy that is being chosen. And then in order for me to get the part, we have to go to the Haida—Haida Council, ‘cause the chief is Haida, and ask the Haida Council if I, Al Harrington, could play this role. And they had to give us approval. Probably have to give them a stipend for the movie. [SNIFF] So … we go the Haida Council, myself, the director, and the producer. And the Council comes in, and in the Council … there’s about ten of ‘em, is one guy that looks familiar to me. And I’m looking at him, he’s looking at me. And I find out that he used to come to my show in Waikiki.


Oh …


See, he used to come with his family, and I used to tell Bob them, When my friend the Indian come, just let him come in, take care of them, because he’s my friend.




Yeah. See? So, we are introduced to the chief.


And you’re paying it forward. I can just—




—feel it coming. [CHUCKLE]


We’re introduced to the Council, and the chief gets up and says, Hey … that’s my brother. That’s my brother Al Harrington, he’s from Hawaii. And he says, He can play the part. So there it is. I’m given the role of the chief of the village, because of that thing that happened. So yeah, you don’t know. So much of life is being in the right place at the right time, one person moving in one direction.


But you were willing to take the chance.


Yeah. You gotta be open.


And go on merit.


Go on—be open for the opportunity. Be conscious, be conscious. It’s like … he says, From the time of conception … to the time that you’re born in that nine months, you do nothing. Everything happens for you. Why not let things happen for you also after you’re born? Sometimes, we try to make things happen, and we don’t follow the pattern … that is destined for us to follow.


With angels on his shoulders, Al Harrington has followed his destiny. And through his eyes, we were privileged to get a glimpse of a life filled with gratitude, lessons learned, and valuable friendships. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.


For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit


I remember my grandfather, my grandfather on the Kalama side … in Laie. People walk by the house, Tutu Kalama … Grandpa Kalama is on the porch. People walking by, they go, Hui! Hele mai, hele mai, come, come have some—have some—something to drink, have something to eat with us. And you hear that. And that’s what this is all about. In the end, Hawaii creates the situation by which that can happen. And the host culture laid the foundation. And that’s what we were doing when we were in Waikiki. Trying to convey that.