Entertainment

Korla

Korla

 

Korla is the amazing story of John Roland Redd, an African American from Columbia, Missouri who migrated to Hollywood in 1939 and reinvented himself as a musician from India. As one of early television’s pioneering musical artists, Korla Pandit’s life was one of talent, determination, ingenuity and racial passing, a story not fully realized until after his death in 1998.

 

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GREAT PERFORMANCES
Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn – The Broadway Musical

GREAT PERFORMANCES: Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn - The Broadway Musical

 

Enjoy the hit Broadway adaptation of the classic 1942 movie musical, showcasing an Irving Berlin score, including the Oscar-winning “White Christmas.” The production features big dance numbers, comedy and a hit parade of the great songwriter’s famous tunes.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Hawai‘i’s Golden Age of Entertainment

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Hawaiʻi's Golden Ages of Entertainment

 

Before their music reached audiences around the world, Marlene Sai, Danny Kaleikini and Emma Veary were known as staples of the local entertainment scene. Hear these three entertainers discuss the beginnings of their music careers in Waikīkī and other Honolulu venues.

 

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Hawai‘i’s Golden Age of Entertainment Audio

 

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Was there a lot of music in Waikīkī in those days?

 

There was a lot of it.

 

Showrooms?

 

Because, you know, Duke Kahanamoku’s was a supper club. Don the Beachcomber was a supper club.

 

What a different time that was.

 

Yes; yes.

And at that time, we had so many theaters. You can’t believe how many theaters we had, that had shows.

 

Live shows.

 

Live shows.

 

When I was at the Kahala, I used to tell people: Hey, go see Brother Don Ho, go see Al Harrington.  I says, The Surfers, you know, I said, The Society of Seven.  I said: We got some of the greatest shows in Hawai‘i.

 

We often hear about the Golden Age of Hollywood.  Today, younger people may not realize that Hawai‘i had its Golden Age of Entertainment, though ours was mostly on stage instead of on the big screen. Coming up on Long Story Short, we will revisit the days when live music filled the showrooms of Waikīkī with three of the musical talents to command those legendary stages.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we travel back to the Golden Age, an exciting time when live entertainment lit up hotel showrooms, when beautiful Hawaiian songs and popular performers backed by live orchestras drew tourists and locals to Waikīkī, night after night.  To recall this bygone era, we feature encore interviews with three musical icons who helped define that time: Emma Veary, Marlene Sai, and Danny Kaleikini.  These stars are considered by many to be among Hawai‘i’s showbiz royalty.  They were staples of the local entertainment scene, and their stellar careers spanned continents as well as decades, from World War II into the 21stCentury.

 

In 2008, we visited with Emma Veary, who spoke of how she began her professional career when she was still a child.  Her career took off, just as the era that would be called Hawai‘i’s Golden Age was getting going.  Decades later, Veary would still be headlining at the Halekulani and Royal Hawaiian, and her gorgeous voice would earn this elegant performer the nickname Hawai‘i’s Golden Throat.

 

I started working when I was five.  I’ve been singing since I was five, because I discovered that people wanted to hear me sing, and they would pay me.  And being from a family that didn’t have a lot of money, wow.  I had a special letter from the Liquor Commission so that I could go sing in clubs.

 

At age five?

 

At age five.  And Mother would go with me.  And I sang at all the big clubs.  And at that time, later on, as time went on, all of the celebrities used to go to the Waialae Country Club.  That was the place to go.  And I used to sing there on weekends, so I had the pleasure of meeting all these lovely stars.  And of course, a couple that you don’t know, but there was Rochelle Hudson, there was Bette Davis, and there was Dorothy Lamour.  And I had the pleasure of meeting Dorothy as a child, when she was a very young woman.  And again, when I was working at the Halekulani one night, they told me: Emma, Dorothy Lamour is here tonight.  And I went: Oh, my god.  So, I pulled out a medley of her songs, and sang them to her, and reminded her about when we met when I was a child.  And she said: Oh, my god.  She says: After hearing you sing those songs, I never want to sing them again.

 

Aw …

 

And at that time, we had so many theaters.  You can’t believe how many theaters we had, that had shows.

 

Live shows.

 

Live shows.  There was the Princess, the Hawai‘i, Liberty, Queen’s, King’s, Palace, Pawa‘a Theater, Kewalo Theater.  These are all no more.

 

They weren’t movie houses?  They were musical acts?

 

They were movie houses.  No, they were movies houses, but they would have music, you know, between the shows, like Radio City Music Hall.  You know, they would have some come on and perform in between the movies.

 

That was standard in those days, in theaters?

 

Well, they used to have a lot of that going on. Yeah.  So, I used to go and sing at all of these theaters.  And I sang at Hawaii Theatre so many times.  And then, while I was going through that phase in 1941, Joe Pasternak came to Hawai‘i and saw me perform somewhere, and asked me to come to Hollywood, and he would groom me to become a star.  And we had said okay, and I was supposed to leave on the 8thof December in 1941.  And the 7th, the war started.  So, he called me and he said to my mom: Does she still want to come?  So, my mother said: You have to ask her.  So, I got on the phone; I said: Well, Mr. Pasternak, inasmuch as there’s a war going on, I’d rather stay home with my family. So, I lost out on that one.

 

For those who weren’t living here or weren’t alive in the 70s, your name was the class act around town.  You were the headliner, maybe the first headliner at the Halekulani Hotel.

 

Yes, yes.  They didn’t ever have an act there.  And Hal, Aku, my husband at the time, and I talked to him about doing the act. And so, we went down and we were at the Royal Spaghetti House, and we decided we wanted to leave that venue and come to Waikīkī.  So, he went and talked to the Halekulani, and talked them into putting me on the lanai there. And because of the way the room was, I said: I’ve got to design a stage that would work for me.  So, I had an H, and I would put the piano on either side of the—it was an H like that, the piano here, the piano there, and I had a round H and I could work here, I could work here, and I could work between the pianos. And so, they built the stage that I wanted, and they built me a dressing room.  And on opening night, I went to work at the Halekulani, and they put a drape down in the back where the ocean was, to keep people from looking in.  And so, I said to them: Excuse me, what is that there?  And they said: Well, that’s to keep the people out.  I said: You know, you have one of the most beautiful views in Waikīkī. And I said: I want you to take that away.  They said: Well, we paid five thousand dollars to build that thing.  I said: Well, I don’t want to go on if you’re gonna have that there, because there are people passing by, they will become fans, they will become clients and come in to the show.  I said: So, I’m not gonna go sing until you put that silly thing out.

 

So, they wanted to block you from the beach.

 

Yeah.

 

Even though it was an outdoor venue.

 

Yeah; because the people would look in.

 

Well, I have a different point of view on that.  My vantage was, I was one of the beach people.

 

Right, right.

 

You know, the rubber raft.

 

Right.

 

The kids, and the young adults who were taking advantage of the free music in Waikīkī. You could go up and down the beach, and sit on the sand.

 

I used to call them my scholarship crowd.  And eventually, they call came in.  And they would come in and have dinner, an see the show.

 

And that was a phenomenon that I think a lot of people have forgotten or didn’t know. When there were live showrooms in Waikīkī, and there were the cheap seats on the beach.

 

Right, right, right.  But you know, I felt like: Hey, where would I be without these people? They are also people who will eventually come to see me.  My fans are very precious to me.  And I communicate, people call me, I talk to fans.  And I have a relationship with my fans because I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

 

In those days, wasn’t it called at the Halekulani, the Coral Lanai where you performed?

 

Yes, it was the Coral Lanai.  Yes.

 

It wasn’t the House Without A Key; it was Coral Lanai.

 

No; it was Coral Lanai.  Yeah.  Because the House Without A Key is next door, was next door; yeah.

 

And then, you were headliner at the Monarch Room as well, at the Royal Hawaiian.

 

And then, after I left there, I went to the Monarch Room and performed there for a number of years.  And that was interesting; that was very interesting. Of course, there, I had a big orchestra, which was another style of work.  Because the other, I had either two pianos or a piano and a harp.  And then, I went to a thirteen-piece orchestra after that, with a piano player.

 

What was the most requested song when you were at the Monarch Room?

 

You know, everybody had their own different songs that they wanted hear.  Or course, everybody wants to hear Kamehameha Waltz, because that was a signature song.

 

Next, we reminisce with Marlene Sai.  Born into the Golden Age, Sai was just seventeen when she was discovered by the up-and-coming Don Ho, and his mentorship led her to embark on a successful singing career that once seemed out of reach.  During this 2009 conversation, Marlene Sai told us as a Kaimukīkid, she’d been laying the foundation her whole life to impress Don Ho, learning literally on the laps of talented musicians like her uncle, Andy Cummings, who composed some of her signature songs.  Sai’s journey to the stages of Waikīkīwould first pass through a small club in Kāne‘ohe.

 

So, Uncle wanted me to listen to the song, and I said okay.  And I would come home from school, sit me down on our steps outside of the house, and he’d play and he said: Now, I want you to learn the song.  And that’s how I started to learn Kainoa, which was the song that started me in the business.

 

It’s a signature song for you.

 

It’s one of the signature songs.  Yes.

 

How does it go?

 

I’m waiting on a warm and sunny seashore, yearning for the one that I adore.  My heart is true, I’m thinking of you.  Forever, I will love you, Kainoa.

 

Absolutely.

 

Yeah.

 

Beautiful.

 

Yeah.

 

Now, Andy Cummings is a heck of an uncle to get started in the music business with.

 

Yeah.

 

He’s, of course, one of the greatest hapa haole composers, ever.  And he wrote Waikīki, which is another song you are known for.

 

Signature; yeah.

 

Waikīkī

My whole life is empty without you

I miss that magic about you

Magic beside the sea

 

One day, I’m driving down Kalākaua, and I’m looking in my rearview mirror, and I see this … it looked like a Thunderbird.  And the top was down, and I see this car darting in and out, and it’s approaching me.  And this guy’s hair is blowing, no shirt on, and he’s coming up closer to me.  And I’m getting nervous.  So, I roll up my window, roll up this window, and I’m going further.  And he comes and he’s telling me to pull over.  So, I pull over, and I’m thinking: Who in the world is this?  ‘Cause I didn’t recognize him.  He got out of the car, came over to me.  And I had the window up, and he’s knocking on the window and he’s saying to me: You remember me?  I was playing the organ for you; you remember me?  And I’m thinking: What church is he talking about?  I couldn’t remember.  Organ?  And then he said: You came to my place with Jesse.  When he said Jesse, my player, I said: Oh—

 

Don Ho is at your window.

 

And I’m looking at him, so I rolled my window down. And he said: I lost your number. He says: I don’t know where I put the paper; I lost it.  He said: I’ve been trying to get your phone number.  So, he asked me; he says: You come down to Honey’s tonight, or tomorrow night.  He said: I’d like to know if we can get some songs together; if you’re still interested, I’d like for you to sing and maybe make some extra money.   And that’s really how it all started.

 

Singing at Honey’s, and your boss was Don Ho.

 

And my boss was Don Ho.  Yeah.

 

Was there a lot of music in Waikīkīin those days?

 

There was a lot of it.

 

Showrooms?

 

Because, you know, Duke Kahanamoku’s was a supper club. Don the Beachcomber was a supper club. And the International Marketplace, where it is now, you know, as we know the International Marketplace, way in the back of it to the left was Duke Kahanamoku’s.  That was where the supper club was.  In the front of it, on the street, was Don the Beachcomber’s.

 

That’s right.

 

You know.

 

So, there were all kinds of venues for live Hawaiian music.

 

Oh, yeah.  And then, down the road, Sterling Mossman was there at the Barefoot Bar.

 

At the Queen’s Surf.

 

And you had Queen’s Surf.  I mean, it was all over.  Across the street was the Moana Surfrider, so you had Pua Alameida playing there.  At the Royal Hawaiian, Haunani Kahalewai was playing.  I mean, it was all over the place, and it was just wonderful.

 

What a different time that was.

 

Yes; yes.

 

And you sounded fearless.  I mean, you were up for the challenges.

 

Well, because you’re young, I think.  You know, because you’re young and you want to explore, and you want to just give it whirl and try it.  And of course, the career was just unbelievable.

 

So, you were a teenaged recording star.  What if you hadn’t had access to all of these wonderful people—Andy Cummings, Gabby Pahinui, and the people who perhaps they didn’t—I guess, Uncle Andy coached you in so many words.

 

Sure.

 

But the others who you got to see in action and learn from that way.

 

I think what happens in life, if you are meant to be in a certain place, and things kinda unfold for you, which is truly the way I believe that things started to happen for me.  Because no way along this did I plan it.  I was just so grateful that it unfolded this way, and it was happening.  Because I just felt like the greatest gift was being given to me.

 

Do you ever miss seeing your name in those huge marquee lights in Waikīkī?

 

No; no.

 

Been there, done that?

 

Been there, done that.  Yes; yes.  I enjoy being Grammy, and I enjoy my grandchildren, you know, and enjoying the family.  Yeah.

 

Do your grandchildren know that Grammy was a huge star in Waikīkī, everybody knew your name, and many obviously still know it?

 

They know; they do know.  But you know, they also know that they have to know their place too.  You know. But they’re very good about that; they really are.

 

Showing respect?

 

Oh, sure.  But not, you know, boasting or anything.

 

But they have a sense of who you are?

 

They do have a sense; they do have a sense.

 

And the legacy?

 

Yes.

 

What’s your legacy?

 

What is my legacy?  God, she’s been around for a long time.

 

Our final entertainment icon has also been around a long time.  Danny Kaleikini left college to launch his career, and wound up as the longest-running showroom host at a single venue.  He would also come to be recognized worldwide as Hawai‘i’s Ambassador of Aloha.  In 2010, Kaleikini told us that long before the Golden Age of Waikīkī, he was living in Papakōlea, and his family was so poor he began working at the age of six—not performing, but delivering newspapers and shining shoes in Downtown Honolulu.

 

Before I went to Kāhala, I learned from the best from Hawai‘i.  I started at places, and I want to thank people. Even when I was shining shoes, I used to go every Friday; right across Hawaiian Electric was Charley’s Taxi. And they had jam sessions; Jesse Kalima and A Thousand Pounds of Melody.

 

Wow.

 

So, my brother and I, we’d go there just about five-thirty with our shoeshine box.  And they would say: Hey, the two brothers from Papakōlea; come over here, sing us a song.  We’d go up and there and we sing our song; ‘O Makalapua.  You know. And after the song, we’d pick up like two or three dollars, man, you know.  Ho!  So, we’d take it to Jesse; he tell: No, no, you guys take that home.  And I tell you, I never forgot.  Then I went to work at WaikīkīSands. From there, Ray Kinney saw me, and he took me to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.  And he said: You watch what I do.  He said: You gotta learn.  Then I learned how to be an emcee.  Oh, you know, I gotta thank Reverend Akaka, you know.  And Danny Akaka, when I went to Kauai, was my minister of music.  So, I was part of, you know, the choir.  But Kahu, you know, is really the one taught me about the magic word, aloha.  And the ukulele, you know, he told me the ukulele represents the world.  You know, there’s only four strings, but each string represents all the different people that make up our world—black, white, yellow, brown.  He said: You play each string, you’ll get a sound, you know, but try playing it all together, then you find a chord, then you find harmony, then we can all come together.

 

Who was in your high school class that people might remember today?

 

Ron Jacobs, Wesley Park.  You know, Wesley was my business manager.  Because of Wesley Park, and I thank him very much, he got me my job at the Kahala Hilton in 1967.  He got me a contract for five years, and the rate was $1.5 million.  I was guaranteed, which was unheard of.

 

What was it like?  Do you remember the moment when you realized: I’m gonna play the Kahala?

 

Oh, no; I was so scared.  I mean, it was like One Step Beyond, you know, to go from Downtown Waikīkī.  And Kahala was, you know, The Hilton International, I mean premier.

 

Did you replace anybody when you went to the Kahala showroom, or did you create that showroom?

 

I created that showroom.  I created that room.

 

So, what was the thinking process in figuring what will work in the showroom?

 

Well, first of all, I said: We’re too far from Waikīkī.  I said: We have to work hard to get people, ‘cause just to catch the taxi, and then local people said: Kahala Hilton; you know how much the cup coffee?  One dollar.

 

How did you draw them in?  What do you think brought them in?

 

I did it Hawaiian style.  I mean, you know, I did it from the pupu’s, and all the kanaka maoli.  I mean, I used to sing, “Ua Like NōA Like”, I did “Lei Aloha Lei Makamae”.  But I did all the … even like Andy Anderson was one; I love Mr. Anderson, I love his songs. And I used to sing “Malihini Mele”. And then everybody used to get a bang, ‘cause I used to add my own words to it.  But that thing was an upbeat tune, you know.

 

Real hapa haole.

 

All the hapa haole songs, I tell you.  And every night, I sang the Wedding Song.  And the other song was either “Lovely Hula Hands”, or “Beyond the Reef”.  Either one. Yeah; and everybody knew the song. Not only the malihini’s, but the kama‘aina’s as well.  ‘Cause Lovely Hula Hands, Andy Anderson wrote that song, you know.

 

So, you started out with a local crowd.  And then, what happened?

 

And then, the tourists started to come from Waikīkī.  Then, I had to go market the show.  Then I started to get the Japanese.  Once the Japanese, the second show was sold out every night.  Was unreal.

 

And that showroom was based around you; right?

 

Yeah.

 

It was the cult of Kaniela.

 

Yeah.  I mean, I got to meet Queen Elizabeth and her husband.  And Prince Charles used to stay there, ‘cause he played polo, and he used to come with Princess Diana.  You know, I got to play golf with President Ford.  All the presidents stayed at the Kahala, and I got to meet them all.  And Imelda, you know, she would come; she would stay at the Kahala Hilton, Mrs. Marcos.  And she would come to my show, and she always brought like about, you know, forty to fifty people, and they had a section.  And the security was tight, and everybody was comfortable and yet, uneasy because of the security and everything else.

 

Was it Governor Waihe‘e who gave you the title, Ambassador of Aloha?

 

Yeah; in 1988.  I was so honored, you know, ‘cause Duke Kahanamoku has been our Ambassador of Aloha.  And I had the privilege of working with Duke.

 

You’re still known as Mr. Aloha, the Ambassador of Aloha.  What does that mean to you?  Do you think of that every day?

 

Oh, I’m very honored just to share this aloha, not only here, but around the world, no matter where I go.  I can honestly say I’ve seen the world, and because of music.  You know, I thank Akua, I thank God.  But I go with aloha ke kahi i ke kahi, the breath of life that we share with one another.

 

What is the reason the show ended at Kahala?

 

They sold the hotel.

 

You would have kept going?

 

I would have; yeah.  I even asked the people if they wanted, you know.  But big management, they had a whole different outlook on what they wanted to do.  It’s a shame, ‘cause in 1967, we could have bought the hotel for $17 million.  But nobody would lend us the money.  Yeah; but you know, I look back and you know, I say I had a wonderful, wonderful stay, and I thank all the people that supported me, all the people that helped me.  We all worked together as one family, you know.  And I think that was the key in the success.  But the secret ingredient: A-L-O-H-A.  That made it work.

 

Danny Kaleikini, Marlene Sai, and Emma Veary; three iconic Hawai‘i performers, all members of the Hawaiian Music Hall Fame, and each honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hawai‘i Academy of Recording Arts.  By sharing their on and off stage stories, they help keep alive the memories of this magical time in Hawai‘i.  Mahalo for joining us for this reminiscent journey back to Hawai‘i’s Golden Age of Entertainment.  For Long Story Short and PBS Hawai‘i, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

 

 

Songs of Joy:
A PBS Hawai‘i Holiday Celebration

Nina Kealiiwahamana with Aaron Salā on piano

 

Hawaiian Christmas medleys, original compositions and re-interpretation of a popular song are featured on this holiday special. These accomplished local artists offer their gifts of music: Manu Boyd; Ho‘okena with Maila Gibson; Kuana Torres Kahele; Henry Kapono; Nina Kealiiwahamana with Aaron Salā; The Leo Nahenahe Singers; Gail Mack with Gordon Kim; and Peter Medeiros with Joshua Silva and Nate Stillman.

 

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GREAT PERFORMANCES
John Leguizamo’s Road to Broadway

 GREAT PERFORMANCES: John Leguizamoʻs Road to Broadway

 

Go behind-the-scenes of John Leguizamo’s Tony-nominated one-man show, Latin History for Morons, a comic but pointed look at how Hispanic culture has been portrayed and repressed throughout American history.

 

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PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
The Hawaiian Room

PBS Hawai‘i Presents: The Hawaiian Room

 

The Hawaiian Room, located in the famed Lexington Hotel, was an oasis of Hawaiian culture and entertainment in the heart of New York City. Between 1937 and 1966, hundreds of dancers, singers and musicians from Hawai‘i were recruited to perform at the entertainment venue. In this documentary, filmmaker Ann Marie Kirk shares interviews with over 20 former performers who speak candidly and fondly of their experience at the historic nightclub, and the culture shock of going from Hawai‘i to New York City.

 

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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lanai Tabura

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Lanai Tabura

 

Named for the island where he was born, Lanai Tabura is well-known for his talents as a DJ, comedian, television host, actor and entrepreneur. Now he dedicates himself to one of his earliest passions – cooking – to share aloha across the globe through food.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Nov. 4, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 
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I know so much about food, which is interesting. And it never came out of me until I started doing these pop-up dinners and these speaking engagements.  I did a Poke 101 class for Pinterest.  All these kids—you know, I say kids because these tech companies are all kids.  And all they know about poke is, it comes from a store.  So, I got to teach what poke really is, where it came from, how it became, and all this stuff.  And when I was done, my friends goes: How’d you know all this stuff?  I go: I don’t know.

 

So, you didn’t go look it up.

 

No.

 

You had it in your head.

 

Yeah.

 

And your heart.

 

Yes.  And your heart is the thing.  The intent; right?

 

M-hm.

 

So, I am realizing as I’m getting older, I can do anything I want, as long as there’s good intent.

 

Lanai Tabura has been doing just about anything and everything in broadcasting since his first television audition when he was six years old.  DJ, comedian, television host, actor, entrepreneur; his passion has turned to cooking, and he has dedicated himself to sharing aloha across the globe through food.  Lanai Tabura, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Lanai Tabura, who was named for the island where he was born, knew from a young age that he wanted to be in front of the camera.  He became a familiar name early on in his life for being a disc jockey at a popular radio station, and then for his comedy.  It wasn’t until later that he became known for his cooking, and rose to national attention when his team won the Great Food Truck Race.  Yet, cooking was one of his earliest life lessons. Lanai had to grow up quickly when his father left, and his mother went back to work.  As the oldest child, home responsibilities fell to him.

 

I grew up on a plantation.  My father left when I was young.  Three brothers.  And my mother said one day: I gotta go to work, I can’t stay at home with you guys anymore; you’re gonna have to step up.  What does that mean, you know, at twelve years old.  Step up; what do you mean?  I’m not gonna be home ‘til nine, you gotta cook dinner.  Cook dinner?  I’m twelve years old.  For three kids.

 

And how old were your brothers?

 

Makani, who’s right under me, is two years younger than me.  And then, you had Adam, which was five years under him.  And then, Stevie, which is a year under him.  So, you know, the youngest were four, five years old.  And then, Makani was ten.  You know.   So, that’s tough, you know.  And you grow up on an island where there’s not a lot of … which I think was good.  There was no fast food.  The stores closed at six.  I think the life-saver about our grocery store; you could charge.  Remember those days where you go: Oh, put it on the Tabura’s tab.

 

Exactly.

 

My mom’s tab.  And at the end of the month, you get the bill; right?  And then, you can divvy up.  But my father left with every penny in the bank and the clothes on his back.  Left us in a two-bedroom house, plantation style.  And we had nothing.  Zero, you know.  I remember when we applied for welfare, I was so embarrassed.  ‘Cause it’s Lāna‘i; everybody knows your business.  I was like: Mom, I can’t take this book to the store; people are gonna know we’re on welfare.  Today, they have a credit card.  Back day, they were pages of books.

 

But they also knew your dad had left.

 

Yes.

 

They knew everything.

 

Everybody did; everybody did.  He went to the airport and left the car.  For two days, we didn’t know where he went.  Two days, you didn’t know where he went, and then we found the car at the airport.

 

Did you ever reconnect with him?

 

Never.

 

You ever want to?

 

No, but I forgave him.  There was a point in my life where I was so angry about it. There was a point where I would go in the bathroom in high school, and cry.  ‘Cause like: Why, why?  What’s wrong this guy?  You know. And all that anger, of course, built up to bitterness.

 

And bitterness really poisons you, too.

 

That’s the word; very bitter.  And then, I was on a cover of a magazine.

 

Why?

 

I think it was for a TV show I did.  I was in my early twenties.

 

Okay; early twenties.

 

Yeah.

 

Got it.

 

It was a TV show I did, and I was on this cover. And he saw the cover, and he was in the mainland, and he wrote to the editor and said: I think that’s my son, I need to get ahold of him.  The editor wrote me like five times before I finally wrote back and I said: Yeah, that is my dad, you can send me his info.  So, the only contact I’ve had with him was through two emails.  One was him apologizing to me for what he did, and mine was forgiving him for what he did.  And I said: That’s it; you’ve finished this chapter for me, ‘cause now I feel this pressure is off, and I feel that I can move on now, the bitterness is gone.  I said: If you want to contact my brothers, it’s up to you and it’s up to them, ‘cause we’re all adults now.  So, that was my last contact with him.

 

Did he try to reach your mother?

 

No; and you know, my mother is not the type to talk bad about anybody.  So, she always made it open.  You guys want to talk to him, you can call him; you want to see him, you can see him. ‘Cause he will always be your father. But to me, a father has a different meaning.  He’ll always be my dad.

 

Right; that’s a verb.  Right? It’s what you do.

 

Yeah.

 

So, really, these are really formative things that happened to you.  I mean, things that change you.

 

Big time.

 

So, you were twelve years old thinking … Where’s the food that I’m supposed to cook for dinner?

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, if it wasn’t for my grandparents, who taught us how to grow vegetables, I don’t think we would have survived.  And my grandfather really became the father figure, even though he was a very harsh man.  He was Mr. Miyagi; everybody called him Mr. Miyagi.  He would teach you through lessons; he wouldn’t tell you.  He wouldn’t tell you that the fire is hot. He’s gonna give you a lesson, you know, or he’s gonna somehow drum up something so you go through the experience, so you get the lesson.  And then, he’ll ask you after.  That kinda guy; very old school.

 

Did you learn well that way?

 

Lots.

 

Was that a good way for you?

 

Yeah; I think so.  Now that I think about it, yeah.  But at the time, I’m like: God, you—

 

Why doesn’t he just say what he means?

 

Yeah; yeah.  Why don’t you say, you know.  I remember when I was a junior in high school, I wanted to go to junior prom. And my mom said: You can’t; we don’t have any money.  Expensive, you know, a tuxedo and everything.  And my grandfather was listening to the conversation.  And he goes: Hey, come outside.  So, I go outside.  He goes: You see this cabbage; not growing good.  Help me.  I said: What do you need me to do?  We need to till the ground.  Start tilling the ground.  Next thing you know, it’s an hour in, I’m sweating.  I’m like: How did I end up tilling cabbage?

 

What’s going on here?  Next day he goes: Tomorrow, I going come back here one o’clock. You help me; we’re gonna plant new cabbage.  So, he shows me how to plant cabbage.  This goes on for, you know, three, four months.  Comes time for junior prom.  Boy, come outside.  He goes: I need you to help me pick the cabbage; too heavy, my back sore.  I get a big bag, fill up the bag with cabbage. Let’s go to the store.  We go to the store, we sell the cabbage.  Look at all the money; I go: Grandpa, look at all this money.  What are we gonna do with it?  He goes: You go to the prom.  Three-month lesson.

 

Yeah; that is a great formative lesson.

 

Yeah.  But he did a lot of stuff like that.

 

And then, how did you learn to cook it?

 

Trial and error; trial and error.  Salt and pepper, you know.  That’s all you had.  It’s not salty enough, put more salt.  You know.  Too much pepper, put less pepper.  And then, of course, you watch your grandparents cook, you watch your mom cook when there were those days.  You really paid attention, ‘cause you didn’t want to just eat Spam and rice every day. You got tired of Spam and rice every day.

 

Did you think it was drudgery, or did you enjoy this?

 

You know what?  I enjoyed it; I enjoyed it.  It became a competition amongst the brothers.  You know, my third brother Adam became an amazing chef.  He cooked for Steve Jobs.  He’s cooked for all these different celebrities.  You know, we won the Food Truck Race because of him.

 

So, this life event that could have really unnerved you and really put you on a bad trajectory, it actually turned out to be something that became embedded in your life and a springboard.

 

The biggest blessing in disguise.  Everything happens for a reason.  And I think things would be much different if my dad was in my life.  And it could be way better, it could have been worse.  It would have been a different path, for sure.

 

Lanai Tabura wanted to be on television from the time he was a little boy.  After graduating from high school on Lāna‘i, he headed to O‘ahu to attend Hawai‘i Pacific University.  He didn’t stay long, though, because he found a new passion.

 

I went to a floor wax audition.  And it was a thousand kids, and my cousin ended up getting it.  But I was so fascinated by the concept of it.  Like: Wait, do it again?  What do you mean do it again?  You know. I was like six or seven years old. And I was so fascinated about the concept of you can be in front of this thing, and then people can watch it later. And I was fascinated about television, and I was fascinated how people can act like somebody else.  And then, you started watching television, I started watching Checkers and Pogo, and I started watching Andy Bumatai, High School Daze, and I started watching Booga Booga.  And it fascinated me how they can make people laugh, and how they can act like somebody else and make people laugh.  That was the fascination, I think.  I never thought I’d do standup comedy.  I started doing standup comedy ‘cause of James Grant Benton, Augie, and Andy. That was just a hobby.  I wanted to do standup comedy because of the timing; the timing part of it.

 

Which is the hardest part.

 

Yes.  And I found out that if you can master the timing, you can say anything you want. You can act, you can host, you can do interviews.  You know, radio really helped me with the timing part on interviews as well.

 

How did you get to O‘ahu to do all of this?

 

I had a scholarship, believe it or not, for volleyball. Hawai‘i Pacific University, Nahaku Brown did a clinic on Lana‘i, and I was a pretty good volleyball player.

 

You were all-state.

 

Yeah.  Oh, thank you.  Nobody knows that.  But anyway, she was offering a management scholarship, ‘cause they were gonna start an NCAA team.  Turned into a club team.  I got into radio at the same time, and then kind of moved out of it.

 

What’s a management scholarship?

 

They offer a couple scholarships for people to help with volleyball teams, like the women’s volleyball team.

 

Oh, I see.

 

So, you know, the guy that sets up the court, and you know, gets the water, and you know, gets ready for game day, gets the uniforms ready.

 

She saw your business side.

 

Yeah.  Yeah. Thank you, Nahaku.  But yeah, she really is the one that got me to Oahu.  ‘Cause we couldn’t afford college at all.  My mom was pissed when I dropped out.

 

Why did you drop out?

 

Radio.  When I started, my first day of college was my first day of my radio gig.

 

Oh …

 

Yeah.

 

There was competition between the two.

 

And it took over.  It took over not a little bit; it took over a hundred percent.  I was so fascinated by radio.  Again, I can tell people what to do, and they don’t even see me.  This was pre-Facebook, My Space, social media.  So, you know that everyone’s listening to you.  We had a twenty-one share at night, which was like three out of every five teens listening to us at night.

 

That’s phenomenal, because there were so many radio stations.

 

Yes.

 

I think we have the highest per capita in the nation.

 

Yes.  We did; there was like thirty radio stations for a million people.  You know.  But I was so fascinated by radio, and that was it.  I was indulged in it, you know.

 

And it paid you, too.

 

It did.  And that was the other thing; it paid me.  Right?  College wasn’t gonna pay me.  Working part-time at San Francisco Rag Shop was paying me pennies.  And being in radio, my first year was minimum wage, but after I proved that I could do what I could do, ho, I was living it up.  You know.  I had a car, I had a house, a condo.  I had a tab everywhere I went, because everybody wanted you to talk about their bar or their restaurant.  You know.

 

And yet, did you foresee what would happen to radio?  I mean, it hasn’t died like many people predicted.

 

No.

 

But it’s not the same; it’s a lot of consolidation and recorded voices.

 

Yeah.  There was one thing that I really … I really saw clearly, that it was gonna come to an end for me.  I saw it ten years before.  I’m still in radio, by the way.  I do shows in Japan.  But the actual twenty-four/seven, nine-to-five, working in radio every day, I saw it ten years before it even came.

 

You knew you would be recording your voice, and it would be played on different channels.

 

Yes; yeah.  I seen it.  ‘Cause now, I can eliminate that person, I can eliminate this person.  So, unless you were at the top of the food chain, you weren’t gonna get paid, ‘cause you were gonna be one of the people eliminated. Right?  So, I started my TV career, ‘cause I knew that I needed to get out of something else. And then, I started my entrepreneurship.  Try everything, what do I like, what don’t I like.

 

I wonder if one of the reasons you did the entrepreneur—I don’t know if it was innately inside you, or did you see fewer opportunities that were already created for somebody like you?

 

It was my mom.  Such a great question.  It was my mom that told me: What do you want to be?  I don’t know; I want to be on TV.  How do you know; you never try ‘em.  Right? Well, what you want to do; you want to be a realtor?  How you know; you never tried it.  You gotta try it first.  You gotta go see what it is first.  What if you don’t like the format?  What if you don’t like how it works?  What if you don’t like the politics of it?  You know.  What you going do?  That’s why until today, I was like, if I get opportunity—I look at everything as opportunity, by the way.  If I see opportunity, I’m gonna go dig into it.  I’m gonna go dig, and hey, how does this work?  I want to try.

 

And you’re willing to give your time to try it out?

 

Yeah.  I could die tomorrow.  I could die tomorrow; and then what?  My best friend died when he was thirty-five, and it was another huge lesson to me to try things.  Don’t be afraid.  I’m always gonna pay taxes, I’m always gonna work, so why not try it.  You know.  I commend people who can do something for thirty years, forty years, you know.  But it’s kinda not for me.

 

So, if you had a choice between a good, steady job and this tantalizing opportunity that you didn’t know if it would pay off, what would you do?

 

Tantalizing, one hundred percent.

 

Yeah.

 

A good, steady job is boring to me.  And it’s for other people.  You know, I commend you again.  That’s good, if you could.  I wish I could, because it’s security; yeah?  But it’s so boring to me.  It’s so boring.  I have so many wealthy friends that have been doing the same job for a long time, and they’re miserable.  They ask: What are you doing now, how come you’re doing this?  It’s like they tell me: I live vicariously through your social media, or your Instagram or, you know.  And it’s not that I’m trying to brag about what I do or anything.  I just do stuff that I love to do.  I want it to be fun.  Everything has to be fun.

 

And you’ve made it pay off for you.

 

It’s going to pay off.

 

It’s going to pay off.  Six years ago, I went bankrupt.  I lost three houses.  I think I had four cars.  For what? It was nothing, cars were nothing, the houses were nothing.  But it was a huge lesson, and I’m still going through that lesson, you know.  So, now, I have a new guard.  How do I not go through the same mistake; right?

 

Well, maybe you were trying to control circumstances before, and now you try to control yourself. 

 

Yeah; that’s what it is.  It really is.  I never had money before, and when you hear these stories about people who won the lottery or have done good.  You know, Larry Price always used to tell me: You’re not going get rich yet.  And I go: Why you always tell me that?  He goes: ‘Cause you need to learn, still.

 

Oh …

 

It’s not your turn; it’s not your turn.

 

So, did you just go crazy because you had available money that you didn’t before?

 

Oh, yeah.  And I went crazy in a sense of not just for me; taking care of other people. Which I should have … you know, I didn’t have kids.  I wasn’t prepared for that.  Nobody teaches you that.  You know, no one teaches you about taxes.  In school, they don’t teach you that.  No one teaches you that it can run out.  No one teaches you that this job can end.  You know, that kinda stuff.  So, I’m going through it every day still, today.  I think I’m gonna be that guy that doesn’t retire; for sure.  I love to work.  So, I’m gonna be working.

 

But you are gonna save money; right?

 

I’m gonna; yeah.  I started.

 

Because that’s the thing, is when you’re always living hand-to-mouth, regular savings is not a …

 

Yeah.

 

It’s not something on your list, because you don’t have it to save.

 

Yeah.  And it’s not part of your ritual, it’s not part of your everyday thing.  Because you never had it.  You know, I never had it.

 

And then, you assume if you have it, life will be easy.

 

It’s not easier.  It doesn’t get easier.  I think it gets harder.  You know, more money, more problems.  You know. It’s funny, ‘cause when you get more money, you think: Okay, now I can get the things that I need.  You know.  Or I need to get that, or I’ve always wanted to get that, I need it. You really don’t need it.  You know.  You need toothpaste and you need toilet paper.  Okay, I’m paying my bills, my kids are okay, I’m paying their bills, I have enough to pay for them to go to college.  Do I want to be wealthy-wealthy?  That’s starting to turn.  Before, if you asked me ten years ago.  I want to be wealthy, I want to be one of the wealthiest guys in Hawai‘i. Now it’s, I want to be one of the most happiest guys, and I want to be doing what I love to do guys in Hawai‘i.

 

In 2013, Lanai Tabura and his team entered Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race.  They traveled more than four thousand miles across the country in their Aloha Plate Food Truck in a competition to see who could make the most money.  Well, their team won, thanks to the support of thousands of former Hawai‘i residents who came out to support them.

 

You know what’s so interesting about that whole race was the word aloha.  I’m gonna keep coming back to it, but the word aloha.  This is what happened.  I’m not gonna tell you the whole story, but what really happened was, what clicked it, and what sparked it, that Coconut Wireless, was one text.  I text Brook Lee, Miss Universe, good friend of mine: I am going to Idaho, I don’t know anybody in Idaho; do you know anybody in Idaho? That one text created this phenomena of thousands of people showing up to a food truck to support people they don’t know.  Why?  Nobody knew what was going on, nobody knew.

 

That’s right; the show wasn’t on at that point, right?

 

No; it wasn’t on.  Those thousands of people that you didn’t see on the television, because they thought we were cheating, showed up because they wanted to eat. They wanted to eat Hawaiian food, in the middle of Idaho, that they haven’t had for a long time.  People from twenty years transplants that lived in Idaho, fifteen years or what have you, people going to school showed up.  And I’ll never forget; I was in Minnesota, it was twenty degrees, raining sideways.  We went to an ice cream shop, and there was a guy who comes out with a University of Hawai‘i hat.  And he looks up at me, and he goes: Lanai, what are you doing here?  And I go: We’re doing this food thing, and I’m looking for a place to park.  I couldn’t say anything.  He said: What do you mean, this food thing?  Oh, we have this food truck, and bla-bla-bla.  He goes: Come here tomorrow, this is Grand Avenue, everyone will be here shopping.  I said: Really?  I said: You from Hawai‘i?  He goes: No, the girl who owns this ice cream place is from Hawai‘i, my ex-girlfriend. What?  Yeah.  He goes: I love Hawai‘i, I going tell all my friends come tomorrow; park over here. We show up; about two hundred people waiting in line, tents, raining sideways, it’s twenty degrees.  Who are these people?  We take about forty-five minutes to prep.  I walk out.  And I did this in every city; I would go down the line and I would thank people for coming and let them know we’re gonna open soon.  There was a lady, she’s gotta be in her seventies, and I said: I want to thank you for coming.  She goes: No, no, no; I want to thank you.  And I said: Thank me for what?  She goes: I’ve been living here for twenty years, and I never knew this many people from Hawai‘i live in Minnesota.  You guys know what you did?  I go: What do you mean, know what we did?  She said: You brought all of us together, through food.  And I was like: Holy moly, I never thought of it like that; right?  Where were we?  We were in the capitol of Spam.  Spam is made in Minnesota.  Right?

 

Then it’s a genetic connection.

 

Yeah.  There was another connection; Spam is made in Minnesota.  I meet this guy Matt, who helps us with the parking and everything, and I said: What are you doing here?  He said: I came to school here and ended up working here; I created a group called The Frozen Ohana.  And I go: What’s The Frozen Ohana?  He goes: Twenty-five hundred of us that get together every three months and have a barbecue, because we homesick.  And I go: Homesick from where?  He goes: From Hawai‘i.  I go: There’s that many people here?  He goes: Yeah.  And that’s what happened in every city.  I have a story for every little city, but that one was halfway into the race, and that one when it clicked in.  This is why people came together, ‘cause of the food and the Aloha that they wanted to share with their friends and their neighbors.

 

Plus, they wanted to support somebody who was on a quest.

 

Yes.

 

A Hawaiian on a quest.

 

Yes; totally.

 

So, are you using what you learned from that to do your pop-ups now in different cities all over the place?

 

I’ve been on this new journey because of it, of teaching aloha.  I have this passion for aloha.  I have this passion for teaching people that if you have aloha and good intent with anything that you do, you can do anything that you want.  You know what I mean?  You can be the best at anything you want, because you enjoy it.  You know, find what your passion is, and do it with good intent and aloha.  And that’s what I’ve been on this journey through with the food.  I’ve been teaching it through food subliminally.

 

I can see how you do it.

 

Yeah.

 

So, what’s an example recently of aloha through food?

 

I’ve been doing these pop-up dinners with different chefs.  And I sit with them, and we create the menu.  And the menu is always gonna be the plantation days and the migration of immigrants that came to Hawai‘i.  From Hawaiian food is the first dish, to Chinese, to Japanese, to Korean, Portuguese, Filipino.  You know. So, I walk through the timeline of it, and I figure out, will this dish represent that community or immigrant that came to the plantation.  Yes, it does. All right; now we’re gonna create a story behind it.  So, when you come to my dinner, you’re not gonna just have dinner; you’re gonna get an experience.  And the experience is gonna be the story of when the Chinese came in the late 1700s to trade sandalwood with Kamehameha, and then they introduced us to noodles and rice.  And when the Japanese came and introduced us to teriyaki sauce, and the musubi, and that’s how the Spam musubi came about.  And the Portuguese gave us oil and batter.  And the oil and the batter, they saw the Japanese guy eating raw shrimp and they said: You cannot eat that raw.  And they grabbed the shrimp and dipped it in the batter and in the oil. That’s why when you look at an okazuya, it’s flat, our tempura.  The Japanese took it one step further and put panko.  These stories is the way that I’m gonna get to you and share what aloha means. At the end of the day, all these plantation workers got a kau kau tin.  They sat in a circle, hot rice in one hand, hot food and vegetables in the middle.  And the Japanese said: Yeah, try my musubi.  And the Chinese said: Yeah, that’s noodles, try my noodles.  What did it do?  It brought us together.  And the Hawaiians taught us how to share, which is aloha.

 

Since he and his team won The Great Food Truck Race, Lanai Tabura has developed a passion for teaching aloha through food.  Whether it’s through his cooking shows or his pop-up dinners, he says he’s on a mission to share aloha.  Mahalo to Lanai Tabura for sharing his life story with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org.  To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I have kids.  I want my kids to live in a better world.  It’s a tough world right now, you know.  So, my whole thing is, how am I gonna use what I have built to help people.  My mom has done it her whole life; she still does it today.  My grandparents did it.  You know, my grandmother would make a big pot of chili and feed everybody. You know.   And then for years I’d go: Grandma, how come there’s all this Tupperware on the table?  How come you feeling everybody?  She goes: Never mind, you just bring this to Uncle’s house next door, you bring this to Auntie’s house.  That was how we lived on the ahupua‘a.  That’s how we shared, that was aloha.  Right? We have to bring that back.  We’ve made life too difficult.  So, I don’t want it to be difficult; I want it to be simple.  Ah, maybe I’m dreaming.  But I think I’ve made a pretty good start.

 

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Circus, Part 2 of 2

 

See how Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey merged to create a circus of more than 1,100 people and 1,000 animals, only to limp through the Great Depression against competition from radio and movies.

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Circus, Part 1 of 2

 

This two-part series follows the rise and fall of the gigantic, traveling tented railroad circus, recounting the era when Circus Day could shut down a town, and circus stars were among the most famous people in the country. Travel back to 1793 Philadelphia, when America’s first circus was established, and witness its crash into American culture. The arrival of P. T. Barnum in 1871 transformed the trade, and the five Ringling brothers created a spectacle of their own.

 

 

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