Hawai‘i

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Florence “Johnny” Frisbie: Life Lessons from Pukapuka Atoll

 

Florence “Johnny” Frisbie was only 15 years old when she published her first autobiography in 1948. Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka is an account of her life on the little-known Pacific island of Pukapuka, part of the Cook Islands. The adventurous daughter of an American writer father and native Pukapukan mother, Johnny discusses the beauty and hardship of her remote island upbringing.

 

To view the second part of guest Florence “Johnny” Frisbie’s show, click here.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Feb. 21, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 25, at 4:00 pm.

 

Florence Johnny Frisbie Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Most of the time, it was a kind of challenge that was exciting. It was. I think it’s because, you know, we live on small islands, and we go out on the reef, and the big waves wash suddenly, and we’re down and struggling to get up again. And it was perhaps that background and upbringing that we had this great sense of excitement, you know. And yet, it’s partly survival.

 

Florence “Johnny” Frisbie grew up living far away from the comforts of a traditional population center, surviving on whatever food a small coral atoll and the ocean might provide. The odyssey of Johnny Frisbie, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Florence “Johnny” Frisbie of Honolulu has spent her entire life on an odyssey. Born in Tahiti, Johnny traveled the South Pacific, spending her childhood on small remote Cook Islands like Pukapuka, and the virtually uninhabited Suwarrow. At age twelve, she started documenting her adventures. At fifteen, she was a published author, the first Pacific Island woman to accomplish that. Her autobiography was Miss Ulysses of Pukapuka. Johnny was born to a native Pukapukan mother and an American father, Robert Dean Frisbie, who was a writer and South Seas trader.

 

I understand your dad was from Ohio.

 

Yeah.

 

And your mom was from Pukapuka.

 

Yeah. Yeah.

 

How did that happen?

 

Well, he left San Francisco and ended up in Tahiti. Yes, yes, yes. And so, he arrived in Tahiti and met James Hall, and they became very close friends. But then, he lived there for many years, many many years, and also could see where Tahiti is becoming a place where a lot of ships and sailors, and wanderers, explorers are ending up in big parties and drinking, and all that. And he was disillusioned, and wanted something even simpler and quieter, and a culture that suits him with you know, his dream. And he ended up on Pukapuka.

 

Can you tell us about Pukapuka? When we talk about Pacific Island neighbors, Pukapuka is far, far from Hawaii. Can you tell us about it, and your life there?

 

Pukapuka is a small atoll, north of all the Cook Islands. It’s the most northern island of the fifteen islands. My mother comes from Pukapuka, and her mother before her, before her.

 

She was much younger than he?

 

Yes, yes; she was sixteen. Yeah.

 

And how was that? So, there was an age difference, a cultural difference. How did that work out?

 

That really is not important, you know, the age. Women don’t sit around thinking about their age and worrying about growing old. That’s not in the picture, you know. It’s whether it works; something works. And my father being a White man, you know, Oh, hey, this is very nice, you know, and he wants our daughter. This is the family and the tribe talking about, you know, What are we gonna do, you know. We don’t know him. You know, they didn’t know anything about the White man, as they called him. And so, it was so foreign to them.

 

How many White men or White people—

 

Only one. Yeah.

 

On the island?

 

Only him. Yes.

 

I see.

 

Yeah. And they’d come and go. They’d come on a boat, and leave the next day. But he stayed. And so, they wonder, What do we do? You know, he wants to marry our daughter, and the sixteen age didn’t come into the conversation whatsoever. So, they all assessed his ability to fish, you know, and ability to paddle, and ability to husk coconut, and the way that he speaks softly. But they kinda wondered about him, because he didn’t go to church. He wouldn’t go to church, and they thought that might be a problem. But no, you know, the fact that he could do all these other things Pukapukan men do, is sufficient to give our daughter to him. That’s how it happened.

 

All right; so he passed the test.

 

And the marriage was a success?

 

Yes; very much so.

 

How many children followed?

 

Five; five. The eldest is Charles, and he was taken away from my mother when my father was away, when she gave birth to him.

 

Um, you want to hear that story?

 

Yes; I don’t know that story.

 

Oh, oh. Oh—

 

Charles was taken away from your mother?

 

Well, there’s a custom on Pukapuka. The first and second children of the couple is the father’s share. And then, he gives them away as a gift to his parents or grandparents, or a brother who, you know, can’t have children, his wife cannot have children. And then, the third and fourth children are the mother’s share, and naturally, this is a gift, the ultimate gift, to to her mother, to her parents, and sister or brother. And so, when my mother and father moved to Rarotonga, my father had a job offered on another island, copra making, making copra out of coconut, the coconut meat. So, my mother, she was then seventeen, eighteen years old, was left on Rarotonga in the care of a grandaunt who did not have any children. So when my mother gave birth, Pikipiki took the baby and said, This is our share; I’ll take this baby. And my mother coming from that culture, and my father not being there said, Yeah, okay; yeah, you take. And so, she took the baby, Charles, and disappeared into the valley. When my father came back, found he had no firstborn, he was devastated. So, he asked two policemen on the island to please go fetch this woman, and bring back his son. And those men, knowing the culture, understanding fully what this natural process was, just kinda walked in the valley, looked around, came back and said, Oh, can’t find her.

 

So, he never saw his son?

 

No.

 

Until how long—

 

Not until he was thirteen; he was thirteen.

 

Oh …

 

He came back thirteen years later.

 

Well, you’re number two. Were you given away?

 

No; because my father made sure that he was there.

 

No more culture like that; right? So, all the other children …

 

Yes.

 

Two, three, four stayed.

 

M-hm; yeah.

 

What was everyday life like when you and your dad, and our mom and siblings were there? What did you do during the day? What was family life like?

 

We were very busy kids. You know, the kids were busy. We played a lot; climbed trees, and hide-and-seek, and swim in the lagoon, swim out to the corals way out. But we had duties, too. You know, we had to help the women in the taro patch. Yeah.

 

Oh, that’s hard work.

 

Yeah, well, we played most of the time.

 

In 1937, Johnny Frisbie’s mother gave birth to her fifth child. Two weeks later, she fell ill, and her condition worsened. She passed away the following year.

 

Your mother was so young when she passed away of tuberculosis; twenty-six.

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

What happened in your family at that time? What were some of the effects?

 

Well, my father took total control of the family. You know, he became the mother, father, because my mother had asked him before she died not to separate us. ‘Cause that is commonly what happens with families, and her parents were very eager to take two of us as their share. And my father said, No, no, you know, these are my children too, you know, and I don’t belong in that. And that was the reason why my father decided that we leave Pukapuka.

 

What was the thing you missed most about your mother after she was gone?

 

When I think about her, what I remember of her, I just … remember her looking at me, you know, just like looking at me. You know.

 

Like she loved you.

 

Yeah. And so, I’m happy when she looks up at me like that, and all this love and a faint smile. Oh; I take a breath, and I run away, then disappear for hours and play with my friends, you know. And then, I’ll think about it, and I’ll come back and just stand in front of her to get this …

 

M-hm.

 

I missed that.

 

Johnny Frisbie’s father moved the family around the South Pacific to places like Fiji, and even settled on Suwarrow Atoll in the Northern Cook Islands. They lived on tiny Anchorage Island, which had a landmass of less than one-tenth of a square mile. It was there, that the motherless family faced a terrible storm.

 

This was Suwarrow, uninhabited island.

 

And were you the only residents?

 

There were four others. And they were sent there by the New Zealand government to keep an eye on the war activities. You know, Japanese, maybe submarine, whatever it is.

 

I see.

 

And so, they were on that island, and on other islands as well. Yeah.

 

Your father ended up lashing you to trees.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

All the kids; right?

 

Yeah, yeah. M-hm.

 

Tying you up there.

 

Well, before that, before preparing for the hurricane, he tied ropes around our waist, and there was plenty left here to put around the coconut tree. Okay; and then, when the seas rise, it takes us up, and when it comes down, brings us down. That was the plan. But before nighttime, before dark, the wind was just wild. He noticed that the coconut trees were being uprooted or broken in half. And so, he said, Ooh, that’s not gonna work.

 

You can laugh now.

 

So, that plan was thrown out. When a big wave hit the house, the thatched roof house we were in, it was nighttime, but it was light because of the lightning; it was just constant, so there was light. We left the house and crawled. You couldn’t stand up; you crawl and just cling to the gravel and the sand, whatever you can, towards the three trees that were still standing.

 

What kind of trees?

 

Tamanu trees. So, he just tied us to the branches. Yeah, to the branches.

 

How many kids did he tie?

 

Four.

 

And then tied himself?

 

No; no. He just hung on. Yeah; he just hung onto a branch when the wind was powerful.

 

But wasn’t the sea level up over the sand? I mean, basically, the island got covered, didn’t it?

 

We went way up. Yeah; we climbed up to the top. Yeah, the top where the branches snake off like this. And he had his hut right on top of those branches. But yeah, it worked.

 

And I know in your book you say that three-quarters of the landmass of the atoll was washed away.

 

Yeah; it was cut. Here’s the island here, and ended up with two channels. The island was just … split, you know, by the sea.

 

What happened to the other observers who were on the island?

 

Well, my father said they could, of course, come up to his house, to his hut up at the top, and it would save them too. Two of them were Europeans, New Zealanders, and this was kind of very different for them. Very, very different. And they just shook the whole time. It was cold, they were frightened, they were totally helpless. But the two boys from Manihiki were okay. You know, they were from another atoll which is called Manihiki.

 

How were you doing? You were a little kid.

 

Yeah. We were fine.

 

How crazy was it? You were being buffeted by winds, the water level was coming up.

 

Well, like I say, there was some excitement to it. Ooh, ooh, ooh; ooh, I hope it doesn’t reach us. You know, and hang on and pray. ‘Cause my grandmother always says, Always pray, always pray. You know, so pray. I don’t remember being totally overpowered by fear; I don’t remember. It was exciting, and it was a matter of survival. You know, thinking about, looking and, okay, this happens here, that branch, there’s another branch there. I do that to this day. When I drive to Punaluu, I’m looking at all the trees in case of tidal wave, you know. And with my grandchildren, I said, No, that’s not good, because they can’t climb up that one. You know, it’s gotta be where there are branches so we can get up. So, I do the same thing.

 

Plan B; right?

 

Yeah. And so, there, you have to keep an eye on what next. You know, what next. Yeah.

 

And at some point, the water subsided, the winds stopped.

 

Yeah.

 

And, what?

 

Yeah.

 

You’re on a decimated island.

 

Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, there was plenty of fish and turtles, and sharks in the middle of the island where the waves came from the ocean, from the lagoon. Meet in the middle, they bring all these beautiful fish, this lovely stuff. And we were able to live on that for two days only, and then they began to decompose. Yeah; and then the flies; millions of flies eating all these dead fish. Yeah.

 

What’d you do after that?

 

We ate birds. Yeah. The birds returned after the hurricane. The birds had disappeared somewhere else, and after the hurricane, you could hear them at night. We heard them one night all making their noise as they were coming back to Suwarrow. So, we ate lots of birds. And we made spears out of wood. Made spears, and we’d go on the reef and spear grouper, other fishes.

 

Amidst many personal hardships, Johnny Frisbie’s father, Robert Dean Frisbie, continued to write travel stories, news articles, and six published books about island life in Polynesia.

 

His first book was called The Book of Puka-Puka, and it’s a classic. And then, there’s Amaru. It’s the first novel, that’s the first novel he wrote. And I typed it; that’s how I learned to type. He gave it to me. He wrote at night, write by hand in the light of a lantern, and then he would give me the script in the morning. And I’d type it on his little Remington like this.

 

So, not surprising, you would turn out to be a writer.

 

Because you’d been doing diaries.

 

I know. Yeah. And then, his last book, Dawn Sails North, he did the same thing. We were on Rarotonga then. So, he decided, enough of this, so he sent for an instruction book on how to type with all the fingers. So, I taught myself how to do that, and typed Dawn Sails North. That was his last book. It was published after his death. Yeah.

 

Johnny Frisbie, encouraged by her father’s love of storytelling and literature, wrote Miss Ulysses from Puka-Puka. Audiences in the Western world started to read about her South Sea adventures in 1948.

 

You wrote this book between the ages of twelve and fourteen.

 

I started a diary at twelve. Yeah. No, I finished the book at fifteen. Yeah; it came out when I was sixteen, just before my father died.

 

So, it was a diary.

 

Yes.

 

In which language did you keep your diary?

 

Oh, I kept it in Pukapukan mainly, and then English. As I went along, I write in Pukapukan, and I would ask my father what that word is in English. And he would explain it to me, and then I would use the word. By the time I was fourteen, I was able to write in English. Might be not the best, you know, but I was able to use adjectives because my father said, You can’t just write like that, you have to put a colorful word there to make the next word happy.

 

And Miss Ulysses; where did Miss Ulysses come from?

 

Well, because there were no children’s books in that part of the world growing up, my father at nighttime, rather than read, and there’s no children’s stories, he would tell us the story of Ulysses in the Iliad and the Odyssey of Homer. Every night, we would go through the whole series of adventures, Ulysses. And that was all I knew, you know. And so, when the book was finished, then my father said, Well, we gotta find a name for this book. Hm, hm; we thought about it, thought about it for days, and days. And then, I said, Oh, how about Miss Ulysses? Because I’m Ulysses, aren’t I, Papa? You know.

 

You identified with Ulysses. And it was an adventuring kind of life. I mean, you were facing the elements.

 

Yeah, that’s right. And we traveled a lot. You know, we did.

 

Johnny Frisbie’s father, Robert Dean Frisbie, contracted the same illness that took his wife. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1943. Despite his declining health, he continued to travel the South Pacific and write. In 1948, Robert Dean Frisbie died at age fifty-two, orphaning Johnny and her siblings.

 

Did your dad pass away in …

 

We were on Rarotonga.

 

Rarotonga.

 

The big island of Rarotonga; m-hm. And he’s buried there. M-hm.

 

And you became an orphan.

 

Yes; m-hm. Yes; the three of us. He had sent my two brothers to New Zealand just before he passed away.

 

Someone who’s lost their parents as a child would have devastating feelings of loss. But it sounds like …

 

Yes, with my father, because I relied so much on him for an extension of my Polynesian Pukapukans. You know, it was just natural, ‘cause he understood my Polynesian-ness, you know, and my eagerness to be like him. You know. And he understood that, and I missed that, I didn’t know where to turn.

 

And then, who decided what would happen to the children?

 

I did; yeah. Peter and Barbara Engle from Lanikai had read my father’s books. And so, they sailed on a yacht, The Loafer, through some of the Pacific island to find him, because they were told that he was in that part of the world. So, when they finally got to Tahiti, they looked up James Michener, who informed them that my father was on living on Rarotonga. So, they sailed to Rarotonga, and we met. And by that time, my father had an idea, he had an inkling he wasn’t going to live long, so he asked the Engles if they would take me with them and make sure that I get an education. Okay; and they promised. So, when he passed away, Barbara Engle wrote to me to say they were in New Zealand, as soon as they arrived in Hawaii, they will send for me. And that happened in April 1950. April 23, 1950, I landed at the old airport in Honolulu. Lived with them, and immediately, I started looking for families for my two sisters. The Engles happened to be very, very good friends with the Dawsons of Kailua, and they had three sons, and I used to play with them all the time. And I thought, Oh, uh-huh, no sister, hm, okay. So, I approached Sumai and Lee Dawson and asked if they would like a sister for their sons. And they said, Yes, absolutely. Boop, about six months later, my younger sister was here. And while I was at camp as a counselor at Kokokahi Camp a year later, the Fenders, Ma and Pa Fender, who managed the camp where the YWCA is now, that was Kokokahi Camp, that was in ’51, and we got to know each other. And I thought, Oh, okay, they’re very nice people. And so, I asked if they would take my sister Elaine. And they said, Yes, absolutely.

 

Just amazing.

 

And never having met them, but knowing you. So, you functioned as the oldest child.

 

Yeah, yeah.

 

Your brother had been given away.

 

Oh, yeah; m-hm, yeah. So, they arrived, and we lived happily ever after. And they were so nice, because every weekend, we would be together.

 

Johnny Frisbie and her two sisters were reunited on Oahu in 1952. The Frisbie daughters spent the remainder of their teenage years in Hawaii raised separately in different families. Much like her adventurous father, Johnny did not stay planted in Hawaii for very long, and after graduating from Punahou School in Honolulu, the travels of Miss Ulysses began again. At the time of our conversation in early 2017, she was nearly eighty-five years old, and getting ready for more Pacific travels. Mahalo to Florence “Johnny” Frisbie of Honolulu, who as a teen was credited as the first published female author from Polynesia, for sharing your story with us. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

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.

 

Your first name is actually Florence.

 

Mm.

 

But everyone knows you as Johnny.

 

M-hm.

 

How did that happen?

 

It happened in Tahiti, and my mother was in labor. And my father and all his friends, Andy Thompson, James, all his friends, sailor friends were drinking Johnny Walker whiskey. One of the friends said, Girl or boy, it’s gonna be Johnny. You know.

 

[END]

 



INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
The Survival Plan We Hope We’ll Never Need

 

The false alarm alert from Hawai‘i’s Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) on Saturday morning, January 13 may have been a wake-up call for everyone. On this INSIGHTS, we’ll hear from four organizations with critical roles should Hawai‘i ever be the target of a nuclear attack. Joining us will be representatives from the D.O.E., the Department of Transportation and the Hawai‘i Hotel and Lodging Association. The Defense Department will also bring us an update on the major changes to be implemented in the new plan for HI-EMA.

 

Join us during our live discussion by phoning in, or leaving us a comment on Facebook or Twitter. INSIGHTS is also live streamed on pbshawaii.org and Facebook Live.

 

Phone Lines:
462-5000 on Oahu or 800-238-4847 on the Neighbor Islands.

 

Email:
insights@pbshawaii.org

 

Facebook:
Visit the PBS Hawai‘i Facebook page.

 

Twitter:
Join our live discussion using #pbsinsights

 

 

PACIFIC HEARTBEAT
Mele Murals

 

This film is about the transformative power of art through the unlikely union of graffiti and ancient Hawaiian culture. At the center of the story are two renowned street artists – Estria Miyashiro (aka Estria) and John Hina (aka Prime) – a group of Native Hawaiian youth, and the rural community of Waimea on Hawai‘i Island. The story is a look at how public art and Native Hawaiian traditions transform the artists, students and community.

 

 

HIKI NŌ
Episode # 912: Top Story – Inspirational teacher Emma Erwin

HIKI NŌ Episode # 912: Top Story - Inspirational teacher Emma Erwin

 

TOP STORY
Students from Konawaena High School on Hawai‘i Island tell the personal and inspirational story of one of their teachers. Emma Erwin hiked all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail – from Mexico to Canada – as part of her recovery from the trauma of sexual assault. She hiked by herself, taking on the challenge as a way to take back control of her body and her life. Ms. Erwin speaks candidly and shares photos from her remarkable journey.

 

ALSO FEATURED
–Students from Kaua‘i’s Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihu‘e take us to “Critter Camp,” sponsored by the Kaua‘i Humane Society. These day camps teach children how to get along with animals and take care of them, while having fun with their new four-legged friends.

 

–Students from Waimea High School on Kaua‘i invite us into Unko’s Kitchen, a popular restaurant in Hanapepe. In this busy kitchen we find out how and why Chef Manuel Cabral prepares the local comfort food that keeps residents and tourists coming back year after year.

 

–Students from Lahaina Intermediate School on Maui show us the step-by-step instructions to sew on a button.

 

–Students from Aliamanu Middle School on O‘ahu make the most of their Pearl Harbor location to report this story connecting history to their own lives. Aliamanu students had the opportunity to meet young “Ambassadors of Peace” from Australia, Japan and the U.S. who are using lessons of the past to promote a peaceful future.

 

–Students from Kaua‘i High School in Lihu‘e share the story of a Filipino immigrant from a first-person perspective. Glenn Marcos explains the challenges and rewards of starting his new life on Kaua‘i.

 

–Students from Maui High School in Kahului introduce us to a family learning to embrace what life brings after their baby is born with Down Syndrome. Elias and Stephanie Garcia of Pukalani are also using their family company – Aloha Kettlecorn – to share their blessings and inspire their neighbors.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kanoe and John Miller

 

Kanoe Miller felt drawn to the spotlight at an early age, fantasizing about becoming a Broadway chorus girl or a ballerina. The young Kanoe began taking hula lessons, and her goal shifted to performing hula in Waikīkī. For more than 40 years, Kanoe has been living that dream. You’ll often find her biggest cheerleader in the audience: her husband John Miller, a former Aloha Airlines pilot. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Kanoe and John tell the story of their love and reflect on the life they’ve built together.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Feb. 14, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 18, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kanoe and John Miller Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Even my friends would say: Oh, that’s not a good idea. You know, if you come from the mainland and you steal away one of the local girls, they usually kill you. You know. You’ll end up in the Kunia cane fields someday, you know. Well, I mean, that was a joke, but I mean—

 

They were joking.

–people would say that.

 

Yeah.

 

You know, to me.

 

Even his mother said to him: John, now this girl is a performer, and she works on the stage in front of strangers every night; there will be lots of people in the audience wanting her. John, are you sure? You know, so there was a lot of … people.

 

So, it was the two of us out there, just on our own, trying to make sure that the feelings we had for each other were real, you know.

 

When Kanoe and John Miller fell in love during the 1970s, they faced persistent doubt and opposition from family and friends. All these years later, they say challenges and adversity have only strengthened their marriage. Kanoe and John Miller, 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. Our guests today are a husband and wife who say that naysayers made them stronger. Kanoe Miller, born Kanoe Lehua Kaumeheiwa, was crowned Miss Hawai‘i in 1973. For twenty years, she would be one of Hawai‘i’s top fashion models, and at the same time, and up to the time of our conversation in early 2018, she’s been performing hula the iconic Halekulani Hotel in Waikīkī, Oahu, with only a few breaks over forty-one years. Today, Kanoe and her husband, John Miller, own a digital entertainment company, creating videos and live shows of beloved Hawaiian Golden Era music and hula, with Kanoe as the featured dancer.

 

John Miller grew up in Denver, Colorado and became a military pilot, and served in the Wyoming Air National Guard. In 1976, John says he left the freezing cold of Wyoming to head to the warm shores of Hawaii as a pilot for Aloha Airlines. One fateful night in 1977, as he was walking through Waikīkī, Oahu, he stopped in at the luxury hotel, Halekulani. It was a moment that would change his life.

 

When I first came out here, the second year I was working for Aloha Airlines, I lived on a boat in the Ala Wai. And I used to go for a walk in the evening if I had the evening off. And I walked by the Halekulani, and I saw Kanoe dancing. And I thought: That’s probably the reason I’m here. You know.

 

What made you say that? Because there are other hula dancers along the beach at Waikīkī.

 

You know, well, there was a lot of entertainment. But Kanoe just has something special. You know? And so, I went in and sat down. And the way she dances, she relates to everybody. But I thought she was just relating to me. And so, I thought: Oh, my god, this is heaven. You know.

 

A lot of other guys in the audience kind of had the same expression on their face?

 

Probably. I didn’t look at them, though. I was just looking at her, you know. So, yeah, I was probably Number 16 in line.

 

And it was about the Lovely Hula Hands; it was all about that.

 

You know, if you’ve seen her dance, you know it’s about the whole everything. And I just thought: Oh, my god, she’s dancing right to me. And so then, I tried to talk to her, and I realized she’d never even seen me. You know? It was like, I was just another tourist. And she said something like: Are you having a nice vacation? You know. And I thought: Oh—

 

And where are you from?

 

Yeah; where are you from? I thought: Oh. But I still was smitten. I just thought: This gal has something different than anybody else. So, I just kept coming back, and coming back. And after I came back enough times, I realized that she had a ring on her finger. She was engaged, or married. I thought she was married. And I thought: Oh, man, I’m too late. You know. But I still kept going. Like everybody else, they go the Halekulani for the music and to watch her dance.

 

Was that a ring to ward off suitors?

 

No; I was engaged to someone else. And normally, you know, when you dance hula, you’re not supposed to wear any nail polish, no jewelry except your Hawaiian bracelet. But he insisted that I wear this ring. So, I wore it.

 

So, you’re engaged.

 

I’m engaged.

 

And then, actually, after a couple years of me being smitten by her, a friend of mine who knew that I really was infatuated with her called me up one night, and she said: John, Kanoe is not married; there’s an article about her in this magazine, and it’s all about The Fox of the Month. And it’s like all these questions about what she hopes to meet in her perfect guy.

 

You know, this magazine; it was called …

 

O‘ahu.

 

O‘ahu. And every month, they had wonderful articles, and it was more tailored for the single young set of Hawai‘i, of O‘ahu. And every month, they had a Fox of the Month. And I was Miss November. And they had asked me: Describe your ideal man. And I did. Describe your ideal life. I did. When my fiancé read the answers, the first thing he said was: You’re not describing me. And that was my reaction: Sure, I am. Of course, I am. Yes, I’m describing you. He says: No, you’re not; everything you say in here is not me.

 

Well, I read this article, and every question they asked about, what’s your perfect guy like … it was me. And I thought: Well, she’s talking about me, and obviously, she hasn’t gotten married yet, so he’s not the right one. Must be me.

 

By the way, you have to tell the story of how you got that magazine.

 

Oh. Well … one of the pilots that I got hired with, his wife was along for the whole time that I used to go and watch her dance, and take people there. I would take them there. I took everybody there. And of course, she would see me going: Oh, gosh, she’s so beautiful. You know. And of course, everybody feels that way about Kanoe when they watch her dance. But she was the one that called me up and told me: I read this article about Kanoe in the magazine. And so, she called me kinda late at night, you know. So, I said: Well, what’s the name of the magazine? She said: Oh, I don’t know, but her picture’s on the front. You know. So, I walked to all the bookstores looking for this magazine. And the magazine wasn’t there; it wasn’t for sale in newsstands. So then the next morning, I called her back up and I said: Where did you see that magazine? And she said: Oh, at my hairdresser’s; it’s a little place called Shear Power over in Kailua. I said: Okay. So, I drove over there. And I went in, and I went upstairs, and I walked in, and of course, the dryers were going and ladies were cutting, and you know, it’s a real female place.

 

Boy, you had it bad.

 

I know. And I walk in, and there’s this table, and there’s the magazine with her picture on it. So, I walked in, and this one lady looks up and she says: Can I help you? And I said: Well, yes, you know, a friend of mine got her hair cut yesterday, and she told me about this magazine that has an article about someone I’m interested in; could I have that magazine? And she says: No; those magazines are for my customers. And I tried to think really quick, you know. I go: Could I get a haircut? And I took her aback. I said: If I get a haircut, does that make me a customer? Then, could I have the magazine? And she says: Okay, sit down and I’ll get with you in a few minutes. So, I sat down and waited for my haircut. At the end of my haircut, I got the magazine. And as an aside, I had my hair cut from her for like, twenty-five years after that.

 

Faithfully.

 

I was very loyal.

 

You paid for that magazine.

 

I paid for it; right. But then I took the magazine and read it, and that’s when I realized: This girl is talking about me. You know?

 

Okay, now; what did she say? What did you say was your perfect guy?

 

What did I say? The most important question was: Describe your ideal man. And I said: Well, my ideal man is a global thinker. He thinks three hundred sixty degrees, all the way around, his vision goes out. You know, it’s infinite, and it goes three hundred sixty degrees; he can see both sides of the story no matter what the issue is. He has to be a global thinker, he has to be a big thinker with big ideas. He needs to have a big heart, and he needs to have big hands. In other words, generous. I want somebody who is generous in their thinking, generous here, and generous here. And that’s what I ask for. I said: I want a life that … watch out what you ask for. I want a life that goes up, that does down, that goes sideways, that whirls around like a Mad Mouse ride. I don’t want flat-line; I want highs. I want highs, I want desperate lows. I want to turn to the side, I want to go on two wheels, screaming. You know. I got that.

 

So, I renewed my efforts. I was down there that night, you know, a trying to ask her if she would go out on a date with me. You know. And I told her that I had read this article, and that I thought that she was describing me.

 

And I was like: Stalker.

 

Yeah. And she was thinking: Oh, my god, how do I get rid of this stalker?

 

Did you feel any attraction to him?

 

Oh, yeah; immediately, soon as he came up to me. I was like: Wow, this guy is really cute. Wow, he’s really attractive, but I am engaged to someone else. And I really like him, but no. I’m engaged to someone else; no, no, no, no, no.

 

So, I asked her if she would go on a date. And she said: No.

 

Yeah.

 

So, I just thought: Okay, how can I bridge this gap? So, I asked her: Well, how about if I come here and just walk you to your car? Now, this is the old Halekulani, where you drive in, and you parked on the grass, right in front of the old building. So, all the cars were parked right there on the grass; everybody parked there. And where she danced was just out at the House Without A Key. So, I knew that the walk would only be like, thirty steps or so, you know. But I asked her: How about if I come and walk you to your car; would that be okay? ‘Cause that way, maybe you could get to know me.

 

Yeah; actually, what you said was: I read that article, and I think that if you got to know me, you would see that I’m the guy you’re talking about. So, I said: Okay, you can walk me to my car. Okay.

 

So, I guess she felt safe. You know, there was lots of people around. I didn’t look too creepy, I guess. Had my hair cut like a pilot, you know. So, I would go every night, and wait until she got off, on the nights that I could go. Sometimes, I had to fly. But she would let me walk her to the car, and we would just talk about a little something.

 

Oh, but the walk would only take, you know, thirty seconds.

 

Yeah; the first week, the walk was like, just thirty steps. But after the first month, I think it was probably taking about an hour to get to the car.

 

Yeah.

 

And we could talk about anything. You know, we weren’t in a rush. She wasn’t in a rush, and of course, I wasn’t in a rush.

 

And I really enjoyed talking to him. And we had a lot of things in common. You know, lot of interests that were the same. Lot of almost kinda the same dreams. You know, which every time after I’d leave him, I’d go: Gosh, he and I have the same dreams, same ideas, same visions, but I don’t have that with my fiancé, as much as I love him. You know, we don’t have the same ideals, I think. So, anyway, I looked forward to him coming and walking me to the car.

 

I think I had been coming for about two months, and she was letting me walk her to the car. And one night, I just told her: You know, I think I’m in love with you.

 

Of course, I was really afraid. Terrified; terrified. Because I knew he was right, and I knew he was the right person for me. But now, I had to break off this six-year engagement to someone that I thought I loved, away from his family that I love so much. So, it was like, you know, seeing this giant maw open up in front of you, like a giant crevasse that you know you’re just gonna go plummeting down into. It’s very frightening to break off from people you know and you love, a lifestyle that is comfortable to you, to go off with somebody you’ve only known for maybe two months. And he’s from the mainland, he hasn’t lived in Hawaii very long, he doesn’t know us as a people yet, he’s totally from Colorado. These are things that are frightening to me.

 

Kanoe Kaumeheiwa had feelings for John Miller, but was conflicted because of her six-year engagement to another man. In turn, her fiancé did not appreciate John’s sudden appearance in her life. John asked to meet with Kanoe’s fiancé at a church in Kailua, Windward Oahu, to sort out the difficult situation. John sought the advice of the church’s brand new priest, and after several hours of counseling, the priest had some advice for the three of them.

 

He came up with the solution and he said: Okay; I want you to not see either one of these guys for a month, and I want you to go and date. I want you to go out there and date as many people, and as many dates as you can, and all different kinds of people.

 

And I want you know, that’s hard for me, ‘cause I’m not a dater. You know, I’m really a one guy kinda woman. And I don’t like to date, and I feel very uncomfortable. But I did it. And he also told me: I want you to go on Kailua Beach, and I want you to take these long walks, and I want you to spend a lot of time by yourself, and I want you to think about things. So, I followed his advice. And one of the things I realized is—oh, and the priest also said: I’ve asked both your suitors to stay away from you, and give you space and give you time. And I said: Okay. So, I did; I spent one month totally by myself. Ooh; I lost a lot of weight, ‘cause I was very stressed. Oh, I looked great. One of the things I noticed is that he was honorable, and he stayed away. And my fiancé did not. And I did date for a month, other people. And when that month was over, ring-ring-ring-ring-ring; called him up.

 

And said?

 

And said: Let’s get together.

 

So, you were clear.

 

I was clear.

 

You were clear at that point.

 

And I had to say to my fiancé, it’s finished, and I had to break it off.

 

A year later, in 1979, still facing skepticism and opposition from family and friends about their relationship, John Miller married Kanoe Lehua Kaumeheiwa. Kanoe said that in the early days of their relationship, only one friend and one coworker supported their decision. Without wavering, the couple set out on their dream honeymoon across the U.S. continent, visiting more than thirty states.

 

We were both gonna take three months off, and drive around the United States. And I had an old Corvette, and so we decided, let’s do this Route 66 thing.

 

Well, we grew up watching Route 66; yeah? In the 60s. And for the two of us, we found out that was like our dream life, to be vagabonds, to be in this open convertible, to travel untraveled roads, or highways or paths that had never been taken. If you look on the map of the United States, it’s all these main highways and other main roads. But then, there’s these blue highways. The blue highways are the path that nobody takes; it’s the ones that go through the back areas. We were quite interested in taking those roads. And that’s what we did for three months.

 

So, we planned that. And the wedding came, we took care of all that. And then I shipped my car over to the mainland, and then we headed out.

 

Yeah.

 

Life was good, and the marriage seemed ideal. So much so, that friends would often call them Miss Hawai‘i and Captain Aloha. But life has a way of not going according to plan, and the couple confronted a series of major financial and personal challenges, including the 2008 collapse of John’s employer, Aloha Airlines. However, Kanoe and John say the obstacles they faced made their relationship stronger.

 

I thought: I’m marrying an airline pilot, life is grand, I’m going to have children. Someday, he’ll retire at age sixty. We’ll take up golf, we’ll go on cruises. Oh, this is lovely. Right? And lots of things happened along the way that didn’t happen, and we didn’t have children. Lots of things fell apart. But not us. I think one of the turning points in our life was … well, the main thing is when Aloha Airlines went down. Basically, everyone was out of a job, including him. And we had losses. We lost pensions, healthcare. Let’s just say we were living here; everything dropped. The level of our revenue stream went from here to … there. And we didn’t know what we were gonna do. All he knew was to fly; he was an airline pilot. All I was, was a hula dancer. He was about fifty-five years old; he was not at an age where airlines might want to pick him up. Mandatory retirement age at the time was sixty; he was fifty-five. I highly doubt an airline would pick him up. We were faced with who are we, and what do we want to do? And we decided that we were gonna stick together, and we were gonna put our talents together, and we were going to do a business together. And that’s what it is. And the business is that we became a digital entertainment company. And that was hard because, you know, I don’t know anything about business; he doesn’t either. We really had to teach ourselves.

 

It’s storytelling. It’s what you do. What she does is with the compositions, the musicians, and through the art of hula. And there is such a wonderful history in Hawai‘i ever since David Kalakaua got interested in the ukulele, up until, you know, Kui Lee wrote I’ll Remember You. There’s just a huge repertoire of storytelling. And it shouldn’t be lost; it should be perpetuated and continued.

 

Lovely hula hands, telling of the rains in the valley, and the swirling winds over the pali. Lovely hula hands.

 

There’s a feeling deep in my heart, stabbing at me just like a dart. It’s a feeling heavenly.

 

We created the DVD to preserve that kind of storytelling through hula. So, I had to choose ten of my favorite hulas to dance to from that Golden Era. I have many, but I had to focus it down to ten. So, we created the DVD. And then, the next thing we noticed is that DVD sales several years later started to drop off, and people now wanted downloadable things. Okay?

 

So you have to learn that.

 

So, we have to learn that. And that’s where he taught himself, and he also went to all the outreach classes, the Pacific New Media classes at the University of Hawaii. He taught himself websites, and he taught himself how to write an app.

 

So, we created the DVD. And then, the next thing we noticed is that DVD sales several years later started to drop off, and people now wanted downloadable things. Okay?

 

So you have to learn that.

 

So, we have to learn that. And that’s where he taught himself, and he also went to all the outreach classes, the Pacific New Media classes at the University of Hawaii. He taught himself websites, and he taught himself how to write an app.

 

So, you had to learn about yourselves individually, and then what you could deal with as a couple.

 

Yes. We both wear different hats. Sometimes, he wears the creative hat, where he’s doing layouts and editing. And sometimes, I wear the bean-counter hat. You know, I do all the accounting and the bookkeeping. And then, sometimes, we switch; he becomes the CFO, where he thinks about the large picture of our finances and which way we’re going, and I do the creative, which is choreographing dances or writing articles for our magazine. So, we switch all the time. You’re asking: What are the challenges there? To communicate. Constantly. And to share roles, and to, I think, respect what each person brings to the table. That, I think. We don’t do anything, unless we pass it by each other. Emails where we must answer somebody, a business question; we both discuss it first at length, and then he usually composes the email, and then I have to approve it. So, everything we do is done with complete communication.

 

Any tips for people who are about to set off into the unknown land of marriage?

 

You’ve gotta really count to ten before you speak.

 

If you’re mad at each other.

 

If you’re mad at each other. I didn’t do that so much when we first got married. I’ve learned to do that. You know, just take a deep breath and count to ten, leave the room. You want to say something, but you don’t. You just don’t say it. Wait. And it’ll calm down, and then it’ll go away. Respect the person. Very important.

 

That’s the most important thing.

 

Yeah.

 

Even if you’re mad, and the person is doing something you don’t like, you still need to back off and remember who it is that you fell in love with.

 

Yeah.

 

And that that’s still there, that person is still there. And that’s more important than you winning your argument.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Do you still think of each other the way you used to when you were courting?

 

I like more things about her now than I did when I fell in love with her. When you find out that someone also has determination and courage, and stick-to-itiveness, and a bunch of other characteristics that you really weren’t thinking about when you’re like, going on your first couple dates, it’s just a bonus.

 

When we have gone through the hard times, which we certainly have, to see his gumption, his positive thinking, his optimism, his drive, is something I really like. Which I didn’t know he had that.

 

As I speak in early 2018, you can still see Kanoe Miller grace the outdoor stage twice a week at Halekulani’s House Without A Key. And Kanoe and John Miller, who have always defied the naysayers, have expanded the reach of their live hula productions with performances in Japan. With digital storytelling, they continue to share the charm and beauty of old Waikiki and Hawai ‘i with the world. Mahalo to this dynamic and committed couple, Kanoe and John Miller of Kaneohe, Oahu. And thank you, for joining us for this edition of Long Story Short on 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.

 

When you are confronted with the naysayers or the negative personalities, or people who say you can’t do that, I think that gives us the strength to show them.

 

It’s inspiration.

 

It’s inspiration.

It’s inspiration, you know. You can get beaten down by naysayers, or you can become more strong. And I think that’s all the way through our lives together.

 

 

INSIGHTS ON PBS HAWAI‘I
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Rising sea levels are a concern here in Hawai‘i and other coastal communities around the world. In December 2017, the State Climate Commission accepted the first major study on Hawai‘i’s vulnerability to rising sea levels. Our well-informed guests for the program are experts on this subject and they will highlight the concerns and recommendations from this report.

 

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PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Name

 

A young multi-racial kanaka maoli (native Hawaiian) woman, filmmaker Christen Hepuakoa Marquez, sets out to discover the meaning of her incredibly lengthy Hawaiian name from her estranged mother, whose diagnosis as schizophrenic in the 80s caused their family separation. Christen not only discovers herself within the name, but gains a whole new perspective on the idea of sanity and how cultural differences can sometimes muddle its definition.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Marilyn Cristofori

 

For 24 years, Marilyn Cristofori headed the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance, a statewide nonprofit that champions the arts through advocacy and education. Upon Cristofori’s retirement, the very nonprofit she headed selected her as its 2017 Alfred Preis Honoree for her lifetime support and leadership in the arts. In this conversation, she recounts her experiences as a dancer, a university educator and a nonprofit leader.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Feb. 11, at 4:00 pm.

 

Marilyn Cristofori Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Once upon a time, arts was considered a basic part of life.

 

M-hm.

 

A formal piece of education.

 

And it still is. Because what we do at the Arts Alliance is … the big picture. But if you want to be a ballet dancer, you’ve got to get your body to a ballet studio and stand at the ballet barre, and learn … that particular discipline. If you want to be an opera singer, you’re not gonna do it … in a school classroom.

 

M-hm.

 

I mean, you can be exposed to it, you can learn about it, you can … the history and the composers, and so on, and so forth. But if you want to be a performer or a creator of that discipline … gotta go there. There is no other choice.

 

Marilyn Cristofori headed the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance for twenty-four years. Upon her retirement, she was selected as the 2017 Alfred Preis Honoree. That was a prestigious acknowledgement of her lifetime support and leadership in the arts. She joins fellow Preis Honorees 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. Marilyn Cristofori always knew she’d have at least two careers, because she started out as a dancer, a calling prone to injuries and other physical wear and tear. Next, Cristofori became a university dance teacher. And then, she enjoyed a long third career heading a nonprofit organization advocating for arts. Upon retirement, she was named 2017’s Preis Honoree for her arts achievements by the very organization she headed, Hawai‘i Arts Alliance. She joined a long line of distinguished honorees, many of whom she helped to select. We’ll revisit some of these arts champions during the half hour, and get to know Marilyn Cristofori. As a child, she spent summers and many other times away from her family home in Sacramento because her mother was often ill. Young Marilyn would stay with her grandmother in the Bay Area.

 

I loved my grandmother. It made me identify with the things that were part of that life. And I loved it. San Francisco.

 

Italian?

 

Italian. She loved the opera, I loved the opera. I can’t sing, but she loved the opera; she always played opera in the house.

 

And you were the only child in the house?

 

The only; yeah. She had three children, my mother being one of them, but they were all grown up. I was the only young child. My grandmother did not intend to raise another child; that was one of those … it happened.

 

And you felt at home at school, and at your grandmother’s house?

 

I felt very at home at my grandmother’s house, and I adjusted to my other home.

 

Was your grandmother your most formative influence, then, as a child?

 

I consider her that; m-hm. Yeah.

 

Did she give you any explicit advice about the future?

 

Oh, god. She was … a woman of her era. And I think the year she got married, the women’s vote was finally put in, and she was determined I was gonna get an education.

 

Did she know how she would pay for it, or anyone would pay for it?

 

Oh, no. I just had to get good grades and earn a scholarship.

 

So, you knew that from an early age?

 

M-hm.

 

That you were gonna go to college through a scholarship, and you were gonna make the grade to do it.

 

Yeah.

 

Did you know what you wanted to do?

 

When I was raised, Leslie, there was the idea that as a woman, you did nursing or teaching, or mothering, or sometimes a secretary, and occasionally you might have another profession. But those were the main ones. So, I thought I was gonna be a teacher.

 

M-hm. And you did get a BA in education.

 

I did.

 

From a very good college.

 

I did.

 

You got into Stanford.

 

Yeah.

 

On scholarship?

 

Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

At that point in time, it was kind of fun, because women were still new to Stanford, so the ratio was about four to one. So, it was a great experience.

 

Lots of men. And did—

 

And I was young, so …

 

Did you feel younger than eighteen?

 

I was twenty when I graduated.

 

Oh; how did you get into college so early?

 

Well, when I was much younger, and all that shuffling back and forth to my grandmother’s and so on, they skipped me a full grade in school.

 

Wow. So, you graduated from Stanford University at age twenty.

 

Yeah.

 

As a … teacher.

 

Teacher. Yeah. And then, we had an opportunity to take a trip to Europe. And … I thought, that would be fun.

 

We, meaning you and …

 

And some … Stanford colleagues.

 

M-hm.

 

And a professor was doing the trip, and it was like a big deal. We had to go to New York and change planes, and fly over Iceland, and go to London. That was my first time out of California.

 

And you actually—

 

I didn’t come back for five and a half years.

 

Is that right?

 

I discovered dancing, which I had been doing all my life, but I didn’t know that I really wanted to do it.

 

What kind of dancing were you doing?

 

I was doing ballet at that time. So, then, I wanted to be a dancer, but I had gotten a full scholarship to what was then Radcliff at Harvard Business School. Why did I apply to Harvard Business School? Because the guy that I had a crush on applied to Harvard Business School. I thought it would be fun to go. And I went to Europe, and I decided I really didn’t want to go, and I knew that I could always go to business school, but I couldn’t always dance. So, I stayed in Europe.

 

And where did you dance?

 

I danced in Rome, and I danced in London, mainly. Those were the two.

 

And what was it about your experience in Europe that caused—you left the boyfriend behind too; right?

 

Yeah. But another one came along.

 

And is that part of the reason for staying in Europe, or was it—

 

Yeah.

 

–sheer dance, or a combination?

 

Well, part of it. Because he decided to go to London School of Economics, so we got married. I was working in a contemporary company. And I went to ballet classes, and I went to the Royal Ballet. I was not working as a professional ballet dancer in London. I experienced a lot of it, and that was what I knew. So, when I came back to San Francisco, I then was with San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera Ballet, Pacific Ballet, and Lathrop Contemporary Company. So then, I worked as a professional dancer. And because I was still young enough, since I had graduated so young, I was able to do it, and have … a fairly decent career.

 

What other types of dancing did you do?

 

Then, I did contemporary.

 

Which was freeform …

 

Well, modern dance. And that’s why I got involved until I … I needed to get a job, and became a professor and academic, and you’re supposed to write a book. And what did I do instead? I didn’t want to write a book; I made … documentaries for PBS about famous dancers. And so, I got very involved with that part of things.

 

And you felt passionate about a number of things, it sounds like.

 

Yeah; yeah. Well, I loved dancing. That’s definitely my first love. But every dancer needs at least two careers.

 

And you know that, going in.

 

Well, because you can’t dance beyond a certain age … adequately. I got to be a professor, I got to teach. And then, I went to business … eventually.

 

Because that’s what you were going to do years before. You know, it’s not a natural jump, it doesn’t sound like, to go from dancing to professor of dance, to an MBA at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

 

At least in my day, it was more natural to go from a professional dance career, or to parallel with teaching, and to move into academia.

 

You were a professor, and then, you left California and came here. Why?

 

Because I married … Gregg Lizenbery, my husband, and he got offered the position to be director of dance at UH Mānoa. So, I had taken an early retirement, and then it just so happened he got offered that position. And then, we moved here. That was almost three decades ago. I did not look for my career with the Arts Alliance. But after we moved here, we realized that the cost of living was a little bit different than we were used to.

 

M-hm.

 

And so, I had thought: Oh, I’m retired, I’ll just … but that didn’t work. So, I needed to find a position. That’s what I did. So, for a while, I worked part-time for the Arts Alliance, and part-time for Early Childhood, and made them partners. And then, when I was into the position at Arts Alliance, I realized that I would hit a ceiling if I didn’t get a new skillset. Which is why I went to business school.

 

After receiving her executive master of business degree from the Shidler College of Business at the University of Hawai‘i, Marilyn Cristofori felt she had all the tools necessary to grow the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance.

 

How do you get funding for the arts?

 

Oh … so many ways. One of the biggest, biggest … important things that people don’t always get. I find when I say to somebody “arts”, the shade comes down, and what they see is a painting on a wall in a museum.

 

M-hm.

 

Or they remember, because there used to be arts in the school curriculum, when they were in school as a child; they had a music class and they had a drawing class, and they had maybe sometimes a dance class, and they could be in their … high school production, theater production. And they remember those things, and they don’t know that it’s not there anymore.

 

Mm.

 

So, you have to tell them … No, it’s not been there for quite a while.

 

Do public schools have virtually no arts classes? Is that what you’re saying?

 

Not exactly. It’s heading upwards, but mostly, one of the things the Arts Alliance does now, partners with the State arts agency to run what we call Artists in the Schools.

 

M-hm.

 

And that’s … funded by public monies for public schools.

 

But how do you argue the case when lawmakers or charitable organizations are saying: Look, I mean, we need to support the basics; reading, writing, and arithmetic, and computer technology. We can’t do art; that’s something you’ve gotta get on your own.

 

One of the biggest convincing arguments has to do with brain research. And they’ve done a lot of research to find out—one of my favorite studies was done, a longevity study. And they followed kids in high school who were either in like boy scouts or girl scouts, or some other community service organization, and where there school arts event in some way, whether it was after school or in school, or if they were in sports. And then, they followed them for … ten years, and how did they do ten years later, by which time they were usually married with some kids, and in a career of some kind. The ones that were happiest, most successful, had come from the arts. So, then they looked further back into that, and they examined what happens when you have those … experiences as a child.

 

M-hm.

 

That it shapes your brain differently. You have those connections, neuropathways. And if they aren’t formed by a certain age, usually puberty, they kind of wither and die on the vine.

 

It’s a key to happiness.

 

A key to happiness and success in life. So, that’s why back in ancient days now … arts were considered to part of the curriculum. So, the big deal is to get it during the formative years. So, right now, the way our Hawaii school system is built, by the time … children go into high school … there are art teachers, and music teachers, and band, and there are options, after school performing arts centers, all of which work very, very well. But a lot of the times, the kids that want to do those things didn’t have them when they were young, and so, they don’t have competitive skills to be involved. We teach about the arts and how the arts can enrich an experience and change your life.

 

How big is the Hawai‘i Arts Alliance? How many staffers?

 

Well, we’re all the way up to seven.

 

Seven staffers; and what’s your budget?

 

I took over in ’94.

 

’94; okay.

 

Yeah. So … it was thirty thousand. And I said: That won’t do. And then, we got up to … it’s varied, depending on what comes … from national, mostly. Not two million; just under two million. But that was a good jump. It needs to now double again. I feel really good about … we have a base that’s established in the education part. And there’s something to work with, and expand, and go to, and staying with education is essential.

 

You mentioned three careers, and it’s a very long work record. I don’t know what seventy-seven looks like, but to me, you don’t look like you’re seventy-seven years old.

 

I really am. And a half.

 

Do you feel it?

 

Starting to happen.

 

Marilyn Cristofori was the thirty-seventh recipient of the Alfred Preis Honors for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. In the past, we’ve featured other Preis Honorees on Long Story Short. We look back now at three recent recipients, and their contributions.

 

Sarah Richards was the 2015 Preis Honoree. As president of the Hawai‘i Theatre Center for a quarter of a century, she spearheaded an historic restoration, transforming the once dilapidated theater into a national award-winning performance center. A former college dean of students, Sarah Richards switched careers and actually succeeded the legendary architect Alfred Preis himself as chief of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

 

You succeeded a man who has got a lot of aura around him in history.

 

Yes.

 

Alfred Preis.

 

Right.

 

As head of the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.

 

Right.

 

In 1980?

 

1980; m-hm.

 

What was he like? Did you know him before you took over?

 

I got to know him. He was a wonderful man. He was a Prussian architect. And so, he was very Prussian in character, in modus operandi. And he was the one who really initiated the Art in Public Places program, really, on a European model. He was a lovely man, with a great vision.

 

And when it was time for him to step down, the foundation looked for somebody who was a good administrator, and who could handle the strong voices in the arts community.

 

Yes.

 

And they selected you to do that.

 

They did; they did.

 

What kind of strong voices?

 

Oh, well, the arts, as you know, because the State Foundation dealt with all the arts, whether it was visual arts, performing arts, literary arts. And so, there was a lot of variety of art groups we were dealing with. And of course, since we were the granting agency, we had a lot of very personal contacts with how much money grants were gonna be given to what groups.

 

Right; and projects are like babies.

 

Oh, yes; oh, yes.

 

You give money to one, and it’s my baby.

 

That’s right.

 

You know, it seems like a dream job to have all this money that you can give to wonderful art projects. But you probably are under criticism, no matter what you do.

 

Oh, yes. Giving away money is not just a piece of cake. You need to be clear on what your mission is, what you want to accomplish, and then also who makes decisions and who are qualified to make decisions. It wasn’t just sort of, Here’s some money. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or in the eye of the creator. But there are certain standards that the art community has, and that’s why you ask a group of knowledgeable people to review and make a judgment. We were proud we were number one in the nation in per capita state support. So, we did a fair amount of lobbying the State Legislature, and also getting money from the federal government.

 

You’re a very determined person, aren’t you?

 

I am determined.

 

You’re very goal-oriented.

 

I was very goal-oriented; yes, I was. Yes.

 

And you’re a missioned person.

 

Yeah.

 

Here’s 2016 Preis Honoree, Michael Titterton, former president and general manager of Hawaii Public Radio. Under his leadership, HPR expanded its broadcast reach across the State.

 

You got your master’s degree in public speaking and rhetoric.

 

Rhetoric; yes.

 

Why did you choose that?

 

Bear in mind, this is the very, very early 70s. It’s 1971, actually. And … coming into ’72, and I knew the U.S. was … I mean, this was … social mobility was here, and that’s what I was really after. I didn’t know it at that time, ‘cause I didn’t know the words. But social mobility. And meritocracy. You know, if you work hard, you can get places. And that’s really what everybody dreams about, when they dream about America, when they’re not from here. If I was going to understand this place, the quickest way to do it might be to study the media, because that seemed to be the bottleneck through which everything passed. And it was a very busy bottleneck at that point. Watergate, for example, Vietnam War, all the unrest on college campuses. Glorious time. And all of it was being fed through a media, which was under suspicion, as much of it is now. And so, I specialized in that.

 

And you’d already had experienced storytelling, because you had stories to tell along the way.

 

Well, everybody does. Yeah. Just because of the basic courses that I had to then take as part of being in the rhetoric program, I began to learn something about the mechanics of storytelling, if you like, the idea of a narrative arc. And I was very quickly drafted into teaching public speaking. So yeah, that was … I hadn’t really thought about it, actually, as being part of the whole storytelling business, but I seem to keep coming back to that. But that’s what it is, that’s what life is; it’s the stories we get to tell.

 

And sometimes, you do things without having a name for it; right? And then, you find out—

 

Oh, yes; most of the time, actually.

 

Your real self keeps popping up in the form of what you do.

 

Yes; that is true. That is true. But storytelling … I guess that’s a lot of the attraction that I have, or that radio has for me, because it’s a storytelling medium, and storytelling is … there’s very few human behaviors that that go back further than storytelling. It’s the quintessential social act. It’s a wonderful vehicle for healing, for illumination, for understanding, for being civilized.

 

And radio has that intimate quality.

 

Mm. It’s a one-to-one medium, and it’s frighteningly intimate. And the best radio is indistinguishable from pillow talk. It’s that intimate. And that’s what I love about it. I mean, what’s not to love?

 

Henry Akina, who retired from the Hawaii Opera Theater, was the 2014 Preis Honoree. Born and raised in Honolulu, Henry Akina spent much of his adult life directing opera in prestigious opera houses around the world. He even founded an opera company in Berlin, before moving back home to Hawai‘i. Under the guidance of its first ever Hawai‘i-born artistic director, the Hawaii Opera Theater became known for vibrant, creative productions, sometimes incorporating modern updates and collaborations with top international artists.

 

I love that approach, in a sense modernizing with Harajuku costumes.

 

You’re referring to The Mikado, then.

 

Yeah, Mikado.

 

Right; yeah.

 

And you feel free to do that. You don’t take the same opera and present it again. You add new touches. You’ve had Anne Namba’s designs, you’ve had Dean Shibuya change things up.

 

We have a resident designer at HOT, Peter Dean Beck, who’s resident in New York, but who’s nonetheless been seminal for design here.

 

How do audiences feel about those changes?

 

I’m not sure. You know, people say nice things to me, so I’m assuming that they’re honest about those things. But I think that the audiences in Hawaii respond well to good stories, and we try and make good stories wherever we are, from wherever we are.

 

Do you look for ways to take a classic story and localize it or modernize it?

 

Well, modernize it, perhaps. Localize it, not so much. But modernize it, perhaps. And in the case of Mikado, for instance, we knew that we couldn’t go backwards; we had to go forwards. And we had to look at the Japan of today, which was a lot different than the first time we did Mikado, which was ten years ago.

 

So, in ten years, it changed.

 

In ten years, life has changed. Yeah.

 

Did audiences know Harajuku girls? Because that was the play.

 

I think that we tried to let the audience know that we were doing the style. But you’ll have to ask Anne about the Harajuku things, because it was based on one of Anne’s trips to Japan. But I think that in contemporary life, we would be someplace else in ten years.

 

Right. I think she reimagined those characters as hip shoppers out for retail therapy.

 

She did; she did. And using cell phones every five minutes. Right. And using an iPad; things like that. So, whatever we’re using in ten years will be reflected in the staging.

 

You’ve already been announced, I believe, as the 2014 Preis Honoree in Arts, which is a tremendous honor, probably the largest honor we have in Hawai‘i in arts.

 

Well, I knew Alfred Preis, and I think that that’s … I was saying that, you know, people who know me well don’t expect this honor. And I didn’t expect it, either.

 

Why? Why didn’t you expect it? I wasn’t surprised to hear that you were named.

 

Well, I was, in a weird way. And I went to a board member, Jean Rolles, who had been honored herself. And she said: You will do it for this organization. And since then, I have decided that I will do it for the organization.

 

Congratulations to 2017 Preis Honoree Marilyn Cristofori of Hawai‘i Kai. And mahalo to all of the recipients of this award over the years for the work you’ve done to advance the arts and keep them vibrant in Hawai‘i. For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

The key thing, whatever you’re doing … is to support creativity in our society as a whole. Keep your passion about creativity, and moving forward with what is right … what is just, and what helps everybody. ‘Cause if we don’t preserve our creativity … the rest of it doesn’t matter.

 

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’m really proud of what we’ve been able to contribute so far to education. We’ve been able to create and move forward significantly with Arts First and get admirable, high quality arts back in the schools, particularly elementary schools. So, I’m really feeling good about that.

 

 

NA MELE
Kawika Kahiapo

 

Slack key musician and singer-songwriter Kawika Kahiapo is a longtime member of the PBS Hawai‘i ‘ohana. In 2008, he wrote the theme song for our “PBS Hawai‘i and You” campaign. He then served on our Board of Directors for six years, from 2009 through 2015.

 

Kahiapo makes his NA MELE debut, performing music inspired by his lifelong home, Windward O‘ahu. “When I lived in Lā‘ie, driving up and down the coast every day, coming to and from work and from gigs, I was just inspired by the natural beauty,” Kahiapo says in the program. “I wanted to celebrate that.” Song selections include “Nani Wale Kualoa,” “Kaulana Makapu‘u” and “‘O ‘Oe ‘Io.” Kahiapo’s wife Laurie and daughter ‘Ālana accompany him with hula during several songs.

 

Here is a behind-the-scenes look at this production of Na Mele:

 

Donʻt Miss Kawikaʻs Na Mele Digital Short.

 



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