passion

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Mahealani Wendt

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Mahealani Wendt

 

Growing up in the crowded, rundown tenements of downtown Honolulu, Mahealani Wendt witnessed the poverty of the Native Hawaiian people around her. That ignited a passion to help, and she spent more than three decades fighting for Hawaiian rights, with a long run as the Executive Director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation in Honolulu. Today she lives in Hāna, Maui, and is a poet and author.

 

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

 

Program

 

More from Mahealani Wendt:

 

“Righteous Cause”

 

Hawaiian Homeland

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, March 24, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Mahealani Wendt Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

When I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I worked as a volunteer, I worked as a grants writer.  I knew nothing about writing grants.  You know, a lot of times, you’re fueled just by passion, and you have so much … I don’t know how else to put it.  You know, you just feel so, so intensely about something, and it drives you, and you do everything you have to do to make it happen.  And that’s how I became a grants writer.

 

Her success as a volunteer grant writer led to a thirty-two-year career fighting for Native Hawaiian rights.  Mahealani Wendt of Maui, 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.  Mahealani Wendt is the retired executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, a community activist, accomplished writer, and poet.  She’s the eldest of seven children, grew up on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, and now lives on farmland on Maui in Wailua Nui along Hāna Highway.  She knew from the time she was nine years old, living in the rundown tenements of Downtown Honolulu, that she wanted to help others.  She was deeply affected by the poverty of Native Hawaiian people she saw around her, and despite being poor herself, she says she was raised in a loving, nurturing environment, and never went hungry.  In childhood, she developed a love of writing and reading.

 

My father is Spanish; he’s second generation.  My grandparents emigrated from Spain in 1906.  They were plantation workers, the first sugar plantation in Hawai‘i, Kōloa Sugar. And so, they settled on Kaua‘i. And eventually, he met my mother, who’s from Hilo; she’s Hawaiian.  And we grew up on Kaua‘i there.  It was very beautiful, very country.  We had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, raised every kind of, you know, fruit tree, we had a garden. We were cray fishing, climbing trees; all this stuff we did, it was beautiful.  My parents separated.  You know, we were pretty innocent; we never understood what happened.  We just knew that one day, my mother decided that we were going to move, and she brought us to Honolulu.  It was a really different lifestyle.  You know, it was kind of an idyllic life, country life, and we moved to the heart of Honolulu, to the tenements.  And I still remember our address; it was 1278 Fort Street.

 

Fort Street.

 

Yeah; Fort Street, and there were twenty-seven steps going up to the second floor where we lived.

 

This was an old, beat-up building.

 

Yeah; it was the heart of the slums, the tenements in Honolulu.  This was in the 50s, mid-50s, and these tenement buildings, the closest thing that would kind of resemble it would be the buildings in Chinatown.  Those are far more well-maintained than the ones we lived in.  The buildings we lived, I’m now understanding, they were at least fifty years old.  They were wooden, they were termite-eaten.  They were firetraps, basically, you know, not fit for people to live in, but we lived there.  My mother, when she left, you know, didn’t have really the means to support all of us, and so … that’s where we lived.  Some slept on the bed, some slept on the floor.  We had, I think, three showers, cold water.

 

On that floor?

 

In the building.

 

In the whole building?

 

Everybody shared.

 

And how many people were in the building?

 

There were fifty-two rooms. There were three areas where we could do our cooking.  There were kerosene stoves.

 

Was it dangerous?  I mean, I know from a fire standpoint, it was dangerous.  What about from a human standpoint in a rough part of town.

 

It was a rough part of town. From my standpoint, I never saw any danger, I never experienced any danger.  It was a new world; I thought it was really kind of cool and exciting. New kids to play with, new people to meet, new aunties and uncles.  All Hawaiians in that building.  You know, in the same way they do now, the aunties take care.  So, we felt very protected and free, and I never felt any danger.  If you were entering from the sidewalk, you know, there were these narrow steps that went to the second floor.  And the pool hall was downstairs, next to a Chinese restaurant, next to a grocery store, next to, you know, all these different kinds of—

 

So, it felt like a neighborhood to you.

 

It did; totally.

 

No creepy people hanging around.

 

I never remembered any creepy people.

 

You know.  And I mean, when I think back on it, I think: Wow, it would be like, you would think there would be creepy people, but in my child’s eyes, I never saw creepy people.  To me, they were really nice; nice people.

 

And you felt adults were looking out for you, too.

 

Yes, we did; we felt very protected.

 

I wonder how your mom felt with seven kids to take care of.

 

We owned our own home on Kaua‘i. My grandparents homesteaded twenty-five acres there, and you know, the lands are still there.  So, you know, what caused her to feel so compelled to move, we never understood.  I never even understood it as an adult.  But there we were.  It must have been very stressful; we were really poor.  I sold newspapers.  I thought that was really cool, ‘cause I could have spending money, you know, and stuff. I was selling newspapers.  My corner was Fort and Kukui, and I sold the Honolulu Advertiser.  I sold forty papers, made a dollar.  And then, that was my lunch money.  I made most of my money from tips, ‘cause I was so young.  You know, I was like, nine years old, standing on the corner with newspapers.  Oh, poor thing, you know.  So, they’d give me a dollar.  Wow, that’s a lot of money.  That’s what I would make for the whole, you know, selling forty papers.  So … I thought it was great.

 

M-hm.

Again, the perspective.  You know, as a child, I was innocent.  I saw all of it as a great excitement.  It was just a different thing, you know.  I mean, one thing, for example, when we lived in Kauai, the store was really far.  You know. When we moved to Honolulu, the store was downstairs.

 

It was amazing.  I was just like, enthralled, you know.  When I lived on Kaua‘i, we’d go to the movies once, you know, every six months or something.  When we went to Honolulu, we lived next to the theater.  You know.  So, that’s how I saw it from a child’s sort of sense of wonder.  It wasn’t until I was, you know, older, maybe intermediate school, I sort of kinda understood that we were really poor.  And then, as I got older, I realized that, you know, the auntie that, you know, was so sick, and da-da-da, this is why.  And then, I realized that, you know, so-and-so, that you know, we really thought was really a cool guy, he’s in jail because he did this.  You know, so I had a sense of perspective, but it was afterwards.

 

After the fact.

 

Yes.

 

Did you ever connect with your father again?

 

Yes.  We saw him as we could afford to.  I think he would send money and, you know, we’d go.  But it wasn’t very often.  And he came to visit us once.  You know, he was not a Honolulu man; he was a hunter, a fisherman.  He would come back from the mountains with, you know, these burlap bags full of ‘o‘opu to feed our family.  You know, very subsistence lifestyle.  When he worked, he worked as a heavy equipment operator, kind of a laborer.  I loved my dad.  Both of my parents read to us.  My father would put us on his lap and read.  You know, those experiences.  I came to really love literature and reading from both parents.  My parents were very good parents, in spite of the separation. And my mother was very strict; she taught us very fundamental values, and we were expected to, you know, adhere to them.  And if we did not, the punishment was swift and sure.  All of the kids turned out good.  I went to Royal School.

 

Royal School.

 

Yeah.

 

Okay; elementary.  And then?

 

I went to Royal Elementary, and then I went to Central Intermediate.

 

And then?

 

And then, I went to Kamehameha in my sophomore year.  I liked public school.  Public school was awesome; I learned a lot.  You know, again, the common theme of, you know, this love of literature, that was more than reinforced in the public school.  In fact, at Kalaheo Elementary, where I went to, you know, from first to third grade, my second grade teacher, Mrs. Robello, encouraged me when I wrote a little poem for my mother.  You know how teachers do.  It’s so important.  She took my little poem, she put it on the wall.  You know how teachers, you can encourage by telling everybody, you know. And when her students would make a little picture, she’d put that on the wall.  So, she had ways of encouraging and making you feel: Ho, this is something I can do.

 

How long were you in the tenements?

 

Well, we lived in Honolulu for three years.  There was a terrible fire in the tenement next door.

 

Another wooden building?

 

It was a wooden building; it was right next to ours on the next block, and it burned down.  And four people died in that fire.  One of the ones who passed was a three-year-old who was my brother’s playmate.  And so, it really affected everybody, the family.  It really had an impact on me.  And it was just … I don’t know; I’ll never forget it.  We stood out there and watched this whole thing happen.

 

And watched it burn down.

 

Yes.  We lived there until my mother could find someplace else she could afford.  So, we moved close to Queen’s Hospital; same sort of building, but not as big.  We lived there for another, like, three or four years, and then we moved, and we actually moved to a much nicer place. Things were getting better; you know, Mom could find work, and so, we moved to a much better place.

 

How formative was the experience of living in places like that, those two different buildings and the fire that took your acquaintances and friends?

 

I know that it has everything to do with my community advocacy work, especially on behalf of Hawaiians.  The people who made a difference in our lives when we were growing up were the social workers who reached out to us. They were so kind.  They were so kind to my mother.  And I grew up feeling that I wanted to be a social worker.  I changed my mind when I realized I didn’t have the fortitude.  I saw what they had to deal with.  And I’m a little bit emotional; I have a really hard time focusing, you know, when I see that.  I got older, I guess I gained a perspective.  As a child, I didn’t really understand what that environment was all about.

 

Yeah; you thought they were nice people.

 

I thought everybody was nice.

 

But they were carrying all this pain, I suppose—

 

Yes.

 

–that they saw.

 

M-hm.  And as I got much older, and we learned our history and, you know, the displacement, I started focusing on Hawaiians.  It happened kind of gradually.  I was, you know, someone who was intent on a social work profession, but I also had competing things that I was really interested in.  The literature thing was always an interest.

 

After graduating from Kamehameha Schools, Mahealani Wendt went to work for big corporations, first on the continent, and then back home in Hawai‘i.  She was good at what she did, but her heart was not in the corporate world.

 

Right out of high school, I lived in Texas.  And while I was in Texas, I worked for a very large insurance company, a national insurance company, and I learned a lot about corporate business.  And so, I worked there for five years, I worked my way up.  Then I came home to Hawaiʻi.  I worked for a local corporation called Crown Corporation.  They had a bunch of industrial loan banks, they had securities firm, they had insurance. You know, I mean, some of the companies are still around; a lot of them are no longer.  But you know, they were real estate developers; all of that.  I was into that.  And I was like an admin assistant to vice president.  So, I did that.  And then, I went to college.

 

That was good preparation.

 

Yeah, it was good preparation. But interestingly, I started doing the community activism, you know, the demonstrations and stuff when I was still working for this corporation.  And my boss, who was a vice president, said: Just don’t let me see you arrested, or on TV. You know, something like that.  I said: I’ll be fine.

 

You know, so I always like, had these two like, sort of identities there.  I would be this corporate thing at work, and then, you know, uh, the rest of the time, I’d be … and then, I decided I needed to go to school, because I needed skills to do the thing I wanted, which is [SIGH] effectuate social reform.  Working for business was really a survival thing for me.  I had good skills, I had good typing, accounting; those sort of things. I had skills that I could market very readily in the business environment, so that’s where I went.  But that’s not where my heart was.

 

So, you’re taking political science now at the UH.

 

M-hm.  I’m taking political science, and I have an opportunity to do an internship with Legal Aid Society, along with thirty other interns, students at UH Mānoa, political science majors.  And we’re placed at the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i at a time when, you know, we were coming into a growth of social programs, social economic programs in our community.  So, there was this quantum leap in legal services available to the community through Legal Aid.

 

Because there was more funding.

 

There was more funding.

 

More value placed on that.

 

Yes.  I chose to go with the so-called land unit at the time.  And in the course of my internship, I was assigned to work with community organizations in the Hawaiian community. And that sort of was a catalyst for my future work.  I attended law school, I left law school.  I was very active in the community.  I mean, actually coming into this kind of work, the genesis of it was community activism.  So, the early so-called land struggles—Kalama Valley, Kokua Kalama, He‘eia Kea, Waiāhole-Waikāne, Niumalu-Nāwiliwili on Kaua‘i, Mokauea Island—all of those struggles, I was there.  I was there. I was not there as a leader; I was there as someone who felt compelled to be there.  I really related to what the people were suffering, and I felt I had to be there.  It’s a combination of that activism and my experience at the Legal Aid Society leading me to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation.  You know, it’s kinda like all boiled into the picture.

 

Why did you leave law school after college?

 

Well, I had children.  At that time, I was a single parent.  That was part of it; it was the economics of it. You know, when I went to Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, I’m not sure that the most effective thing I could do there was as an attorney.  I found my niche was really talking to the staff about community; how community felt, you know, what was important.  Because sometimes the rigor of legal linear thinking separates you from community. And I think you need both.  So, I think it would have been fine to go through law school, but at that point in my life, I felt I would be more useful in bringing that perspective to the firm.  And I think that it worked really well.

 

And you worked your way up to heading the office; you ran the office.

 

Yeah.  So, the first position was an interim attorney who agreed to come over from private practice to sort of get us started.  The second was Melody MacKenzie.  Then after, I think, a year or two, the first gentleman moved on back to private practice after kinda mentoring us.  I became the third staff person.  And Melody MacKinzie was my boss for, I don’t know, maybe six, seven years. And she taught me so much.  I just owe her a great debt of gratitude.  She’s the kindest, the most brilliant mentor a person could have.  I mean, I just love her; I love her to this day.  She was the executive director, but I guess she was kind of, you know, having to do a lot of this admin stuff.  And it just seemed more efficient to have me do the administrative part, you know, deal with personnel hiring, firing, that sort of thing.  ‘Cause I had a background in it.  Melody has those skills, but she’s also brilliant; a brilliant jurist, a brilliant scholar.  You know, I mean, talking story as a staff, and it just seemed like, you know, a more sensible way to go.  And so, I guess in name, you know, I became the head of the organization, and then she could focus on cases and clients, you know, and I could just deal with the other stuff.

 

You did that for a long time.

 

M-hm.  Well, I retired after thirty-two years.  So, yes, I did it a long time.  It was fun.  I loved it.

 

What kinds of cases did your firm handle?

 

Well, our cases were all Native rights cases.  So, you know, they’re kind of characterized as the things that we require in order to be Hawaiian.  Hawaiians were being affected with respect to land tenure, their ability to hold onto their lands, ability to hold onto their natural resources, have access to it, ability to engage in traditional and customary practices that they require to be Hawaiian.  If their access to the ocean is cut off, then they can’t go fish, they cannot gather limu; these kinds of things.  The ability to exercise practices relating to their traditional religion, things that would impede it, ability to access their trusts, the Hawaiian Homelands trusts or the public lands trusts.  All of those things became our areas of focus.  We had genealogists on staff, we had title people on staff.  We had Hawaiian translators on staff, because we’re dealing a lot with archival documents, many of which are only in Hawaiian. So, we had people on staff who specialized in translating legal documents.  So, the shop is a specialty shop, you know, asserting the rights of native people.  And we did well.  There were many cases that we did, that I’m very proud of.

 

That was a very … just vibrant time, and also, it was a time of people coming into age and being very proud, and also running into a lot of walls, too.

 

Yes; yes.  And I think with knowledge comes power.  You know, and the more we’re able to understand our history—and of course, language is a window into culture, the more we understand our language the more we understand better who we are.  Part of that is having, you know, connection to land, connection to water, connection to ocean, continuing to keep traditional practice vibrant and alive. All of those things are important. And you know, ultimately, it’s about values.  And as many other peoples, including indigenous peoples, those values are really important, not only for us here as a people in Hawaii, and not only for all of Hawai‘i, but even globally.  You know, you join with other peoples.  There are certain values that are universally exalted as being life-affirming and necessary in order for, you know, humankind to thrive.  We can make a contribution, and it’s really, really important that we be allowed to be a people.

 

Why do we do this?  We do this because we love Hawai‘i.

 

A&B doesn’t own the water, the taro farmers do not own the water.  Our people own the water.  Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

Ae!

 

Ke Akua owns the water.

 

Ae!

 

For all of us.

 

So, let our people live, and let the ‘aina live, forever. [INDISTINCT]  Stand up so that we can make that happen.

 

Mahealani Wendt met her husband, Ed Wendt, through her work in native water rights.  He’s a taro farmer with kuleana land.  Where they live in Wailua Nui, in Maui’s Hana District, is beautiful, but as always, farming kalo is hard work.  Besides her passion for justice, Mahealani Wendt has always had a love for poetry and writing.  Even as head of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, she found time to write, and has received numerous literary awards, both nationally and internationally. We’re going to close now with a reading from one of her poems that reflects back on her childhood.  Mahalo to Mahealani Wendt of Wailua Nui, Maui, for sharing her 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.

 

At statehood, we trundled kerosene tankards over rutted Honolulu sidewalks, past beer halls, pool halls, taxi dancehalls, past honky-tonk dives, juke joints, and shoeshine stands, to rooming house kitchens where we lit our communal fires and kept vigil for the one day our nation would be restored.  The torches burned bright as we stood watch.  Our children, listless on tenement floors, their coverings prickling with insect filth, and the grit of ambient sounds, incessant scuttlings and winged scurryings inside squalid floors and walls, we sensed a slow collapse under the terrific weight of a people whose gods kept watch with them there. The minions of forest, river, and ocean gods, companions in these root places whispering their encouragements as generations of children turn to hear, like flowers brightening to sun.

 

[END]

 

 

BIG PACIFIC
Passionate

 

Plunge into the Pacific with researchers and cinematographers and see the ocean’s rare and dazzling creatures in a way never before seen on television. The series examines the ocean that covers a third of the Earth’s surface. Actor and producer Daniel Dae Kim narrates.

 

Passionate
See how the quest to multiply has spawned a stunning array of unusual behaviors and adaptations. View forest penguins with a tenuous marriage and the secret rendezvous of great white sharks, and hear the tale of male pregnancy.

 

 

 

 

GREAT PERFORMANCES AT THE MET
Samson et Dalila

 

Darko Tresnjak’s production is set in 1150 BC, where the mighty Samson fights vigilantly to free the ancient Israelites from their bondage underthe Philistines. The High Priest of Dagon, angry with Samson after he kills the Philistine governor Ambimélech, plots to destroy Samson by utilizing the beauty of his former lover, Dalila. A passionate Samson falls prey to Dalila’s seduction, causing the secret to his superhuman strength, his long hair, to be revealed. After being ambushed by the Philistines, a weakened and vulnerable Samson must face the High Priest of Dagon and perform the ultimate sacrifice to save his people.

 

 

 

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, May 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 
Program

 

Lanai Tabura Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

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.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Showbiz Masterminds

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Showbiz Masterminds

 

The glamour of the entertainment industry can be alluring, but with its heavy business risks, there are no guarantees of success. Polynesian entertainment company co-owner Cha Thompson; the late radio DJ and concert promoter Tom Moffatt; and former nightclub owner Jack Cione are three “showbiz masterminds” who excelled at entertaining local audiences. Revisit these conversations about their journeys, lessons learned and passion for showbiz.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May. 5, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Showbiz Masterminds:

 

Cha Thompson – Authenticity in Entertaining

 

Tom Moffatt – Elvis’s Hat

 

Tom Moffatt – Elvis at Honolulu Stadium

 

Jack Cione – How to Hire a Naked Waiter

 

Showbiz Masterminds Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And if you said you were from Hawaiʻi, that sold.  You almost didn’t have to do anything.  And so, we started traveling around the world.  And when we came home, people wanted shows.  We actually had to decide: We gotta get off the stage, you cannot be producer, director, business manager, choreographer, which is what we did. And oh, god; try do the books. Hello.

 

I just had them open their kimonos to add a little more to the show.

 

And what were the skaters wearing?

 

The skaters wore clothes, but the three girls that stood there on the ice—

 

Oh; I see.

 

They were the nudes on ice.  [CHUCKLE]  That was my hook.  Every show needs a hook, you know.

 

Yeah; because you’re a marketer, too.

 

Yes.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or the cost was too high in some way?

 

No; I’ve never felt that way.  I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

The world of bright lights and big stages holds a certain allure.  But only a few carve out a successful business in the grueling entertainment world.  Meet three of Hawaiʻi’s showbiz masterminds, next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wicox.  Show business can be fun, exciting, and profitable.  But there are no guarantees.  Yet, Polynesian entertainment company co-owner Cha Thompson, nightclub owner Jack Cione, and the late radio deejay turned concert promoter Tom Moffatt excelled in this risky industry.   These three people are very different from each other.  In common, they all trusted their artistic tastes and business instincts to entertain Hawaiʻi for decades.

 

First, we turn to our 2008 conversation with Cha Thompson.  In the early 70s, she was a nineteen-year-old hula dancer traveling the world for performances, when she was suddenly put in charge of a popular Polynesian dance group.  Cha Thompson and her husband Jack soon founded Tihati Productions, now one of the largest and longest-running entertainment companies in Hawaiʻi.

 

I was with the original Puka Puka Otea group that Elaine Frisbie from Rarotonga ran.  And we were the only one in the State to do Polynesian everything.  And then, when she was leaving, I was her lead dancer, and she simply said: Here, take it and run.  And at nineteen, excuse me, I knew nothing about business.  And so, you know, when I married my husband, I was working in medical records at Queen’s Medical Center, and he was working in reservations at Hawaiian Airlines.  And people started calling us.  And I’m telling you, it was so successful, because tourism at the time was the thing, and everybody wanted a show.

 

What year was that?  What general decade?

 

1969, ’70.  And if you said you were from Hawaiʻi, that sold.  You almost didn’t have to do anything.  And so, we started traveling around the world.  And when we came home, people wanted shows.  We actually had to decide: We gotta get off the stage, you cannot be producer, director, business manager, choreographer, which is what we did. And oh, god; try do the books. Hello.

 

You danced.  What did your husband do?

 

He was the emcee.  And his very first thing to do was, he came to Canada when I was with the World’s Fair, and I was a dancer.  And he was one of the few Polynesians who could speak English.  So, when our emcee got sick, he said: Give it to Thompson.  And he said: I’m not an entertainer.  You know. And in fact, just before we left, he said: I’m part-Samoan, surely I can learn the knife dance.  I always thought he was too handsome to be a knife dancer. He didn’t look as wild and savage. But he learned it, and became a knife dancer.  Terrible knife dancer in the beginning; can’t hold a candle next to my son, who’s a world title holder.  But that’s how we started.  We had to get off stage, and get a good attorney, get a great CPA, and we gave up our careers to run the business.

 

You were singled out to be the one to take over the dancing troupe.

 

Yes.

 

Why?

 

You know, I wonder if because shucks, I was always vocal. I always had an opinion.  I wonder.  And many of the Polynesian girls were more reserved.  I always had the plan, I always had the plan.

 

And it was a good plan?

 

It was a good plan.  I think survival mode; always in a survival mode, you know.  And I think that’s what my children detect. Like: Mom, oh.  You know, always plan for tomorrow, save, you know, the rainy day is coming, and always dress well if you get into an accident and make sure you have clean underwear.  [CHUCKLE] And you know, the house must be clean. Visitors will come, they’ll judge us. I always felt like I was being judged; always.  People started taking us seriously when we would sit on business boards, or when we contributed in a business fashion.  But yeah, I mean, you’re Polynesian; surely you can’t be too smart. And entertainment; heavens, you must fool around you must do drugs.  Well, we did neither, and it paid off.  It paid off for us.

 

I sense you’re a good negotiator.  I’m trying to figure out what your style is.

 

[CHUCKLE]  It’s the Pake blood, Leslie; it’s the Chinese blood.  And the funny thing about it is, in entertainment, they will say: Oh, come and put on a show, or come and dance for us, and you can eat all you want, and you can drink.  I don’t drink.  I’m really thin; I don’t eat that much.  I need something else.  And money was the thing I needed.  But we had to earn it, we had to earn it.  They didn’t take us seriously, you know.

 

I know you brought in some major acts.

 

Yes.

 

And you developed major talent.

 

I think we’re known as a Polynesian revue.  And I don’t know that many people know that Tihati Productions has a vast department that brings in contemporary acts.  Like, we brought in Lionel Richie, and Cyndi Lauper. And we also do thematic parties. You know, we’ll prepare a whole Raiders of The Lost Ark, or Aloha in a volcano.  So, we do many things.  But I think they still think of me as the hula girl.  I mean, maybe, because then they’ll say: Oh, you know, you run that halau. And I say: No, I’m not a kumu, I don’t have a halau.  But Tihati Productions, they think of as a Polynesian revue.

 

You’ve had to really strike a balance between Polynesian authenticity and entertainment.  How have you worked that out?

 

I decided early on not to educate them, rather to entertain them, but to not sell myself and not give them what is real.  Any Tihati revue that you see will have real flowers, we’ll use real ti leaf skirts, we do authentic numbers and sing it in the native tongues.  You know, Tahitian, Samoan, Fijian, and all of my instructors are from those islands, Hawaiian.  So, I never felt that tourism was a threat to me.  In fact, when some people might have thought, Oh, that’s a sell-out, she’s worked in Waikīkīfor thirty-five years, you know, why isn’t she with us?, I would say, Well, tourism dollars sent all my kids to college, and I never felt that I wasn’t doing exactly what is me.  You know, I believe God gave me a gift in my roots and my heritage, and I share it. And lucky for me, tourism is Hawaiʻi’s number-one industry, and they’ll always need the hula girl, and the steel guitar, and the fire knife dancer.  And so, I think I’m here to stay.

 

With clear vision, quick reflexes, and a tenacious attitude, Cha Thompson and her husband Jack built a respected, long-running entertainment business.

 

Our next showbiz mastermind is also a longtime entrepreneur.  Jack Cione first gained notoriety in the 60s with live shows that were new to Honolulu at the time—nude entertainers and bottomless wait staff.  He was fired up to put on his own dance productions after seeing what he called a lousy show at the old Forbidden City Nightclub in Kakaʻako.  Here, from our conversation in 2014, Jack Cione remembers talking to the Forbidden City’s manager about organizing his first shows there.

 

I just told him how bad his show was, and he said: You want to do a show for me?  I said: Yeah, I’ll do a show for you, I have nothing to do.  He said,: How much is it gonna cost?  I said: I’ll do a show for you for nothing.  I just need something to do.  So, I did a show at the Forbidden City.  And I did two shows that made a lot of money.  And then, I did an ice show.  First time we had an ice show at the Forbidden City.  I called it Nudes on Ice.

 

So, you put in an ice skating rink?

 

Yeah; it was about twice the size of this table. Portable.  And two skater friends of mine from the mainland, I brought them over and said: Come and skate; a paid vacation, two weeks.  So, they came over.  And I had the Japanese girls, and I used them as showgirls.  And I talked three of the Japanese girls into going topless. I just had them open their kimonos to add a little more to the show.

 

And what were the skaters wearing?

 

The skaters wore clothes, but the three girls that stood there on the ice—

 

Oh; I see.

 

They were the nudes on ice.  [CHUCKLE]  That was my hook.  Every show needs a hook, you know.

 

Yeah; because you’re a marketer, too.

 

Yes.  [CHUCKLE]

 

So, now you’re really kinda dealing in a different kind of venue.

 

Right.  And there were no nightclubs having any nudity.  It was against the law.

 

Now, you already lied about your age, but now you’re talking about breaking the law.

 

Well, there were no laws.  Hawaiian dancers were topless.

 

Throughout history.  [CHUCKLE]

 

Right.  And so, what was the law?  What was the big deal?  So, the next show I did was complete nude show.  I brought burlesque in.  It wasn’t nude; it was just topless.  The girls then had to wear pasties and silk bras.  But it eventually evolved.  And every time we would do that, they would come and arrest me.

 

You’re saying this like this is, you know, just part of doing business.  And what was the charge?  Was it lewdness, open lewdness?

 

Lewd and lascivious conduct.

 

How did you feel about that?

 

Well, they’d arrest me, and I’d say: Excuse me, can I go to the restroom?  And I’d run in my office and I’d call the TV and the newspaper, and I’d stay there until they all got to the club.

 

So, you’re actually enjoying this.

 

Oh, loving it.  And the next morning, it was in the papers and it was on TV.

 

Was that part of being a showman?

 

Yes.  And business increased.  People would see that.  Oh, look, arrested, nude.  We gotta go see that [CHUCKLE] at Forbidden City.

 

And how did your new wife think about this?

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] she didn’t particularly like it. But it was making lots of money. And so, we opened that club, then we opened another one.  I ended up with twelve bars here.

 

And how many arrests?

 

Oh, gosh; I was arrested so many times, but not once conviction.

 

Because as you said, the laws hadn’t caught up with this business activity.

 

Right.  We went topless, then we went bottomless, and then we went totally nude.  We used to have a businessman’s lunch at The Dunes.

 

Back when three martinis were tax deductible; right?

 

Right.  And it was all businessmen.  And the show was a striptease show.  And these secretaries said: We’re so tired of coming with our boss; why don’t you put a naked man on stage for us?  And I just happened to say: Well, why don’t you get me a reservation for fifty ladies, and I’ll have a naked man for you.  That’s how it started.

 

And did you get a reservation for fifty?

 

Oh, gosh; they called about two weeks later.  They said: We have your fifty; you’re gonna have a naked man?  And I said: Yes.  Well, by the time the two weeks came, they had two hundred reservations.  That filled up my room.  [CHUCKLE]  They kept out my men customers.  The ladies took all the seats.

 

And did you have your naked waiter in line?

 

No.

 

No?

 

I didn’t have any.

 

How do you hire a naked waiter?

 

In those days, this was now 1973, and there were no such a thing as Chippendales and men strippers.  But I had a beach house in Haleiwa that I was renting to five surfers. And they were behind on their rent. So, I called them and said: You guys gotta pay the rent, or you’ve gotta come in and do me a favor.  They said: What is it?  I said: Well, you gotta come to The Dunes, Friday, and you’ve got to drop your pants on stage.  Oh, hell, yeah; we’ll do that.  Those women stayed all day.  We had the biggest bar business I ever did that afternoon.  They all drank, drank, and the surfers were enter—

 

Paraded.

 

Paraded, without their pants.  So, when I saw that, I thought: Oh, this is a goldmine. So, in a week’s time, I told the gals; I said: We’re gonna have waiters every day.

 

Instead of waitresses?

 

Instead of waitresses.

 

Because the women were the ones who were paying more money.

 

Yes.

 

As clients.

 

That’s how it happened.

 

And people keep coming back?

 

Oh; unreal.  Four hundred lunches, Monday through Friday.

 

I just sense that your guiding force is money and showbiz.  But you weren’t really into the flesh stuff of it all?

 

No.  Nightclub business is not an easy business.  But I stayed the straight line, and did it as a business.  I don’t drink; I never did drink.  [CHUCKLE]  And so, people would want to buy me a drink.  I said: You know, I’m in the business to sell this; I don’t drink it.

 

Jack Cione is a showbiz mastermind who went with his gut.  He knew what he liked, saw what worked, and gave people what they wanted.

 

So did our next guest.  Much has been said about the late Tom Moffatt’s career, first as a pioneering rock and roll radio deejay who introduced Hawaiʻi to Elvis Presley, then as a promoter of big name concerts, bringing everyone from The Eagles to Bruno Mars to the islands.  But let’s not forget Tom Moffatt’s work with local acts, especially during the Hawaiian music renaissance in the 1970s.  In our 2011 conversation, he recounts his work with Keola and Kapono Beamer on a recording that still strikes a chord here at home, and beyond.

 

I had just left radio.  I’d gone through a couple of owners at KPOI, and a third one was coming in, and I decided it was time to take a hiatus from radio.  So, I started my own record company.  And in the door walked Kapono Beamer one day, and said that they weren’t happy with wherever they were in recording.  And so, I got the two of them in, and talked to them about it.  And I said: Why don’t you guys go out and write, and let’s do a record together, an album.  So, I gave them some seed money to go out and write.  And Keola called me and said: I think I’ve got a song.  He was living up at Alewa Heights; I’ll never forget.  And I went up to Alewa Heights to hear the song. It was just when it was getting dusk, and that time of the evening when it was getting dark and the lights were coming on.  And he played for me Honolulu City Lights.  And I knew we had something.  So, that was my first recording endeavor, really on my own, and we came out with Honolulu City Lights.  Got Teddy Randazzo to help with the arrangements.

 

And for decades, I believe that was the highest-selling local album of all time. Is it still?

 

I don’t know, with Iz around.  [CHUCKLE]

 

And I think Kealii Reichel might have had a really big seller.

 

Oh, yes; yes.  But not that long ago, few years back, I think it was the Star Bulletin or the Advertiser, and Honolulu Magazine came out with a list of the best albums. Not best-selling, just the best albums, Hawaiʻi albums of all time.  And number one was Honolulu City Lights.  That was a thrill.  It’s still my favorite.  [CHUCKLE] I still love that song.

 

Me, too.  Actually, that came out when I was seeing a lot of friends off to college at the airport.

 

Yeah.

 

And it was always playing the airport then, and they were always crying. Those were the days where there was no security.

 

Yes.

 

You went to the gate to see people off.

 

You could go the gate with leis; yeah?

 

And local style, you didn’t bring just leis; you brought bentos, and food.

 

Yes; uh-huh.

 

And everybody had luaus, and that song was just playing—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–almost continuously.  And if it wasn’t somebody was asking for it to be played.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.  So, that’s such a cultural memory in Hawaiʻi.  That was your first, ever, recorded song.

 

Yes.  I’d done some singles and so forth.  Once, I put out an album, a trumpet album, but that was with other people involved. But this was the first one I did on my own, was Honolulu City Lights.  At the same time, I had a girl that worked for me just as I was leaving KPOI, and she said: You gotta go out and see this group in Aina Haina.

 

Randy Borden?

 

No.

 

No? Okay; who?

 

Country Comfort.

 

Country Comfort.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at the old—

 

At The Sty.

 

–M’s Ranch House?

 

No, this was at The Sty.  It wasn’t Aina Haina; it was beyond Aina Haina at The Sty.

 

Niu; that’s right.

 

Yeah.  And I heard these guys.  I went out and saw what was happening with the audience, and what they had going for them. And so, I finished off an album that—this was just before Honolulu City Lights, that my partner Irv Peninsky had started.  And I finished off the album, and we put it out together.  Then after that, I left out on my own.  But Country Comfort was one of my favorite albums.  I also did an album by The Surfers at that time called Shells, which I still think is one of the best Hawaiian albums ever produced.

 

Who were the local artists that you most enjoyed working with, and had the most success with?

 

Well, The Royal Drifters were one of the first local groups.  Dick Jensen, Robin Luke, Ronnie Diamond; they were all big singers in the 50s and early 60s. And we used them as often as possible on The Show of Stars at the Civic Auditorium, and whenever we could at the new arena.  Remember the first time that the Rolling Stones came to town, I put Dick Jensen on as the opening—Lance Curtis as the opening group, opening performer.

 

Lance Curtis.

 

And he danced like Michael Jackson.  This was before Michael Jackson.  He could dance.

 

You know, all of these enterprises, these artistic enterprises, and creative enterprises, to really be stable and to make a go of them, you have to be good at money.  You have to be good at restraint, and you have to be good at planning.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Did you have that all along, or did you have to learn that the hard way?

 

I’m still learning.  [CHUCKLE]  Still learning.  But I got good accountants around me.  Yeah.

 

And you’re not by nature prone to take unreasonable risk.

 

No.  We put quite a bit of money into some of the recording projects, but I believed in them, and they turned out okay.  Opening the Outrigger main showroom was kind of gamble.  It was a room that was sitting there was a convention room that they never used.  And Tommy Sands had come to Hawaiʻi, and was looking for a place to work.  And so, we opened that showroom.  And it’s been going ever since, after Tommy and I kinda drifted off.  And another time when the Beamers got going with Honolulu City Lights, there was another room that was sitting empty which we opened as the Reef Showroom at the Reef Hotel.  The Ocean Showroom at the Reef Hotel; that’s what we called it.  I put the Beamers in there.  That was kind of a gamble at the time, but I felt, you know, this record was happening.  So, we opened the showroom with Keola and Kapono Beamer, and Andy Bumatai as the opening comedian.  It was very successful.

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or the cost was too high in some way?

 

No; I’ve never felt that way.  I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

The concert promoter, the nightclub entrepreneur, and the Polynesian entertainment company co-owner; three masterminds in showbiz who trusted their tastes and instincts to entertain the islands.  After months of declining health, Tom Moffatt left us in 2016. What an honor to revisit his tremendous career.  And we thank Jack Cione and Cha Thompson for their savvy business stories.  Mahalo to you for joining is.  For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

You learn that from Kalihi.  Somebody puts you down and, ah, you know, I could do something better than they could.  I knew I could.  I don’t know how this is gonna sound, but what was important is, you gotta know how to beef, quite frankly.

 

You can beef?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You can beef?

 

Yeah, man.

 

You’re so elegant.

 

Yeah, man.  [CHUCKLE]  Or at least, I used to a lot.  And you know, when you come from a large family, nobody wants to beef with you. ‘Cause in the housing, families fight families.  I mean, I know it sounds imbecilical, but we did.

 

Did you beef boys, too?

 

Yeah.  Yeah, yeah. Most of the boys didn’t want to take me on, though.  I had brother, big brothers.

 

I mean, you were just a kid.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at nightclubs.

 

I did.

 

What time did you go to sleep?

 

Well, I changed my age.  I was twenty then.  ‘Cause I had a mustache at fourteen, I didn’t look like a high school student.  And I was making seventy-five dollars a week. That was good money.

 

And how did you keep up with school, when you were actually working in the city?

 

Yeah.  Well, I didn’t keep up with school.  That was the sad part.  I remember one day, a teacher said to me: Jackie Cioni, you’re gonna be a bum; you’re gonna be a bum if you don’t learn Algebra and English.  And I said: Get out of my face, honey; I make seventy-five bucks a week; what are you making?  Schoolteachers made thirty-five dollars a week.

 

Ouch!

 

I introduced Elvis Presley.  The place went crazy.  It was so exciting.

 

Really high decibels?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Shrieky.

 

Yeah.  And there he was, just a microphone, and a simple sound system.  But he held that audience.

 

And when had you met him before that?

 

Well, the day before, Ron Jacobs and I … Ron figured this one out.  Do something different.  And we’d me the Colonel, and we’d kinda hinted there might be something like this in the works.  And Don Tyler was one of our guys at KPOI, and we dressed him up to look like Elvis. Ron had his convertible, a Ford convertible, hardtop convertible, top went down.  And got a fellow who looked like Colonel Parker, and Ron driving. And we had it all planned.  I’m on the radio.  From the moment Elvis arrived, I’m on the radio playing nothing but Elvis records.  And I did this all morning, into the afternoon.  So, I kinda planted it; well, we understand that Elvis is heading for Kailua, for people to be out in the streets looking for Elvis, and drive down the streets, and people are screaming.  And we did this in different neighborhoods.

 

Did you get any fallout from it?

 

Well, we got back to the studio.  By then, I’d played Elvis for six straight hours, at least. It was mid-afternoon, and we were patting ourselves on the back.  And we get the message from our news guy that Colonel Parker wants to see you guys downstairs, immediately.

 

Dun-da-dun-da.

 

And we looked at each other.  We wanted to escape.  So, we went downstairs and there’s guards at the elevator.  We went down one floor.  And they took us into Colonel Parker’s suite.  We didn’t know what to expect.  Colonel said: Boys, that was a pretty good promotion you did.  Oh, my gosh!  Oh, and here’s Elvis.  In walked Elvis.  And that’s the first time I’d met Elvis.  [CHUCKLE]

 

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.

 

[END]

 

 

 

SHAKESPEARE UNCOVERED
The Winter’s Tale with Simon Russell Beale

SHAKESPEARE UNCOVERED: The Winter's Tale with Simon Russell Beale

 

Shakespeare’s play is driven by the passion and obsession of the uncontrollable jealousy of King Leontes, who recklessly rejects his wife’s love and accuses her of an affair with his old friend. Acting like a man possessed, he orders his friend killed and his pregnant wife imprisoned.

 

Preview

 

 

 

The Ultimate Real Estate in a Democracy: Common Ground

 

CEO Message

 

The Ultimate Real Estate in a Democracy: Common Ground

 

KĀKOU – Hawai‘i's Town Hall

 

Leslie Wilcox, PBS Hawai‘i President and CEOAs Hawai‘i real estate keeps getting pricier, I keep thinking of a different kind of real estate that is ultimately more valuable in a democracy.

 

Common ground in our national and local discourse: Priceless.

 

These are days when people don’t just disagree on issues; they have different sets of facts. And there’s a media voice catering to every opinion, affirming what one already believes, whether it’s true or not.

 

We all have reason to worry about our democracy, since its health depends upon shared core values, a level of trust in our leaders, and the reliability of information on which to act.

 

Hawai‘i is by no means seeing the kind of partisan polarization that is gripping the Continent, but we’re struggling to get our arms around and agree upon big issues, such as what to do about homelessness and how to support jobs with increasing automation in the workforce.

 

PBS Hawai‘i brings together Islanders with differing perspectives to engage directly with each other on many top-of-mind subjects and some issues that aren’t considered enough. Real democracies require real discussion.

 

This is not the same as what local daily broadcast news operations do – they generally try to tape separate interviews with the parties, and air the contained sound bites in a two-minute story in the newscast. (It’s not easy to convene people who disagree with each other, especially on short notice.)

 

On our weekly hour-long Insights on PBS Hawai‘i and our periodic two-hour KĀKOU – Hawai‘i’s Town Hall, people on different sides of issues meet face to face – and they’re being televised and streamed live. They show up, because they want to get their message across; because it’s the responsible, responsive thing to do; and because they trust us to treat them fairly. Once in a great while, when an issue is particularly volatile, we’re unable to get pro and con leaders to sit down together. And also infrequently, we end up with a lackluster program because we can’t get participants to depart from canned comments, to have a real conversation.

 

But most times, participants put aside any discomfort they may feel about engaging directly with opponents or critics and answering follow-up questions from our moderator. The best of these participants truly listen, instead of trying to cut short their opponents or simply waiting for their turn to speak. This leads to candid, meaningful exchanges that help viewers develop their own perspectives.

 

With today’s complicated societal challenges keeping us at odds and on hold, our mired democracy seriously needs this kind of civil discourse.

 

When you contribute your hard-earned dollars to PBS Hawai‘i, you are supporting the power of media for public service over profit and politics. And you’re supporting priceless common ground for the common good. Thank you!

 

Aloha nui,

Leslie signature


 

 

1 2 3