Philadelphia

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Circus, Part 2 of 2

 

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

 

 

AMERICAN EXPERIENCE
Circus, Part 1 of 2

 

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

 

 

THE CROWD & THE CLOUD
Citizens + Scientists

 

Citizen scientists track air and water pollution at fracking sites in windswept Wyoming and five other states, using simple but science-based techniques developed by the “Bucket Brigade.” On idyllic East Coast trout streams, volunteers from Trout Unlimited monitor water quality regularly, generating baseline data that will prove invaluable in the event of future pollution events. Community members connected with professional researchers to tackle Flint’s drinking water crisis and now the same is happening in Philadelphia and other cities. In China, citizens use government data and a unique mobile app to report environmental crimes. When citizens and scientists partner, it’s a win-win for all concerned.

 

 

POV
Quest

 

Watch an intimate film capturing eight years in the life of a black family from Philadelphia. Follow Christopher “Quest” Rainey, and his wife, Christine’s “Ma Quest,” as they raise a family and nurture a community of hip-hop artists.

 

 

10 Parks that Changed America

 

Explore the serene spaces that offer city dwellers a respite from the hustle and bustle of urban life, from Savannah, Georgia’s elegant squares to a park built over a freeway in Seattle to New York City’s High Line.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ed Francis

 

In honor of the late Ed Francis, PBS Hawai‘i presents an in-memoriam encore of this episode recorded in December 2012.

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with “Gentleman” Ed Francis, a legend in Hawaii’s pro wrestling world. Francis was a household name in the 1960s and 1970s, during the heyday of 50th State Big Time Wrestling. He recalls growing up in Chicago in the midst of the Great Depression, how wrestling facilitated his move to Hawaii and a life-threatening riot at Honolulu’s Civic Auditorium. Francis says he now leads a quiet life in Kansas.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, January 4 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, January 8 at 4:00 pm.

 

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Transcript

 

I can say to the Hawaiian people that if it wasn’t for them and all the fans, I wouldn’t have had that, a life like I’ve had.

 

From a kid living on the mean streets of Chicago to a entertainment sports legend in Hawaii, meet wrestling icon, Gentleman Ed Francis, next on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this episode of Long Story Short, we’ll talk with legendary wrester and wrestling promoter, Ed Francis. We catch up with him at age eighty-six. He was a household name in the Hawaii of the 1960s and 70s, during the run of the wildly popular 50th State Big Time Wrestling. Long before his involvement with wrestling, however, Edmund Charles Francis, Jr. began life in the tough city streets of Chicago, in the midst of the Great Depression.

 

I’ve read what you ate, the sandwiches you ate during the depression. What were they?

 

Oh, yeah. Well, they called it charity then. We used to go with my mother, and we’d stand in line at about four o’clock in the morning, and they give you some cheese and dried beans, and a big can of lard, and all that kinda stuff. And that’s what you took home to eat. And I used to make … and they gave her flour, so my mother used to make bread. And then I would put lard on a piece of bread with some ketchup and salt and pepper, and I’d put it in the oven, and let it warm up a little bit, and that’s what I’d eat.

 

Oh …

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But it tasted good. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] How did your parents handle that depression?

 

Well, finally, when it hit real hard and then my father lost the business. He didn’t work for six years. He couldn’t get a job anyplace. And my mother worked several different jobs, but she worked for the Vassar underwear company I remember she got a dollar a day there. And then, she got a job working at an ice cream parlor that was right down the street from us. The guy’s name was Pete Palastini [PHONETIC]. He had this ice cream parlor, and he hired my mother. So, she worked a few little jobs like that, and that’s how we survived.

 

How many children?

 

Just my brother and I.

 

So four people living on a —

 

Yeah.

 

— reduced income.

 

Yeah.

 

I know for a while, you moved to public housing. Were you in rough neighborhoods?

 

That was quite a ways after that, when I was around twelve or thirteen years old, we moved to public housing. But before that, I had all kinds of things that I did, a little shoeshine thing, and I would go in all the bars.

 

How old were you?

 

I was about, I guess, nine or ten years old.

 

Uh-huh.

 

And I’d go in the bar, and I knew nobody’s gonna want me to shine shoes. But they had a free lunch counter there. So I’d come in with the thing on my shoulder, and I’d go over and make a sandwich. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They had good food in those bars. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And the bartenders never kicked me out or anything. That’s after, of course, prohibition was … Roosevelt … I forget when they repealed the law.

 

After Ed Francis’ family lost the business, life was bleak in the Depression –ravaged, rat — infested Chicago of the 1930s and 40s. But a casual visit by young Ed to a gym near his home would plant the seeds for a better life, with pay.

 

When did the wrestling bug hit?

 

Well, the wrestling bug hit me when I was about twelve years old. That was when I was already in the Julia Lathrop Homes, where we moved.

 

The public housing?

 

Yeah. And I went to this park called Hamlin Park. And it was like a circus when you walked in there, because there were wrestlers and weightlifters, and hand balancers, and they had a high bar with a guy swinging on that. And, boy, I looked around there and I said, Man, what’s going on here? So I tried to get in with the guys.

 

What kind of personality did you have? Were you a showman?

 

Well, I had it underneath, a showman, but I was really shy, to begin with. But there was a wrestling coach there named Lou Talaber, and he took me under his wing, and he started teaching me amateur wrestling. And then, they had a big weightlifting platform there. The German American Weightlifting Club were lifting there. So, they eventually got around to showing me how to do the different lifts. And they showed me how to do a lift called the one-armed bent press. And that’s where you rock your weight to your shoulder, and you bend down between your legs and push it up. And I finally got to be able to do my body weight with one arm.

 

Wow.

 

So, they were paid to go around to different taverns and perform weightlifting, and they’d take me along. So I’d do the one-armed bent press and all the Germans were drinking beer, and clapping their hands.

 

And did the weightlifting keep you out of trouble?

 

Probably did. Yeah.

 

‘Cause I’m sure there was trouble to be found in the area.

 

Yeah. Well, I was coming home from school, and I was in high school, and there was a car parked near the Julia Lathrop Homes. And as I was walking by, this guy stepped out of the car and he said, Hey, I want to speak to you. And he showed his badge, and he was a police detective. He said we’re gonna sit in the car. I said, Well, I wonder what the heck I did. I thought they were gonna arrest me for something. So, I got into the car, and they start showing me pictures of criminals in there. And they said, This guy was wanted for murder, this guy raped, this guy, and they went on and on. He said, We want you to help us. I said, Well, how can I do that? He said, Well, you meet us here tonight at 8:00 p.m., and, we’ll tell you then. But don’t tell anybody else where you’re going.

 

Young Ed Francis met the two lawmen, who then drove him to a place nicknamed Little Sicily in Chicago. The men told him to go into a nearby bar, purchase whiskey, and return to their car. Then, the officers took Francis back into the bar and confronted the bar owner for selling to a minor. Ed Francis left the bar, as instructed by the officers, and headed for a rendezvous point where they would pick him up. Just as the teenager thought the ordeal was over, the night took a scary turn.

 

So, I finally got over to the Bowman Dairy Company, and I’m standing there waiting and waiting. And all of a sudden, a big Lincoln pulls up, Lincoln automobile, and out jump two guys. One of them was in a uniform, soldier’s uniform. And they grabbed me and put me in the car, and took me back to the bar. And they took me in the back room, and they told me what these cops did, that they were trying to get this guy to pay money.

 

That was a shakedown.

 

Shakedown. And so, he said, If we ever get these guys, we’re gonna kill ‘em, these two detectives, they told me. So the phone rang in a phone booth. He said, Hey, this is for you, bartender said. So I went in there, and it was the detective on there. He said, Listen to me. He said, Watch for a good spot, and then he said, run right out the door. And he said, And turn right and run down, and we’ll pick you up, so you can get out of there. So, I went back and told the guys it was the detectives, and told them what happened. And that’s when he said, Oh, don’t worry about those guys. He said, But don’t ever do this again, don’t ever come back in this neighborhood again. And he gave me money, and we went to the streetcar so I could get on the streetcar to go home.

Oh, they escorted you to the streetcar?

 

Yeah, they did, the soldier did. And he said, You can look in the paper tomorrow. He said, These two guys are gonna be dead.

 

Wow; and you were fifteen years old.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

At what point did you set off on a wrestling career?

 

Well, I found a fellow named Carl Pergelo [PHONETIC], and he was an old-time wrestler, and he had a wrestling gymnasium. And I used to go there all the time, and then he would put on shows at like the Shriner’s Clubs and all that. They’d just put mats out, and I’d go there and wrestle somebody who would just wrestle an amateur. And then, he started teaching me some professional wrestling. But then, the war came along. And my brother, who’s three years older than me, he joined the Navy, and my cousin who was about my brother’s age, he joined the Navy. And I wanted to go. So, I couldn’t; my parents wouldn’t sign the papers for me to go. So, I found a way to get around that.

 

Ed Francis served in the Coast Guard during World War II. By January of 1945, Ed was discharged, and spent some time as a sketch model at the Art Institute in Chicago. Soon after, he felt a calling to a profession he’d been introduced to as a teenager.

 

And then, I started wrestling for Pergelo again, and then there was a fellow named Ray Fabiani. Ray Fabiani was a concert violinist with the Philadelphia Philharmonic Orchestra, and also, he went to Chicago. And he loved wrestling, and he got hooked with a promoter in Chicago, and he saw me at Carl Pergelo’s gym and he signed me up as one of his wrestlers. So, he decked me out and got my hair bleached, and decked me out with a cape with sequins on it and all that stuff.

 

At that point, did you acquire your moniker, Gentleman Ed Francis?

 

No; that didn’t come up ‘til Al Ventres. So, my career went on from there.

 

You wrestled all over the place?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Were you usually the good guy, or not?

 

Sometimes one way, and sometimes another way, depending on what the promoter wanted me as.

 

So, what are you like as a bad guy?

 

Well, I did a pretty good job, I guess, because I had plenty of riots.

 

[CHUCKLE] Is that right? People got so angry at you —

 

Oh, yeah.

 

— they stormed the ring?

 

Oh, yeah.

 

By the early 1960s, Ed Francis was making frequent stops in Hawaii, wrestling for promoter Al Karasick. During a conversation with Karasick, Francis saw a golden opportunity he knew he couldn’t pass up.

 

Well, when I was wrestling for Al Karasick and he told me that he was thinking of selling out his business, I thought that would be a good opportunity where I had my kids, and be a good opportunity to get off the road. Because it was killing me and killing them not having their father home, all the time. So, I asked him how much he wanted for the promotion, to have the rights for the promotion. And he said he would agree to ten thousand dollars. So, a friend of mine, a promoter in Oregon, Don Owen, who liked me a lot, Don gave me the ten thousand. I paid Al, brought everybody over.

 

How old were you at the time?

 

I was in my thirties, I guess.

 

And doing business; how was that for you?

 

Tough. Because now, I was an outsider coming in. Now, I’m sitting in Al Karasick’s office. And in order to get to Al’s office, I had to pass Ralph Yempuku’s desk.

 

Who was a promoter extraordinaire, and a fixture.

 

I told him I was trying to get television. He said, If you get television, why would people come to the matches if they’re going to watch ‘em on TV? I said, Well, it doesn’t work that way, Ralph. I said, There’s a certain way you have to build things up, and not show them the main events or whatever, and then they’ll come to the matches. He said, Nah, it’ll never work. He said, Never work. So they all expected me to fail after a few months.

 

But you’d seen it work differently on the mainland.

 

Oh, yes; uh-huh. Yeah. So, when it came around to television, I went to all the stations and they were all saying, Oh, we don’t want any of that phony wrestling on TV in Hawaii, and all that stuff. And finally, I think it was at KHVH when Kaiser owned that station, Denny Kawakami was the program director there. And I finally talked him into give thirteen weeks. He said, We’ll give you a shot at this, he says. ‘Cause I went back to him about ten times. [CHUCKLE]

 

And you wanted a live show from the studio at KHVH?

 

Yeah.

 

TV and radio.

 

Yeah, and then I had to figure out who I was gonna have do the announcing. Couple of guys told me about Lord Blears. And so, I contacted him, and he’d been wrestling for Al Karasick for years. So, he loved Hawaii because he was a surfer, all his kids loved the beach, so he jumped at the chance and came over.

 

So he agreed to be your narrator, your on-air guy.

 

Yeah; and he had a lot of contacts through wrestlers too. Different wrestlers that I didn’t know out of the Los Angeles area and all that. So, the two of us put together like that, we got a lot of wrestlers to come over. Because they’d say, What do you want? Oh, how much can I make? He said, Well, you want to come to Hawaii, it’s just like a vacation, stay here for a few months, or whatever. [CHUCKLE] And you get your airfare back and forth, and we’ll give you a hundred and fifty dollars a week.

 

You had some wild characters. Did you create those characters, or did they come to you fully blown up and crazy?

 

Sometimes, we had to create them. Like the Missing Link, we named him the Missing Link. But he brought the shrunken head on, and he’d talk about that. So, he wasn’t a great performer in the ring, but he was a great performer on television. So that sold it, you know.

 

May I mention some names to you? Could you maybe give me some thoughts about each of these wrestlers that you worked with?

 

Yeah, sure.

 

Handsome Johnny Barend.

 

Great guy, but crazy. He really was a little crazy. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

He was always a great drawing card. But I never knew what he was gonna do on the television show. So, he and Phil Arnone were conjuring all this stuff up. So, when I come out to interview him, now he’s sitting there and he’s gonna wrestle Billy White Wolf, and he’s sitting there with a teepee. He’s sitting in front of a teepee with a feather in his head. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Smoking a cigar. [CHUCKLE]

 

Another name; Ripper Collins. People loved to hate Ripper Collins with his deliberate mangling of the Hawaiian language, saying Moo-ey, and Mo-wee, and Kamimami instead of Kamehameha.

 

Yeah. Ripper was … the ultimate Haole. [CHUCKLE] And then when he started talking about Georgia and mint juleps and all that stuff [CHUCKLE], get everybody mad at him.

 

And he was doing it with great deliberation and forethought.

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

What was he like off ring and off stage?

 

He was a good guy.

 

Wasn’t like that at all?

 

Mm-mm.

 

But he really knew how to just rile people up. People who aren’t wrestling fans would know Tosh Togo, who became Odd Job on the James Bond movie, Gold Finger. What was your relationship like with him? I think you did some shaping of him in his career.

 

Yeah. Well, a promoter came over, and Tosh had been wrestling for me for a while. A promoter came over from England, and he came to my house when I lived on Mokapu Boulevard. And he said that the movie producers over in England wanted a Oriental guy with a good body. I said, Well, I think I got the right guy for you.

 

His name is Harold Sakata.

 

Harold Sakata; yeah. And he won a silver medal in the Olympics too, Harold did, for weightlifting. And so, he had a fantastic body. And so, they arranged for him to go back and forth, and finally, they were gonna bring him over to England to test out for the part. And I knew what the storyline was gonna be. I said, Tosh, we gotta go down to a costume shop and get a derby. And you wear the derby, and you put some bricks — ‘cause he could break bricks with his hand. Put some bricks in this briefcase and handcuff the briefcase to you.

 

That was your idea?

 

Yeah.

 

That’s fabulous.

 

And when he got off the plane –‘cause they said they were gonna have news people there and everything. He got off the plane — I didn’t see it, but I was told that he got off and he took the handcuffs off and opened it up, put the bricks down and had this one brick across that, and he broke it. Got the part.

 

A legend was born.

 

Yeah.

 

Among others in the ring for wrestling promoter Ed Francis were two of his sons, Bill and Russ, who went on to pro football. Moody and disgruntled fans came with the territory at 50th State Big Time Wrestling matches. Ed Francis recalls that an incident at the Civic Auditorium in 1961 got the fans so riled up, it turned into a life-threatening riot.

 

Tell me about the riot. It was Curtis Iaukea, a Hawaiian, versus Neff Maiava, Samoan.

 

Yeah.

 

And there was race that played a role in the riot; right?

 

Yeah; oh, yeah. Yeah. Well, I forget how Curtis beat Neff. but I think I wasn’t even standing outside. I was outside the locker room, and I heard this riot coming off, people screaming, and I came out. And Curtis was coming back from the ring, and a couple of cops were escorting him to get back in the locker room. And Neff was laying in the ring.

 

Now, did he do something? He was a heel, a bad guy.

 

Yeah.

 

Did he do something bad to Neff?

 

Yeah, I don’t remember what it was. But then, the people went completely wild. And there was a sergeant there, Sergeant Capellas who also worked for me on the wrestling match. And they picked up some chairs, and the chairs in the Civic at that time, they were like four chairs that were together. So they picked it up, and they had Capellas and I against the ring. And he’s hitting them, and I’m hitting them. [CHUCKLE] And they’re going down so we could get out of there ourselves. And somebody called the Metro Squad, and there was Larry Mehau. I think he was lieutenant then, or sergeant, and he was handling the Metro Squad at that time. And they came down with police dogs and everything, and man, there was real turmoil there.

 

And those were the bruisers; they were big guys.

 

Yeah. And then, somebody grabbed the guy’s gun out of his holster, and Luigi knocked it out of the guy’s hand, and grabbed the gun and ran in the locker room with it. Then the riot was over, gave it back to the police officer. So there could have been a lot worse things happen.

 

Now, if that happened today, wrestling would have been banned from the auditorium.

 

Yeah.

 

But what happened instead? Life went on?

 

This is funny. I went to the police station the next day. They wanted to know what’s going on and how this riot began, and all that, I guess. So, I’m coming up the steps, and out of the police station is … about four Samoan guys. One’s got a bandage on his head, and one got a arm in a sling. And they said, Eh, Mr. Francis. [CHUCKLE] What’s going on next week at the Civic?

 

[CHUCKLE] It was acceptable damage? Was that the idea?

 

Guess so.

 

The days of wrestling have changed so much. You closed out your business in the late 70s, and I think it was probably in the 80s, that’s when wrestling went national and it ceased to be a local phenomenon as it had been in the past. It’s all national, and I can’t imagine the security that must be present with the WWF matches, which are just spectaculars of television and pyrotechnics.

 

Yeah. Well, yeah, it’s put everybody out of business, really. But he was a great promoter, the guy, and he’s doing a fantastic job.

 

Did you fight that trend, or did you see it coming and say …

 

Yeah, I saw it coming.

 

And you decided, I’m not gonna hang in when there’s not gonna be a good return?

 

Yeah. ‘Cause you have to have a lot of money to do it.

 

That must have been really hard, because you weren’t ready to retire, and you were seeing the end of a business, and there’s nothing like it to go to.

 

Yeah. Went back to the ranch. [CHUCKLE]

 

Which you knew how to ranch.

 

Yeah.

 

And you already owned a ranch.

 

Yeah. Old cowboy. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, how old are you now?

 

Eighty-six.

 

How does it feel?

 

Horrible. [CHUCKLE]

 

Why do you say that?

 

Well, you always have flashbacks of when you were young. I still have dreams about going to a wrestling match, and driving two hundred miles, and arriving there, and getting out of my car, and realize I didn’t bring my tights and my shoes along with me. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I have dreams like that all the time. [CHUCKLE] So now, what am I gonna do, I can’t perform. And I’m worried about what the promoter is gonna say, he’s gonna be mad and I’m in the main event. So, I guess that wrestling stuff stays with you over the years.

 

Wrestling promoter Ed Francis has stayed with us over the years through the many memories of die-hard fans. I spoke with him on a Hawaii visit he made in December of 2012, and people still recognized him on the street, calling out, Eh, Mista Francis! His amazing life is chronicled in the book, Gentleman Ed Francis Presents 50th State Big Time Wrestling, which was released shortly after our conversation. For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, I used to test the waters all the time. Before a big match was coming off, I got disappointed quite a few times. I’d go to Ala Moana Center, go through all the stores and everything, and there were several times not one person said a word to me. And sweat would break out.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

My god, no house tonight. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

But I always did have a pretty good house. But I thought that was kind of a gauge, and I’d say, Well, if nobody talks to me, then nobody is talking about wrestling on TV.

 

PBS NEWSHOUR AND NPR
DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION COVERAGE: Day 4

 

Day 4
Tune in for live coverage of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. PBS NewsHour and NPR join forces, marking the first time the two public media organizations are collaborating on convention coverage. Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff­ will co-anchor. NPR host Rachel Martin will be reporting from inside the hall with the NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins and John Yang and NPR’s Sue Davis. They will also be joined by NPR’s Mara Liaisson, Ron Elving and Domenico Montenaro, as well as NewsHour regular contributors, including syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter. Coverage will extend online and on social media to include live streaming of stage speeches and floor interviews.

 

This presentation was originally lived streamed at 2:00 pm

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Joy Abbott

 

Original air date: Tues., Aug. 13, 2013

 

Leslie Wilcox talks with Joy Abbott, singer and widow of renowned stage producer George Abbott. Born and raised in Wahiawa, Oahu, Joy graduated from Punahou School. She attended Temple University in Philadelphia to study education, before pursuing a career in entertainment. In recent years, Abbott has written and directed several theater benefit galas, and is co-authoring a biography on George Abbott.

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, you know, It’s time. [CHUCKLE]

 

From World War II era Wahiawa to the bright lights and big personalities of Broadway, Joy Abbott has lived a glamorous life far from her roots in Hawaii. But she’s remained true to the values she grew up with, and close to family and friends back home. Her dramatic journey is next, on Long Story Short.

 

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

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, the Shirley Temple of Hawaii; that’s what people called the former Joy Valderrama when she was a talented kid growing up in Wahiawa in the 1930s. Little did she suspect that one day, she’d be friends with some of Broadway’s biggest stars, and married to an iconic Broadway producer, writer, and director who created scores of American stage classics, a vital man who lived to the age of one hundred seven. Joy Abbott’s parents had a lasting influence on her life. They armed her with three important gifts: an excellent education, training to develop her talents, and values to guide her.

 

My father said that when I was born, I didn’t cry, I smiled; so he called me Joy. [CHUCKLE] True story. Wahiawa, you know, it was just a wonderful life; food wise, for instance, organic, healthy food. My mother would actually kill the chicken herself, and she would grow vegetables and everything. So, food wise, it made a healthy childhood. A very happy childhood too, because we were always laughing.

 

What did your parents do for a living?

 

My father was a barber.

 

Where in Wahiawa?

 

In Schofield Barracks, actually. He went to University of the Philippines, and he studied accounting. He became an accountant, but he wanted to see the, quote, unquote, new world, so he came to Hawaii. My mother was a schoolteacher, but she was a traveling schoolteacher. I remember telling about her riding sidesaddle through all the barrios to teach teachers. And so, when they came here, well, she was a housewife, and my father opened one barber shop, then another, and then another. And he would be the ones to cut the general’s hair, the major, all the officers. And my uncles joined, and they managed the other barber shops.

 

And he got an audience with some of the top decision makers at Schofield.

 

Oh, my gosh; yes. He went to the general’s house to cut their hair, or to the major’s and captain’s, so he learned a lot of things from that way of living.

 

And your siblings?

 

I have three. I have Ruth, who went to Julliard; she’s the older, went to Punahou, Class of ’44. And Grace, she’s in real estate in California now. And May Ann is a tennis coach, and she had the winning Mililani team. She was married to Keola Beamer.

 

Not the Keola Beamer —

 

No; Uncle Keola.

 

Uncle Keola.

 

Uncle Keola.

 

So, Winona Beamer’s brother?

 

Yes.

 

And Keola Beamer, the composer’s and slack key artist’s uncle.

 

Exactly; that’s Nona’s son. Yeah.

 

So, you lived in Wahiawa, which in those days was much farther away from town that it is now, because of the lack of freeways. And you went to Punahou School, which is all the way in town.

 

Yes.

 

How’d you manage that? How’d you get there and back?

 

By bus. I remember getting up very early in the morning, and my father would wake me up and he’d take my hand and … put his whiskers. He says, Time to get up now. [CHUCKLE]

 

That would get you up; right? [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] And then he’d take us to the bus, my sister and I would ride the bus into town.

 

When you left the post school, left home in Wahiawa every day to go to Punahou, at the time, I imagine most of the students at Punahou were not only White, but they were wealthy and they were from the town area.

 

Absolutely; yes.

 

So, you were the country non-White.

 

Yes; we were ten percent, in those days, called Orientals, today Asians. And it was just a handful of Asians. But I never felt that, ‘cause my parents said, You know, you’re gonna make yourself in life what you want to be, as long as you work hard, achieve.

 

It’s up to you.

 

Yes; yes. We’re giving you the tools, but it’s up to you.

 

When your dad was a barber, and you know, he had at least an acquaintance or business relationship with generals at Schofield Barracks. And he was concerned about you getting ahead, wasn’t he?

 

Absolutely. Yes; my parents were all for achieving, accomplishments, and they thought that versatility would open doors. So, my father taught me tennis.

 

How did he know tennis?

 

Well, he played in the Philippines, and he coached tennis, as well as boxing and baseball. So, it was a sports family. And my mother always loved singing, dancing, and the arts. And neither could carry a tune. My father would sing Happy Birthday in five different keys to us. # And my mother loved to dance, but she just didn’t have it, so she gave us all the lessons.

 

So, you were in Wahiawa; where did you go to lessons?

 

Oh, in Schofield Barracks. Because we had this wonderful Black fellow who was a tap dance teacher, and I learned all these wonderful steps and riffs, and everything when I was just six years old. There was uh, a revue called the Jackie Suiter’s Revue [PHONETIC]. This is way, way, way before your time. And it was at King Theater, and they would have me, because they dubbed me as the Shirley Temple of Hawaii. [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh, is that right?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] So, I sang these songs as part of this revue. And that was my early debut into showbiz.

 

And at the same time, your dad was making an athlete of you?

 

Oh, yes; yes. So, we’d get up early in the morning on weekends, because naturally, school, we’d go. And he would teach me and drill me, and drill me with basic strokes. And then, I’d play with my uncles afterwards to hit with them. But it opened doors, ‘cause I won the Hawaiian Junior Championship before I left for the mainland.

 

Were you competitive?

 

Oh, absolutely competitive. I think it was instinctive. When I was in a tournament, it was, Kill! No prisoners! [CHUCKLE]

 

And in every sport you played, you had to win?

 

Oh, absolutely. It was just the thing to do. That was the goal; win, win. But I was a good loser. Because my father said, You must learn to lose as a sports person, and be a sport when you lose, and you can learn from your losses, because you know what you did wrong, and then you can improve on that. For instance, in tennis. Yeah, I — I played field hockey, I was a gymnast, and I was on the swimming team at Punahou.

 

Do you think tennis opened doors for you?

 

Very much so. When I went to the mainland, I had won the Hawaiian Junior Championship. My brother-in-law, the one that was going to the Curtis, Felix, would take me out to the public parks and play. And there was this one fellow who was playing with his daughter, and grooming her for a tournament, and he was watching me. He said, Would you like to play in the National Junior Grass Court Tournament at Philadelphia Cricket Club? I said, Fine. He said, Well, we’ve been watching you play. Well, that opened doors.

 

And you didn’t think of saying, Oh, not me, you don’t understand.

 

I said, I’m from Hawaii. And he said, Well, did you win things? I said, Well, I had the Hawaiian Junior title before. He said, That’s enough. And that got me into the eighteen and under national, so I played with the likes of Maureen Connolly. I was only sixteen when I came to the mainland.

 

You graduated young from Punahou.

 

From Punahou; yes. And came right to Philadelphia, where my sister and brother-in-law lived.

 

To attend Temple University.

 

To attend Temple.

 

When you were at Temple, you were playing tennis. Didn’t you have an incredible tennis record at Temple University?

 

Yes; I’m in the Sports Hall of Fame for tennis, being undefeated the four years. Singles.

 

Did you think sports might be a possible career for you?

 

No; I was never strong enough, and I knew my limitations. ‘Cause when I played tournaments on the mainland, I’d get to quarter finals, semi finals, and things. But I’ve got a lot of trophies.

 

And at that point, what did you want to do with your life?

 

Actually, I thought I would be a teacher. I was in health and physical education, and I thought I would come back and teach here. But then, that changed my life when I decided to help my parents to put my other siblings through school. So, I went to this place called the Hawaiian Cottage, and I said, I can sing and dance if you need someone here. And so, they hired me. And so, I got this job at the Hawaiian Cottage, and I had my own trio after a while. And then, I was put on the main stage and learned Haole songs. [CHUCKLE] You know, the pop standards and Broadway. So, I did double duty. I did my Hawaiian show, and then I did the other. So, that was an influence.

 

So, you were essentially a businesswoman, and an entertainer at a young age.

 

Yes.

 

Making enough money to help put your siblings through college.

 

Yes; m-hm.

 

You know, your father, who had to switch jobs, he moved to a new country and found he needed to change occupations. He showed a lot of resilience and versatility, and I guess a lot of hope too.

 

Yes. And all that hope was put into us, the daughters. Because what they couldn’t do, they thought they’d give us the opportunity to do. And it came to fruition; yes.

 

It sounds like you always were trying to get better at what you did.

 

Yes; that’s because of my parents. You achieve and you try to get better. And they taught me not to envy or be jealous. And that helped later on when I met George Abbott, ‘cause we had the same principles. And my mother and father said, Don’t envy someone, because if you accomplish and achieve the goals that you set out for and you’re successful, then you need not envy or be jealous of anyone. You can admire, and you can learn, but you know, that was a good lesson.

 

Joy Abbott stayed in Philadelphia after college, performing fulltime to help pay her sisters’ tuitions. And one of her sisters, perhaps unintentionally, paid her back with an introduction to the man who would be the love of her life, the legendary Broadway producer, director and playwright, George Abbott. He was the creative genius behind classic musicals such as The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees, and winner of multiple Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, and later the Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award.

 

He invited me to dinner. I was invited at seven o’clock. So, I came, and I rang the bell. And whoo, he opened the door himself, and I saw this tall man with silver hair, and these steel blue eyes. I’m like, Whoo. I saw him, and I said, Wow! He was six-three, tall, handsome like Gary Cooper, Randolph Scott handsome combination, and his steel blue eyes, and this beautiful smile. And I said, I’m Joy Valderrama. And he said, Good, you’re on time. That was it. ‘Cause he was a stickler for time. And so, from then on, we just hit off, and we dated for twenty-five years before we got married.

 

You didn’t really want to rush things.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

How old was he when you met; in his seventies?

 

Seventy-two.

 

And how old were you?

 

I was twenty-nine.

 

Did that not make you a little leery? Like, why would I want to date somebody so much older than me?

 

No; ‘cause I didn’t think of dating at the time. I liked him right from the start, because he was handsome, and kind. And so, he would ask me on my day off to come up and so, we dated for twenty-five years.

 

I hope I’m not overstepping or on territory that makes you uncomfortable. But I read George’s bio in various places. And, you know, it talks about how for ten years he had a relationship with Maureen Stapleton.

 

Yes. It was a friendship. It was nothing untoward. And in her biography, if you read one of the paragraphs, it says, And then he met Joy Valderrama and married her, and lived happily ever after, like an old MGM movie.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s in her biography.

 

Does it bother you that in his bios that you read all over the place, there’s so much attention given to his relationship with this, you know, stunning movie actress?

 

Oh, not at all. Oh, my gosh. I knew he liked me, and I liked him, but I didn’t know how much he loved me until later.

 

So, you were okay with him dating other people?

 

Oh, gosh; yes. Because he would be very frank with me. He would tell me that there was nothing but … you know, and it was part of their publicity for shows.

 

Joy Abbott recalls that in those days, there were no parts on Broadway for Asians, and no nontraditional casting as we have today. So, she continued her performing career at the Hawaiian Cottage until George Abbott encouraged her to develop a new talent, as an entrepreneur.

 

He said, It’s time you stopped singing and dancing, and open your own business, and I’ll back you. So, he backed me in a dress shop. Then I opened another one; then I opened another one. You can’t just pull them in with a hook, so you have to have something to attract them. So, I started musical fashion shows, and they became so popular, I was doing two hundred a year. And I had all these professional models, gorgeous girls, modeling the clothes from my store. Well, we had some designer clothes, but a lot of ready to wear. And so, it was quite a successful business.

 

So, very consuming life, and very beautiful life.

 

Yeah.

 

Did you think about children and marriage at that point?

 

No.

 

‘Cause in those days, that was the drill; right?

 

Yes. But then, I was going with George; he was seventy-two, and I was twenty-nine when I first met. And in all those twenty-five years, I was working, working, trying to make my shops a success, my fashion show productions, they were musical and in demand. And so, that’s when George proposed after twenty-five years, and he said, It’s time. And you know how he proposed?

 

How?

 

[CHUCKLE] After twenty-five years, we were up in his country home up in the Catskills. Beautiful place up there, so serene. And he says, Joy, I have something to tell you. So, he said, Come sit beside me. And I remember it was a Sunday morning, and the pines; it was so beautiful up there. He says, I have something to tell you. My lawyer tells me I have enough money for two to live on; it’s time we got married. [CHUCKLE] I said, Oh. I said, Oh, I have to call my mother. [CHUCKLE]

 

You said one of the things about you and George was that despite the age difference and your different backgrounds, you had very similar values.

 

Yes.

 

What were those?

 

A lot of the principles, again, of envy and jealousy. I was surprised to learn that. Taking life in moderation; that’s why he lived so long. He had a glass of wine for dinner. That was it; he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke.

 

Did he exercise, or golf? Dancing?

 

Oh; exercise. Exercise and work; that’s what made him live so long. Work and accomplishments, and achievements.

 

And that’s what you’re all about too; right?

 

Yes. And he had a wonderful sense of humor; just wonderful. It was a wonderful, wonderful marriage.

 

When Joy Valderrama married George Abbott in 1983, she sold her fashion business and moved to his main home in Florida. She took up golf and became immersed in the country club culture there, as well as the theater circuit in New York.

 

I was living in Florida and being part of the country club that George belonged to, Indian Creek Country Club. And it’s a wonderful social place, and for golf. Pretty exclusive, too.

 

You were all right giving up your business and living this life of relative leisure with George.

 

Leisure and social, and Broadway. When I would be going to some of the opening night parties, I said, Oh, there’s so-and-so, oh, there’s Julie Andrews, oh, there’s Carol Burnett. ‘Cause we went to their Carnegie Hall debut thing, and they had a big party afterwards. And we would be dancing, and I’d be stumbling, and everything. And I’m a pretty good dancer, but George was very serious about dancing. And so, later on when we were married, and we were at the country club, and there’s a dance and I’m dancing and I’m stumbling. I said, Oh, Cynthia, what time is our tee time? Oh, are we playing tennis on Wednesday? And I’d be stumbling. So, the next morning [CHUCKLE] George said, You know, Dear, there are three types of women who make lousy ballroom dancers. He said, Professional singers and dancers, athletes … oh, and rich women. And he said, And you are all three. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, you met him when he was seventy-two, and then twenty-five years later you married him.

 

Yeah.

 

So, he’s dancing at an advanced age.

 

Oh, absolutely. He loved to dance all the time. As a matter of fact, Kitty Carlisle received after a dancing date a book on how to dance, because she was such a lousy dancer. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, he was a very vital man.

 

Very vital. He was playing golf at ninety-six or teaching me. He didn’t give it up until a hundred two, and he in the Croquet Hall of Fame.

 

How old was he when he passed away?

 

Hundred seven.

 

And how healthy was he shortly before that? Did he maintain his health?

 

Yes. He had no diabetes, no cancer, no Parkinson’s, nothing debilitating. And it was just that he died of old age, but his mind was so sharp. As a matter of fact, he was dictating a scene from the second act of Pajama Game that was to be a London production two weeks before he died.

 

It sounds like a magical life. Do you have any regrets?

 

Absolutely none. We never argued, except my driving. I drove too slowly for him. [CHUCKLE] Here’s a story. When he was a hundred six, I asked him what he wanted for his birthday. And he said, Oh, I think I would like to have a swimming pool in the back yard, because I’m tired of walking two blocks to Shirley’s house to do my twenty laps. And so, I contracted a swimming pool person. Well, it took so long; took instead of six weeks, six months. So, we came back from the Catskills, and there was this pool that you know, finally, finally, he was able to go in. So, the first day, he dove in, he sank to the bottom because he was all skin and bones. You don’t have flesh, and buoyancy at a hundred six. So, he comes blubbering up, and he says, Joy, get your money back, it doesn’t work. [CHUCKLE] But the reason I tell that story is, I think he wanted me to exercise. And so, he built that pool so that I would, in our house.

 

And do you? Do you use the pool?

 

Oh, yes; yes, I do.

 

But you didn’t settle down to a life of ease and relative seclusion as a widow. You’re on the jazz circuit.

 

Oh, yes. I did concerts perpetuate the name of George Abbott. I have a singing partner named Davis Gaines.

 

He’s known for Phantom of the Opera on Broadway.

 

Yes; yes, he is. And so, we would do a compilation of songs from George’s shows, and then we would do things from Phantom, Showboat, you know, other shows. And it would raise a lot of money too for people. Just not to give concerts, but we would do it for AIDS benefits, benefit for the theater community. And so, I’ve been singing since, and enjoying that life, because I don’t have to make it as a living.

 

What do you like about jazz? Why jazz?

 

Oh; because I sang with the best musicians in Philadelphia. There was Al Governor and the Candoli Brothers, and Richie Kamoku, who was part-Filipino, part-Jewish. [CHUCKLE] And he was a saxophone player from Philadelphia, and he played with Zoot Sims and all these wonderful players. And I would be privy to all that music.

 

What did you learn from them?

 

I learned phrasing, I learned pitch, and also a certain style, where I wouldn’t do vocal acrobatics, I would let the musicians underneath do that. And I would sing the songs straight, but with phrasing.

 

What’s your favorite song, favorite jazz song?

 

I don’t really have a favorite, because there are so many that are so good.

 

There’s none of that you hope you’re gonna be requested to do for that encore?

 

Oh; oh, well, gosh … Our Love Is Here to Stay is one of my favorites, and The Way We Were. Betty and I just did that for a private party, and it brings tears to your — ooh, tears to your eyes. [CHUCKLE]

 

You won a Hoku. And in fact, your co-winner was …

 

Betty Loo Taylor.

 

Is she about the same age?

 

Yes; we were both septuagenarians at the time.

 

Doing jazz.

 

Oh, yes.

 

On a Hoku album.

 

Yes; it was our first album. And how it happened was, I would come home, and Betty would have her trio at the Kahala. And she says, Come, come up and sing with us. So, I would sing. But by the way, Betty Loo and I used to do carnivals at Punahou. And so, we’d been long, long, longtime friends. When I would come back, she would say, Oh, come up and sing, or wherever she would be. And so I said, Betty, why don’t we make an album together? We’ve known each other’s style for so long. So, she said, Okay. So, I flew her up to New York, and in one week, we did this album.

 

Did your competitive nature ever ebb?

 

No.

 

You still are very competitive?

 

Oh, absolutely. [CHUCKLE] I took up golf, as I said, when I was fifty-three. And after the first year and a half, I won the First Flight at our club, and I won it six times after.

 

And you still play golf, and you still are competitive with friends?

 

Oh, yes; yes. Between operations. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I’ve had two hip replacements, a knee replacement, a shoulder replacement, and cervical and lumbar. And each time, it improved my game [CHUCKLE] actually. But no more tennis, unfortunately, after my hip replacements.

 

You’ve had a very unusual life, starting in the country of Wahiawa, with immigrant parents who opened doors for you, and you pushed on those doors.

 

Yeah. And now, I’m able to give back, I’m happy to say. Because Templeton University is the recipient of my legacy with the royalties that I’m giving them and my annual contribution, and so they’ve opened the Joy and George Abbott School of Musical Theater.

 

Joy Abbott says she’s living her second life now in her early eighties at the time of this conversation in the summer of 2013. This longtime performer, businesswoman, and patron of the theater arts devotes much of her time to honoring and furthering the legacy of her famous husband. Joy Abbott divides her time between Florida, Philadelphia, and Honolulu. She keeps a condo here, and loves her Punahou School reunions. And she still enjoys Broadway, sitting in a perfect seat in the theater and going backstage. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

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.

 

And you’ve remained lifelong friends with your Punahou classmates with whom you were close before.

 

Yes. But when I tell them I’m coming in May, so-and-so, they tell everybody, Oh, Joy is coming, we better put our acts together, ‘cause we’re gonna be busy. Things like that. Now, we had just our sixty-fifth Punahou reunion, Class of ’48, and we’re the closest class at Punahou.

 

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