showbiz

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]

 

 

 

GREAT PERFORMANCES
Gypsy

 

GREAT PERFORMANCES presents the London West End revival of Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s musical based on the memoirs of striptease artist Gypsy Rose Lee. Imelda Staunton (Harry Potter) stars as Momma Rose, and Lara Pulver (Sherlock) portrays daughter Louise.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Phil Arnone

 

Phil Arnone has built a career on telling Hawaii’s stories as a television director and producer. Revered for his passion and professionalism, he has directed Hawaii’s number-one local newscast, produced a popular kids’ show and now produces documentaries that explore some of Hawaii’s most important places and people.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Oct. 19 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Oct. 23 at 4:00 pm.

 

Phil Arnone Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

He’s been paid to direct and produce Hawaii’s number one local newscast, a groundbreaking kids’ show, and practically everything in between. Television producer director Phil Arnone, coming up 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. When you think of a television director, especially one who’s made his mark working on live broadcasts, you may picture someone who’s confident, diligent, dedicated to perfection, and perhaps wound a little tight. Producer director Phil Arnone was all that during his time with KGMB, by far Hawaii’s number one television station in the 1970s and 1980s. Arnone’s love for Hawaii is evident in the work he did then, and the work he’s involved with now, telling the stories of the people and places of Hawaii. This producer, who has so carefully archived the lives of people such as Israel Kamakawiwoole, Eddie Aikau, and Rap Reiplinger, began life an ocean away from Hawaii.

 

You’ve spent a lot of time in the Bay Area growing up.

 

Born and raised in San Francisco. My father was a second generation Italian, and my mother was second generation Norwegian. And as a result, of course, I speak no Italian or Norwegian, and never have any food that isn’t American.

 

That was in the era where people that were born elsewhere and moved to America were such patriots immediately, and they didn’t really want to talk about their history in the old country, if you will. My father was more outgoing and more Italian. I mean, he was, so he was out there and friendly, and reaching, and approachable. And my mother was a more conservative, quiet person. But it was a good family life. We didn’t stay in San Francisco too long. In the end of the sixth grade, we moved to Marin County at the other end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

 

Marin County; what was your life like as a child after sixth grade?

 

It was good. I mean, very normal. The town that we lived in, Corte Madera, probably had, I don’t know, eighteen hundred people living there. It was quite small. And we walked to school. We’d walk down the railroad track, and then … grammar school. So, it was pretty normal for me.

 

Phil Arnone led this normal life through high school, then on to college. In his search for what to do in his life, Arnone looked to the military, which in turn, brought him to Hawaii.

 

I started off at a junior college at College of Marin in Kentfield, and mostly looking for things to see if I … something I wanted to do. And I didn’t find any. Then, I tried forestry and civil engineering, and took a class in all about religions, and took a business class. I did okay, but it never turned me on, it never excited me.

 

Did you think, I’ll have to get a job and not be especially excited, but I’ll do it?

 

Well, here’s what I did. At the end of the two years, I joined the Army. Actually, I volunteered for the draft. There was a draft then. So, they just took your name and put it up on top, and boom, you’re in the Army.

 

Why’d you do that? Because …

 

Well, it was between wars, for one.

 

It was safe?

 

It was pretty safe; yeah. So, I did that, because I needed a little experience living away from home, and growing up, and seeing how I failed the growing up part, but I did get some experience just living away from home.

 

Where’d you go?

 

Well, after all the basic training and then the six-week training or whatever, they said, Well, Phil, it’s time for you to go somewhere. You have a choice; you can go to Alaska, or Hawaii. And I said, after waiting a good two or three seconds, I’ll go to Hawaii. I’m one of those guys that listened to Hawaii Calls on the radio in California when I was growing up. And they painted a wonderful picture, and I painted another one in my head, so, I thought, well, this is wonderful. So, I was at Schofield Barracks for about a year and a half. We’re talking about the late 50s. So …

 

Soon after statehood.

 

When I got off the plane for my first time here, it was on the other side of the airport, Lagoon Drive. You walked down the stairs, there was no ramp coming up to you, and they give you the fresh pineapple juice. I mean it lived up to what I’d heard, certainly, and I loved it a lot.

 

Did you get to know local people very much when you were at Schofield?

 

No. I really didn’t, because I was at Schofield, or I was at Waikiki. I might have met a few people locally at the beach, but not out at Schofield Barracks.

 

So, thanks to the U.S. Army, Phil Arnone was able to get that experience of living away from home, in the place that he would later call home, Hawaii. But he still needed to find a career. He left the military and went back to San Francisco, where he continued his college education.

 

When it was time to get out …

 

After one hitch?

 

Yeah; one hitch, which was really only a year and a half. They let you out early if you were going to school. So, I was going to go to San Francisco State, so they have a new student orientation that you have to go to, regardless of whether you’re going as a freshman or a junior, as I was going to do. And at the end of that, they said, Well, now, if you’ll all stand up, it’s time for you to go to your major advisor. I said, Oh, major advisor. Hm; wonder what that’s gonna be.   So, I walked out of the auditorium, and I looked up, and the first sign on the left said, Radio-TV. And I went, Uh, let’s try that.

 

Really?

 

Yeah.

 

Randomly?

 

And I did; I walked in, and I loved the people, I loved the work. And I went, God, this is fun, I really like this. I thought, well, maybe I’ll be on radio. I could do that. And then, at one point, there was a fieldtrip to a television station, where they were doing a local Dick Clark dance party kind of show. So, I went in the control room, and I watched the director standing up, listening to the music, calling the shots. I said, Now I know what I want to do.

 

Do you remember how many cameras the director had?

 

He had two.

 

Only two? Okay.

 

Yeah; black and white. And the turrets on the end. I mean, this is in the, what was it, the late 50s, early 60s. Yeah; it was early 60s. Well, that was in San Francisco, the CBS affiliate. And then, I got a job there.

 

But they don’t just let you be a director all at once; right?

 

No; I wasn’t directing. I started in the film department as an editor. But in those days, what that meant was, all the movies were on film, and you had to cut them to fit the commercials in without destroying the storyline. So, did that for a while, and then, I got the job I wanted, which was to be a stage manager. So, I was stage manager for the rest of my stay there.

 

You were bringing people in and out to appear on programs?

 

Well, yeah, you’re calling, you’re cueing people. You know, it’s like doing a newscast, and you’re on the floor, and you’re telling them when they’re on, and counting back from commercial.

 

You were doing a lot of live television, then.

 

It was almost all live. I don’t remember hardly ever taping anything. Dance party show that I saw earlier, I did direct some of those episodes.

 

Despite directing a few episodes of the dance party show at KPIX in San Francisco, Phil Arnone was still considered a stage manager. Being a director was really what he wanted to do, so he moved back to Hawaii, where he had no job lined up, no connections, and no knowledge of what the television industry was like here, and where he teamed up with a man who would become Hawaii’s dominant television anchor of the 1970s.

 

I came to Hawaii, because I’d been here in the Army, and thought, Hey … maybe they’ll have a job for me.

 

So, I would have thought your best job prospects would be in San Francisco.

 

Well, they weren’t.

 

They weren’t; okay.

 

And Hawaii seemed nice. I mean, you know, when you’re young, you do things that may not make a lot of sense sometimes. And maybe that was one of them. But when I got here, at least I had like three years of experience at the television station in San Francisco, so it looked like, hey, this kid knows something, he knows something about television.

 

Did you know anything about the television industry here?

 

No; not really.

 

So, what did you go about doing as soon as you arrived?

 

I went to all the stations and left resumes, and almost immediately, I started working at Channel 2, which was KONA then, I think, KONA-TV. And I was doing a little switching, audio, camera stuff, editing film things. Things that I wasn’t actually terribly skilled at.   And then, when a directing job opened up at Channel 4, I went over there, and I was there for three years. That’s when I met Bob Sevey. He was the PanAm News anchor. Bob was one of the guys that I certainly learned a lot from, just watching him work on camera, how he handled himself. And Bob was the same guy on camera, or off camera; a wonderful man.

 

He had this great gravitas that didn’t get thrown off by untoward events that happened during newscasts, like a tripod falling down, or somebody walking into the studio not aware that you’re on live television.

 

Yeah; he could handle the worst situation.

 

What did a director at that time do?

 

Ah. The main thing that I did was, directed all of Bob Sevey’s Pan American Newscasts. Directing meaning, I had a script in the control room, and give the commands to roll in tape, and when to go to it, and when to go to this, or that, or whatever the graphic might be, and go to commercial.

 

So, on your end, it wasn’t just following a list of commands in your head or on the script. Sometimes tape comes in late, or things happen, and you’re always on the fly as far as adjusting. And when Bob Sevey is gonna drop things, you make that happen; right?

 

There’s an energy that is created when you’re delivering the news, when you know it’s live, and you know it’s just happening, and everybody’s breathing hard and excited.

 

And you’re waiting for the last information, or the last film clip to come in.

 

And people to come out and hand you a page of script, or a new bulletin has come in, or somebody has just died that we need to talk about. All of that happens, so it can be very exciting, and it can be very stressful. We try not to make it too stressful.

 

The career that Phil Arnone had been working towards, that of a television director, had finally been realized. Arnone soon earned a reputation as a producer and director who accepted no less than perfection from himself, and from the people with whom he worked. Bob Sevey picked you when he switched stations, I take it.

 

Well, he was hired by Cec to run the news department. And within what seemed like a couple of weeks, the director that Cec had hired had a heart attack in the control room, passed away.

 

At Channel 9.

 

At Channel 9. So, Bob had suggested to Cec that I could come over and do that job.

 

You and I worked in the same television station, in the Bob Sevey days.

 

Yes.

 

And you could be one of two things. You could be steely, and scary.

Or you could be staccato sharp, and scary.

 

Ah …

 

But scary was pretty much the defining approach.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, you were a no-tolerance, perfection director. There are others who go, That’s okay, no problem, you know, we’ll make it back on this next show. You; no prisoners, take no prisoners. What do you mean by that?

 

Well, but you’re right. I mean, I tried to have the perfect show. But I think every director wants that. It’s not like they don’t want it. And what you have to do is, if there’s a mistake made that’s on the air already, nothing you can do about it, you need to talk to that person after the show about what happened.

 

Yes. Your conversations with people about this are very memorable. To them.

 

Well, sometimes, I would open up the microphone from the control room that went into the newsroom on a PA system kinda thing, and tell somebody right after they made a boo-boo that it wasn’t nice, don’t do that again, please. In a different choice of words, perhaps.

 

Were you looking for something that would work, because you wanted that perfect newscast?

 

Oh, yeah. I mean, that was the job. We didn’t want to see a lot of blank screen or … lot of things catching people unawares. We can’t do that.

 

Were you as hard on yourself when you made a mistake?

 

I’d like to think so. I’ve changed, I’ve grown up a little bit. I realize that perhaps … saying certain things doesn’t really help you in the long run.

 

Phil Arnone was in the right place, at the right time. Under owner Cec Heftel, KGMB was the market powerhouse in local news and entertainment in the 1970s. In addition to directing the top-rated Channel 9 News, Arnone also produced and directed live coverage of local sporting events, he created the Hawaiian Moving Company, he produced music specials that featured, amongst others, Cecilio and Kapono, the Peter Moon Band, and Emma Veary. He directed 50th State Wrestling, working with Lord Tally Ho Blears, Gentleman Ed Francis, and Handsome Johnny Berand. And there was also a kids’ show, one that even today is still very fondly remembered by many Hawaii residents.

 

When I started, the infamous Checkers and Pogo Show was either just starting or about to start. And the show was successful almost from the very beginning, ‘cause Cec was looking for something that kids would want to watch, but also advertisers would want to be in with kids’ products.

 

Did you direct the Checkers and Pogo Show?

 

I may have directed an episode or two along the way, but I was more the producer. I do remember one of the infamous episodes where—you know, there was a lot of pie-throwing on that show. When they were desperate for someone to hit with a pie, I would put on a coat and tie, because it was much more fun to hit a guy with a pie if he was dressed up. And they called me management, if you will. So, I would walk out there, and demand that they give me that pie. I don’t want say it, of course. And the kids are screaming, Yeah, give him a pie! Okay.

 

This is good. Watch this.

 

You had a huge local audience. I still run into adults who are now maybe collecting social security, and they just can’t believe how much fun it was being on that live television show as a kid.

 

There was the penny jar that they could stick their hand into. There were funny-faces. I don’t know if you remember that, but that was a chance for kids to make a face, and it was okay to do that.

 

Different vibe. It was a station that kind of did what it wanted, and was very successful at reading what the audience was willing and happy to watch at the time.

 

You know, free-for-all was a big part of what Cec did, on radio and television at the same time, which was giving away money. And he always said, If you’re giving away money, people will watch or listen to the radio. I mean, he went right to the base core of, this will work.

 

We’re talking about the fun and the games, and the money giveaway, but the newscasts were sacrosanct. Bob Sevey didn’t tolerate any funny business.

 

No, he didn’t. But Cec totally kept his hands off the news department. He hired Bob, and Bob made the decisions about hiring people, and what the newscast was gonna look like, and be like. And so, Cec was certainly smart enough to realize that he can’t be commanding every inch of the station, and Bob knows what he’s doing. So … yeah.

 

And you did both. You could go crazy, and you could go very serious.

 

I was … yeah.

 

Were you as intolerant of mistakes on the Checkers and Pogo Show, as you were on the news?

 

Yeah.   Well, no, probably not to the same degree. I mean, the news is a serious show that needed to be handled in a certain way, and look professional. You could look goofy and make a mistake on Checkers and Pogo, and no one would know it was a mistake. You know, we’d just go, That’s fine, get another pie ready.

 

While Phil Arnone’s passion for television brought him professional success, he acknowledges that the same passion can consume so that you sometimes forget the more important things. And he considers that a factor in the in the end of his first marriage. But sometimes, work can also create social opportunities. Arnone met his current wife while he was producing a show at KGMB.

 

That’s an interesting story. We were doing a Bingo show. It was a short-lived … or is it lived? Short-lived show. It was an experiment, and Karen Keawehawaii and …

 

Kirk Matthews.

 

Kirk Matthews were the two hosts. And Michelle came down with a friend, a girlfriend, to watch the show. And I was looking at people on the camera in the control room, and … and there she was. And I went … I need to go out and talk to her.

I think it’s important. You know, she’s new in the studio, needs …

 

Needs help.

 

–a friendly face, and … that kinda stuff. So, that was pretty much it. You know, at the moment, we kinda left it that way, and then I saw her at some other gathering, and I think I got her phone number. But we did go out on a date. I think we went to Hy’s, where Michelle says I interviewed her.   I think she actually said, third degree, as opposed to interview. But that was interesting. But anyway, that was the first date, and then we went on from there. So, I mean, Michelle is my best friend. I can talk to her about anything, and vice versa. And she’s a joy. I’m so lucky to have her in my life. I really am.

 

And you have a blended family, although the kids didn’t grow up together; right?

 

No; because yeah, the age difference is considerable. But yeah, Michelle’s daughters and my daughters, obviously, we’re all happy. We don’t spend a lot of time all together, because people are living all over the country. But yeah, her daughters, as I think I’ve mentioned, they’re really very bright kids, and have done well for themselves. And Tony, my son, is a professor at University of Iowa, a cellist and has a couple of CDs out, actually.

 

In 1989, after working in Hawaii for twenty-six years, Phil Arnone returned to the Bay Area. As director of local programming at KTVU, he was working in a major market, with major budgets. He was in charge of shows for San Francisco 49ers football and Giants baseball, as well as live coverage of local cultural events such as San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade. He produced the Orange Bowl Parade for CBS Television. Arnone’s career was soaring. But in 2002, it was time to come home, to Hawaii.

 

How’d you know it was time?

 

Well, let’s see. I was turning sixty-five, and I promised my wife that we would come back at that point. And it was fine. I had no idea what I was gonna do when I got back.

 

Did you consider retiring?

 

Well, I thought I was retiring. I thought that’s what was happening to me on the plane back. And I go, Well, but you know, I love this, I don’t know anything else. Was that a good move? Mm. But it turned out to be a great move.

 

Rather than retiring, Phil Arnone continued to combine his talents as a producer and director with his love for Hawaii, producing specials about the people and places of our islands.

 

That is what you found to do in, quote, retirement. How did that happen? You’re doing film, after film, after film for Hawaii News Now; local programming.

 

Well, when I came back, I went around and visited all the stations to see what was going on. And as I got into KGMB, realized that this was in fact their fiftieth anniversary being on the air. So, in talking to … I can’t remember the general manager. It was a woman that was there … nice lady.

 

Lynn.

 

Lynn Mueller?

 

Yes.

 

Yeah. And she said, Well, why don’t you do this fiftieth anniversary show for us? You know, so that’s how it started. And then we went from there to another show, and another show, and another show. The truth is that I’ve learned so much about Hawaii and about these people, and about the culture, that I never learned when I was here working at KGMB. I mean, we never did shows like this, and I never left that station. I was always in the station doing things. I feel almost like Lou Gehrig when he said, I’m the luckiest man alive, because I’m still doing something that I enjoy at this age, and in this time.

 

Don Ho, Tom Moffatt, Duke Kahanamoku, Dave Shoji, Jim Nabors, Kapiolani Park, Romance in Hawaii. These are just a few of Hawaii’s stories that have been told by Phil Arnone and his team, writer Robert Pennybacker and editor Lawrence Pacheco. At the time of our conversation in the spring of 2016, the seventy-nine-year-old Arnone and his team were working on their twentieth film about the life of local jazz legend, Jimmy Borges. Mahalo to Phil Arnone of Portlock in East Honolulu, for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, hui hou.

 

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

 

I did commercials for a while in the 70s. It was on-camera kind of stuff.

 

Were you the earnest pitchman?

 

I was. Well, I wasn’t pitching it, but I was very serious. Except the McDonald’s spot.

 

Grand prize, Datsun 280z in either the two or four-seat model, thirty all-expense-paid trips via United Airlines to Boston and Philadelphia, other prizes; a console piano, a sailboat, an outrigger canoe, a refrigerator freezer, six color TVs, two electric typewriters, four stereo music systems, twenty calculators, four tape recorders. Not so bad so far, huh, folks? Twenty solid state radios, six pop-up toasters, ten hairdryers. We’re rolling now. One hundred trail bikes, three ten-speed bikes, two surfboards, two cassette tape recorders, hundred record albums, and two all-beef patties, special sauce, cheese, onions …

 

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