Hollywood in Hawaii

From plastic palm trees to on-set pranks, from fake languages to obstinate water buffalo, intrepid humor writer Charles Memminger uncovered the funniest, strangest tales of Island moviemaking.


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What the F***

While shooting Pearl Harbor in 2001, producer/director Michael Bay was known to use the “F” word in just about every sentence during normal conversation. One day a camera operator started using the “F” word extensively when talking to his assistant. Everyone around him knew what he was doing. Soon, everyone on the set was using the “F” word extensively in normal conversation. Hundreds of people using the “F” word. An eyewitness told me, “ You could see Michael Bay in the corner shriveling up … he looked like he was going to cry.” He stopped using the “F” word for about three days.”

Pearl Harbor note: In the movie, the “bullets” hitting the runway on Ford Island exactly match where actual bullets from Japanese zeros hit the runway during the 1941 attack. The original bullet holes on the runway were never filled in as a memorial to the attack. Filmmakers put special-effects explosives in the real bullet holes so that film segment matched real life perfectly.   

Photo: Courtesy Desoto Brown Collection

The Clinch Felt Round the World

It’s called The Most Famous Scene in the Movies: Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling around in the surf making love at Halona Cove in From Here to Eternity. But it almost didn’t happen. The scene originally had been planned to have the couple standing up. Lancaster apparently thought it was better to go horizontal than vertical, so he tackled Kerr like a linebacker and the beach has been smoking ever since.

From Here to Infirmary

In the movie The Godfather in which Don Corleone has a bloody horse’s head put into the bed of a studio boss to convince him to give his godson, crooner Johnny Fontane, a part in a Hollywood movie? A lot of people believed that Mario Puzo, who wrote the novel the movie came from, based Fontane on Frank Sinatra. Some people (apparently even Sinatra) thought that Puzo was suggesting that the Mafia helped Sinatra get a part in From Here to Eternity. When that movie was made, Sinatra was at a low point in his career and was even willing to work for free to get a part. He was eventually hired for the token amount of $8,000, but he won an Oscar and his career was reignited.

How did Sinatra get a part in one of the greatest movies ever shot in Hawaii? Jim Nabors told me Sinatra’s then-wife, Ava Gardner, asked the studio to hire him. But that’s not the end of the story. Nabors said he was having dinner one night with Carol Burnett and her husband at Chasen’s, a Beverly Hills restaurant favored by celebrities. Sinatra was sitting nearby with a group of people. Puzo, at another table, decided to go introduce himself to Sinatra, whom he had never met. Suddenly, all hell broke loose, with Sinatra going for Puzo’s throat yelling, “You son of a bitch!” Luckily, Sinatra’s friends held him back.

 Tora! Tora! Tora!

It turns out that Tora! Tora! Tora!, the title of the 1970 Pearl Harbor movie, doesn’t mean “Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!” or even “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” as has been reported. It actually means “Hello Kitty! Hello Kitty! Hello Kitty!” Just kidding. It means “Attack! Attack! Attack!,” which, to me, seems like yelling, “Eat! Eat! Eat!” as you approach a buffet table. You’re attacking. We get it. If you are going to yell something, at least be sardonic, like “Howdy! Howdy! Howdy!” Or consider the potential for product placement: “Toyota! Toyota! Toyota!”

Photo: Courtesy Luis Reyes Collection

Where in the World is Duke?

 All the harbor scenes in 1963's  Donovan’s Reef were shot on Kauai with John Wayne and Lee Marvin, even though the story is set in French Polynesia. But the internal and external scenes of Donovan’s saloon were shot on a Hollywood backlot using the Bonanza set. Apparently, western saloons look just like French colonial buildings.

Anyone Lose A Tank?

Film aficionado Luis Reyes told me that, when the movie Beachhead was being made on Kauai in 1964 with Tony Curtis, an Army tank was needed for a scene. Producer Howard Koch somehow had a tank sitting in front of Fort DeRussy barged over to Kauai, shot the scene and got the tank back to Waikiki before anyone realized it was gone. Obviously pre-Homeland Security.


It would be impossible to compile a list of Caucasian actors who played Polynesians or Asians in Hollywood films and TV productions. I think Charlie Chan was played by about 14 haoles alone. Dorothy Lamour appeared, I believe, in about 1,435 movies set in the South Seas as a “native princess” and, curiously, always in a sarong. But here’s a list of Caucasian actors who were cast as Native Hawaiians or part-Hawaiians.

Geraldine Chaplin

Daughter of legendary Charlie “Kalanianaole” Chaplin, was the ironically named “Purity,” part-Hawaiian wife of Charlton Heston in 1966’s Hawaii. In the same movie, Elizabeth Logue played Noelani, Queen Malama’s daughter, using a fake Polynesian nose.

Richard Chamberlain

He was Hawaiian doctor Daniel Kulani in the 1989 TV show Island Son.


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