The Strange Stories of Hollywood Filming in Hawai‘i
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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It's Not Nice to Mimic Mother Nature
Jurassic Park was filmed on Oahu and Kauai in 1993. The climax of the movie is when a hurricane hits the island of the killer dinosaurs. So, naturally, Hurricane Iniki had to hit Kauai while the movie was being shot. The cast and crew had to hunker down in the basement ballroom of the Westin Hotel. Producer Kathleen Kennedy said, “If you’re going to be stranded with anyone, be stranded with a movie crew. We had generators for lights and plenty of food and water.”
Hilo Hattie's Debut
Hilo Hattie first appeared in a movie in 1942 in Song of the Islands with Betty Grable and Victor Mature. She sang “Cockeyed Mayor of Kaunakakai,” the only song ever to make fun of a visually impaired mayor. Grable sang “Down on Ami Ami Oni Oni Isle,” which I believe is a historically correct account of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani.
Handicapping a Guest Actor
Jazzman Jimmy Borges has appeared in a number of Hawai‘i-based TV shows. He told me how Tom Selleck dealt with a haughty guest actor on Magnum P.I.
“There was a scene with Tom, Larry Manetti, myself playing a cop and this Actors Studio-type chick, in a wheelchair. She goes off to get into character, comes back crying and gets in the wheelchair. But it doesn’t feel right to her so she leaves, holding up the shot. This happens a few times, so Tom gets a deck of cards and a clothespin and attaches a card between the spokes of the wheel. The chick comes back, weeping, they call action and she starts rolling the wheelchair forward and the chair makes a noise like a propeller. She jumps up, gets pissed off and walks off. It was pretty funny.”
Close Call No. 3
Famous big-wave rider Laird Hamilton was Kevin Costner’s double for many of the water scenes in Waterworld, shot off the Big Island coast in 1995. Other actors weren’t so lucky. Tina Majorino and Jeanne Tripplehorn nearly drowned on their first day of shooting after a trimaran tipped over and dragged them through the water. It didn’t get better for Majorino. The crew nicknamed her “Jellyfish Candy” after she was stung several times by jellyfish.
Larry Does Good
Little Larry Ramos (see photo at right) was only 5 years old when he played the ukulele in the 1950 musical Pagan Love Song. He grew up to perform with the group The Association (remember the song “Windy”?) and with the New Christy Minstrels (remember ANY New Christy Minstrels songs?).
Guess which movie the song "Blue Hawai‘i" was first sung in? Right. Waikīkī Wedding in 1937. Bing Crosby sang it. Now, guess which Hawaiian song won an Oscar that year? Right. "Sweet Leilani." Also sung by Crosby. Guess what role Crosby played in the movie? Right. A “singing press agent for a Hawaiian pineapple cannery.” You don’t see enough singing press agents in movies anymore. Elvis Presley discovered the song “Blue Hawai‘i” in time to sing it in the movie Blue Hawai‘i in 1961. How lucky was that?
Additional Elvis note: At the end of Blue Hawai‘i Elvis/Chad weds Joan Blackman/Maili on the little footbridge at the Coco Palms on Kauai. Six years later, after marrying Priscilla in Las Vegas, Presley renewed his vows with her while re-enacting the Blue Hawai‘i wedding scene at the Coco Palms. How cute is that?
Tropic Thunder director and actor Ben Stiller became upset when a trained water buffalo flown at great cost to Hawai‘i just for the movie would not budge on command from its handler during the creature’s big scene. It turned out the animal was pregnant and gave birth on the set. She was forgiven and the scene was shot later with the water buffalo and her calf.
Don't Call the Kettles Back
My vote for a movie that probably should NOT have been made: Ma and Pa Kettle At Waikīkī. I saw a picture of Ma Kettle in a grass skirt, black wig and fake flower in her hair and have had nightmares ever since. Hilo Hattie also was in this stinker, playing a tropical version of Ma Kettle named Mama Lotus, but she didn’t sing any songs about disabled city officials. (I think the studio agreed with me about whether this movie should have been made because it was shot in 1952 and wasn’t dumped on the public until 1955.)
Book 'Em, Cowboy
The first time Jack Lord was on television in Hawai‘i was on Tom Moffatt’s rock ‘n’ roll show on Channel 4 in 1962. A new TV series about a rodeo rider, Stoney Burke was just beginning to air from the Mainland and Lord happened to be in Hawai‘i. Moffatt agreed to plug the show and in walked Lord in complete cowboy garb, carrying a saddle and a lariat. After the show, Moffatt gave the relatively unknown actor a ride back to Waikīkī. Lord asked to be let out of the car so he could walk through Waikīkī and see the sights. “I’ll never forget seeing him walk off down Kalakaua Avenue in his cowboy get-up carrying a saddle on his shoulder,” Moffatt said. Stoney Burke lasted only one year and Lord was never heard from again.
Who Are You?
Owen Wilson, while shooting The Big Bounce on the North Shore in 2003, tried to rent some videos from the Sunset Foodland but was denied because he didn’t have any identification with him. The store clerk refused to rent anything to Wilson even after the actor went to the shelves and took down a couple of movies he had starred in and showed them to the clerk.