KHON’s Joe Moore and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak to Star in ‘Wrestling Ernest Hemingway’

TV personalities and real-life friends play fictional buddies on the stage.
Photo: Courtesy Joe Moore

KHON newscaster Joe Moore and Wheel of Fortune host Pat Sajak star in Hawaii Theatre's adaptation of the 1993 Warner Brothers’ dramatic comedy Wrestling Ernest Hemingway. The story centers on the unlikely friendship of two lonely retirees in a small Florida town.
In real life, Moore and Sajak have been friends since working together at the American Forces Network in Vietnam. They have co-starred in three previous Hawaii Theater plays, and they collaborated in writing this one.

HONOLULU Magazine caught up with them to talk about the production.

HONOLULU: How did this play, Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, come about?

Moore: I saw the video and I really liked it, so I sent it to Pat and said, "I think this would be a great little play. Let's see if we can get the rights." I contacted the screenwriter, Steve Conrad, and he gave us his approval within five minutes. Then it took like five months to get Warner Brothers’ OK, just because they’re not in the habit of doing this sort of thing. There was no problem once they found out it was a benefit for Hawaii Theatre, we're only doing 11 performances, and we’re not planning to take it anywhere.
Sajak: One thing about Joe, he absolutely focuses like a laser when he wants to do something. For example, he sent me this film, and I watched it and said, "Yeah, it's pretty good." He said, "Well, let me take a run at writing a first draft." About eight minutes later, he sends me the first draft.
Moore: Phht! More like two weeks.
Sajak: I mean, people take months to write these things, years. He must not sleep or eat. He must get in front of the computer—or with Joe it's a typewriter. He is a Luddite. Joe, how many cell phones do you carry?
Moore: None. Never had a cell phone.
Sajak: See?
HONOLULU: How much of a role does Ernest Hemingway play in Wrestling Ernest Hemingway?
Sajak: The title is a little misleading. It gives you the idea that this is some literary work, and that we're discussing the works of Hemingway and he plays a prominent role. None of that's true. Hemingway is like a signpost along the way that pops up here and there.
Moore: The Ernest Hemingway connection is that my character, this old, Irish-American, retired sea captain, says that he once wrestled Ernest Hemingway. There are several times in the play when this comes up. And you're wondering, Did he wrestle Hemingway or didn't he? And it's not until the end of the play where—well, we're not gong to spoil that for you.
HONOLULU: We saw your publicity photos, and we really appreciated the socks. Pat's got those great argyles, and Joe's got the black socks with bare legs and Birkenstocks. Brilliant.
Sajak: Those socks really bring out the geezer in you, Joe.
Moore: Thank you. As do those glasses and that hat on you.
HONOLULU: How is your adaptation for the stage different from the original film?
Moore: It breaks down to about 60 percent Steve Conrad material, and 40 percent Sajak/Moore material. And it's all in keeping with the characters and themes of the movie.
Sajak: [in a Wheel of Fortune reference]: We weren't trying to reinvent the wheel—Oh, a little joke!
Moore [cue rim shot]: Bah-dump-PAH!
HONOLULU: Anything you want to add?
Sajak: A certain PG-13 warning should be given out, because of how Joe's character talks.
Moore: There's lots of salty language.
See Wrestling Ernest Hemingway, starring Joe Moore and Pat Sajak, and featuring Loretta Ables Sayre, at the Hawaii Theatre, 1130 Bethel St., June 19 – 29.