The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: James Michener’s “Hawaiʻi” Hits the Big Screen

HONOLULU Magazine emerged from predecessor Paradise of the Pacific, which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission by King Kalākaua. That makes this the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi with an enviable archive worth diving into each month. Here’s a look back at October 1966.


1966 Kuhio Theatre Hawaii 2 H



Kūhiō Theatre hosts a Hollywood-style premiere for the film adapted from a book that the author and movie producer believed “has been read by more people than any other work of fiction ever created. They estimate, without offering any particular documentation, that the book’s audience to date has been in the neighborhood of 100 million.” Egos aside, the buzz around James Michener’s Hawaiʻi began as soon as the film rights were bought for an unprecedented $600,000. And this was before the story was published.


The film’s release on Oct. 10, 1966, launched a series of promotional ties across the nation and here at home, HONOLULU tells us.


“The campaign will very possibly produce alltime highs in advance sales. It also produced a scramble among ‘prestige’ sponsors for the opening nights and even for later theater benefits. In New York Mrs. Anne McDonnell Ford (the former Mrs. Henry Ford II) is chairman for the World Premiere benefit, which is expected to make $110,000 for the Will Rogers Memorial Hospital at Saranac Lake. A Hoolaulea Ball will follow at the Americana Hotel.


“The fashion collection will not focus particularly on beach or tropical wear but on ‘regular clothes that are Hawaii-inspired and adapted.’ Said the Coordinator: “We’re not out to help sell muumuus.”


SEE ALSO: Are We Really Cashing in On TV And Film Production in Hawai‘i, Or Is It Just a Hollywood Illusion?


In another tie-in promotion, “Bantam Books will publish a new unabridged edition of HAWAll completely reset ‘in large type for easy reading,’ with a 16-page insert of four­color pictures from the movie. Bantam is also re-issuing special editions of seven other Michener novels.


“And United Airlines is getting off the ground with a blast of promotion for one and two-week See James Michener’s Hawaii Tours, originating with travel agencies all over the country. In support of a ‘Read the Book, See the Movie, Take the Tour’ theme, the ‘affinity groups’ who sign up will be encouraged to sponsor a theatre party before starting off.”


In Hawaiʻi, according to the itinerary for the two-week deluxe tour, one feature will be a “missionary lunch” at the Pioneer Inn in Lahaina. During sightseeing, “segments of the movie soundtrack will be replayed on the sites where the actual (sic) events took place.”


Another scheduled event: Lunch as “guests in [local entertainer] Ray Kinney’s home … You will eat with the family and the women probably will want to help clear the table or help with the dishes.”


SEE ALSO: 100 Years of Hawaiian Music


Despite mixed reviews—The New York Times said “‘Hawaii’ is as big and familiar as Diamond Head, and ultimately almost as heavy.”—Hawaiʻi earned $15.6 million, making it one of the highest-grossing movies of 1966. The decision to focus on the missionary relationships hasn’t aged particularly well. Neither has Michener’s book, which still made our list of 50 Essential Hawaiʻi Books, albeit begrudgingly in the case of some of our panel members.


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