Bridging Two Islands
Background on the Hawaiian Room: The Hotel Lexington was completed just six months before the market crash of 1929 and cost $5,000,000, a major sum for the time. By 1937, the hotel owners were in need of a show that would attract wealthy society members and keep the hotel in the black. Charles Rochester was a big "fan" of Hawaii and decided to experiment with all-Hawaiian entertainment set in a glamorous dining room. The "Hawaiian Room" opened with gifted bandleader Andy Iona and nationally-known Hawaiian tenor Ray Kinney as the featured singer. In 1938, Kinney went home to Hawai‘i to recruit dancers and returned to New York with the best! Ululani Holt, Jennie Napua Woodd (singer Amy Gilliom’s grandma), Mapuana Bishaw and Pualani Mossman, a.k.a. The Aloha Maids. The show format - Hawaiian musicians backed up by an American orchestra, with stellar, well-trained dancers - brought authentic Hawaii to life. The Hawaiian Room became an incomparable venue through which aloha and Hawaiian culture were shared for 30 years in what was then the world’s largest city, not to mention cultural & artistic hub – New York!
Between 1937-1966, hundreds of dancers, singers, and musicians straight from Hawai’i were chosen for and became part of the incredible legacy of this pioneering, one-of-a-kind Hawaiian Room. It was a most prestigious engagement. One of our "Ex-Lexes" shared that as a hula dancer if you worked at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, and the Lexington Hotel in New York, you had really MADE it!
The Hawaiian Room was a place where dancers could take their training under Hawaiian Kingdom court dancers and native practitioners and establish viable careers. At home, depending on your family background, choices were often limited – labor intensive, low-paying job such as working in the pineapple cannery could be a main option. Dancing offered a potential way out of poverty. Can you imagine coming from “the housing” and getting plopped in the middle of NYC? It happened! And it changed lives forever…
For these young people in their late teens and early 20’s, the Hawaiian Room became a way to share what they were raised in and loved (Hawaiian culture, hula and Hawaii), make a living, support themselves and help their families, and experience first-hand the most diverse city in the world. They became minor celebrities as performers in what was referred to in New York papers as an "off-Broadway show not to be missed"! Big-time celebrities like Arthur Godfrey and Steve Allen sought out the Hawaiian Room entertainers to be on their television shows. In fact, the Hawaiian Room dancers were featured on the very first broadcast of color television in the United States!
Over the course of its 30 years, millions of people from all over the world experienced the Hawaiian Room, its melding of Hawaiian music and hula traditions with current American musical trends, and its people of aloha.
About the Film:
PICTURE THIS... NYC 1937...
Indeed the main character in the film is The Hawaiian Room itself, and although most of the film interviews took place in Hawai'i, we really wanted to establish the New York City atmosphere upfront. You will see that The Hawaiian Room is brought to life through the stories and experiences of dancers and musicians. We incorporated historic images and interviews with over 20 former dancers (and others) connected to the Hawaiian Room that were shot on O'ahu and in New York City. Viewers will see how the Hawaiian Room evolved over its lifespan based on the people who were featured there, and followed trends on par with cultural movements that occurred in Hawai‘i. You can see the growth of the Hawaiian Room and how two very distinct cultures came together so beautifully as the film progresses.
“Thank goodness I was raised with morals because New York City, wow!”...
The Hawaiian Room story weaves in and out, drawing out details about how the ladies experienced the New York environment, snow and all. One former Hawaiian Room dancer now in her 70’s says to the camera, “Thank goodness I was raised with morals because New York City, wow!”. Another woman shared how she was faced with the decision to stay on O‘ahu and work in the pineapple cannery or move to New York to perform in the Hawaiian Room. Even though she didn't even have a concept of what New York was and had never left the islands, the choice was a no-brainer! And she gained a life she never knew she could have. Others describe life in the big city as professional entertainers - the practice schedule, side gigs, living arrangements, and the night life.
The storyline is accompanied by pictures and music elements culled from private and public collections across Hawai'i and the United States, while being linked together by a Native Hawaiian Historian who provides historical references for the topics in the film. We hope that people will identify with the figures in the film as well as with the challenges they faced in making a life-changing decision, and feel empowered by this story to pursue big dreams even if they seem like out-of-reach goals.
Where is your money going?
The first cut of this film was shown at the 'Oiwi Film Festival on the island of O'ahu in November 2012. The audience response, and the feedback from the Hawaiian Room dancers themselves was overwhelming! The core of the film is done, so monies from this Kickstarter campaign will help us purchase the rights to select moving images of the HR talents from "back in the day" that exists in large private archives and needs to be purchased (2/3 of budget). The balance goes to the technical finishing of the piece (audio, color correcting, graphical elements, etc.) and producing a DVD master for distribution (1/3 of budget).
Risks and challenges
HPS owns copyright on all the oral history footage included in the film. This campaign centers on securing rights to select additional media elements (i.e. footage of the Hawaiian Room dancers and musical talents) owned by large commercial archives. The good news is the footage exists and can be had - but for a steep price! Yet, we feel including such moving images would add tremendously to the film and we are willing to pursue it, with your help.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (40 days)