Friday, April 17, 2009

Don the Beachcomber's - 1959

At a very early age, I developed a love of all far off, tropical places, as well as history in general, which turned into, specifically, a love for the Hawaii Islands.  That of course led to the need to collect everything vintage Hawaiiana, and also eventually moving there.  As many may know, if you spend some time learning about Hawaiian history and culture you're bound to stumble upon the world of Tiki.  Needless to say, I haven't been the same since, living and breathing a world of Polynesian Pop culture mixed with the newer revival of Tiki.  Daily life lubricated with sweet smelling rum!

Since then, I have amassed a huge collection of vintage Hawaii and Tiki photos, which I would like to start to share with you.  This first set of images dates to August 1959, and all show the Don the Beachcomber restaurant which was located in the International Market Place in the heart of Waikiki.  These images come from a group of photos that were taken by a couple on vacation, and the best thing about it is that the couple actually typed up a mini travel log which numbered each image and gave great descriptions.  Quite a rarity!  Usually you have to figure out what each image shows based on your general knowledge, or lack there of!!

The photographer's travel log gives a perfect description to set up the images.  "Went to a famous place for dinner last night, called Don the Beach Comber at the International Market Place on Waikiki Beach.  Had a fabulous Chinese dinner, and plenty of entertainment, strictly island style".  These first few images show some dancers and a band performing for the audience there.  The best part of these images is how you can see the construction and decoration of the restaurant.  It is great how all the different layers of bamboo, thatch, wood and tapa all blend together for a very eye pleasing tropical expierence.
It is a shame that these are slightly out of focus, but I guess you can't get everything you ask for!

Note the tall Tikis flanking each side of the stage, and a couple of the rum based cocktails sitting on the tables that Don was so famously known for.  You can almost picture the order of that night's line up of entertainment.  First up, you have the older lady in the mu'umu'u, most likely signing some of the Hawaiian classics.  I bet she ended with Aloha 'oe...

Following her is a much younger girl in a sarong and long shell necklaces.  You've got to bring out the cute hula girl to keep those guys' attention!

And then comes the finale, which is one of my favorite images.  The young hula girl quietly leaves the stage, and then suddenly all of the lights in the restaurant dim.  
What's going on???  First you hear the beating of some island drums, then a large man comes out on stage with a torch and starts doing the famous Samoan Fire Dance - the crowd's favorite!  Luckily, the photographer slowed down his exposure speed, and caught the path of the fire knives, making it look even more magical.  I'm sure that this has been some of the best entertainment that these people have seen in Hawaii, and probably anywhere else.  I love how the fire lights up the Tiki on the stage.  Kind of hard to imagine any one doing this today in such close quarters, with all the thatch, bamboo and tapa around.  Damn fire codes... What a great night...

But wait!  There's another stage over there in the corner, with some guys setting up.  Everything so far was just the opening act!  Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Martin Denny!  
Going back to the couples' description, they say about Martin Deny; "Their music is terrific - you have watched shows on t.v. of a jungle scene, with all of the wild life sounds, well, that is somewhat of what his band makes you think of".  Can you even imagine what these people thought the first time they heard Quiet Village?  And then trying to explain it to the people back home, many of whom would never even see Hawaii.  In this candid shot, you see the many different instruments the band used.  That, of course, is Martin Denny in front playing the piano, with Augie Colon in the far background playing percussion.  Could that be Arthur Lyman behind the bamboo pole playing the vibes?

Oh, how I yearn to be sitting there, drinking a zombie, making some bird calls.  I was born in the wrong time...

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