Blue Hawaii 1961 – Elvis’ 8th Movie
This is the 60th Anniversary of Blue Hawaii, and also the theme for Elvis Week 2021. It is my 8th favorite movie, one of the eleven Elvis movies I watch all the time. Yes it is a cheesy beach movie with too many songs and Elvis just randomly starts singing them out of nowhere, but it is a very entertaining feel-good movie. Blue Hawaii is Elvis’ first true musical comedy. It is the first of Elvis’ movies where there is no reason for his character to start singing – in the all the rest he was a performer performing. It is Elvis’ first movie that is truly funny, where everyone is funny – GI Blues was not exactly a comedy. I think Blue Hawaii is what started the beach movie crazy in the 1960s, or was at least paved the way. Unfortunately, it was also the movie that doomed Elvis’ acting career to making light musical comedies instead of the more dramatic roles which he craved. Blue Hawaii was the first of Elvis’ Hawaiian trilogy (along with Girls!, Girls! Girls! and Paradise Hawaiian Style) he would make in Hawaii as Elvis came to love Hawaii. It is a gorgeous movie to watch with all those vibrant colors, just seems more alive than other movies. Hawaii had just become the 50th state in 1959, and Blue Hawaii sort of doubled as advertisement. It wasn’t just set in Hawaii, but really displayed the Hawaiian culture. Before Elvis started filming Blue Hawaii, he did a benefit concert to raise money for the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor – this would be his last live performance for seven years.
As much as a I love Elvis, I feel that Angela Lansbury steals this movie. She is so hysterically funny playing Elvis’ Chadwick’s ditzy mother, even though Angela was only 10 years older than Elvis at the time. Unfortunately, Angela did not feel the same and has been quoted as saying Blue Hawaii was the low point of her career. A fan favorite, Blue Hawaii was Elvis’ most successful movie and album. Like with GI Blues, the movie led to the sales of the soundtrack album, which led back to the sale of movie tickets. Blue Hawaii contained 14 songs, more than any other Elvis movie. Elvis plays Chad (short for Chadwick) Gates, who just returns to his wealthy family after two years in the army. (sound familiar?) His parents want Chad to work in the family pineapple business, but Chad has other plans a tour guide with the help of his girlfriend Maile.
The Colonel suggested Hawaii as a location for an Elvis movie back in 1958 while Elvis was still in the army in Germany because of the popularity of Hawaiian music. Blue Hawaii was the third Elvis movie produced by Hal Wallis, who for the first time worried about Elvis’ appearance urging the Colonel to get Elvis to lose weight and tone up and get a tan. This was the second Elvis movie directed by Norman Taurog. It was, however, the first one written by former newspaperman Allan Weiss. Blue Hawaii originated from a story written by Allan Weiss called Beach Boy, then it was titled Hawaiian Beach Boy before it became Blue Hawaii. Weiss who went on to write screenplays for five other Elvis movies: Girls! Girls! Girls!, Paradise Hawaiian Style, Roustabout, Fun in Acapulco and Easy Come Easy Go. Weiss had originally written Elvis’ character as an arrogant loner, and a little contemptuous. There was a note saying Chad should discover that Jack (his father’s boss) was really his father. Wallis replied that this was not East of Eden and he wanted “a nice, entertaining musical comedy without any overtures.” Hal Kanter, who wrote Loving You, was called in to rewrite Weiss’ screenplay and made Chad personable. “Blue Hawaii” the song originally came from Bing Crosby’s 1937 movie Waikiki Wedding. Bing plays a PR man hired by a pineapple company to escort the Pineapple Queen contest winner around the islands of Hawaii. So was Elvis’ Blue Hawaii really based on Weiss’ Beach Boy story or was it based on Bing Crosby’s movie Waikiki Wedding?
Filming for Blue Hawaii began on March 27, 1961 on the islands of Oahu and Kauai in Hawaii. Some locations used on Oahu included Waikiki Beach, the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor, the Honolulu International Airport, the jail at Honolulu’s Police Department, the Punchbowl, Ala Moana Park Hanauma Bay, Tanta-lus and the Waiola Tea Room. Locations on Kauai included the Kauai Airport, Anahola, Lydgate Park, Wailu River and the Coco Palms Resort Hotel. The famous wedding scene was shot on Kauai at the Coco Palms Resort Hotel, which had been in operation since 1953 closed in 1992 after Hurricane Iniki. As Coco Palms was located on the ancestral home of Kauai’s last reigning queen, the ‘Call to the Feast’ scene had taken place there every year at 7:30pm for 40 years until the hurricane hit.
While filming, Elvis took golf lessons from pro Gary Player. Filming was always difficult because of the throngs of fans trying to get to Elvis. Extra security guards were around all the time. Besides difficulty with filming, Elvis could not go out and visit the tourist sites like he wanted. But the fans left him a nice message in the sand that he could see from his hotel suite “We love you Elvis!” But Elvis was able to go to the hotel bar and have singalongs with choreographer Charles O’Curran’s wife singer Patti Page. Patti appeared as an extra in a canoe in one of the beach scenes. Blue Hawaii was O’Currans’ last Elvis movie. Rain caused delay in filming one day, then the weather broke so they had limited time to get this shot of Elvis coming out of the water. The Colonel yelled cut (which is unheard of) because Elvis was wearing his own watch, and the contract stated that Elvis was not to provide any of his own wardrobe, so if they wanted to use that shot they would have to pay him an extra $25,000. Elvis removed his watch and the scene was redone. Filming in Hawaii was finished by April 17, 1961. Then the cast and crew went back to Hollywood, California and continued filming on Paramount Studios until May 23, 1961. Alan Fortas wrote they had the most fun making Blue Hawaii.
Besides Shelley Fabares, Joan Blackman is probably my favorite Elvis costar. Besides playing Elvis’ Chad’s girlfriend Maile in Blue Hawaii, she also played Elvis’ girlfriend in my 4th favorite Elvis movie Kid Galahad. Joan and Elvis dated in real life. They first met a few years before Blue Hawaii at Paramount Studios while Elvis was doing Loving You and their romance was on and off for about a year until left Elvis for Germany. Joan says they met while she was eating lunch, Elvis saw her and just said, “Hey you!” Joan is a singer and dancer, but according to her the Colonel and Hal Wallis did not allow her to sing in Blue Hawaii because they didn’t want her taking away from Elvis, which is strange considering how much Ann Margret sang a few years later in Viva Las Vegas. She sang in the movie, but if you notice Joan is not heard on the soundtrack at all (as the soundtrack was recorded in Hollywood before filming on the movie began). Joan said Elvis liked her singing a lot when they would sing together off set. During filming at the hotel, Joan said somehow four girls jumped into the elevator with her at the last minute and pinned her to the wall hysterically saying, “Oh, you’ve kissed him, you’ve touched him!” Joan said she likes Kid Galahad, but has more feelings for Blue Hawaii. Her favorite moment from Blue Hawaii is when Elvis is singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” his hand slowing reaching across that chair taking her hand. Joan said she is reminded of their connection every time she hears that song. Plus Joan saw Elvis in Vegas years later, so it was the last song he sang and that was the last time she ever saw him. Joan Blackman married Joby Baker who costarred with Elvis as Wilbur in my favorite Elvis movie Girl Happy.
While having a romantic relationship with Joan Blackman and still dating Anita Wood (who visited on the set in Hollywood), Elvis also dated Pam Austin during the filming of Blue Hawaii. Pam played Sandy, one of the girls Chad was showing around Hawaii, and she would go on to play Selena opposite Elvis in Kissin’ Cousins. Elvis was a very busy boy while filming. After their nightly dinner with Hal Wallis each night, the young actresses working on Blue Hawaii would go up to Elvis’ suite and stay until 3am. This ended when Wallis enforced a 10pm curfew on them after they were showing up on set with bags under their eyes.
I have never read that Darlene Thompkins had anything romantic with Elvis, but I did see quite a cozy photo of the two of them (but I think that’s just how Elvis was). Darlene Thompkins, who I was lucky enough to meet at Elvis Week 2009 (or 2010), played Patsy one of the girls Chad was showing around Hawaii. Darlene also played Ms. Stevers with Elvis in Fun in Acapulco as well a stunt double for Cheryl Ladd in Charlie’s Angels. On loan from Fox to Paramount, Juliet Prowse (who played opposite Elvis in GI Blues) was set to play Elvis’ girlfriend again in Blue Hawaii (Joan Blackman’s part of Maile), but 11 days before filming was to begin in Hawaii she refused to report for work until her demands were met. She wanted her own makeup man from Fox to do her makeup, she wanted her secretary’s traveling expenses paid for and she wanted her contract changed concerning her billing. (I have also read that her relationship with Frank Sinatra had something to do with her not reporting for work on another Elvis movie.) Hal Wallis denied Prowse’s demands and replaced her with Joan Blackman. Juliet Prowse was then put on suspension at Fox Studios.
Flora K. Hayes, who played Maile’s grandmother, was a former Hawaii Territorial Representative to the U.S. Congress. Howard McNear, who played Mr. Chapman the boss at the tourist agency, also famously played Floyd the barber on The Andy Griffith Show, one of my favorites. McNear also played in two other Elvis movies. He played bank vice president in Elvis’ next movie Follow That Dream and Dr. John Stevers in Fun in Acapulco. Guy Lee played Ping Pong, another favorite of mine from Blue Hawaii. He also played Chen with Elvis in Girls! Girls! Girls!. Roland Winters, who played Elvis’ Chad’s father, also played a judge in Elvis’ next movie Follow That Dream. Steve Brodie played Tucker Garvey, the troublemaker who gets into a fight with Chad at the bar. Brodie also got into a fight with Elvis’ character a few years later in Roustabout (outside the dunking booth). Richard Reeves, who played the harmonica in the jail scene, also had roles in four other Elvis movies. He was Officer Wilkins in my favorite Elvis movie Girl Happy, he was a man on the street in Frankie and Johnny, he was a bartender in Tickle Me and a Bedouin in Harum Scarum.
Blue Hawaii opened nationally on November 22, 1961. (On that same date two years later, President Kennedy would be assassinated.) It reached #2 on Variety’s weekly list of top-grossing movies ranking #18 for 1961 with a gross of $2 million. Blue Hawaii also ranked in 1962 at #14. It’s total gross through 1962 was $4.7 million. It was fourth in Golden Laurels for Top Musical in 1962 and Hal Kanter was nominated for a WGA Award (Screen) for Best Written American Musical in 1962. In 1974, Blue Hawaii was rereleased together with GI Blues, furthering rumors that it was sort of a sequel. In 2001, Blue Hawaii was used by the City of Honolulu to open every weekend movie festival show on a big screen on Waikiki Beach.
Did Blue Hawaii start the beach movie craze of the 1960s? Joan Blackman says yes and no other beach movies come close to Blue Hawaii. But the first beach movie was actually two years before Blue Hawaii. It was Gidget in 1959 spawning two sequels, the first was in 1961 titled Gidget Goes Hawaiian (coincidence?). In 1963, Beach Party was released starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. They would star in many more. Whether Blue Hawaii started the beach movie craze or just paved the way for them, it definitely set the formula of musical comedies for the rest of Elvis’ movies. The success of Blue Hawaii sealed Elvis’ fate as far as his movie career. Since his two previous dramatic movies Flaming Star and Wild in the Country (which neither had soundtracks) were not financially successful, the Colonel used the great financial success of Blue Hawaii (movie and soundtrack album) and the success of GI Blues (move and soundtrack album) to convince Elvis his fans preferred him in musical comedies, which sadly they did. Elvis had just signed a five year contract with Hal Wallis just before filming Blue Hawaii, so he was stuck doing whatever they wanted. Elvis was already committed to his next two movies Follow That Dream and Kid Galahad (these two also had no soundtracks), so there was nothing they could do about those but after that it was travelogue after travelogue.
I have the original 1961 release 33 1/3 rpm Blue Hawaii soundtrack album that spent 79 weeks on Billboard’s pop album chart, with 20 of those weeks at #1 (setting a record not broken until 1977’s Rumors by Fleetwood Mac). I think my favorite song from the soundtrack is “Moonlight Swim” and “Beach Boy Blues.” (As a whole, I actually prefer the soundtrack to Girls! Girls! Girls!.) Elvis recorded all the songs in three nights in Hollywood on March 21, 22 and 23 before filming started. The songs were “Blue Hawaii,” “Almost Always True,” “Aloha Oe,” “No More,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Rock-A-Hula-Baby,” “Moonlight Swim,” “Ku-u-i-po,” “Ito Eats,” “Slicin’ Sand,” “Hawaiian Sunset,” “Beach Boy Blues,” “Island of Love,” “Hawaiian Wedding Song.” “La Paloma,” “Playing with Fire” and “Steppin’ Out of Line,” were all cut from the movie. “Steppin’ Out of Line” was supposed to be sung in the bar before the fight when Chad tells Ellie there’s “no use steppin’ out of line.” Actually as he is dragging her to the dance floor, the band starts to play and sing “Steppin Out of Line.” It appeared later on Elvis’ Pot Luck album. The Blue Hawaii soundtrack LP sold 500,000 copies in the first three months of its release and $2 million in its first year. It spent 20 weeks at #1 in 1961 and was listed by Billboard as the second biggest selling album of the 1960s behind West Side Story. The Blue Hawaii soundtrack album was Elvis’ most successful album of his career, not just movie soundtracks but the most successful of any of his albums. It was nominated for a Grammy in 1962 for Best Soundtrack.
The single “Rock-A-Hula Baby” sold over a million copies and reached #23. Writer Ben Weisman wanted to create a song with a rock beat and a Hawaiian flavor, so he combined the twist with the hula for “Rock-A-Hula Baby.” On the flip side was “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” which remained on the charts for 14 weeks peaking at #2. Elvis was the one who picked it for the movie, and he did 29 takes until he was satisfied. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” is a variation of the 18th century French melody “Plaisir d’Amour.” It appeared on many other Elvis albums. Elvis did 13 takes of “No More,” which was recorded by Italian tenor Ferruccio Giannini in 1896. It also appeared on other Elvis albums including Burning Love and Mahalo from Elvis. “Aloha Oe,” which means “farewell to thee,” was written by Hawaiian Princess Lydia Kamekeha Lili’uokalani in 1878 13 years before she became the first and last queen of Hawaii. It was recorded by Bing Crosby in 1936. “Hawaiian Wedding Song” was originally written in 1926 by Charles E. King for his operetta Prince of Hawaii – it was originally called “Ke Kali Neau Au.”
Elvis arrived in Honolulu on March 25, 1961 to perform a benefit concert at Bloch Arena to raise money for the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. At a ceremony, he was given two certificates and a plaque, which read “USS ARIZONA Memorial – Award of Honor ELVIS PRESLEY Pacific War Memorial Commission March 25, 1961. Pearl Harbor, HAWAII. Elvis played to 5000 people who contributed $52,000. to the cause. That September, Congress donated $150,000. to help build the memorial. Elvis wore his famous gold lame jacket and sang 19 songs, his longest show ever. Two days after the benefit concert, Elvis began filming Blue Hawaii. The Colonel originally asked for this concert to be recorded for a television show, but it didn’t happen. Can you imagine? We’d have that footage today to enjoy. Ugh!
**I consulted Elvis: The Elvis Files Vol 3, Elvis The Movies, The Films of Elvis Presley, Reel Elvis, Elvis Presley in the Movies, Elvis Films Faq, Elvis Elvis Elvis The King and His Movies, Elvis Presley The Hollywood Years, Elvis in Hollywood, Elvis Presley from Memphis to Hollywood, The Elvis Film Encyclopedia, The Elvis Movies, Elvis Presley in Hollywood Celluloid Sell-Out, Essential Elvis Interviews, Elvis in Hawaii for more information**
To read my take on all of Elvis’ movies, please click HERE.
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