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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 21, 2002

Poster girl Rose Marie Alvaro, 59

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Rose Marie Alvaro, alongside the Hawaii Visitors Bureau poster that marked an aggressive new effort to promote the Islands in the jet age.

Advertiser library photo

Rose Marie Alvaro, a dark-haired beauty whose striking poses on a series of Hawai'i Visitors Bureau posters lured millions of visitors to post-statehood Hawai'i, died Wednesday in Straub Hospital. She was 59 and suffered from breast cancer.

At 18 and fresh out of Sacred Hearts Academy in 1961, Alvaro was selected to become a "poster girl" for the Hawai'i Visitors Bureau in an aggressive new effort to sell the Islands in the jet age. Little did she know then that her face would be the one that would launch millions of trips to Hawai'i.

"Her poster gave an image of Hawai'i that inspired people or had people longing to come to Hawai'i," said Fred Honda, general manager of the Halekulani Hotel and a hotel industry veteran, who vividly remembers the promotional tool that made Alvaro an informal but important cultural ambassador for Hawai'i' from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s.

"I thought she was one of the most gorgeous poster girls," said Myrtle Lee, a retired hotel industry executive, who was with Amfac/Island Holidays in the heyday of the tourism posters. "Besides being one of the most popular HVB poster girls, she was also a fine human being."

Other hotel and entertainment industry veterans fondly remembered Alvaro, who studied hula and danced with the Kent Ghirard troupe, often performing barefoot and in grass skirts in promotional shows around the world.

"She set an example for the rest of us to be cute," said Cha Thompson, a vice president of Tihati Productions and a former hula dancer. "She was sweet. She was the prettiest of all the poster girls and she really helped sell Hawai'i."

Of Hawaiian, Portuguese, Chinese and English extraction, Alvaro had the requisite long hair, graceful figure, beguiling smile and lovely face that came to symbolize exotic beauty in the set of now-classic poster photos shot by Robert Wenkam.

Her image appeared in three editions of the posters, in English and in Japanese, and she also received near-iconic status on 10 million Arden Farms milk cartons. For more than two decades, her image appeared in millions of magazines and on Wicked Wahine perfume products.

Alvaro's later career involved interior design. She was the Rose in RobertRose Interiors.

Advertiser library photo

"She never thought of herself as a celebrity and she was not awed by celebrities," said her sister, Margaret Apao. "She performed all over the world, visited the Kennedy compound and met people like Ted Kennedy and Jackie Kennedy, and Sammy Davis Jr. even used to call the house. One time, she was at the Danny Kaleikini show at the Kahala Hilton and Mary Tyler Moore was there, and Rosie didn't know who she was. She never got excited about the people she met."

She also never got rich, receiving worldwide recognition but little money for her work as a symbol of Hawai'i.

At the time of her death, she was in the interior design business, the Rose in RobertRose Interiors.

Interior design became her passion after her work as a poster girl. Alvaro also worked briefly at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, training hostesses. She also operated a modeling agency that helped visiting film industry executives locate people, props, transportation and accommodations.

"She was always a planner, a stickler for details," Apao said. "She was the greatest. As I looked over her things after she died, I could feel she was here, over me, telling me 'this,' 'this,' 'that.' "

Apao said Alvaro's partner, architect John Tatom, took her to the Straub emergency room on Wednesday, when she was having difficulty with her oxygen at home.

"The fire engines came, the ambulance came, and Rosie was quite upset," Apao said. "She was a little furious about the fuss by the time I got to the hospital."

Alvaro's cancer had spread, Apao said. "But she was working pretty much down to the wire — she was a fighter."

Services will be held at Star of the Sea Church in Wai'alae-Kahala at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 26, her 60th birthday, with burial the next day at 9 a.m. at Hawaiian Memorial Park.

"It will be a simple funeral, just how Rose wanted it," Apao said. "Because it will be her birthday, friends have been asking, 'What shall we bring?' I've been telling people to wear a lei; the tuberose was Rose's favorite, but any kind of lei would do. She hated those floral wreaths, so the family requests no flowers, just lei. That's what she would have wanted."

Besides Apao, Alvaro is survived by a brother, Richard Alvaro of Honolulu, and numerous uncles, aunties, nephews and nieces.

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.