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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Pualani Mossman Avon, face of Hawai'i in 1930s

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

Hula dancer Pualani Mossman Avon, who was the face of Hawai'i in national travel advertisements in the 1930s, died yesterday while visiting relatives in Melbourne, Fla. She was 89.

Because Avon spent her last 55 years in Florida, few people in Hawai'i today are familiar with her name, but many will recognize the iconic image of her lovely face with a big, red hibiscus in her hair.

"She was an expert hula dancer and was very beautiful, and that led to her being the main model for Matson Navigation Co. for their advertisements throughout the 1930s," said DeSoto Brown, archives collection manager at Bishop Museum. "If you opened a major national magazine in those years it is very likely you would have seen Pualani in a Matson ad."

Avon also was featured in the company's publications and was regularly used in publicity photos distributed by the Pan Pacific Press Bureau to promote Hawai'i as a visitor destination. In 1934, the Hawaii Tourist Bureau picked her to star in "Song of the Islands," a color film featurette shown in movie theaters.

She traveled to New York City in the late 1930s with Ray Kinney and his orchestra to perform at the newly opened Hawaiian Room nightclub in the Hotel Lexington, performing as one of three Aloha Maids hula dancers. Brown said she became a minor celebrity, and was a favorite of syndicated columnist Walter Winchell, who called her "the Lady from Hawai'i."

Brown said she could have continued her entertainment career but fell in love with Randolph Avon, the hotel's chief accountant. They married in 1939 and Pualani devoted herself to family life.

Although she had been living in Florida since 1951, Avon continued to dance hula and spread aloha well into her 80s, performing at senior-citizen centers during visits to Hawai'i and with Hawaiian entertainers appearing in South Florida.

Brown said he met her in 1990 after the museum received a film print of "Song of the Islands" and got a grant to make copies and show the movie around, explaining its history and context. Brown said Avon would fly in from Florida to appear at the film showings to reminisce about her show-business days.

"She had a tremendous amount of pride in her work and she was very proud of having worked as hard as she did, and always very proud of how well-done the shows were and the pleasure it brought to the people who went to them," he said.

Avon was born May 16, 1916 in Honolulu. Her father, George P. Mossman, was an 'ukulele maker on Lusitana Street who in 1932 opened the Lalani Hawaiian Village in Waikiki to demonstrate traditional crafts, music and lu'au. Avon and her sisters taught hula and performed at the village before Avon traveled to New York, where she also had a role in the Broadway production "Hellzapoppin'."

She is survived by son Randy Avon Jr., daughters Pualani Love and Leilani Longbons, 10 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.

A funeral will be held in Fort Lauderdale, with a memorial later this month in Honolulu and burial at Diamond Head Memorial Park.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.