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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 30, 2007

Elvis statue at Blaisdell just the beginning

By Rich Budnick

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Victoria Lum, of Honolulu holds an Elvis flag in front of the newly unveiled statue of Elvis Presley at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Should a private company, TV Land, be allowed to erect a statue to Elvis Presley at the Neal Blaisdell Center? At first thought, the Elvis statue seems out of place. A statue honoring the king of rock 'n roll in the land of aloha? What's the connection?

However, Elvis helped to raise about 10 percent of the money for a Pearl Harbor memorial. His 1961 concert at Bloch Arena raised $50,000, and he contributed another $5,000 of his own money.

Then on Jan. 14, 1973, 1.5 billion people in 40 nations watched Elvis' TV special, "Aloha from Hawai'i" via satellite from Honolulu International Center, the original name of Blaisdell Center.

A dozen years earlier, in 1961, Elvis starred in the movie, "Blue Hawai'i". It was his biggest movie success, earning nearly $5 million at the box office. Two million albums of the movie soundtrack and song, "Blue Hawai'i," were sold worldwide.

The movie was a hit, and probably with the Hawai'i Visitor's Bureau, too, just as the jet age started to fly millions of new visitors to our Islands. Elvis made three movies in all in Hawai'i, and gave three concerts here.

There's no doubt that Elvis did a lot for Hawai'i.

Yet there remains a feeling that something is wrong.

Perhaps it's because the Blaisdell Center has a plaque, but no statue of the former mayor. More to the point, something should be done to properly honor Hawai'i's talented entertainers, some of whom became national and international stars.

Ever since the Blaisdell Center first opened as the Honolulu International Center in 1964, there has been a failure to properly honor Hawai'i's entertainers. Let's not forget the controversy, which some would call an insult, when the Honolulu International Center opened.

The $14 million Honolulu International Center opened on Sept. 12 with nine days of festivities, featuring Art Linkletter's Party of Hollywood Stars. Controversy erupted because no Hawaiian musicians were invited to perform.

In fact, musician union leaders were so angry, they threatened to picket non-union performers. Finally, the so-called "oversight" was corrected and many notable Hawaiian entertainers were asked to perform.

I'd like to make three suggestions to honor Hawai'i's entertainers at Blaisdell Center:

  • Surround Blaisdell Center with a gallery of busts or statues of famous Hawaiian entertainers. The statues could be privately funded, like the Elvis statue, or with a mixture of public and private money. Blaisdell Center does have a bust of Sammy Amalu.

  • Make a walkway of hand prints such as Hollywood. The cost would be minimal, and it would be a very nice gesture.

  • Make a plaque or poster display on the Blaisdell wall, inside or out, with a photo and brief biographical highlights of each entertainer who is honored. The Bishop Museum honors famous Hawai'i athletes with an exhibit.

    Hawai'i has produced so many talented entertainers, it is only right that something should be done. I'm sure a committee of knowledgeable people could think of other ideas to honor famous Hawai'i actors, dancers, musicians, singers, playwrights, etc.

    Imagine the publicity that poster displays, busts, plaques or statues would give Hawai'i. Imagine the pride that living honorees would feel. People who visit Blaisdell Center could spend time learning about Hawai'i's famous entertainers.

    We all know about Don Ho, but how many people know about the international opera star, Tandy MacKenzie of Hana, who gave a private White House recital for President Woodrow Wilson in 1913? There are dozens of famous entertainers whom we should recognize for posterity in a formal way.

    Hawai'i's entertainers define our history and our culture. We should honor them in a fitting way. The Blaisdell Center is an appropriate location for our tribute.

    Rich Budnick is the author of two books, "Hawaiian Street Names" and "Hawai'i's Forgotten History". He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.