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Return to 1937

Hula and Tourism

Since tourists started coming to the Islands in greater numbers around the turn of the 20th century, the modern hula girl has been a ubiquitous presence, both as an entertainment figure and as an advertising icon. Traditional hula gradually became more frivolous and just another part of the exoticism that Hawai`i represented to visitors. Hula accompaniment expanded during the reign of Kalakaua to include instruments like the `ukulele and guitar. In the following decades, dancing to hapa-haole songs became more common than performing the old-style chants and mele.

Hawaiian performers played to a national audience during the 1915 International Exposition in San Francisco. Promoting the Islands to potential visitors, Henry Kailimai played "On the Beach at Waikiki" on his `ukulele while women danced the hula. In print campaigns, hula dancers became as identified with Waikiki as Diamond Head.

With the regular arrival of Matson passenger ships in the 1920s, Boat Day became a new Honolulu tradition. A crowd of greeters swarmed the pier - newspaper reporters there to interview arriving luminaries, the Royal Hawaiian Band performing Hawaiian songs, women dancing the hula, with outrigger canoes and coin divers plying the water around the big ship.

Waikiki bloomed in the 1930s and '40s with a growing visitor count from around the world. Hula continued to be part of the package. In 1937, Fritz Herman founded the Kodak Hula Show, a performance venue that entertained tourists for 65 years. Herman, a vice-president and manager of Kodak Hawaii, had the idea to promote picture taking by providing a hula show during daylight hours (hula entertainment during hotel luau tended to be at night). The first show featured five dancers, four musicians and an audience of 100. The popular shows later expanded to 20 female and six male performers, 15 musicians, two chanters and audiences of 3,000 each week. For many tourists, their only exposure to Hawaiian dance was the Kodak Hula Show.

Other images of hula - glamorized and Westernized - were spread through Hollywood movies. Representing a romantic native paradise, Hawai`i became a setting for the adventures of white males, usually Americans or Europeans. Hula was included as an element of native culture, though it barely resembled traditional dance. Ancient dance costumes gave way to sarongs and grass and cellophane skirts. Some of the more famous Hollywood films of Hawai`i include Clara Bow in Hula (1927), Dolores Del Rio in Bird of Paradise (1932), Bing Crosby in Waikiki Wedding (1937), Esther Williams in Pagan Love Song (1950), From Here to Eternity (1953), South Pacific (1958), Blue Hawai`i with Elvis Presley (1961) and John Wayne in Donovan's Reef (1963).




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