It’s hard to imagine that 60 years ago Elvis Presley’s movie Blue Hawaii came onto the scene. In many ways it has become synonymous with Hawaii. Its launch coincided coincidentally with the modern era of Hawaiian travel pioneered by Pan Am and perfected by United Airlines.
Elvis Presley in Blue Hawaii has outdone everyone in promoting the idea of an accessible dream vacation in Hawaii. One of the main actors is still alive. Can you guess who? The answer is near the end of this article.
The advent of air travel in Hawaii meets Blue Hawaii.
Just two years before Blue Hawaii, Pan Am became the first to bring then-revolutionary jets to Hawaii, using the Boeing 707. Traveling here suddenly took about half the time than before, just five hours from the coast west. The economy of airplanes coupled with less time and more passengers meant that Hawaii was now accessible to more people and at a much lower cost than previously possible.
The jets allowed ordinary people to venture into what remains among the most remote islands on the planet, with the same ease, frequency and relative cost that we see today.
It was United Airlines, however, that largely claimed Hawaii in the 1960s, with a fleet of DC-8 aircraft on a plethora of routes, some of which remain among the longest domestic flights. DC-8s were United’s first jets, and the airline was the first DC-8 customer. Hawaiian and the DC-8 were a perfect match. Their Hawaii itineraries quickly grew to even include nonstop services from Chicago and New York.
Blue Hawaii has amplified people’s desire to visit Hawaii.
Before Blue Hawaii, Elvis Presley had already fallen in love with the state after his first concert on Oahu in 1957. While jets made Hawaii more accessible, it was the movie Blue Hawaii that helped create the allure and whimsy essentials of the Hawaiian Islands. .
Filming for the Hawaii-centric film began in March 1961 after Elvis performed a benefit concert for the USS Arizona Memorial. Iconic locations include stages at Diamond Head, Waikiki, Mt. Tantalus and Hanauma Bay on Oahu and the famed Coco Palms Resort on Kauai. Did you know that 26-year-old Elvis injured himself doing martial arts between scenes?
Many of the film’s scenes were shot near Waikiki Beach, which can be seen in the opening driving clips, and the once-beloved International Market. Other scenes were shot at the current Hilton Hawaiian Village (one of his favorite hotels, where his room choice was the Mahele “King Suite” on the 14th floor of the Aliʻi Tower). The movie is a fascinating throwback, and we’ve included the full YouTube movie below.
The NYT said of Blue Hawaii it was “absurd and harmless” as well as “simply uneventful”. Variety said it was “windy.” Watching it today, we see their perspective, and it looks grossly disconnected in a myriad of ways. But that was in 1961. Elvis’ acting wasn’t rated well either.
The LA Times hit the nail on the head when it said Blue Hawaii “does a lot for the ‘Pacific Paradise,’ showing off its foamy waves, palm trees, luaus and a few lavish hotels.”
Blue Hawaii was the romantic musical comedy film starring Elvis Presley. Although it was not critically acclaimed, it was nominated for Best Written Musical, opened at No. 2 in box office earnings, and grossed $5 million ($50 million in money today).
Elvis would do three movies in Hawaii. After Blue Hawaii, it was Girls, Girls, Girls in 1962, then Paradise Hawaiian Style in 1965.
Dame Angela Lansbury played Elvis’ mother.
She was only 35 at the time and 9 years older than Elvis. This month, Lansbury, 96, will receive the Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement. She said of him in Blue Hawaii, “he was at the top of his game.” As for her experience here, she says, “We were in Kauai. I will never forget it, it was truly wonderful.
Coco Palms has put romantic Kauai center stage.
Filming for much of the film took place at the legendary Coco Palms Resort on Kauai’s East Shore, including the famous wedding scene. Other Kauai sites include nearby Lydgate Park and Wailua River.
Coco Palms opened in 1953. Grace Guslander, the hotel manager, planned to market the property as an upscale getaway for first-time visitors to Hawaii. Blue Hawaii being filmed, there was a huge feather in the hotel cap. The hotel was a celebrity favorite and was renowned for Hawaii-themed weddings, among other things. Coco Palms was also where the nightly torch-lighting ceremony, so popular still today among Hawaiian resorts, began.
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