Editorial for Saturday — August 16, 2003

• Elvis and Kaua‘i


Elvis and Kaua‘i

Elvis Presley’s time on Kaua‘i over 40 years ago during the filming of his hit film “Blue Hawaii” is still well remembered by local residents and his worldwide fan club.

The main film location was the Coco Palms Resort at Wailua, and “Blue Hawaii” is continuing to give new generations a look at the Coco Palms in its glory days. Scenes in the film, especially the wedding scene, capture the vision that the late Grace Guslander had for her tropical resort theme.

This week thousands of Elvis fans are gathering in Memphis to honor the memory of their idol. Joining them this year was Larry Rivera, the lead entertainer at the Coco Palms for about 40 years. Larry and Elvis became friends, and Elvis even purchased one of Larry’s songs back in the 1960s. In Memphis, Larry spread some Kaua‘i aloha around, reminiscing about Elvis’ days at the Coco Palms, and singing Hawaiian songs that were favorites of Elvis.

Larry also continues to keep the Elvis legacy alive at the Coco Palms with his Blue Hawaii Weddings company. Couples can be wed much in the same manner as Elvis was in “Blue Hawaii,” riding atop a twin-canoe born float.

A one point in the post Hurricane ‘Iniki era, prospective redevelopers of the Coco Palms were considering creating an Elvis museum as part of rebuilding plans for the resort, which has been shuttered since late 1992. While Elvis drew his audience mostly from those who were teenagers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the man and his music are still strong cultural icons for Kaua‘i. The wildly popular Disney film “Lilo and Stich,” an animated movie set on a watercolor looking Kaua‘i, featured Elvis songs spun by young Lilo.

That Presley helped create another Hawai‘i icon during his early 1960s visit to Hawai‘i for “Blue Hawaii” filming is a story that’s not generally well known. With the help of his manager Col. Tom Parker, Elvis played a benefit concert at Bloch Arena at Pearl Harbor on O‘ahu. All the proceeds from the concert went to kick start the fundraising for the stately white Arizona Monument that sits atop the rusting hulk of the sunken battleship USS Arizona.

For various reasons, Presley’s connection to the Arizona Monument haven’t been greatly played up, though without his generous contribution to its creation the internationally-known monument might never have been built, or put off for a decade or more.

Though Presley came to a tragic end at an early age – overweight and drug-addicted – his legacy on Kaua‘i is as fresh as his clean shaven face in “Blue Hawaii.” The combination of Presley’s youthful demeanor and the raw beauty of Kaua‘i mixed in with the Coco Palms at its peak, continues to add to the lure of Kaua‘i to visitors, and to remind local residents of that time and place of a Kaua‘i that in many ways no longer exists.

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