personality

Mary Tyler Moore:
A Celebration

 

Mary Tyler Moore “turned the world on with her smile” on The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and on the silver screen. This special features classic clips plus comments from Betty White, Ed Asner, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Gavin MacLeod, John Amos, Carl Reiner, Dick Van Dyke, and Moore herself. Plus, Oprah Winfrey recounts Mary Tyler Moore’s critical role as TV’s first independent career woman.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Tom Moffatt

We recognize the passing of Tom Moffatt, a legend in local show business. He died on December 12, 2016 at the age of 85.

 

Above, you can find the first of two episodes featuring Moffatt on Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, in which he shares his life story. Transcripts and audio podcast files for both episodes are available below, as well.

 

These two programs will be rebroadcast on Sunday, January 8 at 2:00 and 2:30 pm.

 

=======

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox: Tom Moffatt

Once a showman, always a showman, right? Maybe not. As a kid growing up in Detroit, Michigan, Tom Moffatt wanted nothing to do with the big city, instead preferring the simple life on a farm. See how Hawaii’s hardest-working man in showbiz went from raising livestock to spinning platters, as he sits down with Leslie Wilcox on Long Story Short.

 

 

Part 1: The Making of a Showman

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 5, 2011

 

Tom Moffatt, The Making of a Showman Audio

 

Download: Tom Moffatt , The Making of a Showman Transcript

 


 

 

Part 2: A Life of Entertainment

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 19, 2011

 

Tom Moffatt, A Life of Entertainment Audio

 

Download: Tom Moffatt , A Life of Entertainment Transcript

 

 

=======

 

 

Transcript

Part 1: The Making of a Showman

 

Tom Moffatt in the morning.

 

Hear Elvis direct from his Army quarters in Germany. He’ll be interviewed on KPOI by Tom Moffatt.

 

From sunrise to sunset.

 

Modest new voice in music today.

 

Tom Moffatt.

 

He has a name that’s as well known locally as many of the acts that he’s presented to Hawaii, from Elvis Presley to Frank Sinatra, from Michael Jackson to Bruno Mars. Ladies and gentlemen, presenting Mr. Tom Moffatt.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

If you grew up in the 60s, this is how you heard the latest and greatest music, a transistor radio. There were no music videos, no iTunes, it was just you and a disc jockey, the faceless voice spinning the hottest hits from artists like the Beatles, Elvis Presley, and Paul Revere & the Raiders. In Hawaii, the radio station leading the way in rock and roll music was KPOI, and KPOI’s most popular deejay was Uncle Tom Moffatt. Now, you would think that a man who has such a passion for rock and roll grew up in the big city, L.A., Chicago, New York. But not Tom Moffatt.

 

Where did you begin life?

 

In Detroit, Michigan.

 

Detroit, Michigan.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Well, what was it like?

 

Cold. [CHUCKLE] I didn’t like the city, and I had relatives who lived outside of Detroit, so in my eighth grade, my folks let me work for this cousin of ours who had a mink ranch in a little town called Waterloo, Michigan. So I spent my eighth grade in this little town, in a one-room schoolhouse.

 

How many kids?

 

Oh, it was from kindergarten to eighth grade. [CHUCKLE] It was full.

 

Now, what didn’t you like about the city?

 

I don’t know; I didn’t like the congestion. I liked the country. I just liked the country. I liked the feeling of being outdoors, and just that nice feeling of [INHALES] inhaling and [CHUCKLE].

 

What did you do at the mink ranch?

 

Fed the mink, cleaned up after ‘em.

 

And enjoyed it?

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, and I had a pet pig, Herman. And we fed the mink horse meat and cereal. And there was always some of that left over, so I fed the pigs what was left over. And the pig became very healthy. He was pretty young, he weighed three hundred fifteen pounds when I took him to the county fair. And he won first place.

 

Wow.

 

So then, we took him to the state fair, which was at Michigan State University. On the very same football field where they play football now, I showed my pig. He didn’t win, but. [CHUCKLE]

 

And so, did you go K through 12?

 

No, when I—

 

You started in the eighth grade?

 

—graduated, then I returned to Detroit to go to school. And again, I wasn’t too happy. I got a job washing dishes in a restaurant called Curly’s. And the people who owned it had a farm about forty miles outside of Detroit. And they took me out there one day, and I fell in love with it. And so they needed somebody to work on the farm, so I talked to my folks, and they let me go into high school working on the farm.

 

So you’d been away from eighth grade, and then went you went away again in high school.

 

Yeah. I spent one year at Detroit in high school there. I just wasn’t happy. So I went tenth, eleventh, twelfth grade and ended up at South Lyon High School.

 

And graduated from there?

 

Yes, I did.

 

And then, what?

 

Well, I played football and basketball there, and I got a scholarship in my senior year to play football for a very famous coach, who wasn’t a famous coach at the time. But his first coaching job, he’d graduated from the University of Michigan. And I got this scholarship offer.

 

What position did you play?

 

I played tackle. [CHUCKLE] I was a farm boy. [CHUCKLE] So I remember going to Bowling Green, Ohio and seeing his team play, and sitting on the bench with he and the players. And I really was excited about it. I have the correspondence from him, not my letters, where I kept writing and asking, If I get hurt in football, will my scholarship still be in effect? I couldn’t get a definite answer. So I decided to go to work for a while in a factory and earn enough money to go to college. By the way, the coach is George Allen.

 

George—I was gonna ask you.

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow.

 

Los Angeles Rams, Washington Redskins, Hall of Fame. [CHUCKLE]

 

And did you want to play for him? I mean, did he—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Did he evoke that leadership—

 

Oh, yeah; yeah. I liked him. But I was just—, what happens if I get hurt, and I don’t have a scholarship, and I don’t have any money? And I didn’t want to go to my folks for money, so I worked in a Dodge plant, and the Michigan Seamless Tube Company in my hometown of South Lyon. So I spent a year working there to save enough money to go to college.

 

It’s said that Hollywood actress Lana Turner was discovered at a drugstore on Sunset Boulevard. In Tom Moffatt’s life, the corner drugstore would provide that little catalyst which would take him away from the Dodge plant, and send him to a place he would come to call home.

 

One day, I’m in the corner drugstore in South Lyon, on my way to the tube company to work, and it was a steel mill. And I found this little book about colleges in the United States. The last page was University of Puerto Rico, and University of Hawaii. So I wanted to travel and go to school, and I got interested in University of Hawaii, and that’s how I ended up in Honolulu.

 

When you got here, was it what you expected?

 

Yeah; it was. It was more than I expected. I didn’t quite know what to expect, but I could just feel the love of people and just the feeling of Hawaii when I got here.

 

So you didn’t have trouble breaking into local culture, or—

 

No, I kinda [CHUCKLE] fell into it. [CHUCKLE]

 

And knew you were gonna stay?

 

Well, I didn’t know. I didn’t know at the time if I knew I was gonna make this my home. But after I spent some time here this was it. So I went to school, and wanted to be an attorney.

 

Where did you live when you first got to the island?

 

Manoa Valley. Not far from here. [CHUCKLE] Not far from your studio.

 

Do you remember the street?

 

Yeah; Hillside Avenue.

 

Beautiful place to live.

 

Yeah, it was.

 

And you know, UH went fine for you? What were you majoring in?

 

Law; I wanted to be a lawyer. And in my first year, I had a speech teacher who said, You have a nice voice, you should get in the radio guild.

 

Now, was that the first time you’d been told you have a nice voice?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

I’m amazed.

 

Well, in a farming town, they don’t [CHUCKLE]—

 

They don’t care how deep your voice is.

 

But I’d never been in a speech class before, either. So I joined the radio guild, and got interested in being a radio announcer. So the end of my first year, I auditioned for KGU, and didn’t make it as a junior announcer. So I went to work at Tripler Hospital, mopping floors. I mopped every stairway in Tripler Hospital.

 

[CHUCKLE] Why do you think you didn’t get the job as a freshman?

 

Well, it was pretty competitive. There were only, like, just a handful of radio stations there. KGU, KULA, KGMB; that was about it. And a couple of language stations.

 

So good experience, but off you went to mop the floors.

 

Yeah, so I went back to school. And I’d go home every night and read the newspaper aloud, and talk, and read stories. Nobody was around, I’d just read every night aloud. So anyway, come the following June, I went back to KGU and got a job. I really got into it. I became a staff announcer at KGU. This was before disc jockeys really.

 

Were you always reading, or did you make up what you were saying?

 

I would do a little bit of news. And you come in between network programs and get a station break, and maybe a thirty-second commercial. [CHUCKLE]

 

And you’re operating the equipment as you’re speaking too?

 

Yeah. It was on the third floor of the Advertiser Building. And the tower was on top of the building that was the antenna for the radio station. I did just about everything. We recreated baseball games. Joe “Rack ‘Em Up” Rose, and Carlos Rivas, and Frank Lenny were also in the same game. But I was Joe’s board operator. He’d be in the other room, and he’d get teletype reports of what was happening with the baseball game, New York Yankees in Boston, or whatever, and he’d recreate these games. And I had three turntables or four turntables. One was just a regular crowd, another was excited crowd.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

One was boos, and the other was a 7-Up vendor. Get your 7-Up.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

‘Cause that was one of the sponsors. So you’d hear this guy in the stands selling 7-Up. [CHUCKLE]

 

And who was making the crack of the bat?

 

Joe would do that.

 

And he would do that live?

 

He had one of those pieces of wood that drummers use sometimes. And he’d hit that with a pencil. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. Those were the days when we didn’t get those games piped in.

 

Oh, no. They were all delayed, and it was just recreated. The only way you could get it here was shortwave, and that was kind of expensive, I guess, or it wasn’t that clear. So they all recreated these games. [CHUCKLE]

 

And nowadays, people are used to consolidated radio stations with the same voice, recorded on channels throughout the nation. But in those days, it was all one of a kind and local.

 

It was quite glamorous, too. I remember being nervous the first time the microphone opened, and I had to say, This is KGU in Honolulu [CHUCKLE], high atop the Advertiser Building. Things like that.

 

Did you attract fans?

 

Not then. A little bit, maybe. People were interested, enamored with radio announcers, even then, although we didn’t say that much sometimes. [CHUCKLE]

 

News, sports recreations, a little bit of music. That was radio back in the 50s. Tom Moffatt was just beginning to see how the power of radio could influence the tiny community that was Hawaii.

 

Now, at KGU, I fell in love with being a commercial announcer. So when school started in the fall, I decided I was learning more at KGU than I was at the University of Hawaii, so I stayed on as a radio announcer. And I remember coming home, and remember meeting Ella Fitzgerald at KGU. And we had some tickets for her concert that night at McKinley High School auditorium. And I went home to change. And in the letterbox was a draft notice. You will report to … and so that was the end of my radio career at KGU. So I remember learning it that night, but I went to the concert and saw Ella Fitzgerald at McKinley High School. [CHUCKLE]

 

Did she pack it?

 

Oh, yeah. Oh, yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

McKinley High School?

 

M-hm. And many years later, I would present her in concert. [CHUCKLE]

 

So where did you go to report for the draft? Where did you serve?

 

I reported here, and I reported to Schofield for sixteen weeks of basic training. This was during the Korean War, and we were all being shipped off to Korea. So just when we concluded our basic training, this tough old sergeant called me in and said, Look, he said, you don’t want to go off to this war. [CHUCKLE]   He just kinda said, Hey, you got a talent, and they need a radio announcer at Armed Forces Radio at Tripler Hospital. I’ll lend you my car. He gave me the keys, and I drove to Tripler Hospital. And since I’d had some training in commercial radio, they grabbed me up right away. So I spent the next two years defending my country at Tripler Hospital. [CHUCKLE]

 

What were you voicing?

 

They ran pretty much the same things we ran at KGU. The big transcriptions, the Jack Benny Show, the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show, Suspense, Dragnet, Escape, all these shows. They were like half-hour shows. And you put a big fifteen-minute disc on, and go from that to the next one. Then come in between, and give a station break.

 

And that went only to the military population?

 

Yes, in Tripler Hospital. They called it the Bedside Network.

 

Only in Tripler?

 

Yeah.

 

And that was your draft service?

 

Uh-huh, that was it.

 

The place where you’d been mopping floors previously.

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. And did you do—

 

That was fun.

 

Did you do that throughout your time in the service?

 

Yes, I stayed there for the rest of my Army career. And then I went back to KGU. And I started at KIKI also, so I was working at three radio stations, really. I’d do my, you know, Army duty at Tripler and worked my eight hours, and then I’d work in the other stations. So I began my disc jockey career, really, at KIKI. It was kind of fun. [CHUCKLE]

 

Did you ever hook up with any of the guys you trained with at Schofield?

 

Yes. Unfortunately, I had a few days off before I had to report to Tripler Hospital. And when I did report, one of the guys was coming down on a gurney. He’d gone to Korea and got shot, and returned to the hospital already. And quite a few of them came back injured, to Tripler Hospital. At the time, a lot of the entertainers who came to Hawaii on vacation, Jack Benny and George Burns came up one time, and I interviewed them on the radio, and then they toured the different areas of Tripler Hospital, visiting with patients. Another time, Louis Armstrong came up and performed at the Post Theater. So I had the pleasure of introducing him on stage. And one of my favorite stories, I’m on stage, kinda nervous, because this is Louis Armstrong. And the place is packed, and the band is on stage and where’s Mr. Armstrong? I’m looking around, and so I went out in the parking lot. There he is. The parking lot is deserted, ‘cause everybody’s inside. And he’s with his signature handkerchief and trumpet … rehearsing, blowing his horn. Anyway, the show got underway. It was great. [CHUCKLE] A special moment, seeing him out there he had this white handkerchief that he always used, playing the trumpet. And there he was, out in the parking lot, tuning up.

 

Excuse me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

You’re on.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so, a career was born. Tom Moffatt was spinning stacks of wax, and like any good disc jockey, he was taking the musical temperature of his local listeners, giving them what they wanted. And what they wanted was a style of music that would revolutionize radio, and give Tom his identity.

 

So I started this jazz show on KIKI. But I would play other things too, like you know, Nat Cole, and things like that, and Frank Sinatra. All of a sudden, I started listening to this music, and getting requests for a guy with a funny name. Elvis Presley. And I started playing his music. And that’s where it exploded. All of a sudden, every kid on the island was listening, and I was the only one playing in the islands, really, I was the only one playing rock and roll. So yeah, I used to get like fifty-some letters a day [CHUCKLE] requesting. And I started doing a show from a drive-in, where Ward Warehouse is now, right by the corner of Ward and Ala Moana Boulevard. Right across from Fisherman’s Wharf.

 

It was a drive-in restaurant, not drive-in movie, right?

 

No, it was a drive-in restaurant called the White Top Drive-In. It became kind of the social center of Honolulu, and I was there every night from nine o’clock ‘til midnight, I think, or one o’clock.

 

Could people see you doing the show?

 

Oh, yeah. There was a fellow had a show called The Fishbowl Show. His name was Don Chamberlain. Then he left town, and this empty thing was sitting there, and they could move it around. So I turned it into Uncle Tom’s Cabin. A listener once wrote and said, Uncle Tom, or something like that. I got this moniker, Uncle Tom, and they started addressing letters to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. So I called the show Uncle Tom’s Cabin. So that’s what I called this former Fishbowl.

 

Then you got to perform with more than your voice. You had audiences.

 

Oh, yeah; yeah. And they would come, and the carhops would bring dedications from different cars.

 

And you were the first to play rock and roll music on radio in Hawaii?

 

Yeah.

 

Wow.

 

It was fun. [CHUCKLE] It was exciting.

 

That must have just swept, I mean, so pretty soon, you were doing a rock and roll show?

 

Oh, yeah. I was into it. The jazz was forgotten. [CHUCKLE] But I still hung out with the musicians, and we used to go to jam sessions. And a good friend of ours was Joe Castro, great piano player. And his girlfriend was Doris Duke. So a couple of times, we went up to Doris Duke’s home, and we’d jam all night. And I was like still the disc jockey buddy of these guys, and so we’d hang out and go to places like that. One night, we jammed all night, and she cooked breakfast for us the next morning. So we could boast that breakfast was cooked for us by Doris Duke. [CHUCKLE]

 

When you listen to the radio today, you’ll find that most stations change their format on a regular basis. They’re always searching for that sound, or personality that’s going to drive an audience to their wavelength. With rock and roll music in the 60s, there was an opportunity to grab hold of the music, the artists, the disc jockeys, and dominate the local airwaves. All it took was a visionary.

 

I was at KIKI, and Henry J. Kaiser, a great visionary, built the Hawaiian Village Hotel. And he wanted to have a radio station, I guess, and he saw what was happening with radio and felt he could do better. And so he built a radio station on the top floor of the Hawaiian Village Hotel. And he got J. Aku Head Pupule to be the manager, and do his morning show. Well, Aku hated rock. So, Mr. Kaiser felt that this young music should be played on his radio station, so he himself called some principals of schools to see who the kids were listening to. Well, of course, I won, ‘cause I was the only one playing rock and roll. So I got hired by Henry J. Kaiser to do—

 

Did he call you himself?

 

It went through Ron Jacobs, who was working for him as a good music disc jockey with Aku. And Ron called me and said, Mr. Kaiser wants to hire you. So that’s how it came together, and I met Mr. Kaiser, and it was very exciting. [CHUCKLE]

 

And even though he didn’t like the kind of music you’d be playing, he knew—

 

Mr. Kaiser, he was pretty open. It was Aku.

 

And—

 

Even to when he died, up to the—Aku was like one of the top disc jockeys in the world. He was, at one time, the highest paid disc jockey performing in Honolulu, and the whole world. He even boasted, just before he died, that he never played a Beatles record. [CHUCKLE]

 

And Mr. Kaiser didn’t say, Aku, you work for me, you’re gonna play rock and roll?

 

No, he didn’t force Aku to play rock and roll. But he said, You should have a young guy playing young music at night. So Aku went along with it.

 

So you had a definite franchise there.

 

Oh, yeah. And so, Ron was in the afternoon, and he started playing rock and roll. And then I was doing nine to midnight. And I’d do a mid-morning show also. So I was doing nine to noon, and nine to midnight.

 

So a pattern emerges. You work a lot. I mean, you worked multiple shifts.

 

Yeah. So that was my pattern, I worked two shifts. And Ron would be in the afternoon, and he was the bad guy, I was the good guy.

 

How did that play out?

 

It played out great. The roller derby was very big here in the 50s.

 

Oh, I remember. [CHUCKLE]

 

So we talked about doing a grudge match with Jacobs the bad guy, and myself the good guy. So we picked a night. It was slow at the Civic Auditorium, where the average crowd was twelve hundred people. So we worked a deal out with Mr. Ralph Yempuku, who ran the Civic, that we would get a piece of every ticket over twelve hundred. Well, we started talking this thing up, and that night, thirty-six hundred people showed up. It was packed. [CHUCKLE]

 

And there’s a hat story?

 

Yeah. This was in 1956, for the premier of “Love Me Tender” at the Waikiki Theater. Well, we set it up so I would have a teen premier on a Saturday afternoon, before it opened for the general public, just for kids. It was a Saturday morning, really, at the Waikiki Theater. And I got the hat, the actual hat that Elvis wore in “Love Me Tender”. But the kids had never seen Elvis on the screen before. And so, we had this contest. I got fifty-three thousand letters … trying to win the hat.

 

Fifty-three thousand.

 

Yeah. It was wild. It was the first time I ever heard girls scream in a theater. At a movie. That was at the Waikiki Theater.

 

So that was the beginning of Elvis in Hawaii.

 

I think so.

 

Just on screen.

 

Yeah.

 

And then …

 

Well, what happened, I think, was that the following year, Elvis had an open time period, and I think Colonel Parker remembered this contest and all the fan mail that kids wrote from Hawaii. I would give Elvis’ address out, and talk about Elvis, and play his records. And I think Colonel Parker remembered that. And so to fill that one date that they needed, they decided to come to Hawaii. And that’s why Elvis came to Hawaii in November of 1957.

 

What was that like?

 

Oh, that was something.

 

Was that one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had?

 

Yes; in music. And just about one of the most memorable experiences, just introducing Elvis on stage, and watch what happened. And watch him on stage, with really no visual support that performers have today. They moved the boxing ring that they used at the old stadium, and that was his stage.

 

This is the old Honolulu Stadium?

 

Yes,. The one where King and Isenberg, there’s Stadium Park there now. But I introduced him on his first concert. And here’s the stage, it’s a boxing ring. They’d taken the poles off, but they still had the overhead lights. That was his lighting. [CHUCKLE] The overhead lights, and that was it. And just his magnetism held that audience. Of course, he’s a great performer, great singer.

 

Who was backing him up?

 

His regular guys. The Nashville guys that recorded with him, they came here and backed him up.

 

What did you say in introducing him?

 

Oh, I don’t know, something. The man, you’ve come here to see him. And you could just feel the excitement. And I went to Colonel Parker. He said, Go up and introduce him. I said, Well, where is Elvis? He said, Don’t worry about it, don’t worry about it, just go up and introduce Elvis. Oh, there was a limousine parked over by the dressing room, not the dressing room, the dugout.

 

So you hadn’t met him at the time you were introducing him?

 

Yes, I had. I’ll tell you that story. [CHUCKLE] That’s another one. [CHUCKLE] But anyway, I introduced him. Elvis Presley. The place went crazy. It was so exciting.

 

Really high decibels?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Shrieky.

 

Yeah. And there he was, just a microphone, and a simple sound system. But he held that audience. And the most unforgettable moment that I’ve ever experienced with a performer is watching him do his encore. He did “Hound Dog”. Rock and roll, yeah? And he came back. And he got down on his knees on the stage, and did a slow version of “You Ain’t Nothing”—real slow. And then he jumped off the stage on his knees, and down on the ground, doing “Hound Dog”, slow. It was something. [CHUCKLE]

 

And when had you met him before that?

 

Well, the day before, Ron Jacobs and I, Ron figured this one out. Do something different. And we’d met the Colonel, and we’d kinda hinted there might be something like this in the works. And Don Tyler was of our guys at KPOI, and we dressed him up to look like Elvis. Ron had this convertible, a Ford convertible, hardtop convertible, top down, and got a fellow that looked like Colonel Parker, and Ron driving. And we had it all planned. I’m on the radio. From the moment Elvis arrived, I’m on the radio, playing nothing but Elvis records. And I did this all morning, into the afternoon. So I kinda planned it. We understand that Elvis is heading for Kailua. So people would be out on the streets waiting, looking for Elvis, and drive down the streets, and people are screaming, and we did this in different neighborhoods.

 

Did you get any fallout from it?

 

Well, we got back to the studio. By then, I had played Elvis for six straight hours, at least. It was mid-afternoon, and we were patting ourselves on the back. And we get the message from our news guy that, Colonel Parker wants to see you guys downstairs, immediately.

 

Tan-da, tan-da.

 

Oh. And we looked at each other; we wanted to escape. So we went downstairs, and there’s guards at the elevator. We went down one floor. And they took us into Colonel Parker’s suite. Colonel said, We didn’t know what to expect. Colonel said, Boys, that was a pretty good promotion you did. Oh, my gosh. Oh, and here’s Elvis. In walked Elvis. And that’s the first time I’d met Elvis. [CHUCKLE]

 

And he’d heard all about it?

 

I don’t know how much Elvis had heard about it, but Colonel said, These boys did a nice promotion today, and I’ve asked them to introduce you tomorrow at the stadium. So Mr. Moffatt’s gonna introduce you in your first show, and Mr. Jacobs in the evening show. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. So you scored on that.

 

Oh, wow. That was a relief. [CHUCKLE] And since then, we became such good friends with the Colonel. And so subsequently, whenever Elvis came here, I was the first guy with the microphone to talk to him. And sometimes, the only one.

 

For a young man who grew up working on a farm in Michigan, these were heady times. Tom Moffatt was a popular disc jockey on a radio station that was dominating the airwaves. He was living in Paradise, surrounded by teenagers who hungered for the culture and the music of rock and roll. The next time we talk with Tom Moffatt, we’ll see how he and the Poi Boys of KPOI Radio grabbed the local audience by giving them everything they wanted, and how Tom made a career out of feeding that hunger with more than just the sound coming out of a transistor radio. For PBS Hawaii, and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

You had a pretty good voice too, as far as singing.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Tell us about making a record yourself.

 

This local record company owner, Bob Bertram, who went on to record Robin Luke’s “Susie Darlin’”, which became the first top ten rock and roll hit to make it outside of Hawaii all over the country, he came to me and said, Look, these guys can make records, why don’t you? So we picked “Beyond the Reef”, which was the Alfred Apaka hit song, which was very popular back in the 50s. And Mr. Bertram said, Look, you know, to push this record, you’ve gotta sing it when you emcee shows. Now, Alfred Apaka was the singing star of Henry J. Kaiser’s Tapa Room at the Hawaiian Village Hotel. So I was all set to sing it that night, I’d rehearsed it that afternoon with the band. So I came out, the emcee of the show, and I looked down at the front row, there’s Mr. and Mrs. Henry J. Kaiser, and Alfred Apaka, sitting in the front row. I didn’t sing it that night. [CHUCKLE]

 

 

Part 2: A Life of Entertainment

 

If Michael calls, I just took the update out and everything. Can you come up real fast? I just want the one that says, March 18th. Only rock and roll. I’ll copy you on what I send him, okay? Thanks.

 

His life is on the walls and shelves of his office, celebrities who are close friends, acts he’s presented to Hawaii, awards and memorabilia of a life immersed in entertainment. Coming up on Long Story Short, disc jockey, promoter, entertainer, Tom Moffatt.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha. I’m Leslie Wilcox. His career has spanned Elvis Presley in the 50s, the Hawaiian music renaissance feature Cecilio & Kapono, Kalapana, and Country Comfort in the 70s, all the way to Bruno Mars today. But in the 60s, Tom Moffatt was one of the Poi Boys, a team of disc jockeys taking Hawaii by storm. They pulled off ridiculous, just wacky promotional stunts, and played the latest rock and roll hits from the continent.

 

The transgression went from KIKI to Mr. Kaiser at KHVH, and then to KPOA, where I hosted the Big 30 Review, which was a major radio show at the time. And Ron went with me there, and then we started KPOI. And that was when we really had a free hand in radio, and we became the first rock and roll radio station to broadcast twenty-four hours a day, with the Poi Boys.

 

How many Poi Boys were there?

 

Oh, five or six. And it rotated. But there was Ron Jacobs, and myself, and Tom Rounds and Don Tyler was a Poi Boy, and Sam Sanford was a Poi Boy, Bob the Beard Lowrie.

 

Jack Kellner was, as well.

 

Jack Kellner was, Dave—

 

Don Robbs.

 

—Donnelly was, Don Robbs. Oh, yeah; yeah. [CHUCKLE]

 

Those were great days of radio, when you didn’t have corporate saying, You have to sound like the other stations.

 

No, we could do whatever we wanted. On the spur of the moment, we’d do crazy things. People would think they were planned, but they weren’t.

 

What are some of the things you did? What do you remember most fondly? What was the biggest stroke …

 

Well, the biggest—

 

—of genius?

 

—thing that we did—this was planned. But Tom Rounds would stay awake for a week at the Wigwam store on Dillingham Boulevard, right by where Meadow Gold is. And he stayed awake for a week. Another time that I did—[CHUCKLE] … they promised me a week in Las Vegas, so I would do this hang-a-thon from a car high above a used car lot on Nimitz Highway.

 

A hang-a-thon?

 

Yeah. So I would broadcast from a car … five or six stories up, in this car, for I don’t know how long. And this crane took me up. And we had a whole drama unfolding before it, but anyway, Jacobs was supposed to do it, and I came in on my white horse and rescued the event, and I will go up and stay when Jacobs chickened out. It was all planned. But I went up—this was not planned. I got up in this car, and I was looking for a week in Vegas, and signing meals. And while I was up there, I could pick meals, and they would send meals up to me from any restaurant in town. It was all set, and I was gonna do this hang-a-thon. Well, the State Safety Commissioner got involved, and threatened to pull the license on the crane company, unless they lowered the car. So I remember being up there, looking at all these mice running around, people, ‘cause I was way up there. [CHUCKLE] And all of a sudden, I’m coming down. That’s what happened. So I didn’t get the trip to Vegas. [CHUCKLE]

 

Aw.

 

That one didn’t work.

 

And your management really gave you carte blanche?

 

Oh, they did; yeah. Yeah. Sometimes, they didn’t quite understand it, but they went along with it.

 

And the audience was just glued for the next move.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

Just waiting—

 

They never knew what—

 

—for something.

 

—was gonna happen. That was the charm about that radio station, is that people would tune in, and any time of the day or night, something bizarre could happen.

 

But the Poi Boys weren’t just hanging from cranes and staying awake for a week. They were the ears of Hawaii, always on the lookout for the latest hits from the continent, and bringing those sounds to the local airwaves.

 

I remember the waiting every weekend … was it once a year that you did the Song of the Year, and you did a countdown? And I always waited to find out what was the number one—

 

Oh, that was—

 

—song.

 

—Labor Day Weekend. We’d do a Marathon of Hits Countdown. And we had listeners starting in the summer sending in their votes. And we’d send something to some of the listeners and get them to send in their top five favorites. Then we’d tabulate them all, and play off the top three hundred hits of all time, starting Labor Day weekend, and ending up on Monday night. It was pretty wild. And people tuned in, talk about it, what’s gonna be number one.

 

Yeah, it’s sort of … I mean, with the internet and all the engagement, I mean, it was like that without the internet then. People were—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

—back and forth, and talking, and—

 

Yeah.

 

—engaging all the time.

 

The phone was a great communicator for us. You could tell pretty much if a record was gonna happen. I answered the phone all the time. And if somebody would take the time to call for a record, you’d take another listen to it, or play it again, or …

 

And you’d decide—

 

It’s a great barometer.

 

—what to play, or the record companies told you what to—

 

No, no.

 

—play?

 

The records companies didn’t. They would bring us the records, but we had a music department, and usually Tom Rounds, Jacobs, and I would sit in, and we’d listen to the records, and see what was happening nationally with them. And if it wasn’t happening nationally, if it had a local sound, and we had a certain playlist that we played, but the jocks didn’t have to follow a certain list. And we had a whole spindle full of records that were older records that we had the choice of playing that we’d play at a certain time. But we had this whole current playlist that we could play. And sometimes, if a record was hot, I’d play the same record two or three times in a show. It was like that hot. And you could do that.

 

You had such a large audience.

 

Yes.

 

And then, you had influence over the music to be played. So—

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

 

Tremendous power.

 

A lot of records broke here, before they broke on the mainland.

 

Is that because you guys noticed that this is really resonating?

 

Records took note of Hawaii, because there was no outside influence into our marketplace. Like Los Angeles or any major market had smaller cities in their area that might influence record sales. But we had none here. We were it. There was nobody outside of our perimeter. [CHUCKLE]

 

So great lab for—

 

Yeah.

 

—for music.

 

Yeah, yeah. So the record companies watched what was happening with our radio station, and watched what we were playing.

 

How long did the Poi Boy era last?

 

Well, we started in 1959. And I left KPOI. I went from disc jockey to music director, to program director, to GM vice president. It kinda lasted all the way through, but the heyday was in the 60s, when the Moose, Dave Donnelly, and Kellner, and Jacobs, and Rounds, and all of us were together having fun and … those were the times.

 

Tom Moffatt’s love for music and entertainment soon opened other doors for the affable deejay with the magical voice. He began working with local promoters, producing live shows featuring some of the most popular acts of his time, including our own homegrown talent.

 

During the time that I was at KIKI, Mr. Ralph Yempuku and Earl Finch, who had promoted stadium shows, state fair, and things like that, called me into their office and said, Look, we believe this new music is gonna happen, and you seem to know it better than anyone. We’ll bring you in as a partner. And if the show makes money, you’ll make money; if the show doesn’t make money, it loses money, you won’t lose anything. So it was the perfect opportunity for me. So I started working with Mr. Finch and Mr. Yempuku, and we put on thirty-some different shows at the Civic Auditorium, from Paul Anka, to Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, you name it, anybody who was a young rock and roll singer, Eddie Cochran. Many of the people who are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came here for the Show of Stars.

 

What did you learn from the two older gentlemen?

 

Be conservative, be cautious, be careful, and learn how to sell your product. I learned that from them.

 

Be cautious with money, or with risk?

 

Yeah, with risk. Yeah. It’s very easy to get in over your head in that business, or this business.

 

You got to know many of the local entertainers, as well as these big national stars.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Who were some of the people that made a big impression on you when you were in radio, in those days?

 

Well, Alfred, of course, did. Sterling Mossman, at the Barefoot Bar, at Queen’s Surf. Let’s see. So, The Alii’s, Don Ho, of course. Don Ho came along … at the latter days of KPOI. Dick Jensen. We recorded Dick Jensen as Lance Curtis.

 

Oh, really?

 

We thought he should have more of a Hollywood sounding name. [CHUCKLE] So we recorded him. I think it was at the KPOI studios. And we recorded quite a few artists here, local artists, that we put out as forty-five records.

 

And that was sort of a natural outgrowth of what you were doing as part of your radio job.

 

Yeah; yeah. Yeah.

 

Or did you do it on the side? Was it part of the radio—

 

No, it was on the—

 

—job?

 

—side.

 

But it was because you knew the people, and you knew the biz.

 

Yeah. And we’d play the records at KPOI, and the bands would come and play for us at different promotions. It kind of went hand-in-hand. And we did this show, they’d sing at the Funny Farm over in the American Chinese Clubhouse every Friday night. And one summer, a restaurant had folded in Waikiki, and was available, and so we opened a teenaged nightclub called Fat City. It was the hottest thing of the summer. Just served soft drinks. There was always a line up right on Kalakaua, where the Hyatt is now. [CHUCKLE]

 

And that was just started by your gang?

 

Yeah; yeah. We started that. And we started a company called Arena Associates to promote shows at what would become the Blaisdell Arena, then the Honolulu International Center Arena. I remember we used seed money from the Funny Farm and Fat City. I remember this scrapbook came out on the Beatles. And I put a station logo on it, and offered it on the air for sale for, what, fifty—I forget what it was. And we sold those, and made a profit on that. And all that money, we put together to promote the first show at the Blaisdell Arena, the HIC Arena.

 

HIC.

 

Yeah. Honolulu International Center. And that was April 10, 1964. That was the first show. And we brought in ten acts out of a big show that was performing in San Francisco.

 

Do you remember who they were?

 

Paul Revere and the Raiders, Ray Peterson … Teddy Randazzo. Chuck Berry was supposed to come in, but he had a incident where he was on parole. And he was all set to come in, and then his parole officer wouldn’t let him out of the continental United States. So I called Teddy Randazzo in New York, who was in a recording session, and I said, Hey, we need some help, can you make it? So he dropped everything and came over, and took Chuck Berry’s place. Chuck Berry was huge, but Teddy was huge also. Jan and Dean, and people like that.

 

That was a big start.

 

Yeah, it was. It was a great show. And we sold tickets for next to nothing, and we did two shows in one day. I think tickets were ninety cents, for ten acts.

 

And for many decades since, Tom Moffatt has brought heavy hitters from the entertainment world to Hawaii, allowing us to enjoy the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Eagles, Michael and Janet Jackson, the Rolling Stones, and Sir Elton John. If a big act was playing Hawaii, they were probably here because of Tom Moffatt Productions. But if you think that the life of a concert promoter is all glamour and celebrity, you’d be mistaken.

 

Throughout your career, you’ve been the good guy.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

You’re the one that doesn’t get judgments against him for promotion, and you have contract handshakes.

 

M-hm; yeah. I’ve done a lot of shows just by a handshake.

 

What is your life like the week before a big concert? What is it like to be in the office with you?

 

Well, it’s last minute changes in arrival times, and rehearsals, and sound checks and food demands.

 

Okay.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That’s something I’d love to hear about, food demands.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Is it true that some of these over the top requests are just kind of crazy?

 

They are. They are. It’s more expensive now. [CHUCKLE] The first time I brought the Rolling Stones in, we had a drinking fountain back stage. That was it. That was it. It just wasn’t thought of. The performers came in, and did their show, and left.

 

Now?

 

Well, now, it’s—whew. You’ve got breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And dressing rooms full of goodies, and …

 

And they’re very specific about vegan this, and certain brands, and—

 

Oh, yeah. And you get a vegetarian, and you got that whole thing going. They want fish in one day, chicken on another day, meat on another day. It’s all specified in the riders. And the riders are getting thicker and thicker. [CHUCKLE]

 

What else has changed about bringing acts in?

 

The technical has gotten, like, wow. [CHUCKLE] I refer to the Stones. The first time they came in, we used what they called stage lights that rolled on. This is from the old vaudeville days, and they were a bank of lights that you rolled on and off the stage. And we had overhead spotlights in the Blaisdell. Those were there. But that’s what the Rolling Stones used the first time, were these roll-on stage lights, and spotlights overhead.

 

How was Mick Jagger to work with?

 

Great; they were great. This was the last date of their US tour, and they came here, and they were looking forward to it. We put ‘em at the Kahala, and they were very happy and easy to work with. Unfortunately, they had in their rider where you had to hire fifty uniformed city policemen. And wherever they did this, even with the policemen, kids would mob the stage. Well, here, our young people respected authority, at least around the stage. They made noise, but they sat in their seats. And the Stones weren’t used to this. And they did a twenty-seven-minute show, because they didn’t know what to do between songs. Where normally, it would be two or three minutes of pandemonium with kids rushing the stage, it didn’t happen here. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s amazing. And that’s ended now. People do storm the stage.

 

Can you imagine a twenty-seven-minute concert now, with a major act? [CHUCKLE] But we didn’t get one complaint. And the reviewer in the Star Bulletin mentioned twenty-seven minutes. And I still have a tape of their show. I have a tape of the show, and I timed it; it’s twenty-seven minutes. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, did you have to rush up to conclude the show, not really ready for that?

 

No, no. No, I remember Mick Jagger saying, Wonderful time here, and this may be our last concert, ever. [CHUCKLE] Ever; and the drum roll goes [CHUCKLE] when he said that. [CHUCKLE] Oh, it was funny.

 

Speaking of drama.

 

Yeah, it was. It was hilarious. But not one complaint. The kids just screamed all the way through. The Rolling Stones were on stage, and that’s all they wanted.
If you were to ask Tom Moffatt to name the favorite chapter of his career, he might mention the musical renaissance of the 1970s. It was a time when local fans stood in long lines outside the Top of Da Shop—remember how small the room was when you finally got in there? Territorial Tavern, or even the Monarch Room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

 

Who were the local artists that you most enjoyed working with, and had the most success with?

 

Well, the Royal Drifters were one of the first local groups. Dick Jensen, Robin Luke, Ronny Diamond; they were all big singers in the 50s and the early 60s. And we used them as often as possible on The Show of Stars at the Civic Auditorium, and whenever we could at the new arena. I remember the first time that the Rolling Stones came to town we put Dick Jensen on as the opening. Lance Curtis as the opening group, opening performer.

 

Lance Curtis.

 

And he danced like Michael Jackson. This was before Michael Jackson. He could dance.

 

Didn’t you record Keola and Kapono Beamer in Honolulu City Lights?

 

Yes, I did. I had just left radio. I’d finally decided that I’d gone through a couple of owners at KPOI, and a third one was coming in, and I decided it was time to take hiatus from radio. So I started my own record company. And in the door, walked Kapono Beamer one day, and said that they weren’t happy with wherever they were in recording, and so I got the two of them in, and talked to them about it. And I said, Why don’t you guys go home and write, and let’s do a record together, an album. So I gave them some seed money to go out and write. And Keola called me and said, I think I’ve got a song. He was living up at Alewa Heights. I’ll never forget it. And I went up to Alewa Heights to hear this song, just when it was getting dusk, and that time of the evening when it was getting dark, and the lights were coming on. And he played for me Honolulu City Lights. And I knew we had something. So that was my first recording endeavor, really, on my own. And we came out with Honolulu City Lights, got Teddy Randazzo to help with the arrangements.

 

And for decades, I believe that was the highest selling local album of all time. Is it still?

 

Oh, I don’t know, with Iz around. [CHUCKLE]

 

And I think Kealii Reichel might have had a—

 

Oh, yes, yes.

 

A really big seller.

 

But not that long ago, a few years back, I think it was the Star-Bulletin and the Advertiser, and Honolulu Magazine came out with a list of the best albums. Not best selling, just the best albums, Hawaii albums of all time. And number one was Honolulu City Lights. That was a thrill. It’s still my favorite. [CHUCKLE] I still love that song.

 

Me too. Actually, that came out when I was seeing a lot of friends off to college at the airport.

 

Yeah.

 

And it was always playing in the airport then, and they were always crying. And those were the days where there was no security.

 

Yes.

 

You went to the gate to see people off.

 

You could go to the gate with lei’s. Yeah.

 

And local style, you didn’t bring just lei’s, you brought bento’s and food, and everybody had luau’s. And that song was just playing—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

—almost continuously. And if it wasn’t, somebody was asking that it be played. Yeah. So that’s such a cultural memory in Hawaii. That was your first, ever, recorded song.

 

Yes. Well, I’d done some singles and so forth. Once, I put out an album, a trumpet album, but that was with other people involved. But this was the first one I did on my own, was Honolulu City Lights. At the same time, I had a girl that worked for me just as I was leaving KPOI. And she said, You gotta go out and see this group in Aina Haina.

 

Randy Borden?

 

No.

 

No? Okay; who?

 

Country Comfort.

 

Country Comfort.

 

Yeah.

 

Playing at the old—

 

At The Sty.

 

—M’s Ranch House? Oh, The Sty.

 

No, this was at The Sty. It wasn’t Aina Haina, it was beyond Aina Haina, at The Sty.

 

Niu; that’s right.

 

Yeah. And I heard these guys, and I went out and saw what was happening with the audience, and what they had going for them. And so I finished off an album that—this was just before Honolulu City Lights, that my partner Irv Bninski [PHONETIC] had started. And I finished off the album, and we put it out together. Then after that, I left out on my own. But Country Comfort was one of my favorite albums. I also did an album by The Surfers at that time called Shells, which I still think is one of the best Hawaiian albums ever produced.

 

Did you pretty much have your pick of people wanting to make records?

 

Yes. Yeah, there was a lot of talent around.

 

Those are some—

 

There was a lot of ‘em coming up.

 

—wonderful groups.

 

And The Alii’s, we recorded The Alii’s and presented them. And I opened the showroom at the Outrigger Hotel in 1968.

 

All of these enterprises, these artistic enterprises, and creative enterprises … to really be stable, and to make a go of them, you have to be good at money, you have to be good at restraint, and you have to be good a planning. Did you have that all along? Or did you have to learn that the hard way?

 

I’m still learning. [CHUCKLE] Still learning. But I’ve got good accountants around me. Yeah.

 

And you’re not by nature prone to take unreasonable risk.

 

No. We put quite a bit of money into some of the recording projects, but I believed in them, and it turned out okay. Opening the Outrigger main showroom was kind of a gamble. The room that was sitting there was a convention room that they never used. And Tommy Sands had come to Hawaii, and was looking for a place to work, and so we opened that showroom. And it’s been going ever since. After Tommy, then I kinda drifted off, but … and another time, when the Beamers got going with Honolulu City Lights, there was another room that was sitting empty, which we opened as the Reef Showroom at the Reef Hotel. The Ocean Showroom at the Reef Hotel, that’s what we called it. I put the Beamers in there. That was kind of a gamble at the time, but I felt, you know, this record was happening. So we opened the showroom with Keola and Kapono Beamer, and Andy Bumatai as the opening comedian. It was very successful.

 

With Tom Moffatt’s reputation and success, you might think that his son would be eager to learn the business.

 

You have one son.

 

Uh-huh.

 

Who’s not a promoter.

 

No. No, he’s a—

 

Because he saw the stress involved.

 

[CHUCKLE] Yes, I think so.

 

What does he do?

 

He’s in landscaping in Hilo. He lives in Hilo. He likes the feeling of Hilo.

 

So he’s kinda like his dad, in liking the country?

 

Uh-huh. But when Dad comes over with a show, I put him to work. When he graduated, I promised to take—he’s a surfer, take him to Surfer’s Paradise in Australia. So while there, I took him to Sydney and met a good friend of mine, Gary Van Egmond, who was promoting a concert at the time, several of them with the same artist. I can’t mention the artist, because he’s a good friend of mine now, and he’s doing fantastic now. But at that particular time, he wasn’t selling tickets. And I went to see him, and introduced my son to him, and he was getting these calls from different box areas, and what the ticket sales were in different areas of Australia. He had a couple dates in New Zealand with the same artist. And his face was getting whiter and whiter, because they weren’t selling. And I think my son watched this, and decided this is not the business he wanted to be in. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah. Watching you do it, it must have looked kinda easy.

 

Yeah; yeah. Didn’t see the stress sometimes you feel in an office when you’re getting box office reports.

 

Was there a time you considered getting out, because maybe the risk was too high, or you know, the cost was too high in some way?

 

No, I’ve never felt that way. I always have been very optimistic about this business, that people want to be entertained, they want to see live concerts, they want to go out and be there, and experience that music firsthand.

 

Would you have done anything another way along the way?

 

Well, I think I was making big money in working in an automobile factory first, in Detroit, and if they hadn’t gone on strike, I might still be there. [CHUCKLE] ‘Cause I was making good money.

 

Well, later—

 

But then, I saw—

 

—Detroit was to be a music center, too.

 

Oh, yeah. When I was going to work in the Dodge factory at Hamtramck, I took the bus down Grand Boulevard, in Detroit, and went past, every day, coming and going, what would soon be the site of Motown. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. So it could have worked out, if you’d stayed. Except, you would have been a lot colder.

 

[CHUCKLE] But if they hadn’t gone on strike everybody was making great money, but they went on strike at Dodge, and I said, Wow, this isn’t the life for me.

 

Do you see yourself retiring one day?

 

I can’t see it, really. I enjoy what I do. I don’t feel like it’s going to work. I think if it gets to the point where I’m like, going to work, and having to do it, I may think about that. I love music, I love the people involved in it, and I just love to see a happy audience and a happy performer.

 

In Tom Moffatt’s career, spanning more than five decades, he’s been a part of our lives, first, as a radio deejay, then as a promoter. It’s likely that nearly everyone in Hawaii has either seen a Tom Moffatt production, or heard about the one that they missed. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

When the Hawaiian renaissance in music came around with groups like Olomana, Country Comfort, Kalapana, and of course, Cecilio & Kapono, I got involved with all of them. Especially Cecilio & Kapono at the beginning. I got a call from their manager, Bill Thompson, and they were rehearsing their firsts Columbia album in Colorado. They were skiing and rehearsing, and performing. So I flew over to see them, and they had some of the top sidemen from Hollywood doing the album with them. So I got all excited, and when they came back to Honolulu, I put them in a concert at the Waikiki Shell. We did, I think, about three to four thousand people. But when the album came out shortly thereafter, they kind of introduced songs from the album that night and sang them live, but when the album came out, wow, everything happened.

 

 

IN THEIR OWN WORDS
Muhammad Ali

 

This biographical profile uses Muhammad Ali’s most memorable quotes to frame his life story. Follow Ali’s path from his birth as Cassius Clay, through his boxing successes, his conversion to Islam, his opposition to the draft, his exile from the ring, his comeback fights, his battle with Parkinson’s disease and his inspirational re-emergence at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Bob Apisa

 

When he first came to Hawaii from American Samoa at the age of seven, Bob Apisa could not understand a word of English. Despite that initial difficulty, he excelled in sports at Farrington High School and won a national championship as a member of the Michigan State Spartan football team. He was drafted by the Green Bay Packers and went on to a successful career in Hollywood as an actor and stuntman.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wed., Aug. 19 at 11:00 pm and Sun., Aug. 23 at 4:00 pm.

 

Bob Apisa Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that. When you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there.

 

Before Marcus Mariota, there was Bob Apisa, a Samoan recruited from Hawaii, who also made history on the football field nearly half a century ago. Bob Apisa, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Bob Apisa was the first all-American college football player of Samoan ancestry whose achievements helped open the door for Polynesian players like Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariot. Apisa’s athleticism made him a college football star, and led him to a long career as a stuntman in Hollywood’s film industry. However, Apisa’s early years were a struggle. When he moved to Hawaii at the age of seven, he couldn’t understand a word of English.

 

Where were you born?

 

Leslie, I was born in Fagatogo, American Samoa. And that’s adjacent to Pago Pago, American Samoa. That’s the capital of American Samoa.

 

But you didn’t stay there, obviously.

 

Fortunately for me and my family—well, there were eleven siblings. I mean, I had ten siblings, rather. I was the eleventh. There eight boys, three girls. And my dad was in the military at the time; he knew that the only way to improve our lot in life was to bring us from Samoa to Hawaii, so that we can get into or be engrained with proper uh, education. I remember sixty-three years ago when I left American Samoa in 1952. And I remember pulling out of that port, and we never seen electricity; I’d never seen it. I lived in a house that was lit up by kerosene lanterns. And I never spoke English, could not understand a word of English. And as we left Samoa, two and a half weeks later, we were pulling in at Honolulu Harbor. And the landscape of the land was just lit up, and I was on deck, and I asked my brother, George—his name was Siosi. In Samoan, that’s George. And I said, Siosi, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, there must be hundreds of, you know, kerosene lanterns out there lighting this place up. And he looked at me; he said, Papu. Papu is Bob in Samoan. He said, Papu, [SAMOAN LANGUAGE]. Meaning, Those are not kerosene lanterns; that’s electricity. I had never seen a switch. We never had an inside toilet; we had outhouses. So, the confirmation of just bringing this whole new world was there. And the reaffirmation of that was the effort that we had to go out and strike it on our own. My mom and my father went up to as high as eighth grade in Samoa. They didn’t have high schools. And that was one of the reasons why my dad brought us here.

 

What was the hardest thing for you? I can’t imagine. The culture, the language; what was the hardest thing?

 

Well, the hardest thing was cognitive skills, social etiquettes; things of that nature. I remember sitting in the classroom at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary, and when the teacher would gather the kids around, and she would read us a book, like, See Tom run; run, run, run. See Jane hop; hop, hop. And kids would laugh. And they would laugh, and that was my clue to laugh along with them, so I would feel like I’m one of them.

 

But you didn’t know why.

 

But I didn’t know why I was laughing. I didn’t know why I was laughing.

 

No special language lessons, or tutoring; nothing like that?

 

No; this was strictly through osmosis or just by being around the vicinity of being around English-speaking military dependents. Because I was brought up with military dependents at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary. But I had teachers that helped me. I remember arriving in November, and starting school late. Because it started in September, and arriving, and then I had to re-acclimate myself. Then I got hurt. We were playing cowboys and Indians; I got shot in my left eye with a slingshot, and bled for quite some time. So, I missed more school. And as a result, I was set back a grade to repeat that same grade in order for me to get on. But I took that as an onus that I had some making up to do, but it was incumbent on me to make the move and make the motivation to move ahead.

 

Where did your family live, and what was it like growing up with ten siblings?

 

It was a very disciplinarian upbringing. My dad, I think in my lifetime, because he was a man of few words, but he’ll give you that look, and you’ll know exactly what he meant. But he was very soft-spoken. My mom was the general foreman; she ran the shop. So, she was very dedicated as a mother. She attended and made sure that we went to school. She took us there, and picked us up. You know, she was all-giving and all-supportive.

 

So, at the time, what public school did you go to?

 

I came out of Pearl Harbor Kai. I entered Aliamanu Intermediate when it first opened up. This, I think, was 1960. And I remember going to Aliamanu the very first day it opened up, and the Salt Lake City was just nothing but a salt lake and marshland.

 

It really was a salt lake then.

 

There were no buildings. There were no buildings; just that school there. But from there, I had to go on to ninth grade. They did not have a ninth grade; it was just up to eighth grade. And I had left the eighth grade, so I was going to the ninth grade. And what my brother Bill and I did—I mean, Bill was the catalyst in bringing me to the old Interscholastic League of Honolulu.

 

ILH.

 

ILH. And that was the premier competition. And I think because he felt slighted—I didn’t know any better, but he felt slighted that all the friends that we were playing around with when we were little kids all went to private schools. And he felt slighted.

 

The immigrants got left behind.

 

But the immigrants were left behind. And so, we concocted a story based on Bill’s theory that if we had a district exception from someone, that we can play at Farrington. Because Farrington was in the ILH. So, we asked my uncle, Reverend McMoore—that’s the Scotch part of my family, to use his residence address over at Republican Street in Kalihi. And he said, Yeah, by all means. So, that’s how we ended up at Farrington.

 

Bob Apisa says he didn’t play organized football until he entered the ninth grade at Farrington High School. He was a natural at that, and other sports as well.

 

You did things like you were playing a doubleheader in baseball, and the coach ran you over to the Punahou relays, and you took two events there, and you came back and you played your second baseball game.

 

Yes; that’s very true. This is my senior year, and it was the spring of my senior year. And I had fiddled around with the track team so I can work out and do my sprints, and just starting out, because I knew as a running back, I needed speed. But he needed a shot-putter, and he knew that in my sophomore year, I tinkered around with shot-putting, and it was only about, you know, two feet or three feet and a lot of rolls after that. But I didn’t know how to acquire the skills. So, we were playing Roosevelt at Moiliili Field, and he went up to my coach, Dick Kitamura, and he said, Dick, may I borrow Bob uh, in between the games? He said, Fine. I went up there.

 

And are you still wearing your baseball shoes?

 

I was wearing my baseball gear.

 

 

I took off my baseball top and put on a FHS tee-shirt or shirt, tank top, and I wore my baseball pants and my baseball leggings, and I borrowed a pair of tennis shoes. And these were the best shot-putters from all over the State. And they were all kinda [SNICKERS], you know, laughing and giggling.

 

How did that make you feel? Did that make you feel like—

 

Well, you know, I was laughing, myself. [CHUCKLE] But anyway, I said, Well, you know, I’m gonna do the best I can. My first throw, I said to myself, All I want to do is get some height on it. And I pumped it back, and I let go, and all I heard was the crowd going, Wow! Because I had just broken the State record that was there for eight and a half years later. I mean, previous. And I’m walking around like I knew what I was doing, but I was looking for the first dog poop that I may have stood on before I came into the ring. But, you know, my second and third throws, I mean, ba-boom, little dribbles here and there.   But the damage was done. I had won the shotput, I had set the State record for the shotput of fifty-six, three and three-quarters, and I broke—the gentleman’s name, I think it was Souza that was from Waialua in 1956.   So, I told the coach, I’ve got a second game, so put on my uniform, and went back to play the second game of the doubleheader.

 

How’d you do in the doubleheader?

 

I hit a homerun.

 

It was a good night; a very good night.

 

It was a good night.

 

Bob Apisa’s athletic achievements at Farrington caught the attention of dozens of college football recruiters. He chose Michigan State University, where he became part of a national championship team known for pioneering racial integration, and for having four future Hall of Fame players, all African American. And he earned a spot in Rose Bowl lore.

 

I was. You know, when you’re raised in Hawaii, I mean, ethnically, I am of Samoan mix. Culturally, I am of Hawaiiana. When I’m raised with people here, they would have an influence on the way you look at things in life. And I knew that go up there, don’t shame your surname, don’t shame yourself, and don’t shame the state that you’re from. And that was the driving force for all of us who were up there. You know, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer, when we were playing, we were ranked number one in the country. We would go to Ann Arbor to play University of Michigan or go down to Columbus and play Ohio State, or go down to South Bend to play Notre Dame; the top schools in the country. And we would look at each other, kust before we’d go out on the field, we’d look at each other. We’d do this. Meaning, when we get together, we say, Don’t make … you know what.

 

A.

 

A; of yourself. Because that’s how local boys related; don’t make A. So, we look at each other, and we knew. We were in tune.

 

And at the same time, Michigan State had an unusual makeup of its starters. I read that there were eleven African American starters, which was really unusual at the time, and you had far more players on the team. And then, there was you, who became the first all-American player of Samoan ancestry.

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

What a team.

 

Oh, it was a great team. You know, at that time in 1964, we had just legislated civil rights. In 1965, there was the Civil Rights Voting Act.

 

And that’s when you were a sophomore.

 

When I was a sophomore. And I looked at Bubba Smith, and Bubba Smith would look at George Webster, and George Webster would look at Dick Kenney. And we would look at each other … people of color. We said, You mean, we can actually vote for the first time? And so, there was a lot of history in that, that we had to encumber along the way. But the fact is, you look at things, and you learn from those experiences, and having African Americans who were great athletes. Being from the islands, again, you know, we had this mantra that you’re there to represent your people, you go out there and kick okole.

 

Here we are at the granddaddy of all the bowl games, the Rose Bowl, in—

 

So, forty-nine years before Marcus Mariotta helped to win the Rose Bowl, you were playing the Rose Bowl.

 

That’s correct. That’s correct. I was probably the first Samoan that played in the Rose Bowl; I’m not sure of that.

 

Bob Apisa, the fullback …

 

In 1966, I was a sophomore. And we were ranked number one in the country, undefeated, and we played UCLA, who we had beaten in the first game of the year. We were behind by fourteen to twelve, and I had scored a touchdown, and we went for a two-point conversion instead of having Dick kick a field goal or a point after. So, that made a difference. So, when we scored the second touchdown, we had to make up two points. And I was given that opportunity, and it’s been in lore, the Rose Bowl lore throughout the years that I was stopped by the one-yard line by Bob Stiles.

 

Apisa the fullback, and Bob is caught a yard short …

 

And Bob … I think he was a hundred seventy-pounds or two twenty-five. But he just threw himself at you; right?

 

Well, he was knocked out in the process. But the fact of the matter is, he did the job. And that’s the important thing. You know, you only had about four major bowls back in those days. And the Rose Bowl was the granddaddy of them all. That was The Big One. And that’s what I wanted to aspire to play in when I left Farrington, to go to a conference that would give me a shot at playing in the granddaddy of them all.

 

Ten months after that close loss in the Rose Bowl, on November 19, 1966, Bob Apisa played a part in history, taking the field in a matchup dubbed The Game of the Century. It was the first ever live TV sports broadcast in Hawaii.

 

I played in that game. And what happened was, prior to that game, throughout that week, people were just so jazzed up about the Game of the Century. We were both undefeated.

 

Okay. This was Michigan State, and …

 

Notre Dame. And Notre Dame at that time had one minority on their team. Just one. They had maybe twenty-seven in the entire enrollment, in South Bend. And that made them change and incorporate more people. But the fact that we were playing … I had a scroll with about three thousand names sent to me from my high school wishing us luck from Farrington. You know, those are cherished moments. And I remember when Dick Kenney and Charley and I got together, I said, You know, this is big-time, guys. I mean, I’m a kid from Samoa, Palama Housing to Kalihi Valley, and we’re playing big-time. People are gonna be seeing us live and direct. And that game, I think it was Governor Burns at that time, I believe it was, along with the Legislature, and they petitioned the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, to see if they can see it live and direct. So, they got permission from them, and on the morning of November 19, 1966, there was a little satellite revolving around Sydney, Australia. The satellite was called Lani Bird. And they had that satellite beam the signal from Sydney, Australia, ricochet that signal across to Honolulu. And for the first time, you know, six hours earlier, people from Hawaii turned on their TVs, whether it’s an RCA, whether it’s the Zenith or Motorola, one of those brands, with two rabbit ears.

 

Small screen.

 

And with tin foil at the end of it, and with a small screen.

 

No cable television back then.

 

No cable TV. And they turned it on, they saw the splotchy black and white figures, and they finally saw the game, the first live telecast in the history of Hawaii. That’s one of the proudest moments of my life. I know I speak on behalf of my departed brothers, Dick Kenney and Charley Wedemeyer. That made us so proud. If there’s anything that we’re proudest of is that we helped facilitate this state into the 20th Century, as far as telecommunications is concerned.

 

After all the hype, The Game of the Century ended in a tie. Injuries sidelined Bob Apisa for much of his senior year at Michigan State. Still, he was chosen in the ninth round of the NFL draft by the late legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, who was then general manager of the Green Bay Packers.

 

That was a great honor for me, Leslie, because when you’re drafted by the world champions—they were just coming out of their second Super Bowl championship. And I was hoping to get onto an expansion team like the Miami Dolphins at that time, or Cincinnati Bengals. But lo and behold, I could hear vividly well Pete Roselle, the commissioner, announcing my name over the PA, and I can hear them saying, you know, Drafted in the ninth round, from Michigan State, bla-bla-bla-bla. And I can hear there’s cheering. And my heart sank in a way, because I wanted to go to a lesser team in developing. And here I am, I’m drafted by Green Bay, by Vince Lombardi. So, you know, people would see that trophy named after him on every Super Bowl, and eighty percent of the country probably don’t know who this man is. I was honored to be drafted by him. I shook hands with him, I talked to him, I negotiated my contract with him. And that’s quite an honor. The fact of the matter is, you know, to have that opportunity, to have just the experience of someone who is so iconic in football folklore. And when I see that, and I’m tracing myself back to 1952 when that young man who stood on that boat, who could not speak a word of English, and to where I am today, those are some of the moments that I’m most proudest of
You know, your career with the Green Bay Packers was fairly short, because I think you had serious knee damage; didn’t you?

 

Yes, I did. I signed a two-year contract with them. I lasted a year; they paid my year off. And I knew I was, you know, damaged goods to pursue an NFL career, because I paid that price during my collegiate career. But since, I’ve had prosthesis; I had three hip replacements, two on my right and one on my left, and a left knee replaced, so I walk with a shuffle and a distinct gait, and a gimp and a limp.

 

And other than that, you feel good?

 

Other than that, everything else is working.

 

You’re okay.

 

Being a fullback, always working to move the ball forward, Bob Apisa didn’t look back after the end of his football career. He went on to a thirty-three-year career as a stuntman and sometime actor, following a chance encounter with a Hawaii Five-O casting director.

 

I sat there, and there was this silver-haired guy with a beard, and he kept looking at me. And I’m saying, Well, maybe I owe him money or something.

 

So, he finally came over. And he says, I’m Bob Busch, I’m the casting director for Hawaii Five-O. The original Five-O. And he says, You’re Bob Apisa? I says, Yes. And he says, Have you ever done pictures before? And I says, The only pictures I’ve ever dealt with are Kodak cameras and stuff like that. But he says, No. So he said, I’m giving you a card. Why don’t you give me a call tomorrow. And I had a few days before I went back to Flint. And so, I called him on a lark, and he said, Why don’t you come in, I’d like to see you. So, I went down to the studio over by Diamond Head.

 

Were you excited?

 

No, I wasn’t excited. I didn’t know what why he wanted me to come in. Because I wasn’t involved with filming, I did not know what filming was. Once again, this was a first-timer. And as I’m walking in through the door, I noticed that there were about three big guys like me. And as I’m walking through the door, Jack Lord exits his office, and he’s looking right at me. He says, Oh, you’re the guy I’m looking for. I turned behind, and I’m wondering if he’s talking to the guy behind me, but there was nobody there. And then, Bob Busch came out and made the introduction. And so, Jack Lord said, Can you come tomorrow and do a little scene with us? I said, Wow, this thing is happening so quick. I mean, twenty-four hours later, I’m asked to come in another twenty-four hours later to do a jail scene with some people, some guys. And so, I said, Yeah, fine. You know, I didn’t mind doing that just to kill time and get a day’s pay. And he said something; the dialog between him and James MacArthur, Danno at that time. So, Steve McGarrett was saying this to Danno, and then it didn’t make sense. So, Jack looks at me; he said, Bob, when I say this, just say, No, I didn’t do it, or something to that effect. I don’t quite remember. And so, when he said this, then I said, No, I didn’t do it. I was immediately Taft-Hartleyed into Screen Actors Guild.

 

 

 

Forty-eight hours later, no experience as an extra or anything, I went from Point A to Point Z.

 

Well, you were comfortable with yourself; right?

 

I was comfortable with myself, because, you know, I thought it was a new adventure, and I said, Ah, why not. You know. And a week later, just before I left, or a couple days later before I left the following week, they asked me if I could take jeep and squib it and drive it. I said, Hey, it’s no big thing. And had bullet holes. I mean, squibbed it and came right up to the camera, and that was no big thing. And that’s how my stunt career started. I’ve done train falls, I’ve done horse falls, I’ve done horse stampedes, motorcycles, car chases, falling off of four-story buildings into water. You know, it’s all timing. But if you’re an athlete and you have the innate skills to adjust, to make your adjustment. Before I go on a set and they ask me to do something, I’ll turn ‘em down too.

 

So, this is 2015, and you are how old? Seventy?

 

I just turned uh, the milestone of seven, zero.

 

So, it’s a new stage of your life. What’s it like? I mean, you’re now officially retired.

 

Yeah.

 

I mean, that’s another kind of career, because you have to figure out how to spend your time, what relationships to keep, and which to invest time in, and where to go.

 

Well, I have a great relationship with AARP. No, I’m just kidding you. I find time to do things. I can wake up and read the paper, and I go and work out, and I come back and have lunch with friends. Or the wife and I can just get up and go.

 

Bob Apisa lives in Southern California. At the time of our conversation in 2015, he was producing a project dear to his heart, a documentary about the Michigan Spartans’ two-year run as national champions, and the team’s groundbreaking impact on racial integration in college football. Thank you, Bob Apisa, for sharing your story with us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Stort Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

People always point out that Bob Apisa came first. He was the first Samoan to really make a dent in the national scene. So, you were the Marcus Mariota of your time.

 

Marcus Mariota is a gentleman that when I looked at the way he carries himself, I’m proud of him. He represents America. He represents the cross-section of all ethnicity; all ethnicity. And he carries himself with humility, which is from here.

 

[END]

 

THE BRAIN WITH DAVID EAGLEMAN
How Do I Decide?

 

Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us – why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious series blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories.

 

How Do I Decide?
Learn how the brain navigates the tens of thousands of conscious decisions we make every day and the many more unconscious decisions we make about everything from whom we find attractive to what we perceive.

 

The Brain with David Eagleman
Who is in Control?

 

Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us – why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious series blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories.

 

Who is in Control?
Dr. Eagleman explores the unconscious brain and reveals that everything from our movements, to our decisions, to our behavior is largely controlled and orchestrated by an invisible world of unconscious neural activity.

 

The Brain with David Eagleman
What Makes Me?

 

Neuroscientist David Eagleman explores the human brain in an epic series that reveals the ultimate story of us – why we feel and think the things we do. This ambitious series blends science with innovative visual effects and compelling personal stories.

 

What Makes Me?
Explore how we are our brains: how our personality, emotions and memories are encoded as neural activity. The process of becoming continues through our lives. We change our brains and our brains change us.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Lessons on Leadership

 

This special edition revisits conversations with Hawaii’s business and community leaders as they share their thoughts on leadership. Featured are: Maenette Ah Nee-Benham, the late Skippa Diaz, Glenn Furuya, Hokulani Holt, the late Daniel Inouye, Thomas Kaulukukui and Colbert Matsumoto.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 27 at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 31 at 4:00 pm.

 

Lessons on Leadership Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I had my responsibilities as the platoon leader. And we had this code in the regiment; Don’t expect your men to go up if you’re not willing to go up. In the so-called book, the training book, it’s never led by the officer. Patrols go out. Scouts out, or something like that. The leader stays in the back. But in our code, as the boys would say, You go first, buddy.

 

Don’t ask anyone to do something—

 

Yeah.

 

—you’re not willing to do yourself.

 

 

The late Senator Daniel K. Inouye learned the intricacies and demands of leadership on the battlefields of World War II. He took these lessons with him into the world of government and politics, where he became one of the most powerful and influential leaders not only of our state, but of our nation. In this edition of Long Story Short, we will look back at some of our previous Long Story Short guests and their lessons on leadership, including how the nuances of local culture helped to shape their … leadership styles. Lessons on Leadership next, on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Master navigator Nainoa Thompson defines leadership as “stepping up….knowing … the right thing to do,,, and making it happen regardless of the consequences.” Doing the right thing can sometimes require an extraordinary amount of conviction, courage, and the ability to inspire others. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we revisit some of the stories and challenges shared by Hawaii … leaders. We begin with Thomas Kaulukukui, Jr., Chairman of the Board and Managing Trustee of the Queen Liliuokalani Trust, who, like Senator Inouye, picked up many of his first lessons in leadership on the battlefield.

 

I went into the Army in 1968.

 

You went to Vietnam?

 

I went to Vietnam for a year, 1969, ’70.

 

What’d you do in Vietnam?

 

I was a platoon sergeant in the paratroopers. Uh, did well in training, because I had the Kamehameha School ROTC background. And I ended up leading a platoon of men in … uh, basically jungle fighters.  Young men, at the time, uh, um, they’re like a pack of wolves. And they will do whatever the pack wants to do, unless there is an alpha wolf that keeps them on track. And um, if you’re not that person, they will get rid of you and get somebody else. So, you know, you really have to learn to step up.

 

Was there any particular event or moment when this all came clear to you, when you had any epiphanies over there?

 

Well, it was clear to me from the beginning. It’s uh, it’s—you know, when you’re with a group like that, it’s really clear. Uh, I’d never been in a fight in my life. I was in three fights in the first month I was there, because the men decided to test me. You have to realize, this is Vietnam War—

 

And you—

 

–and look at the way I look.

 

Uh-huh.

 

You know, I’m not a six-foot uh, uh, fair-skinned, round-eyed person. Uh, I was brought in to lead them, and I was obviously Asian. So I looked more like the enemy, than I did look like them. So it was an interesting experience, because um, I was in three fights with my own men, um, shortly after I got there, because they wanted to test whether or not I was tough enough to lead them.

 

And part of it was your culture?

 

Part of it was what I looked like. Uh, part of it was there was another leader there who they wanted, who had been there a month longer than I was, and they weren’t sure about me. So …

 

So you saw no—you had no—you had to fight. There was no—

 

Gotta fight.

 

–other way to do it?

 

Yeah. Fortunately, I was a black belt in taekwondo by then.

 

Before I got there, so without having to really hurt anybody, I guess they kinda … got some religion and said, Well, I guess he can beat up everybody else, so he’s all right.

 

We were someplace where uh, another unit got in trouble, and they called us and said, You need to go help them. Uh, there’s a battle going on, you need to go help them. And you need to get from Point A to Point B, right now. The trouble was, to go from Point A to Point B, you had to go between two hills. General rule, bad idea to go between two hills, because if the enemy is up on both hills, they’re gonna ambush you, and you’re gonna—you’re never gonna get there, you’re gonna be dead. So I called my squad leaders together. I ran a platoon of about thirty-five men. And I said, We have to go from Point A to Point B. They looked at the map, they said, We can’t go through there. I said, We don’t have a choice, because if we don’t go through there, by the time we take an alternative ro—route, our … people will be dead. So I gave an order. All the people kinda sat around, and they looked at me when they figured out where we were going. And they said, We’re not going. Now, think about the magnitude of that problem. Battle commander, give an order, people won’t go. Okay. Squad leaders, gave an order, they wouldn’t go. I tried to exhort them to move, they wouldn’t move, because … you know, the consequences were deadly. Uh, so finally, at that point, I got my radio telephone operator, made him saddle up, put on his backpack. I put my mine on. I said to everybody else, If you’re afraid, I’ll go save them myself; will fight this battle by myself. But you better hope I get killed, because if I’m not, I’m gonna come back and fix this. Off I went. Took the longest, slowest, smallest ten steps of my life down the trail waiting for—to hear if anybody else got up. And—and—and fortunately, I started hearing people getting up. They got up, and … they followed me, and off we went, and we—we made—we made it all right. Difficult experience, um … I’m not sure what would have happened if they didn’t follow. But one of the things I learned from that is, you gotta lead in front; can’t just tell people to go, especially if it’s difficult. You gotta be willing to pick up your rifle, put on your pack, and lead in front.

 

And be willing to go it alone.

 

And be willing to go it alone, if you have to.

 

So do you have a, you know, 25-word nutshell definition of leadership?

 

I have a … three-word definition, a three, word definition of leadership. My definition is that leadership is influence; nothing more and nothing less. If you have influence, and can influence, people and their thoughts, and emotions, and, actions, then you have leadership ability. That says nothing about your morality, because Hitler had leadership ability. But in—in a very … condensed, sense, I think leadership is influence. And—and learning to, influence in a positive way people’s thoughts, and emotions, and actions, were what—are the core of leadership, I think.

 

A wartime battlefield can shape leaders. So can growing up in a rural environment, where shared values help to create community well-being…. Colbert Matsumoto, born and raised on the Island of Lanai, is the Chairman of Island Insurance Companies. He also is a community leader in Honolulu, serving on … nonprofit boards in addition to corporate boards. Glenn Furuya, President and Chairman of Leadership Works, a leadership-training company he started more than 30 years ago, grew up in Hilo, on Hawaii Island. At the heart of the leadership style of each of these men is their understanding of local culture, and how being an effective leader in Hawaii can be very different from anywhere else.

 

Being local is not about where you were born. You know, it’s really about the kind of values, you embrace and the kind of philosophy that you use to guide your life, and the decisions you make in your life. So, there are many local people that you know, who were born and raised here that, you know, I don’t think espouse local values. You know. But on the other hand, there are many people that have moved here that clearly you know, the things that make, I think, Hawaii special resonated with them, which is why they chose to, come here and live here, and stay here.

 

This whole idea of local culture and what works; it used to be that certain positions in Hawaii guaranteed authority and respect. But that’s less and less true now; isn’t it?

 

Uh, yeah, I think that’s, definitely the case. You know, I think that you know, when I grew up which was when, you know, I think in the 60s, the plantations were still uh, very influential … forces in shaping our—our—our community. And there tended to be, you know, informal, leaders within those communities that people looked up to provide leadership. So in like the time that I grew up in, well, the principal of the school was, considered a very important figure. Some of the union leaders were considered important figures. Some of the, plantation bosses were also—

 

M-hm.

 

— looked up to as being, you know, important, community leaders. And so, um, people gravitated to them, and as they would in turn communicate, different, you know, projects or, concerns, you know, people would rally around them. And so, I think that those days have passed. I think that it’s harder to get people to align behind uh, different initiatives. In my experience, you know, run across, two different kinds of leadership. One—one is, implied leadership; leadership that is the result of the position that you hold. And most people fall into the category of having power because of, you know, the implied authority associated with them.   Whereas, you know, there are other people that, you know, have I think real power; a power that, you know, it generates from, they are able to assert themselves and the kind of vision and their ability to art—articulate concepts and ideas in a way that makes people feel like it resonates with them.

 

Definitely, you know, leadership requires a level of trust and confidence. It all starts from that. And if you don’t have the ability to engender the trust of the people that you’re trying to reach, you cannot lead them, you cannot convince them to move in any particular direction. That’s why, you know, great leaders have a certain special ability to engender that kinda trust.

 

You know, you have to be able to stick your neck out, because that’s how, you know, you progress. And, so asserting leadership involves taking risk, being willing to stand apart from the pack. And that takes a level of courage.

 

And so, you know, those kinds of leaders are fewer and harder to come by. But—but those are the kinds of leaders that I think exercise real, ability to move people, to affect change. And I don’t know why. I mean, it just seems that I don’t find as many of those kinds of people around as I think used to exist in the past.

 

I really do believe that the upbringing in Hilo— one thing it does is, you know, you’re humble. You you grew up humble.

 

Do you think humility … we prize humility—

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

–in the Hawaiian culture—

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

as well. But humility is seen as a weakness, other places.

 

Yes, it is. It’s viewed in many Western cultures as a weakness. But to me, I think that’s strength, when I can stand in front of my group and say, You know what, guys? I’m really sorry; I messed up, forgive me. You know, and just lay it out there. What’s the—what’s the alternative? What, blame people? Make excuses?

 

I do a lot of work on island style leadership, because I do believe it is a distinct and unique form of leadership. There’s this thing I call the same-same equilibrium; the same-same equilibrium. And it roots back to ahupuaa, where it was—society was an egalitarian society, where everybody in the society had a role, and everybody did their part. But all of the contributors within that society were viewed as equal, so everybody same-same.

 

M-hm.

 

Right? Okay. So, here’s the deal. Centuries later, the same-same essence mentality still is—is embedded in all of us. You’ve got to stay in this equilibrium, same-same. Everybody same-same, everybody does equal in their contribution. What’s very interesting is, whenever you break same-same, okay, and you think you’re—you act as if you’re better, right—‘cause if everybody’s same-same, then nobody’s more important or better than anybody else; right? But the minute you break it—and this is where a lot of times people who come from away, good people, they don’t understand this equilibrium. They break it. As soon as you get to this I’m better than you mentality, through your tone of voice, through your being too direct, not listening—

 

M-hm.

 

–showing everybody how smart you, the immediate response always is, Who the heck does he thinks he is? Who the heck does he think is? Immediate response.

 

Right.

 

And once that response comes out, you can’t lead in Hawaii. Who the heck you think you are? And they don’t tell it to you in your face. It’s—Hawaii is—

 

They just turn away.

 

I always say—

 

Right?

 

–to my leaders that I work with, Hawaii is the world capitol of passive aggressive behavior.

 

I do a lot of work with mainlanders coming down, to try to help them understand some of these little nuances of this place. Do not break the same-same equilibrium. Because as soon as those words come out, that question pops, it’s really hard to recover. The other thing with island people; they don’t—they don’t forgive. They—they take forever to let go.

 

The way I teach it is this. There are two types of leaders, Leslie. There’s circular leaders. These are people are who are very collaborative, they’re relationship-oriented, they’re kind, they—they really engage people.

 

M-hm.

 

Circular. Island people are generally more circular.

 

M-hm.

 

Okay. And that’s because in Hawaii, we’re a three-way blend of cultures. We are influenced heavily by Eastern culture, ‘cause in the 1940s, forty percent of the population of Hawaii was Japanese. So, heavy bushido code influence here.

 

The one element of the—the bushido code is this; you always operate from a sense of imperfection. You always come from a state of dissatisfaction. ‘Cause—

 

Oh, I didn’t know that.

 

Yeah. So, if you’re always dissatisfied, and you’re kinda imperfect, you always gotta work harder. You gotta try harder, you gotta study harder, you gotta go to school, you gotta learn. I never got praised by my parents; they never, ever praised, said, Good job, Glenn, won—you did a wonderful job. Nothing. And I think, bushido. They didn’t want me to get all big-headed and arrogant, and thinking I’m better than anybody else; right?

 

Right.

 

So, they kept—they kept it really, really restrained, the praise and things like that.

 

M-hm.

 

And yet, we’re all Americans; that’s the Western influence. We’re all Western educated folk. But at the same time, the host culture here is Hawaiian.

 

M-hm.

 

We have a major Polynesian influence. And there’s no place in the world these three forces come together like it does here in Hawaii. So, the Polynesian and the Eastern, Asian, right, give us the circular. We understand circular; that’s why people are so collaborative and warm, and aloha spirit, and ohana. Western culture is much more linear. You know, there’s the goal, here’s the plan, now do it. Now, move—

 

And if you have to run over somebody—

 

Yeah.

 

–to get there—

 

Right.

 

–it’s okay.

 

Right.

 

‘Cause that’s the goal.

 

Right, and there are a lot of island people who are just very linear, too. The biggest mistake you can make in Hawaii is take your linear approach, and slam it on the circular. Right? And then, that equilibrium gets broken. Who the heck does he think he is?

 

You’ve gotta be both. Circular, collaboration, involvement, build a relationship. But at the point of execution, we all gotta go linear; we’ve gotta get the job done.

 

I’ve always believed, Leslie, that whenever you impose things on people, when you just shove it in, you’ll get compliance. They’re gonna do it, because I’m afraid if I don’t do it, they’re gonna scold me or fire me, whatever. When you inspire people bottom-up—

 

M-hm.

 

–you get commitment. That’s real leadership.

 

Teachers are among our most important leaders. They have the power to influence and shape the minds of young people who will … become the next generation of leaders. Kumu hula Hokulani Holt, who is also the Cultural Programs Director of the Maui Arts and Culture Center, and Dr. Maenette Ah Nee Benham, Dean of Hawaiinuiakea at the University of Hawaii at Manoa’s School of Hawaiian Knowledge, are two such leaders. Their career paths are based on kuleana, the responsibilities handed down to them from their families and ancestors….

 

Hula has always been in our ohana. My grandmother was a kumu hula, she had seven daughters. Of her seven daughters, three became kumu hula. And of her granddaughters, first just me, and now my sister. And then of her great-granddaughters, my cousin Melia.

 

When did you decide you’re gonna be a kumu? Or—

 

Oh, I didn’t.

 

–did you decide?

 

I didn’t.

 

I guess that’s nothing you decide on your own, right, in the hula world?

 

Yeah, yeah; I didn’t decide. My mother decided for me.

 

She said, Well, I think it’s time for you to—to begin teaching. And I went, no, that—that belongs to other people, that doesn’t belong to me. And she said, No, I talked to your auntie, and I think it’s time for you to begin teaching. So I went kicking and screaming, but I went.

 

What kind of a kumu were you and are you?

 

I believe that I’m—I’m pretty strict. I hope to instill in my students a love for hula, but also a love for this place that we call home, and for all the many generations of people that came before us that created the—the chants and the songs, and the movements that we use. What a kumu hula is, is we want things our own way. And we demand that.

 

It is your world.

 

It is my world. I always tell my students, This is the world according to Hoku within these four walls.

 

And as a kumu hula, you get very involved in other people’s families.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

They become your family.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

So you’re privy to a lot of the struggles that—

 

Yes.

 

–people go through.

 

Yes. You know, you get parents coming and saying, You know, my daughter’s not paying attention to school, Kumu can you please talk to her? Or, you know, someone’s marriage or passing; you get involved in your students’ lives, and it’s a good thing.

 

Halau provides, focus, it—it really gets you to appreciate every little thing, I believe. And halau is not only learning hula, but it also teaches you about yourself. How to push yourself a little bit more, how to think about the welfare of others within the halau, and then that translates to others outside of halau, how to practice or do Hawaiian values, because that’s what you must have in halau as well, how to get past pain and tired, and late hours for a goal that you would like to reach. So those are all life lessons also.

 

So you were possessed at an early age of a conviction you wanted to lead.

 

M-hm.

 

Why?

 

Because I was always told that I would. I was always told. My grandmothers— both my Grandma Ah Nee and my Grandma Padeken explained to me when I was very young about my name, Kape‘ahiokalani. And it is a name of—of one of my great-great aunts, who was a chanter in King Kalakaua’s court. And basically, what they said to me was that because I held this name, I had the responsibility of—of remembering the moolelo of our family, and I had the responsibility of contributing to … the health and wellbeing of my family. That was it. That’s what they told me. And … you know, I said, Okay. Because that’s what you do. Your kupuna tell you that, and you say, Okay, so what do I need to do?

 

And there are all kinds of ways to accomplish that too.

 

Yeah, there’s all kinds of ways to do that. And I just found this to be my journey, you know, in educational leadership. I just found that to be what really gets me excited, um, what really inspires me is—and it all started because um, in fifth grade at Koko Head Elementary School, Mrs. Kwon made me do flannel board stories for the kindergartners. And I loved it. I loved just telling stories, creating stories and telling them to young kids, and watching the light bulbs go off. So my first job was as a kindergarten teacher. What a great job, you know, where you get unconditional love every single day.

 

And I know you’ve said you always want to be a teacher.

 

I always—

 

No matter what else you do, or how you do it, you want to be a teacher.

 

Yeah. Always; always. And that came from the stories and teachers over the years. You know, and good leaders are great teachers.

 

The genius of leadership is living into grace. And it’s—it’s that—that idea of creating a space where people can feel really safe, even though you say the worst things. I want you to feel safe here, I just want you to feel safe. And no matter what you have to say, no matter how angry you are, go ahead, go and do that. And when you’re pau, let’s get to work. You know, cause otherwise, we’re not gonna get it done, we’re not gonna—we’re just not gonna do it. And that’s how I—that’s how I lead. You know. And I try really hard to listen; listen, listen, listen. And as I listen, you know, I try to move it back to the core issue, as you said. Ask more questions about how that has to do with the issue, keep moving it, moving it, moving it.

 

But sometimes, there is no consensus.

 

And sometimes there’s not.

 

And then you have to figure out—somebody has to call it.

 

Yes.

 

This is not gonna be solved this way.

 

Yeah. And I do that. I do that too. You can ask the people who work for me. You know, it’s very open, we’re safe, we’re gonna talk about it, and this is how—this is the road we’re gonna take. I’m not afraid to do that. No; I’m not afraid to do that. It’s—it’s nice to know— I want people to know that everybody has a voice. You know, everyone has a voice. It’s a labor-intensive process, but everybody has a voice. And in the end, you know, there will be – everybody will know that there will be uh, a direction we’re gonna go. You know, and move on.

 

Because people want closure. I mean—

 

Yeah.

 

You can’t talk everything to death.

 

Yeah. In a microcosm, yeah, you know, we have a lot of diverse perspectives, but across the United States, across the globe, you know, there isn’t one way to do anything. But I do think that we’re reaching a time where there—there are more young people and young leaders who are seeing the promise and the potential of bringing together different groups, and really talking about hard issues, of renewable resources, about food safety, about education and wellbeing that’s very issue-oriented. And doing it in a way that is grounded in our religion, our stories. I think we’re ready at that point to do that, and I—I think that’s—that’s our work at the University to help prepare, you know, my community leaders to be able to do that.

 

I learned that, you know, you do good work. You have good intentions, you know. Doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter how much I can tell you about what I wrote, or what I studied, or what whatever, right? What matters is that I have good intentions, and I work really hard, and I try to be fair in everything that I do. And I try to be kind, you know. And I—and I lead in grace, developing a space where people can feel grace and welcome, you know. And then, we’ll move forward. Ohana does not always mean that we are of the same blood, ohana means that we can agree on a set of principles and a mission for the work that we’re doing, and we’re gonna be innovative and entrepreneurial, and we’re gonna work together really hard to get there. That’s ohana.

 

Humility, trust, listening, fairness, influence… all important qualities that Hawaii’s leaders say are critical to good leadership. These are values that we can use in our own lives, whether it is how we act with our families, in our jobs or how we conduct ourselves in the broader community. Our closing words of wisdom will be from the late Skippa Dias, legendary football coach at Farrington High School in Honolulu.

 

Mahalo to our Long Story Guests who have shared their stories and insights with us, and mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha a hui hou.

 

I developed um, an acronym. And the acronym was spelled out HEART, H-E-A-R-T. And—and each letter represented a basic tenet and belief that … you want the other person to acquire and mind for the young kinds. And the word HEART, the five five words are H refer to humility, the ability to … you know, to … listen to another person and … bite your tongue if—if he’s saying something that’s different than what you want. But being humble is a quality that is really, really … sought after for a lot of people, but never acquire. But humility is a good one. E, education. That one was very, very significant in my family’s upbringing. A, attitude; a positive attitude, making sure that, you know, whatever the goal, whatever the project, you set yourself out to be positive and g—and get the darn thing done. R, responsibility. You gotta be responsible for all the things that you do, and sometimes for the things that your friends and your loved ones are doing. But being responsible in that manner has—has some beautiful connotations that—that grow from it. And then T, of course, stands for team.

 

[END]

 

Pulling Out All the Stops

 

This program chronicles the competition onstage and behind-the-scenes of 10 extraordinary young organists from the United States and Europe vying for first place in the first International Longwood Gardens Organ Competition. None of Longwood’s 10 finalists has a chance to practice on the Aeolian Organ before arriving at the competition. Each has only five hours to prepare to play on one of the world’s most complex instruments, with its 10,010 pipes, 237 stops, five 32-foot pedal stops and four keyboards.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Colbert Matsumoto

 

Colbert Matsumoto grew up on Lanai when it was a pineapple plantation employing both his father and mother. He didn’t set foot on the Continent until he was a college freshman. And he grew up to become an attorney, insurance company executive and business and community leader in Hawaii. Like many successful people, he had some misgivings and missteps along the way. On the next LONG STORY SHORT (Tues., July 7, 7:30 pm), Matsumoto humbly recalls his journey. And he tells of a test of his courage, as court-appointed master overseeing the dealings of then-Bishop Estate.

 

This program is available in high-definition and will be rebroadcast on Wed.,
July 8 at 11:00 pm and Sun., July 12 at 4:00 pm.

 

Colbert Matsumoto Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

You said your dad was a 442 vet, so that means he qualified for the GI Bill. He could have gone to college, but you’re saying he did not?

 

Yeah; my dad unfortunately, as soon as he came back from Europe and returned to Lanai, his father died unexpectedly. And so, my father, because he was the youngest in the household, and his siblings had all left the island already, stayed on Lanai to take care of his mother. So, he was from a generation that had this Japanese value of oyako-ko imbued in him. And so, I think that, you know, basically he said, It’s my responsibility to take care of my mother.

 

Do you think he ever regretted that choice?

 

No. If I he did, I never heard him articulate it. But I think that that was probably why he expected my brother and me to go to college.

 

That sense of doing what’s right was passed on from father to son. Born and raised on Lanai, Colbert Matsumoto would remember his dad’s leadership by example when he took on some of the most powerful people in Hawaii, and helped reshape the multi-billion-dollar Bishop Estate. Colbert Matsumoto, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. Colbert Matsumoto went from plantation life on Lanai to become a business and community leader in Honolulu. He’s chairman of Island Insurance. Matsumoto’s life and career have been driven by a desire to impact lives, a motivation he’d seen his parents put into action as workers on Lanai’s pineapple plantation.

 

I grew up in a time when—I like to call it the Golden Period of the Plantations in Hawaii. Life was really nice growing up on Lanai. You know, our family, I think, you know, we had a comfortable lifestyle. We didn’t have a lot of extravagance, but you know, we had a TV set, you know, I was in the Boy Scouts. You know, my parents were members of the PTA, you know, we went to church on Sundays. And so, it was a nice place to grow up in. And so, as I look back on it, you know, I realize how almost idyllic it was to grow up in a place like that. But when I was growing up there, I couldn’t wait to leave.

 

Because it was too small a town, people all knew each other’s business, maybe?

 

Yeah; it was confining. I grew up in a community of twenty-five hundred people. Oh, there were many occasions when, you know, I would get into mischief as a little kid on one side of the town, and by the time I got home, my mom would know all about it. You know, and so, yeah; it was hard to remain anonymous.

 

When you said you couldn’t wait to get away, were there other things besides getting ratted on for mischief?

 

Oh, yeah. Growing up, we had a TV set, and I would watch shows about other places, and I always longed for the opportunity to experience some of the things that I saw on the TV programs. Because I didn’t get away from Lanai very much. I had never had the opportunity to visit the mainland until I went to college. And so, I felt somewhat isolated and confined as I grew older, and wanted to have the opportunity to experience different things.

 

The main employer on the island at that time was Dole; right?

 

Right.

 

And did your parents work for Dole?

 

Yeah; both my parents worked for Dole, as my grandparents also. Pretty much everybody on the island worked for Dole, unless you worked for the State or the County, or some of the retail establishments in the town.

 

There are drawbacks to company town, obviously, when you’re held in their thrall; they’re the main gig—

 

Right.

 

–for employment.

 

Well, you know, I think that, yeah, the only jobs that were available were on the plantation. Which is why, you know, growing up, we all knew that once we graduated, we were expected to leave the island. Because there were no opportunities for young people after they graduated from high school on Lanai.

 

Which your parents had that expectation of; right?

 

Oh, yeah; the parents. But you know, it was also the economic reality of the island.

 

I mean, were you concerned? What am I gonna do? How am I gonna make it?

 

No. You know, I think my parents always raised me with the expectation that I was supposed to go to college. They themselves had not gone to college, so they didn’t care which college, or what I studied. You know, they just wanted me to go to college and graduate from college.

 

Did they explicitly give you lessons of life?

 

They did, you know, in different ways. So, you know, they would basically try to teach me certain values. But then, they also, I think, taught me a lot just by their example.

 

Your father, for example; what did he teach you? What did you come away with?

 

One of the things that he was heavily involved in was with the ILWU. Because the union figured very significantly in our community. So, my father would share with me some of the stories of the struggles that the union and the employees had to go through in the beginning. ‘Cause he was a 442 veteran, and so when he came back, one of the things that he and, you know, people of his generation were struggling for were not just economic justice, but also social reforms in the community. So, the union, the ILWU was very significant in, I think, bringing about some changes back on the plantation. ‘Cause many of them didn’t have the opportunity to own their homes. So, one of the things that they struggled for was to have the opportunity to buy their own homes, which many of the workers did.

 

Under your dad’s tenure?

 

Yeah; during the time that he was involved with the ILWU.

 

What was your mother like? What is she like? Because, you know, she’s still with us.

 

Right. My mother was a strong woman. You know, she made sure that my brother and I kept out of trouble, which she didn’t always succeed at.

 

But she always found out.

 

Yeah; she found out. But she was a stickler for the rules, and you know, she really had a strong sense of fairness, of right and wrong. And I think that that enabled her to go from being a pineapple picker to one of the first female, wahine lunas on the plantation.

 

What was that like? So, did she boss men around?

 

No; she usually headed, you know, gangs of women who were ipicking pineapple for the plantation.

 

Oh, that’s wonderful; a wahine luna.

 

Right. But that wasn’t until, you know, the late 70s, when equal rights became more of an issue for women.

 

So, it sounds like both of your parents challenged; challenged for more fairness, for equity.

 

Right. I think that, you know, that generation, they were second generation Japanese Americans. That generation really was focused on bringing about social change for the benefit of the community. And so, both of them made contributions in various ways through the activities that they were involved in and volunteered in. And they were among many in the community that were also, you know, engaged in those kinds of efforts on behalf of the group, as opposed to just for their own personal benefit.

 

Colbert Matsumoto was valedictorian of his high school class on Lanai. He went on to college in the Bay Area, and graduated from law school at the University of California at Berkeley. He wanted to be a lawyer to have an impact on society.

 

When I went up to college, it was the first time I was up on the mainland. So, it was a total culture shock for me. I had never been on the mainland before, I had never seen an urban environment like that. So, was definitely an eye-opening experience.

 

How was your college experience? What’d you decide you were gonna do with your life? Did you decide then?

 

Yeah; I had gone to college with the intent of becoming a high school social studies teacher.   So, that was my objective going in. About halfway through, I came home for a summer and worked at a warehouse on a nightshift crew, and there were three other guys that were working on the crew that had already graduated from UH in education. One had a master’s degree, the other two had fifth-year certificates, and none of them could find jobs with the DOE.

 

That’s right. I remember that was the time of a teacher surplus.

 

So, I figured I needed to find something else. And that’s when I decided, Well, I guess I’ll try applying to law school, which is what I ended up doing.

 

Any particular reason?

 

Well, you know, I had never met a lawyer before. I had never been in a courtroom, or knew anything about what the practice of law was. At the time, you know, I just knew that lawyers went to court. Perry Mason, The Defenders; those were my images of lawyers. And I thought, you know, lawyers made a lot of money, and didn’t have to work hard.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so, I thought that, Okay, maybe that would be a good profession to get into. But I also knew that lawyers had the ability to bring about change, that they had a certain knowledge base that allowed for an advocacy of different ideas. And so, I thought that by becoming a lawyer, I would be able to have an impact in terms of society. Because, you know, I grew up in the 60s, so it was a time of a lot of social change; the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and the anti-war movement. It was also a time when, you know, the environmental movement first started to get started. And so, there was a lot of idealism, I think, with my generation. And so, I looked at, you know, practicing law as being an opportunity to become more of a contributor to the kinds of social changes that were taking place in society.

 

You were used to being a really smart guy in all your classes up ‘til now. Now, in law school, everyone was probably the smartest in the class they came from before.

 

Right.

 

What was that like?

 

It was very intimidating. Like I said, I had no clue what being a lawyer was all about. And so, I almost flunked my first semester of law school. Because I thought a contract was a piece of paper that, you know, you put an agreement on. I didn’t realize that it was a legal concept that had, you know, certain components to it. And so, the concepts associated with law were so foreign to me, so I had a hard time grasping a lot of that when I first went to law school.

 

Do you think maybe part of it was because you were used to more of a handshake, and your word was good, and it was sort of uncomplicated on Lanai?

 

No, I think I was pretty much just naïve and clueless about what I had elected to pursue in law. So, fortunately, I had a professor who was very sympathetic, and I had some fellow classmates that were very supportive and encouraging. And so, I stuck it out, and managed to do okay.

 

Colbert Matsumoto did something quite unusual after he passed the Bar Exam and was qualified to practice law. He embarked on a six-month journey that continues to inform his life.

 

I entered a Zen monastery. So, I shaved my head, and then went into this Zen monastery and trained.

 

Where was it?

 

It was in Kalihi Valley. So, it was Chozen-ji. It’s a Rinzai Zen temple. And I had heard about the teacher there, Tanouye Tenshin Rotaishi, who was an accomplished martial artist, but also a Zen teacher. And so, I had trained in the martial arts when I was a kid growing up, and so, you know, I had an interest in it. But I had also realized that Zen was the philosophical underpinnings of Japanese martial arts and so, I wanted to learn more about that. And so, that’s why I asked him if I could, you know, train with him at his temple.

 

And what did you learn?

 

You know, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It was a very rigorous and arduous kind of training, physically demanding training that I went through while I was there. But it was also psychologically very stressful and difficult.

 

When you said arduous, I don’t really know what that means in terms of meditation or Zen studies.

 

We would get up at like, you know, four-thirty in the morning. We would sit in meditation for hour and a half from five-thirty. And then, we would have breakfast and then, we would do martial arts training from eight to ten in the morning, and then we would have to work out in the gardens or do some construction activity. And then, in the afternoon, you know, we would bathe, and then we would go through another period of intense meditation, and then we would do martial arts training from seven-thirty to like, ten o’clock at night. And you know, it was just physically very demanding. And I mean, I lost a lot of weight while I was going through that, and it was very tough, both physically and psychologically.

 

And was it meant to reduce you to who you really are, to take away the external stuff?

 

Right. Basically, the training had a lot to do with, you know, freeing you from your dependence on the kinds of things that you grow up with, thinking that these are real things that you can hang onto in terms of defining who you are, and defining your life and how you lead your life. There definitely are gonna be times when you’re not gonna be able to overcome certain things. But you have to try. So, it’s more about the effort and how it transforms you as a person, by taking on that challenge.

 

That’s interesting, ‘cause as a lawyer, I think you’re pretty goal-oriented. But you’re saying you learned how to accept that the effort is the main point.

 

Right. I think, you know, as human beings, you know, we have the capacity to continue to evolve and change, and grow. But you have to make the effort at it, and you have to be willing to take the risk associated with experiencing those kinds of changes in your life.

 

Following his Zen training, Colbert Matsumoto went into business as a solo law practitioner. He shared office space with a man who would become governor, Ben Cayetano. Later, he joined the law firm of the late Wallace Fujiyama, one of Hawaii’s finest trial lawyers. Yet, Matsumoto says his early years in law were hardly a success.

 

 

The first thing I did was, I hung my shingle and tried to practice law on my own for two years, which was a disaster.

 

Why?

 

Because I wasn’t prepared. You know, law school doesn’t really prepare you to practice law.

 

To run a business; is that the part of it that got you?

 

No; there is so much more to being a good lawyer than what you learn in law school. And so, I really needed to be mentored and with some people that were more experienced, who could in turn teach me the ropes and help me understand, you know, what you did as a good lawyer. So, I ended up giving it up and getting a job with Wally Fujiyama’s law firm. He established himself, even on the national scene, as a very accomplished trial attorney. But you know, Wally, for all his success as a lawyer, never forgot his ties to the community. And I think that for him, that was an important—he saw it as a social responsibility that he bore to not just focus on his own law practice and pursuing opportunities for himself, but also to contribute to the benefit of the community in terms of, you know, the lives of other people. The other thing about him that I thought was really admirable was that he was a risk taker. And so, he wasn’t hesitant to put himself out front and to become the subject of criticism.

 

Do you remember that time when you were struggling to run your own place, do you remember feeling embarrassed that another lawyer saw you do something?

 

Oh, yeah. No; there were many times when, you know, I realized that I was over my head in terms of the assignment that I had. And it was frustrating. It was frequently humiliating.

 

Did you second guess yourself, saying, I shouldn’t have done this, I shouldn’t have gotten, this is not my—

 

Oh, definitely. No; I thought to myself that, you know, I mean, this was not the right career path. Which is why I abandoned it.

 

But you stayed in law; you didn’t abandon law.

 

No; no. But quite honestly, I hated practicing law. I thought it was a mistake to have become a lawyer, because I just didn’t enjoy it. It took me over ten years before, you know, I finally started to feel more comfortable about what I was doing, and began to enjoy it.

 

In 1996, Colbert Matsumoto was appointed the Court Master for Bishop Estate. It was a role that required him to examine the finances and structure of the multi-billion-dollar trust for Native Hawaiians. Within a year, the Estate came under fire amid allegations of gross mismanagement, and many called for the powerful and highly paid trustees to resign. Matsumoto unexpectedly found himself taking on the trustees in a scathing 120-page report he issued to the court.

 

When the judge appointed me to be the Court Master, the controversy hadn’t erupted.   I knew that being Court Master for Bishop Estate was a high-profile of engagement, but I had no clue that it was gonna be as controversial as it ended up being. So, it wasn’t until almost a year after I had been appointed that things kinda erupted. The Broken Trust essay was published, the march on Kawaiahao Plaza occurred, and by then, I started to realize that, you know, this assignment that I had undertaken was gonna require that I take on the trustees. And that was kind of an intimidating notion to think about at that time. Because I had just started my own law firm a couple of years before that. And so, I actually thought to myself, you know, Okay, here I’m in this situation where if I do my job right, I’m gonna end up getting five of the most powerful people in Hawaii upset at me. So, I did think about tendering my resignation to the judge. But as I was kinda weighing that decision, I reflected on, you know, why did I go to law school, why did I want to become a lawyer. And I thought about the idealism that I had when I was in my twenties, and wanting to, you know, make a positive contribution to society. And so, I thought to myself that, you know, here I’m a positon where I could make a difference if I did my job right, and if I did it in a professional way, and am I gonna walk away from it. And so, when I looked at it in that way, I decided that, no, I should stick this out. And that’s what I ended up doing.

 

And what did you find? You saw the raw data, or at least what raw data was presented to you.

 

Well, I found a lot of issues with respect to accountability and transparency. You know, a lot of the investments that they had engaged in were not going well, were not performing as they should have. The other thing that they had done was, they had divided up areas of responsibility among the five of them, so that each of them basically had control over a different aspect of the estate. Which I found to be a violation of the trust that had been given to them, because Princess Pauahi had basically designated that there were five trustees that were all supposed to act in concert, rather than, you know, five individual trustees—

 

Five CEOs.

 

–that had their own kuleanas, and could make decisions that would be unchallenged within their kuleanas. And so, you know, that was part of the governance of Kamehameha Schools that I felt were not in conformity with what the Princess’ original wishes were, and certainly not in conformity with trust law.

 

What was the turning point, do you think, in the legal case that really turned the trust upside down, and resulted in the removal of a trustee?

 

Well, things started to deteriorate over the three years that this was going on, for the trustees. And I think that they, as I said, hunkered down. They were very resistant to making a number of the changes that the court expected of them. And then, the real blow that I think did them in was when the IRS came in and raised a number of concerns about their behavior and their management of the estate.

 

A lot of that was based on what you had put out; right?

 

Yes and no. You know, the IRS had done a lot of their own homework, and they had other issues that they wanted to raise with the trustees. But you know, IRS has a very heavy hand, and when they enter the picture, you know, it’s pretty tough [CHUCKLE] to fight them.

 

Colbert Matsumoto ended his twenty-year legal career in 1999, and became chairman of Island Insurance. Matsumoto is known as a strategic problem-solver. He used his skills and his influence to help save the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii from foreclosure in 2002. Matsumoto led a team that successfully raised nine million dollars in just a few months.

 

How did you actually get the money?

 

Well, you know, it took a lot of hard work and effort. And so, you know, our group—and we called it the Committee to Save the Center. We knew that this was a desperate cause, and that nobody likes to contribute money to what they think is gonna be ultimately a failed effort, because you know, you’ve heard the term, you know, throwing good money after bad. And so, nobody wanted to throw good money after bad. So, what we pledged to the audience was that we would only cash their checks if we had raised enough money to save the center. But until then, all we were gonna do was collect checks. And so, that’s what we did. And I think that that gave people the confidence to contribute to us. Whenever we would receive a donation, we would do a personalized letter to that person, thanking them for their contribution. And I would sign every letter. And so, my wife would stay up with me at night to help me stuff envelopes, and get the letters ready to be mailed out to the people that donated. And so, yeah; it took a lot of work, but it was very satisfying.

When you look back at that, did you learn new things about yourself?

 

Not so much about myself, as much as my confidence in my community was not misplaced. It reaffirmed my sense that, you know, we are a special place, we are a special community, that you know, Hawaii is a place that retains a lot of the qualities that growing up on Lanai, I think, I felt were unique once I was able to contrast it to my experiences on the mainland. And so, it reaffirmed my desire to try to maintain those qualities about our community.

 

Colbert Matsumoto chose the business boardroom instead of following his parents into a labor union. However, his strong sense of community goes back to his parents’ values and the sense of extended family in his upbringing on rural Lanai. To that, he added higher education and Zen training. Thank you, Colbert Matsumoto, for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

My own daughters, my two daughters, when they were in elementary school, we went to Lanai for a visit, and I remember giving them like ten dollars and telling them, you know, Why don’t you go buy some ice cream, you know, from the ice cream store? And so, they looked at me like, you know, Well, aren’t you gonna take us? And I said, No, you know where it is, so why don’t you walk from Grandma’s house to the ice cream store. And so, they did. And it was the first time they had ever done that.

 

And you felt okay, ‘cause it was Lanai.

 

Oh, yeah. No, I felt perfectly fine about it. And it was definitely a new experience for them.

 

[END]

 

1 2