showman

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.

 

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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

 

 

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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.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Jack Cione

 

Original air date: Tues., Apr. 1, 2014

 

He was an entrepreneurial showman, best known in the 1960s through the ’80s for staging risque spectacles in Honolulu nightclubs. On this episode of Long Story Short, Jack Cione, now retired, reflects on his colorful business life in Honolulu, which included highly publicized arrests. He freely and gleefully admits that it was he who called the news outlets when police arrived. Women would become some of his best customers – at luncheons featuring nude waiters.

 

Jack Cione Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

So, when you were born, you had a different name than the one you have now.

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE] Jackie Cioni. Real Italian. C-I-O-N-I.

 

Traditional Italian home, Catholic?

 

Oh, yes; Catholic, a little town right out of Chicago, where everyone was Catholic. I remember one time, I dated a Jewish girl. My family had a fit, because, they were very, very [CHUCKLE] strict. You were Italian, you went to the Italian church. You only associated with Italians. And in that little community, there was the Polish church, the Irish church, the Italian church, the Lithuanian church. [CHUCKLE]

 

And you stuck to your people at your —

— own church.

 

Right.

 

Huh.

 

The families in those days kept to tradition.

 

And … I’m fast-forwarding to what you did in later life. How did that go over with the traditional —

 

Well, I —

 

— Catholics —

 

I left. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

 

I left my Italian community at a very young age. I had an uncle that belonged to the Al Capone gang in Chicago, and … I loved his way of life. Expensive cars, and fancy clothes, and eating in fancy restaurants.

 

What did your family think about his lifestyle?

 

Oh, they didn’t. That’s when they disowned me. And I didn’t speak to my father for years. At — when I graduated high school, I left the Cioni family. [CHUCKLE]

 

How old were you when you gravitated to your uncle?

 

Fourteen. I was a piano player. Boogie – woogie was real popular then. And so, he got me a job in a nightclub in Chicago, which —

 

Which was many miles away.

 

Eighty miles. It’s right — we were — lived in the suburb, a small farm town.

 

So, you commuted?

 

And stayed with my uncle, and played the piano there. And of course, met all the Mafia gangs. At that time, one of the big ones they owned was Joe Louis. Which is very funny. Because I had that whole story in my book. I met Joe Louis when I was very young. And then he became world champion. In 1960, he was broke, ‘cause all his wives took his money and all his friends. And he was working for Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas as a host. And so, a choreographer there wrote a show for him, starring Joe Louis and His Lovelies. And he called me and he said, I want to rehearse the show; can we use your nightclub, the Forbidden City? I said, Sure, bring ‘em over. And it was Joe Louis and his chorus girls, and Freda Payne singer. And so, they rehearsed, and they opened the show at the Forbidden City.

 

This is the one in Honolulu that you started?

 

Yeah.

 

Not the Las Vegas one.

 

No; my nightclub. They were breaking it in and gonna take it to Caesar’s Palace. So, when I saw Joe, we brought back old times, how I knew him and my uncle. I said, Joe, you can’t do this show in Las Vegas, you’re too big of a man to let these girls with red sequined boxing gloves punching him, and all that kinda stuff. I said, you’re too big for that. The public will laugh at you. Well, he did the show here, and he got bad reviews. Some of the press liked him. I don’t know whether you’d seen him then.

 

No, I didn’t see it.

 

No. [CHUCKLE] Anyway, he didn’t do the show in Vegas. He took my word, and he stopped it. And then, of course, he passed on. But that was the last time I had seen him.

 

What else appealed to you about your uncle from the Al Capone gang? Was it just the money? Just the access to —

 

— His way of life. He had the big Packard with those white – wall tires on each side. [CHUCKLE]

 

And you were fourteen years old. I mean, you were just a kid.

 

Yes.

 

Playing at nightclubs —

 

I did, yeah.

 

— ‘til — what time did you go to sleep?

 

Well, I changed my age. I was … I was twenty then. Everybody thought … ‘cause I had a mustache at fourteen. I didn’t look like a high school student. And I was making seventy – five dollars a week. That was good money in —

 

A lot of —

 

— 19 — [CHUCKLE] —

 

And how did you keep up with school when you were actually working in the city?

 

Yeah. Well, I didn’t keep up with school. That was the sad part. I remember one day, a teacher said to me, Jackie Cioni, you’re gonna be a bum. You’re gonna be a bum if you don’t learn Algebra and English. And I said, Get out of my face, honey. I make seventy – five bucks a week; what are you making? Schoolteachers [INDISTINCT] made thirty – five dollars a week.

 

Ouch!

 

And so, I got expelled. They kicked me out of school. But the principal was building bleachers for the football team, and he needed a show to raise money for the bleachers. And so, I was working at this nightclub across the street from the Oriental Theater, and there was Les Brown and his orchestra, and they had a girl singer by the name of Doris Day. She had not made Sentimental Journey yet. They were recording it, but it had not been released. And so, I said, Doris, you’ve gotta come to my high school. She said —

 

High school?

 

I remember her saying, Your high school; are you in – I said, Yes, I’m in high school, and we’re raising money; would you come and sing a song or two? And she did. She brought her trio with her, and we did the show, and we raised money. See, when they worked at the Oriental Theater, they used to do four and five shows a day. In those days, they showed the movie, and then they have a stage show.

 

Oh …

 

And the movie and a stage show. So, in between shows, she would hang out at the bar where I was playing. So, she knew I played the piano.

 

So, at fourteen, you were very worldly wise.

 

Yes; I was making money and living a good life at fourteen. School was not part of my life, that’s for sure.

 

So, you were just trying to get out —

 

Out.

 

— and continue to make money.

 

And that’s when my father disowned me; yeah.

 

Did he actually disown you?

 

Oh, yeah. He wanted nothing to do with my Uncle Mike and the way of life that I was living. So, I carried on and made my money, and did my thing.

 

How about your mom saying, What happened to my little boy?

 

Well, they moved to Arizona, because of health reasons. And I did help drive them to Arizona. They had a trailer, and they went to Tucson, Arizona. And we were all living in the trailer; my sister and I, and the two of them. Can you imagine, four people in a trailer with – oh, in the desert of Arizona in 1946? [CHUCKLE] It was horrible. So, I changed my name to Cione; C-I-O-N-E. I followed the Dione Quintriplets; they were popular then. They were in the paper all the time. First time somebody gave birth to five babies.

 

Mm.

 

And they were so cute, and everybody would say, Dionne. So, I thought, Why not Cione? So, I carried it on; Jack Cione.

 

And you stayed in Arizona?

 

No; I went to Hollywood. I had saved a lot of money playing the piano.

 

How much did you save?

 

Oh, I think I went to Hollywood with about a thousand dollars. And all my clothes, and I was gonna become a movie star. That’s my second repotting. And so, when I got there, I stood in line for auditions. And I thought, This is a ridiculous way to make a living. I did one movie, Good News, with June Allyson and Peter Lawford.

 

What’d you do in the movie?

 

I was a dancer.

 

M-hm.

 

Yeah; I was a dancer. I didn’t want to play the piano anymore. The piano, by the way, kept me out of the service, too. I was with the USO and – at the time my draft came up. Bob Hope picked our – I had a band called The Jolly Jacks, and he picked the band to go on tour with him. And I said, I’m being drafted, so he got me out of the draft. And I toured with the USO then.

 

That’s how you spent the war?

 

That’s how I spent the war; yeah.

 

Oh, amazing.

First time they came out here, by the way, was with Bob Hope’s show. We played Pearl Harbor and … Kaneohe and Schofield.

 

And after doing the USO tour, you stayed in Hollywood?

 

Straight back to Hollywood, trying to become a movie star. But it didn’t work. But I met … I met lots of movie stars there.

 

You sound like you were a real streetwise —

 

Yeah.

 

— young man.

 

Yeah; I met Eleanor Powell and Dorothy Lamour. Oh, that was funny with Dorothy Lamour. They were filming the Road Show with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, and, of course, I knew Bob Hope from working with him. And I said, Dorothy, I wrote to you when I was in high school, and you sent me a photograph, To Jackie Cioni, with all my love, Dottie Lamour. She said, You still have it? I said, Yes, I still have it. That was the end of that. But —

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

— Dorothy used to come here every winter, and stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. And I had the nightclub in Waikiki called Le Boom Boom. And she used to come into the club. And so, one night, I said – she said, Do you still have that picture? I said, Yes, I do. So, I brought it, and she autographed it again, and we took a new picture. And I have that. Which I think is a wonderful story, because she used to come to the club every year and spend lots of time there, until she passed away.

 

Mm. All these relationships that stretch over —

 

A relationship —

 

— [INDISTINCT] areas.

 

— that I met when I was young —

 

M-hm.

 

— and came back when I was… old. [CHUCKLE]

 

 

So, when you – so, you’re in Hollywood and you’re deciding, I don’t want to be auditioning, what was the life plan then?

 

Oh, one more story which I think is very funny. In Hollywood, I used to get dressed up every night and go to Ciro’s, Mocambo —

 

Uh-huh.

 

— and Earl Carroll’s – those were the big nightclubs, and sit at the bar thinking I was gonna be discovered. But one night, I sat at the bar, and Van Johnson and Peter Lawford were at the bar. And so, I start talking with the. We met, and his friend Keenan Wynn came in, and the maitre d’ came over and said, Your table is ready. And I thought, Oh, wouldn’t it be nice if they invited me. But the three of them just got up and left me sitting there. And I was very disappointed. But when I opened my Dunes Club here in Honolulu, I was buying acts, and I bought Van Johnson. [CHUCKLE] So, I brought him over here, and he worked at The Dunes. And I had brought that story up; I said, You know, you … blew my mind when you didn’t ask me to have dinner with you and … the other two. And he remembered the story. [CHUCKLE]

 

Oh, he really did? Ah …

 

But I thought —

 

So, you made an impression.

 

I thought it was funny that he’d end up working for me at The Dunes.

How many nights did you spend sitting there, waiting to be discovered?

 

Used to go every night.

 

For how long?

 

Oh … mm, thirty, forty minutes in each bar.

 

For years?

 

Oh, no; for how long? No, I gave that up … and the year was 19 … 1948. And I moved back; I had no place to go. I spent all my money. I moved back to Phoenix with my mother and father. Which was not too happy. But I got a job then at Arthur Murray Dance Studio.

 

Because you could dance.

 

Yeah; ‘cause I could dance. And I met my first wife.

 

Who was a dancer? Student?

 

Who was a dancer; yeah, she —

 

Teacher or student?

 

No, she was a teacher. And we both worked there at Arthur Murray’s.

 

Doing ballroom dancing, and what other kind of dancing?

 

Oh, that was ballroom dancing. That’s another story. [CHUCKLE] We went to New York and worked … thought we were gonna work for Arthur Murray. But the studio in Phoenix blackballed us, and the studio in New York said, We don’t have an opening right now, but we’ll have something later.

 

Why did they blackball you?

 

Because we left the Phoenix studio.

 

Oh, I see.

 

And we were their best dance team they had. And so, they thought by blackballing us, we’d come back to Phoenix. So, instead, we got a job with the Fred Astaire Studio, and I worked for Fred Astaire. And I became—in the daytime, I’d go to audition for Broadway shows. And I auditioned for the Arthur Murray Show. [CHUCKLE] And I became Kathryn Murray’s dance partner.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

We’d rehearse in the daytime, and I’d teach dancing at Fred Astaire’s at night. But that was so funny. [CHUCKLE]

 

And she knew that?

 

And – no, she —

 

Oh, she didn’t.

 

— didn’t know that. [CHUCKLE] But the show …

 

Mm.

 

We left New York because my wife became pregnant, and went to Phoenix, and I opened a dance studio. And they sued me. Because —

 

Non – compete.

 

I had a contract. Right. But I was underage when I signed the contract. [CHUCKLE] And my first wife said, I married a child. I said, Yes, you can be

picked up for rape. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] So, you got in trouble with your wife, but you got out of the lawsuit.

 

She didn’t know I was so young. But, we got out of the lawsuit. And then, my studio just bloomed; we were big, big, big. I ended up with, fourteen studios all over the State of Arizona.

 

So, from an early age, you were good at earning money. But now, you’re good at making money. How did that happen? What was that transition?

 

Oh, I had a good business sense. And …

 

Where’d you get it?

 

It just came natural, I guess. I opened the one studio, and I was doing all the teaching. And pretty soon, we had too many students, and my wife was pregnant, having the baby. I had to hire teachers and more teachers, and more students, more teachers. And then, my sister got involved, and she was just sixteen at that time. And —

 

How old were you? Twenty-six? She’s ten years —

 

Oh, I was —

 

— younger?

 

Let’s see; that was 1948 … I must have been nineteen.

 

Nineteen?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE]

  

So, already, you’re married and you’ve got all these —

 

Yeah.

 

— dance studios?

 

Uh-huh. Well, the studios took ten years, but … I stayed in Phoenix ten years. And we made all these studios, I got a divorce, she got the Tucson studio. I kept the Phoenix, Scottsdale, and all the rest of ‘em. And then, I start selling them off to teachers who would run the studio and pay me a percentage of their gross. And so, I had all these studios.

 

Did you figure out that business model? ‘Cause that’s smart. That’s ongoing revenue; right?

 

Yeah, it’s ongoing revenue.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE] And so, I did the same thing here in Honolulu with nightclubs.

 

So, how do you think you had the wherewithal to be so adult in your sophistication when you were a teenager? I mean, when you were doing an adult’s job on the piano.

 

Yeah.

 

And then, you …

 

I just —

 

— [INDISTINCT] businesses.

 

I just liked to make money.

 

And you’re marrying an adult.

 

I’m marrying an adult. Yes. It all fit together pretty good.

 

You didn’t have to really think about it at all?

No; I wouldn’t want to change a day of it. It was a wonderful life. I must say, the Lord was very good to me. I worked with the rough element. Nightclub business is not an easy business. But I stayed the straight line, and did it as a business. I don’t drink; I never did drink. [CHUCKLE] And so, I always said people want to buy me a drink. I said, I’m in the business to sell this; I don’t drink it.

 

So, throughout the time you operated nightclubs, and made a good living off alcohol, you never drank?

 

Never drank.

 

Not ever tempted? ‘Cause a lot of people get in trouble; they don’t think they’re interested —

 

Oh, I’d have —

 

— and then they’re exposed —

 

— a social drink —

 

— to it.

 

— you know, like a martini once in a while. But I was never a drinker.

 

What was your passion about running nightclubs?

 

Doing shows.

 

Mm.

 

And, directing shows, and producing shows. And so, that opened a whole new

field for me.

 

Okay; let’s back up. Because right now, we’re still in Tucson, and you’re …

 

We’re in Phoenix.

 

I’m sorry; Phoenix, and you’re … getting passive revenue from the individual sale of you —

 

Yes.

 

 

— studios. And then, what happens?

 

Well, I did a first television show. Had a weekly live TV show, which got me into producing dance numbers. In fact, Wayne Newton was on my first show. He was … twelve years old.

 

Could you tell he was gonna be a star?

 

Oh, yes. He had lots of talent. And he also worked for me at The Dunes here.

 

Oh!

 

[CHUCKLE] Later … I started producing shows, and then I produced them in nightclubs. So, I had a show at the Guys and Dolls, which was on the south side of Phoenix, and I had a show on the north side of town called The Sundown. And then, I personally appeared at the Westward Ho Hotel in the fancy Contra Room. Was the equivalent to our Monarch Room here. And my sister and I became a dance team there … so, I was into producing shows. And sent a show to Las Vegas at the El Rancho, and then I was into tap dancing and dan – and doing all of these shows.

 

And your talents as far as dancing and piano; they’re all self – taught? Who taught you how to dance?

 

Yeah. No, I studied some tap.

 

Mm.

 

When I was in Los Angeles, I took tap.

 

Because you were a budding —

 

Yeah.

 

— actor; right?

 

I was in a class with Vera-Ellen and Donald O’Connor. And Peggy Ryan.

 

Wow.

 

Do you remember Peggy?

 

Yes; she was married to Eddie Sherman.

 

Eddie Sherman; right. We were in the same dance class. And … Vera-Ellen; we thought we were gonna team up as a team.

 

Wow. So, lots of people flowing through your life, lots of different ways to make a living.

 

Right. Can we stop a minute?

 

Sure.

 

Well, can we go back to your first wife? So, you—how old were you when you proposed to her?

 

I think I was about eighteen.

 

Eighteen; and how old was she?

 

Twenty-three.

 

And she didn’t know you were a teenager.

 

No; ‘cause I was twenty – I was twenty-four. ‘Cause I changed my age.

 

Oh, I see.

 

So, Arthur Murray’s thought I was twenty – four.

 

Was that ever a point of friction between you, that you hadn’t told her how old you really were?

 

Not; not until we won the court case. [CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

‘Cause I was only eighteen when I signed the contract.

 

Yeah. So, that turned out to be your saving grace —

 

Right.

 

— actually.

 

M – hm.

 

Okay. So, here we – so now, you are – where are we now? You were selling your dance studios.

 

Yes; I told my dance studios. Well, while I was dancing in the Contra Room, that’s where I met my second wife. She came in one night for dinner with … a party of eight people. She had just moved to Phoenix; she was from Dallas, Texas. And … I met them – after the show, we’d always go around and talk to the customers. So, I said, Hello, I hope I’ll see you again.

 

Did you say that to everyone?

 

Well, to her. I shook her hand and said – I said, I hope you’ll come back again. And … three nights later, she came back again. This time, she brought her friend. He’s the baseball player, Dizzy Dean and his wife, Pat Dean, which they were close friends from Texas. And so, after the show, they asked me to join them, and that’s how we became friends. And in talking, I found out that she had a daughter that was eight years old, and my son was with me at that time and he was seven years old. And I said … How about going to the State Fair, Sunday? Take our kids; wouldn’t that be fun? She thought that was our first date. So, we took our kids to the fair, and from then on, it … turned into a romance, and we got married.

 

What made her a keeper?

 

What made her, what?

 

What made her a keeper?

 

A keeper?

 

Fifty years; that’s … that’s a keeper. [CHUCKLE]

 

I’ve been ma – yes, we’re celebrating our fifty – eighth wedding anniversary.

 

Fifty-eighth?

 

Yes.

 

Wow!

 

[CHUCKLE] I’m an old man now. [CHUCKLE]

 

What made her the one?

 

Well, she was such a lady. My first wife was a dancer. And it was an entirely different type of personality. My first wife was in show business, and I was in show business, and … my other wife was not in show biz. She used to manage Elizabeth Arden’s main [INDISTINCT] in Scottsdale, Arizona. And I used to teach dancing there, too. That’s where we had all the celebrities from Hollywood used to come there and try to rejuvenate. Like, Greer Garson, Rosalind Russell, Bette Davis. We even had Mamie Eisenhower. And they would all take down – the dance lessons from me. I personally there. So, it was —

 

And you liked the idea of being married to somebody who wasn’t in the showbiz

 

Right.

 

— realm.

 

Right. And then … we just hit it off beautifully. And so, we got married, and we were on our honeymoon. We … was gonna do the Orient. We did Japan and Hong Kong, and Australia. And we were at Fiji and the plane was going to Tahiti, and I said, I’m so hungry for a hamburger. In those days, the restaurants were not good, even in Tokyo and Hong Kong. And the plane was announced, All aboard for Honolulu. I said, Why don’t we change our tickets and go to Honolulu?

 

For a hamburger?

 

[CHUCKLE] Well, to finish our honeymoon.

 

[CHUCKLE] I see.

 

And so – because we – we were – told everyone we were gonna be gone two months. And so … we got on the plane to Honolulu, and we stayed in the Hawaiian Village Hotel for a while. And then we said, Why don’t we … get an apartment. So, we got an apartment, paid a month’s rent. And while we were there, we said, Why don’t we get a job. We liked it here so much. So, we both started looking for a job. Well, I couldn’t find anything, but she found a job at the Biltmore Hotel. She was secretary to the manager; worked right in. And one night, we went to the Forbidden City, ‘cause we had dinner across the street at the Fisherman’s Wharf.

 

On Ala Moana Boulevard —

 

Oh, yeah.

 

And Forbidden City was —

 

Across the street.

 

Right – yeah, where Ward Warehouse is now.

 

Right. And we were in there, and there were six customers. And all these Japanese girls in the show. And so, the manager came over and talked to us; Chinese man. And I said, How can you pay the rent with six people in here? And the show was a god awful show.

 

What kind of show was it?

 

Kabuki dancing.

 

Mm.

 

Japa – in that period, there was the Oasis, the Ginbashi [PHONETIC], the Forbidden City, the Ginza. It was all Japanese hostesses. There were no Korean hostesses then. [CHUCKLE] And they would dance. And so … I just told him how bad his show was, and he said … Do you want to do a show for me? I said, Yeah, I’ll do a show for you, I have nothing to do. He said, How much is it gonna cost? I said, I’ll do a show for you for nothing. I just need something to do. Well, that gets into a very involved story because … the lady who was his partner was the mistress of John Wayne, who had his boat parked across the street by the Fisherman’s Wharf. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, how did that get involved?

 

Well, that got very involved because it’s so funny. And meeting John Wayne, I told him, I don’t know what we’re gonna do with our son. And he said, I have the same problem. I said, I have a ranch in Arizona, five hundred acres, and I wanted my son to take it over. Pat said – or John said, Where is it? I said, It’s right outside of Phoenix. He said, I’ll take a look at it when I’m back in Hollywood. So, he had to get out of town. I did him a favor here. And … he bought the ranch for his son, Pat.

 

He bought your ranch for his –

 

Yes.

 

–son, Pat.

 

[CHUCKLE] And the story; when I took the check to the bank, it was so funny. The cashier said, Is this John Wayne, the actor? I said, Yeah. And you’re gonna cash it?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I said, Yes, I think so. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow.

 

That was, I thought, very interesting. That’s how I got in —

 

So, even in Honolulu, you’re running into celebs.

 

Yes; yes. So … I did a show at the Forbidden City. And I did two shows that made a lot of money. One was Black Bottoms, the first time —

 

Black Bottoms; could you explain?

 

Black Bottoms, an all Negro show.

 

Ah … and what happened to the Japanese dancers? Uh-oh. Bye —

 

They were—

 

Sayonara.

 

— his waitresses; yeah.

 

Okay.

 

And then, I did an ice show. First time we had an ice show at the Forbidden City. I called it Nudes on Ice.

 

So, you put in an ice skating rink?

 

Yeah; it was about twice the size of this table.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Portable. And two skater friends of mine from the mainland. I brought them over and said … Come and skate; a paid vacation, two weeks. Airfare, hotel, meals. Oh, yeah, we’ll do that. So, they came over. And I had the Japanese girls and … and I used them as showgirls, and the girl skater would come out and skate. And then, they’d – the boy would come out and skate, and those Japanese girls. And I talked three of the Japanese girls into going topless.

 

Now, this is – you’ve just punched through an envelope, because you weren’t doing this before; right?

 

No; no. [CHUCKLE]

 

You were doing regular —

 

Yes.

 

— choreography and dancing —

 

Right.

 

— and show tunes. All of a sudden, you’re doing naked stuff?

 

I just had them open their kimonos to add a little more to the show.

 

And what were the skaters wearing?

 

Oh, they wore regular —

 

Regular —

 

— ice skate – yeah, they were … professional —

 

So —

 

— skaters.

 

— now, by opening the kimono, you’ve just —

But it was —

 

— taken a step into a different —

 

Nudes on Ice; and it was such a sensation.

 

Wait. Nudes on Ice; so they weren’t wearing regular skating clothes?

 

No. The skaters wore clothes, but the three girls that stood there [CHUCKLE] on the ice —

 

Oh; I see.

 

They were the nudes on ice. [CHUCKLE] That was my hook. Every show needs a hook, you know.

 

Yeah; because you’re a marketer, too.

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, now you’re really kinda dealing in a different kind of venue.

 

Right. And there were no nightclubs having any nudity. It was against the law.

 

And when did you – now, you already lied about your age, but now you’re talking about breaking the law.

 

Well, there were no laws. Hawaiian dancers were topless … in King Kalakaua —

 

Throughout history. [CHUCKLE]

 

Right. And so, what was the law? What was the – what was the big deal? So, the next show I did was complete nude show. I brought burlesque in. It wasn’t nude; it was just topless. The girls then had to wear pasties and …

 

M-hm.

 

— silk bras. But it eventually evolved. And every time we would do that, they would come and arrest me. And —

 

You’re saying this like this is, you know, just part of doing business. But I mean, you – and what was the charge? Was it lewdness, open lewdness?

 

Lewd and lascivious conduct.

 

How did you feel about that?

 

 

Well, they’d arrest me, and I’d say, Excuse me, can I go to the restroom? And I’d run in my office and I’d call the TV and the newspaper, and I’d stay there until they got to the club.

 

So, you’re actually enjoying this.

 

Oh, loving it. And the next morning, it was in the papers and it was on TV.

 

Was that part of being a showman?

 

Yes. And business increased. People would see that. Oh, look, arrested, nude. We gotta go see that [CHUCKLE] at Forbidden City.

 

And how did your new wife think about this?

 

Well, [CHUCKLE] she didn’t particularly like it. But it was making lots of money. And so, we opened that club, then we opened another one. I ended up with twelve bars here. And —

 

And how many arrests?

 

Oh, gosh; I was arrested so many times, but not once conviction.

 

Because as you said, the laws hadn’t caught up with this business activity.

 

Right. We went topless, then we went bottomless, and then we went totally nude. And then, of course, my biggest hit of all was the naked waiters out at The Dunes. And that just happened by accident.

 

And not only – I mean, I think people who weren’t aware of this era would be surprised to learn that not only were there naked waiters, but … your customers were touching these guys.

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

And I mean, there was a lot of touching going on.

 

Yes; on the waiters. The females went wild. All these years, I was doing the shows for men. We used to have a businessman’s lunch at The Dunes.

 

Back when three martinis were tax deductible; right?

 

Right. And it was all businessmen.

 

M-hm.

 

And the show was a striptease show. And these secretaries said, We’re so tired of coming with our boss; why don’t you put a naked man on stage for us? And I just happened to say, Well, why don’t you get me a reservation for fifty ladies, and I’ll have a naked man for you. That’s how it started.

 

And how many – did you get a reservation for fifty?

 

Oh, gosh; they called about two weeks later. They said, We have your fifty; you’re gonna have a naked man? And I said, Yes. Well, by the time the two weeks came, they had two hundred reservations. That filled up my room. [CHUCKLE] They kept out my men customers. The ladies took all the seats.

 

And did you have your naked waiter in line?

 

No.

 

No?

 

I didn’t have any.

 

How do you hire a naked waiter?

 

In those days, this was now 1973 … and there were no such a thing as Chippendales and men strippers. But I had a beach house in Haleiwa that I was renting to five surfers. And they were behind on their rent. So, I called them and said, You guys gotta pay the rent, or you’ve gotta come in and do me a favor. They said, What is it? I said, Well, you gotta come to The Dunes, Friday, and you’ve got to drop your pants on stage. Oh, hell, yeah; we’ll do that.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so —

 

And nothing said about, I need you to be good serving people.

 

No, no.

 

‘Cause you will be a waiter now.

 

I had waitresses.

 

Oh; and were they topless?

 

All topless. Don’t you remember? That was the —

 

I didn’t know you combined them. Okay.

 

Well, this was new. I felt —

 

So, topless women, bottomless men.

 

Well, at that time, the topless waitresses were the draw for the male customers. And I thought this woman secretary was doing this for one night, one day, Friday afternoon. So, I got her the naked men. I didn’t know it was gonna become so famous. Those women stayed all day. We had the biggest bar business I ever did that afternoon. They all drank, drank, and the surfers were enter —

 

Paraded.

 

Paraded, without their pants. And [CHUCKLE] the waitresses were mad, because the ladies at the table would say, Get away, I want a naked waiter, I don’t want you. And they weren’t making any tips, and the surfers were making all the money. So, when I saw that, I thought, Oh, this is a goldmine. So, in a week’s time, I told the gals; I said, We’re gonna have waiters every day.

 

Instead of waitresses?

 

Instead of waitresses.

 

Because the women were the ones who were paying more money.

 

Yes. And so —

 

As clients.

 

That’s how it happened. And then, the publicity went … outstanding.

 

Along with the publicity of, Wow, look what happened, you gotta go see this, I’m sure there was also this drumbeat from citizens saying, What is this guy doing, it’s so vulgar, it’s so lewd, it’s just …

 

All —

 

— horrendous on society.

 

— the churches … all the churches. And there was a gal here, I’m sure you interviewed her. Her name was Jerri Mann [PHONETIC].

 

Oh, I don’t remember. I’m sorry.

 

University of Hawaii. She wrote editorials to the paper every – every week. And she was down on it.

 

And fact is, you’d come from somewhere else, and brought this vulgar stuff to Hawaii; right?

 

Yes.

 

How did you … justify that?

 

Well, we just continued it. I had the naked waiters in the daytime, and the strippers at nighttime. And … soon opened another spot in Waikiki.

 

So, it didn’t bother you, all the —

 

No.

 

— criticism.

 

And we’d get arrested, and they had no charges. The Liquor Commission was then in charge. And they had vice squad in those days. The vice squad would come in and see it, and they’d say, Oh, what’s this? Nothing. But the Liquor Commission would do all the complaining. But they lost every case.

 

Did you spend a fortune on legal bills?

 

No, I had a wonderful attorney. He —

 

Who was your attorney?

 

Myer Symonds. He’s —

 

I recall his name.

 

— dead now. But he loved this type of work, and he took every case and won it. And then the Liquor Commission start making the rules. They forbid the waiters to walk around on the floor, which the rule said, Hey, you have to be on a platform, eighteen inches off the floor to work nude. Meaning, you have to be on a stage. But I built a platform behind the salad bar.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

Eighteen inches off the floor. [CHUCKLE] I put the nude waiters behind the salad bar.

 

You must have had law enforcement just ready to —

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

So, they couldn’t do anything with that. It was eighteen inches off the floor. But they couldn’t walk around on the floor.

 

So, among all of this – I just sense that your guiding force is money and showbiz. But you weren’t really into the flesh stuff of it all?

 

No.

 

Or the –

 

No.

 

Or the drinking, clearly.

 

No. And of course, with all the national publicity, we opened a waiter show in Waikiki, we opened a waiter show in Los Angeles, and one in San Francisco. And again, I sold them as a franchise. I let them use the name, and I helped them put the show together. So, we had four shows going at one time. And we made every national magazine. The London papers, the German papers; they sent reporters with their photographers to take their own pictures.

 

I would have thought, say, the women’s lunch, that would have been kind of a … you know, one-occasion affair for a lot of women.

 

That’s what we thought.

 

But was it repeat business?

 

Five years.

 

And people keep coming back?

 

Oh … unreal. Four hundred lunches, Monday through Friday.

 

And where was that lunch place located?

 

At The Dunes.

 

Which was, where?

 

Nimitz Highway.

 

Nimitz Highway.

 

Out by the airport, right next to The Plaza Hotel. It’s torn down now; it’s a car lot. But that was the biggest attraction we ever had. And I give all the credit to Sophie Tucker. You remember her?

 

I do remember Sophie Tucker.

 

Because when —

 

I’m sure everyone in Honolulu does.

 

When we bought The Dunes, we made it a fancy supper club, and we played Pearl Bailey, Van Johnson, Kay Starr …

 

When you say you played them, you mean you played them —

 

They —

 

— their audio?

 

They worked there.

 

Oh, they came in and performed there.

 

Yeah; that was the – the place to go for dinner and see.

 

So, that’s a classy joint.

 

Very classy. But … it was Sophie Tucker who told me when she worked there; Young man, there aren’t fifty-two stars on the books to fill this room fifty-two weeks a year. You’ve gotta come up with a gimmick if you want to make money in the nightclub business. ‘Cause all that time, I was playing these stars and paying them ten thousand dollars a week. Unheard of —

 

So, your gimmick was nudity.

 

Gimmick was nudity. And from then on, it just went. Girls in the cages, the first Twist Bar here in town, doing The Twist. First sex change, local boy from McKinley High School. Sandra and her Donkey. Oh!

 

Sandra and her Donkey? I think I missed that one.

 

[CHUCKLE] You missed that one. You never heard the story about Sandra?

 

No …

 

Oh.

 

Do I want to hear it?

 

[CHUCKLE] We’ll put it in, but you might want to cut it out.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

That was a story. When people would to go to Cuba or Mexico to see Senorita and her Donkey.

 

No; tell me about. What —

 

Oh, it was —

 

Why did they go see her?

 

Because she would perform a sexual act with the donkey. It was —

 

Oh.

 

— quite famous in the 50s. Everybody; it was cocktail conversation. And so, I took a local stripper, Sandra, and I rented a donkey from Waimanalo. And we did the stage with the bales of hay and a barn. And Sandra danced Donkey Serenade, hung her clothes on the donkey, kissed the donkey, laid on the bale of hay. But nothing ever happened. When people would see that, they’d come out and say, Jack Cione, that’s the dumbest show I ever saw. And I’d say, You should have been here last night; the donkey really went wild. They’d come back the next night to see. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, marketing was very much a part of what you did.

 

Marketing was my business; yeah. My partner counted the money and stayed in the office. I did the marketing and the frontend of all those clubs.

 

And you went to the police cell block.

 

I did the —

 

On behalf of the business.

 

Yeah. He said, When they arrest you, you’re going, not me.

 

But you know, it’s – you – sounds like you grew up fast. At fourteen, you’re playing in nightclubs. And now, it sounds like you’re a kid in an adult business.

 

Well, I’m in the business that I learned when I was playing the piano in the bar business.

 

It’s what people really want.

 

Yeah.

 

So, you got to know some of their baser desires.

 

Right.

 

And you mentioned there were unsavory people, kind of on the fringes who were involved.

 

And instead of paying … Kay Starr or Redd Foxx ten thousand dollars a week —

 

You hired a donkey.

 

A hundred dollars a week for the donkey, and two hundred for the stripper, and packed the place every night. [CHUCKLE]

 

What are some of the things that happened as a business owner on the edges there that surprised you? Any surprises about running the business with authorities … with businesspeople, with people you hired?

 

No. It was – it was – I had great employees.

 

What kind of competition did you start to face? Were there copycats?

 

No. I had twelve bars; there were no copycats.

 

Mm.

 

I had The French Quarters on Maunakea Street, The Show Bar on Hotel Street, The Dunes out by the airport, Casbah Lounge, the Forbidden City, Soul City —

 

Le Boom Boom.

 

Le Boom Boom at the International Marketplace. The Clouds Hotel, Little Dipper, the Money Room. I had all these strip shows going on. And I only had one club, and the manager of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel … said, Can you come and do something with my show in the Monarch Room?

 

To pep it up?

 

Yeah. So, I went and redid their show. That played two years. And in that show, I did a Hawaiian show. Real Polynesian, which never knew anything about, but learned. It starred Ed Kenney, Beverly Noa, Marlene Sai.

 

Oh, that was big time.

 

Mottie Ing [PHONETIC].

 

M-hm.

 

Al Harrington was my … knife da — with a knife —

 

Fire dancer?

 

Fire dancer. And Jack Tahiti Thompson, who owns – they still own the business, was my Samoan slap dancer. Kimo Kahoano —

 

Kahoano.

 

He was …

 

Your emcee?

 

No; one of the boy dancers. He was just a young kid.

 

Oh.

 

And so, that show played there to great reviews. It was called Her Little Island. And so, after that, I always wanted to do another Polynesian show, which I did at Le Boom Boom. When we bought Duke’s, and Duke’s was, a club that … had Don Ho and … Martin Denny and all those stars, and I bought it and put a review in there featuring Prince Hanalei.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

The shock —

 

Not – not —

 

— of Waikiki.

 

Yes. Now, he was famous. I remember he was known for being able to make tassels —

 

Tassels.

 

— twirl in opposite directions.

 

Standing on his head, on fire. And when I put him in to headline that show, the tourists …

 

And where were the tassels attached?

 

On his back side.

 

Yes.

 

And the tour company said, Oh, Jack, we’re not gonna support that show. I said, Bring your customers. So, the first night, they loved it. It was such a hit that the so – show sold out every night. And in those days, we were doing two shows a night; a dinner show and a second show. Today, everybody does one show a night.

 

But you could sell out two.

 

Yes.

 

What happened to Prince Hanalei? He was the talk of the town.

 

He died. He passed on.

 

Young?

 

Yeah; very young. But he was a great act. And then, I made copies of – Follies Polynesia, it was called, at the Le Boom Boom. It stayed there. But I sent a second company to Las Vegas, and to Lake Tahoe, and to Hong Kong.

 

Were you working all the time? Sounds like —

 

All the time.

 

This is – you were working at night, you were doing business deals —

 

Yeah.

 

— during the day.

 

And so, all of those shows, you see … somebody else was running them, but they were all bringing income.

 

And what did this do to the powers that be in town, the ones who were supposed to make sure that, you know, citizens, you know, aren’t bothered by an unsavory element? Did you run into trouble with – obviously, the police were on your case, but what about politicians?

 

No; no, the politicians agreed that this was something the town needed. Honolulu was ready for this.

 

Who said that?

 

Oh, I’m not gonna name their names, but the politicians were no problem. They could see that there was a need for this. We had military here, a large population of military. So, this is a tourist town. If you saw it in Las Vegas, why wouldn’t you see it in Honolulu?

 

And what about as a nexus for organized crime? We had local organized crime in those days. This was the 60s, 70s, and by the 80s I think things were changing. But local organized crime who were getting kickbacks at other places. Did they get them from you?

 

Never bothered us; no. Never bothered us. I thought we were approached once, but when they found out that the … money would be too hard to get, because it was run as a business. They preyed on mom and pop bars.

 

Under the table payments.

 

Yeah; where the owner of the bar would put the money from the cash register in his pocket, you see. But my businesses all had managers and we had to show the tally every night. And if you took money out of the register … no, I never had any trouble with them.

 

They didn’t say, You know, we’ll provide —

 

You know —

 

— security —

 

— who I had trouble —

 

We’ll provide security for you, Jack; just send a check over to me —

 

No.

 

— every week.

 

I had my own Samoan security.

 

But it doesn’t matter; they could have still billed you for security.

 

No; didn’t do that … the biggest shakedown I thought I had was at the Le Boom Boom Club. The bus drivers that would bring the tour groups into your club … and they would bring fifty, a hundred, two hundred a night in those days. And so, I had … one bus driver said … You like the numbers I’m bringing you? I said, Yeah, it’s fine. He says, You know, I can take them to the Al Harrington Show. I said, I know that. He said, But for a dollar a head, I’ll keep bringing them here. I said, Where am I gonna get the dollar? He said, Out of your register. I said, I can’t, it all goes to the books, I can’t just go in there and take a hundred dollars out because you brought me a hundred customers. They were – then another one tried the same thing. They were the ones shaking me down.

 

And that didn’t work?

 

And besides, the tour companies were charging twenty-five percent of the ticket for them.

 

M-hm.

 

Now, they’re up to forty percent, I hear.

 

Oh …

 

That’s why there are no shows in Waikiki.

 

Because of all the feeders off the shows?

 

All feeding off the shows. Right.

 

Why did you stop doing shows?

 

Because of that.

 

What was the biggest cost factor that made you stop?

 

When they were asking thirty percent.

 

For delivery of —

 

Of —

 

— customers?

 

Yeah; for a dinner and a show ticket. That mean I would have to raise my price. And it – and it’s ridiculous.

 

M-hm. Can I ask you in general terms, how much money did you make from all of this? It sounds like —

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

— you had this burgeoning empire.

 

Well, I’m living at Arcadia now, which is very expensive.

 

After having lived at Diamond Head in a house you owned.

 

Yes. [CHUCKLE] Well, we were in the house business. My wife and I used to buy old houses and decorate them, and sell them. That was her hobby. And I sort of participated in it, too. Arcadia is very expensive. Wonderful place to live, but very expensive.

 

I know there were eyebrows raised when you applied to live in Arcadia, because it’s a very distinguished place with retired judges —

 

Right.

Retired attorneys, and … did you – what was that like? What was that application process like for you?

 

When I first moved in, it was a shock, yes. I wasn’t sure that it would last, but it did. And I started the Follies, and we did a little show there using the … residents. It was called School Days, and we dressed them all up in their little kindergarten clothes and did silly jokes, kiddie jokes. And sang Sesame Street songs. [CHUCKLE] And so they all loved it, and the show grew. I’m doing one this year; this is the ninth year. We’ve lived there now ten years. And this is the ninth year of the Follies. We’re calling it Mardi Gras Follies. I used to do Mardi Gras Follies at Pearl Harbor.

 

That’s right; twenty years. It was a great show.

 

Twenty – twenty years, we did it out there as their fundraiser. And they made a lot of money on that show. And now, we’re doing it here as a fundraiser, ‘cause we don’t sell tickets.

 

No skin showing?

 

No skin showing.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And we have a cast of thirty-five this year.

 

All from the Arcadia?

 

All senior ladies. We’ve got one in there is ninety-five years old.

 

Is she dancing?

 

She – she … has trouble walking, but she wears the costume, and …

 

Mm.

 

And we added some from Craigside. You know, Arcadia has another place called Craigside. So … the casts are from both places.

 

Are you still enjoying the shows?

Oh, love – I love doing it. Yeah. It’s a lot of work, though. You – they don’t realize how much work it really is. But I have a good assistant, and I have good costume people, good light person. And so, I’ve got a crew now.

 

And so —

 

So, just to clarify, going back. Because the law are different now, and people are used to different rules in place. What … when you had naked waiters, when you had strippers, are you talking about people wearing skin-tone tights, that kinda thing, or G-strings? What kind of nude waiters are you talking about?

 

No; my waiters took their clothes off. They worked in the nude. I had them wear butcher aprons; that was fun. So, they looked like a waiter. Tied the apron in the back, you know, the butcher apron. And when they come to the table, the ladies would lift up the apron, and the waiter would say, Uh-uh, that’s gonna cost you money.

 

And how do you tip a naked waiter?

 

And then they’d teach them how to tip a naked waiter.

 

And how is that? How do you do that?

 

They’d take the five-dollar bill off the table, and roll it up … hook it around, and lift up the apron and …

 

And that was part of their entertainment.

 

That was part of the entertainment. That’s why they’d stay all afternoon.

 

 

But it went – and so, that’s a form of touching, but it went to full – on touching too; right?

 

No, that’s about all they did to the waiters. They’d be … strict about that.

 

The waiters would have to control —

 

Yeah.

 

— the lady’s action?

 

See, we did a show on stage, so that was basically what you came to see, is what you say, a naked waiter became a stage show. And when you came in, we charged you a cover charge, and we tied a yellow ribbon around your finger to show that you paid. And when our star would come out, he would dance to Tie a Yellow Ribbon Around That Old Oak Tree. And so, when he was totally nude, he would say, Okay, ladies, this is your chance; would you like to come up and tie your yellow ribbon around my oak tree? And they would line up, and it would take thirty, forty minutes for everybody to tie. That was the show. [CHUCKLE]

 

Wow. And you were taking it all the way to the bank.

 

All the way to the bank. Yes. [CHUCKLE]

 

What was happening in other cities around the world, or around America? Was the same kind of —

 

Yes; it was —

 

— nudity going on?

 

It was all – right. It was a phase that … I think the general public was ready for nudity. It no longer sells. Who’s interested? You can see it on television, you have videos. We didn’t have those in the 60s and 70s.

 

So, all of the laws that have to do with stage shows and … contact with nudes, and nudity; those all developed right after you came on the scene and —

 

That’s right.

 

— probably because you came on the scene.

 

Right here in Honolulu; yes. If you looked at the Liquor Commission laws, if you were to open a bar and wanted to do nudity, they would give you these rules and regulations. The other thing, if you think about … I remember in nineteen-thirty … mm, six or seven, there was a movie called Gone With the Wind. And Scarlett O’Hara said, Rhett, what am I gonna do, what am I gonna do? And he said, Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. Ah! That shocking. Do you remember that?

 

I do remember that.

 

Oh, my; that’s all we talked about. He said, damn, in the movie.

 

So, very different context. But still, nudity, I mean, that was – you were a pariah.

 

Yeah. Well, so then it – it progresses, you know. There were several movies. Remember Deep Throat?

 

M-hm.

 

Big money. Blue Moon, and all these movies start coming out. Now, who cares? [CHUCKLE]

 

How did you know people would go for exactly the kind of entertainment that you were offering?

 

I didn’t. It just happened by accident. When I put those surfers on the stage and they dropped their pants, I didn’t know that that was gonna last five years. I thought it’s a – a gimmick today, it’ll be over tomorrow. But the ladies said, We want more, more, more.

 

And then, you were very good at packaging that and franchising —

 

Then I start —

 

— it.

 

— hiring waiters.

 

Mm.

 

You know, I remember … you had to find beautiful bodies. And the secret was, the man had to like women. Because the women sense that. And so, I went to Los Angeles to Gold’s Gym. And guess who was running Gold’s Gym? Arnold Schwarzenegger.

 

Oh, I think he likes women.

 

Yes. And so, I talked to Arnold about holding an audition at the gym. And when I opened the show in Waikiki, I brought five … musclemen from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s gym. Arnold was gonna come over at the time, ‘cause he was managing the gym. But he had an audition for a movie, and he didn’t want to – and that’s how he became famous. But he – he supplied me with my five waiters at the Merrie Monarch.

 

Did you personally inspect all the auditioning people? The topless women, the —

 

Y —

 

— nude guys.

 

Well, in the Los Angeles show when we did it, we hired there, ‘cause we didn’t want to bring a cast from here. So, we ran an ad in the paper. Men wanted for a new musical, have to work nude, must be well endowed. And must be able to wait on tables. And so, I did the audition at the theater and we had three hundred men show up. And so, I explained to them what we were looking for. And I said, If you’re not well endowed and if you don’t enjoy the company of women, please don’t come up on the stage and waste our time, ‘cause that’s what we’re looking for. Well, these men would line up, twenty-five at a time, and drop their pants. And I thought, My gosh, they never been in a gym before, had never been in a shower with other men; they all thought they were super studs.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And so, [CHUCKLE] out of the three hundred, we hired eight.

 

That’s a tough rejection —

 

A tough —

 

— on a job interview.

 

— rejection. Right. [CHUCKLE]

 

 

So, as you look back on that career – I mean, you were materially very successful, you resulted in change of law. But it’s – and you’re a very good showman. Everyone talks about how you’re very good at choreographing and pacing. But it’s kind of a weird thing to be known for, isn’t it?

 

Yes; because if they don’t know me, they think I’m just another nightclub freak that features nudity. But I did it strictly as a business. I raised my children, and I have five great – grandchildren, by the way. And I’ve always been a member of the church, even though they fought me tooth and nail. But I said, Can’t make donations to the church if you don’t let me make money. And … I never drank. And sort – sort of lived just – it was a business to me. I was in it as a business.

 

You were asked once, you know, who’s been influential in your life, and you – the first person you named is your uncle, who was a member of the Al Capone gang. And another you mention is a bishop, a pastor, a priest. It’s a wide range there.

 

Yes. He was the pastor of the Waialae Baptist Church.

 

Oh.

 

And I opened a show at the Monarch – Merrie Monarch Restaurant on

Beachwalk and Kalakaua. That was Spencecliff restaurant. And that night, when I went to the club at six o’clock … there were about fifty women in robes with a candle, and a man with a cross hanging on his back, standing at my front door, telling the customers not to go in, that this is a sinful show. And it was his church group. I couldn’t believe that they would have the nerve to do that. But it was the most wonderful thing that ever happened.

 

Why?

 

It was opening night. The press covered it. We got worldwide press on it. This is a tourist town. It made papers in – Des Moines, Iowa [CHUCKLE] read about it.

 

So this is the pastor who was influential in your life?

 

Well, no.

 

Oh.

He did that, and … later on, I saw him at a charity event, and I thanked him for doing that. I says it was that opening that I never thought of staging anything like that.

 

And he’s … he’s thinking.

 

And he said … Well, good. Anyway, we became friends. We’d have dinner together every now and then. And he started out with the idea to convert me. I said, You don’t have to convert me. I am a religious man. I was born and raised Catholic, but I’m not Catholic now because I don’t believe in what their beliefs are. But I believe in Christ, and I follow Christ. And so, we became friends. [CHUCKLE]

 

So, that was true all the way along? While you were doing nude shows, you were —

 

Yeah.

 

You were following —

 

Yeah.

 

— Christ?

 

Yeah; but then he left. I think he moved to Texas.

 

M-hm. So – and you remain religious and —

 

I —

 

— and a —

 

I still —

 

— Christian?

 

I go to church now; yes. My wife hated to go to – we used to go to St. Andrews Cathedral. And she did volunteer work there. But I said, when we go to church on Sunday and we’re sitting there, the people behind me, since I’ve had my picture in the paper so much, would say, There’s Jack Cione, look at him. Wouldn’t you know, he has lots of nerve to go to church. So, I st – felt guilty about it. So, I didn’t go for a long time, until the last ten years now.

 

M-hm.

 

Since I’m out of the nightclub business. It’s twenty years since I’ve been out it. And – but people still talk about it.

 

Mm.

 

It was like [CHUCKLE] a volcano eruption.

 

[CHUCKLE] It was kind of like that —

 

Yes.

 

— [INDISTINCT] time in those days. In more recent years, you’ve continued to do shows, and you’ve had beneficiaries, charitable …

 

Yes, I —

 

— groups have received your —

 

Twenty – five years with Pearl Harbor. We did the Mardi Gras Follies, which was a charity fundraiser. I taught tap dancing at the Waikiki Community Center for ten years. And now, I’m at Arcadia, and our show raises money by selling ads in the program, and we have a boutique. And we give that money to Arcadia for the people who need help in staying there. They outlive – we have people that are a hundred and five years old.

 

Who’ve outlived their money.

 

Outlived their money; yes.

 

M-hm.

 

Takes a lot of money to live at Arcadia. [CHUCKLE]

 

How do you feel – I mean, you’re in your mid-eighties now? You’re eighty – six.

 

Seven.

 

Eighty-seven.

 

Coming up in March. [CHUCKLE]

 

 

What does it feel like? I mean, do you feel like the same guy?

 

No; I’m getting older.

 

How does it feel different?

 

[CHUCKLE] It feels different; believe me.

 

Physically, or are you’re talking about in another way?

 

I have allergies I never had before. My voice is different; never had before. My knees are giving out; can’t dance anymore. I can still direct a show, but … yeah. You notice … I still have my teeth. [CHUCKLE]

 

You mention that you father disowned you and was just – thought you would be a bum. Did you ever get close to him again?

 

Oh, yes. We became very good friends. He worked with me in my dance studios. And then, when I had all the nightclubs here, I moved he and my – him – my mother and him over here. And he changed his name to Andy Cione, which made me very proud that he did that. And yeah, we became very close and very good friends.

 

But it took … decades.

 

Years; yeah. But yeah; in the nightclubs, he’d stay up ‘til four o’clock in the morning and work the cashiers and … have breakfast with me.

 

So now that you don’t do the breadth of activities you used to do, how do you spend your time?

 

Right now, the next five months, we’ll be working on the Follies.

 

Is that pretty much your fulltime volunteer —

 

I’m having —

 

— gig?

 

— another chill.

 

 

You talk – well, let’s go back a little bit to … when you were getting criticized in the press, you were getting arrested … you has this … this, Hey, I’m making money on, this attitude. Did any part of you care that you were being criticized? People thought what you were doing was terrible for society.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

And there should be laws about it, that you were escaping.

 

[CHUCKLE] I always remembered, Clark Gable saying that in Gone With the Wind, when he’s told Scarlett, Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

 

You truly didn’t give a damn?

 

I didn’t give a damn what the press was saying, as long as the public was showing up and supporting it. If the public didn’t support my clubs, I would have closed them. But all of the clubs were very successful, and we sold them, and new owners took over, but they all folded up one at a time. So, it was a period that the public was supporting this. I don’t think it would happen now. If I would open a nudity now, I would be very skeptic. The young generation … they’re not obsessed with the nudity. It’s people my age that were raised – and your age, that were raised that it’s naughty, don’t do that, musn’t do this. And that’s what you believed in.

 

And that’s why Forbidden City was so attractive —

 

It —

 

— to your customers.

 

Right. An – and it was a free stall for them to learn something new about life. Life is – for us, it’s a banquet and most fools are not enjoying it.

 

So, you didn’t ever go home and say, Oh, this really got – this guy I respect out there is criticizing me for what I do. No?

 

No; never did.

 

No hesitation, no —

 

I —

 

— second thoughts?

 

I always had … the public on my side. And I thought, as long as I have support from the public, then I must be doing something right.

 

But is it an accident that you weren’t doing this near your hometown? Would you have done this in Chicago …

 

Oh, Chicago; yes.

 

Even though your family was right around the corner over there?

 

Well … part of my family would not have … been in favor of it. My little down, Spring Valley, I would have never done it. Because the public there would not have accepted it.

 

But anywhere the public would accept it, you’d feel —

 

Yes.

 

— fine about it.

 

Right. And I – I felt like it’s – it’s needed. And that’s why today, I don’t think it would go over. The young public is not interested. Who cares about … Sally standing, or Sally Rand dropping her fan? Who cares?

 

Mm. You used the word repotting. What does that mean?

 

Repotting, sort of, I’ve taken that on as that’s what I’ve done in my life. When I was a youngster, I played the piano, and then I went from that into dancing. So, that was my first repot. And then, on to Hollywood for another repot, and then to Arthur Murray’s ballroom dancing, another repot. And then, family man, and then dance studios, and then divorce, and new wife, and a new business. All those years, I’ve repotted.

 

Always reinventing yourself.

 

Reinventing myself; right. And that’s the name of my new book that I’m writing, and should be out this year. It’s called Repotting Can Be Such a Bitch. It won’t be on the Times Bestseller List, but my first book did sell fifty thousand copies, right here in Honolulu.

 

Well, it did have the word naked in the title. [CHUCKLE]

 

That’s right. But you know, for a book to sell fifty thousand copies, that’s a lot of copies.

 

That’s true. When you say it can be a —

 

Why was repotting so hard? It seemed pretty easy, the way your life flowed.

 

Well, as you live it, you know, there were some ups and downs in it. It wasn’t all gravy. I made money, I was broke, I made money, I was broke.

 

Because of when you sold or tried to sell businesses —

 

Yeah.

 

— or when they didn’t work out? So, you did know what it was like to …

 

Right.

 

— just go through a rough time.

 

And I know what it was like to be poor. Living in Spring Valley, I didn’t have indoor plumbing in our house until I was in the eighth grade.

 

Wow; that must have been a stark contrast when you – then you were – then you were —

 

I know.

 

— at your uncle’s house with all the —

 

A contrast.

 

— doo – dads.

 

And have you ever been in the Chicago area in January and February, and using an outhouse? [CHUCKLE]

 

How broke did you get?

 

That’s broke. [CHUCKLE]

 

But what about when you were an adult? I mean, when you were —

 

Well —

 

What was the —

 

— when I went —

 

— brokest time?

 

When I went to Hollywood.

 

Oh.

 

‘Cause I – all the money I made playing the piano … I spent it all there.

 

Did you lose faith in yourself at any time?

 

No, but I didn’t know what I was gonna do. You know —

 

So, it wasn’t – repotting wasn’t a no – brainer?

 

No; right. And at that time, I looked for a job, and … got the job with Arthur Murray’s. I would have taken any job.

 

So, isn’t it interesting to see how that job led to this, led to that?

 

Yeah.

 

And if any link in the chain didn’t happen, what would you have done?

 

Well, I don’t know. Well, the Lord looked after me. [CHUCKLE] So, here I am.

 

Yeah.

 

And he’s given me the chance now to do another show. And this will be the ninth one. I hope I can do the tenth anniversary show at Arcadia. [CHUCKLE] This is my ninth one coming up.

 

And it’s a lot of work, I know. It’s – your mind – you have to really be able to multitask over a long period.

 

And it’s more work, because I’m working with amateurs, people that have never been on the stage before. So, it’s not only writing the show; it’s teaching them.

 

I’ve heard you’re patient, which kinda surprises me.

 

Yes; I’m very patient. You have to be, when you’re working with seniors. [CHUCKLE]

 

Mm. Thank you so much. This has been just a joy. Really appreciate your time.

 

You’re welcome.

 

Yes; we sold fifty thousand of those.

 

That’s terrific.

 

Can you imagine? That’s the way it is.