Story by David Choo
Photos by Chris McDonough
When I was a kid, I’d get a kick out of watching the old Elvis-in-Hawai‘i movies and snickering at the inaccuracies, scenes like that one in Blue Hawaii where Presley—playing a character named Chad Gates—goes surfing at Hanauma Bay. “What a loser!” I’d scoff. “There is no surf at Hanauma Bay.” Then there were the so-called local characters with ridiculous names like Lani Kai (Paradise, Hawaiian Style) and Ping Pong (Blue Hawaii). In Girls, Girls, Girls the screenwriters didn’t even bother identifying Hawai‘i as their locale; the movie was shot here but ostensibly set in some place called Paradise Cove. Things didn’t change much when television discovered the Islands. We had Hawaii Five-O and Magnum P.I.: Steve McGarrett and Thomas Magnum busied themselves nabbing bad guys while the locals appeared as cardboard sidekicks or hired help. Big or small, the screen has rarely done Hawai‘i justice.
But underneath the national radar, in the Hawai‘i of my youth, there also existed the small, strange and wonderful world of local television programming. Thirty years ago American network programming took a week to make it over the Pacific; Christmas specials aired long after all the presents had been unwrapped, and for live broadcasts of sporting events, we flipped on the radio, not the television. We lived out of the broadcast mainstream, and we made our own fun.
The Checkers and Pogo Show, an afternoon children’s television program, was the center of my latchkey kid universe. It featured the Laurel and Hardy-like duo of excitable blowhard Mr. Checkers and sweet-natured, perpetually confused Pogo Poge. The show was filmed in front of a Honolulu studio audience of aloha-attired kids, who would play party games in between screenings of cartoons. I was desperate to be in that audience. Before Checkers and Pogo there was Captain Honolulu, who swooped into the city on his helicopter, upturned palms pressed against his face to form a pair of goggles. The Tom Moffatt Show showcased Island dancers, à la American Bandstand, who tried to match their Mainland counterparts step for step. And later, on Let’s Go Fishing, Bruce Carter stiffly narrated fishing footage while guest chef Harry Kojima butchered the English language as expertly as he sliced sashimi.
Of course, communities across the nation had their own homegrown programs, but since we were so far distant (in more ways than I knew at the time), our locally produced shows, as rough and unpolished as they sometimes were, seemed especially unique and vital. And growing up in a place that was routinely used as an exotic, oft-manipulated backdrop, it was always a thrill to see someone who looked like you, spoke like you—maybe even someone you knew!—on the screen.