March 26, 2012 at 12:19 PM

Media Rare #16

Blue Hawaii, Texas, New Mexico

"Blue Hawaii was shot on location over a half-century ago at the Coco Palms Resort on Kaua'i, and the hotel still offers 'Blue Hawaii' wedding packages..."

By Casey St. Charnez

Media Rare

Casey St. Charnez has been video editor for Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide since 1986 and buyer for Lisa Harris' Video Library since 1981. He likes Lisa, cats, crosswords, and the Metropolitan Opera, probably in that order.

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ITEM: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, March 14, 2012:

"50 years ago:  A boy who likes spelling and can enumerate three reasons for taking part in spelling contests won the Lubbock Public Schools 10th Annual Spelling Bee Tuesday afternoon at J.T. Hutchinson Junior High School. He is Casey Charness Jr., 12-year-old seventh grade student in Hutchinson School who won after spelling “polygamous” and “pompous” as the longest bee in the history of the Lubbock Public Schools contests came to a close."

Yup, 'twas I, still using my dad's Americanized surname, taking my first step on the way to the National Spelling Bee, where I didn't win, though I did get the hiccups on stage, knocking the Mercury astronauts off the front page of every Scripps-Howard newspaper in the country.

But, boy howdy, that is another whole story, having absolutely nothing to do with our wedding music (the marriage is available as a podcast through KBAC-FM elsewhere on SantaFe.com, if you're curious, and you should be.)

Anyway, the point is my folks were pleased with me for persevering and offered to buy me anything I wanted. They probably weren't surprised when I picked the soundtrack of "Blue Hawaii" (1961), with its 14 songs by my rock god fave forever: Elvis Aron himself. Happily, I was in a position to insist on the stereo version, which cost a buck more than old-fash 50s mono. 

I'd been a major Presleyhead since age 6, when my occasionally cool parental units brought home the original RCA Victor 45rpm of  "Hound Dog," backed by "Don't Be Cruel," the greatest A-side/B-side single ever. Subsequently, I saw his every movie, bought his every LP. I played that record near to death, never scratching it, but wearing it so thin that eventually you could hear both sides at once, except one was going backwards.

Soon after puberty's onset, however, I turned my attentions to Nancy Sinatra, Leslie Gore, Cilla Black, Dusty Springfield and Damita Jo, not to mention Bardot, Fonda, Deneuve, Ursula Andress, and Ann-Margret. Mercy me, yes, Ann-Margret.

Nevertheless, my Presley pilot light re-lit itself several years ago when, while visiting families in Lubbock, Lisa and I chanced across a notice that the Sky-Vue Drive-In Theater in Lamesa (www.skyvuelamesa.com), an hour's drive south, would soon have a Nostalgia Night, inviting antique car owners for a one-night-only showing of--fanfare, please--"Blue Hawaii."

The Sky-Vue opened in 1948, and it still exists. Last weekend they had "The Hunger Games" and  "The Lorax," admission $5 (!). It's one of only 14 extant Texas "ozoners" (a vintage Variety term). According to an old exhibitors' truism-- that a drive-in's box office supports the studios, distributors and marketeers, but that the snack bar keeps the actual drive-in alive--then that's why the Sky-Vue is up and running in year 2012, and counting.

The Sky-Vue seems to pay the mortgage with its legendary Chihuahua Sandwich, a concession concoction invented by old-time north Texas theater chain magnate "Skeet" Noret. It's two fried corn tortillas stuffed with cabbage, beanless chili, onions, and pimento cheese, and a side jalapeño, latest price $2.10. In a town of 10,000 people, they sell about 25,000 per year. They're also notable because a not-yet-famous Buddy Holly and the Crickets once played a gig standing on the roof of the snack bar. There are photos on the diner wall to prove it.

Our 21st century retro evening crammed about 600 cars into the 500 spaces, and it was a major party, and sober, too. Even as the movie was running, friends, neighbors, relatives and infrequent strangers (us) wandered the rows, admiring the well-kept relics...as well as their beautiful cars. It kind of didn't matter what was on the screen. It was a typical midsummer night in Lamesa, and I've still got the mosquito bite scars on my legs as souvenirs. (A moviegoer hint: Never go to the drive-in wearing shorts). 

There might have been a second feature, I don't recall, but it didn't matter and we left just after Chad married Maile in a water garden full of leis and palms and best wishes.

Here, in the Technicolor finale, he sings the "Hawaiian Wedding Song" (from Charles King's 1926 operetta "The Prince of Hawaii"), which, like the flick's title tune, came from the Paramount music catalog. The love song, aka "Ke Kali Nei Au" ("Waiting Here For You") became an American standard in 1958 when Al Manning and Dick Hoffman re-imagined it as the "Hawaiian Wedding Song," popularized on radio primarily by crooner Andy Williams.

The aura of the scene pervades some impending matrimonial fantasies to this day. Shot on location over a half-century ago at the Coco Palms Resort on Kaua'i, the ceremony made enough of a dent on U.S. romantic consciousness that the hotel, which has an extensive collection of the movie's memorabilia, still offers "Blue Hawaii"--never Hawai'i--wedding packages, complete with raft (www.cocopalms.com, in case you're making plans).

Ah, at last the circle begins to close in this column.

Due to circumstances beyond my control--to wit,  a) Elvis himself was unable to perform the nuptial rites; b) local impersonators are not ordained ministers; and c) pets and work made the Islands, Vegas, or Graceland impractical--we were unable to invite him to the wedding.

Nevertheless, he was there, represented by his "Hawaiian Wedding Song" in lieu of the traditional recessional. A fine, smiley, teary time was had by all.

Looking back, I no longer have any inkling of what those three reasons were that I cited for taking part in spelling contests. But I do retain that old 45, the worn vinyl soundtrack and the skeeter bite marks. These days I also favor a Dutch Internet radio station with Elvis 24/7, plus there is that ongoing yen for Ann-Margret, and most lately, the podcast burned onto CD. Of course, the very best thing now is that I also have Lisa, for keeps.

What can I say, except: Aloha oe a todos mis amigos. Y'all take care now, y'hear?

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