Book Review – Elvis in Hawai'i

By: Randolph Giudice
Oahu Island News

Jerry Hopkins’ book, Elvis in Hawai’i, may answer the question, “What do you get for the star who has everything?” For Elvis Presley, who was a regular visitor in Hawaii for almost twenty years, it may have been as simple as an undisturbed walk along a sandy shore. A cultural fixture in Hawaii to this day, Elvis staged two of the most important concerts of his career in Hawaii and shot three signature films around idyllic island locations.

Like Chad Gates, the frustrated ex-GI he portrayed in the movie Blue Hawaii, who wished for “no red carpet, where everyone knows who I am”, Elvis longed for a place where he could escape the burdens of celebrity. And the islands of Hawaii, with their open vistas and golden sunshine offered a paradise far removed from the protected opulence of his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. Of course, even thousands of miles away, Elvis couldn’t have hoped for anonymity. Although Hawaii wouldn’t officially become America’s 50th state until 1959, the King of Rock and Roll had been an welcome import long before he ever ventured onshore. When Elvis and the Memphis Mafia stepped off the cruise ship Matsonia on November 9, 1957, a twenty-year love affair began, shared by both Elvis and his fans.

“Elvis loved Hawaii,” says Joe Esposito, Elvis’s longtime steward, “The weather was fabulous, and the people treated him with respect. Unlike Mainland fans, who hounded him wherever he went, the Hawaiians left Elvis alone.” The islands clearly acted as a tonic on Presley. In the seventies, when Elvis’s health became a going concern, the islands often restored his spirit. In return, Elvis always gave his best to the loyal fans in Hawaii. It was for his hallmark Aloha From Hawaii concert in 1973 that Elvis pulled out all the stops, including the jewel encrusted cape which has since become a legend.

All of Elvis’s three films shot in Hawaii – Blue Hawaii, Girls Girls Girls, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style – were on-screen vacations, light on plot, easy on the eyes, and when they eventually arrived at their destination – a marriage two times out of three – they showcased a charismatic Elvis who was both malihini and kamaaina.

Like the elusive Elvis impersonator who tricked thousands of fans at Honolulu Stadium, the ghost of the King is conjured from lively anecdotes, sightings, and collector’s memorabilia. Speculation about the darker influences in Presley’s life, although present for continuity, do not take the front seat in this charming history. Rather, Hopkins takes an intimate look at Elvis’s relationship with Hawaii, from the King’s timely benefit concert to rescue the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial, to the hapa-haole songs he made popular in the sixties. Through colorful pictures – some previously unseen – and vintage illustrations, Hopkins elegantly captures two decades of Elvis mania, never more distinctive than on the islands which became his second home.

For Elvis’s fans, many can’t look upon the rolling surf at Waikiki Beach or the peaceful calm of Hanauma Bay without hearing Presley’s voice celebrating the spirit of this island paradise. For Elvis, Hawaii clearly offered a brief respite from darker days. Until the time of his death in 1977, Elvis might have agreed with his bright-eyed protagonist from his first and most successful Hawaiian film, when he sang, “Dreams do come true in Blue Hawaii.”  

Elvis in Hawai’i, by Jerry Hopkins
The Bess Press, 88 pages.