It is difficult to understand that 60 years ago Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii appeared on the scene. In many ways it has become synonymous with Hawaii. Its serendipitous launch coincided with the modern era of Hawaiian travel that Pan Am opened, and United Airlines perfected it.
Elvis Presley, at Blue Hawaii, has surpassed anyone at all in promoting the idea of a dream vacation in accessible Hawaii. One of the main cast members is still alive. Can you guess who? The answer can be found near the end of this post.
Meet Hawaii Plane Travel Meet Blue Hawaii.
Just two years before Blue Hawaii, Pan Am became the first to bring revolutionary aircraft to Hawaii with a Boeing 707. Traveling here suddenly took half as long as before, just five hours from the West Coast. The economy of aircraft associated with less time and more passengers meant that Hawaii was now accessible to more people and at a much lower cost than was previously possible.
Airplanes have allowed ordinary people to venture to what remains of the most remote islands on Earth, with the same ease, frequency, and relative cost we see today.
It was United Airlines, however, that largely staked its claim on Hawaii in the 1960s, with a fleet of DC-8s on a plethora of routes, some of which are still among the longest domestic flights. The DC-8s were United’s first aircraft, and the airline was the DC-8’s first customer. Hawaiian and DC-8 were a perfect match. Their Hawaiian itineraries quickly expanded to include non-stop flights from Chicago and New York.
Blue Hawaii has boosted the desire of people to visit Hawaii.
Before Blue Hawaii, Elvis Presley had already fallen in love with the state after his first concert on Oahu in 1957. While airplanes made Hawaii more accessible, it was Blue Hawaii that helped create the inescapable allure and imagination of the Hawaiian Islands.
Filming of the Hawaii-centric film began in March 1961 after Elvis performed an instrumental concert for the USS Arizona Memorial. Popular locations include scenes from Diamond Head, Waikiki, and Mt. Tantalus and Hanauma Bay on Oahu and the famous Coco Palms Resort on Kauai. Did you know that 26-year-old Elvis got injured while doing martial arts backstage?
Many of the scenes in the movie were filmed near Waikiki Beach, which can be seen in the opening driving segments, and at the once beloved International Market. Other scenes were filmed at the now Hilton Hawaiian Village (his favorite hotel, whose room choice was Mahele’s 14th-floor “King Suite” in the Aliʻi Tower). The movie is a great look back, and we’ve included the entire YouTube movie below.
The New York Times said of Blue Hawaii that it was “inconsequential and innocuous” as well as “fairly quiet”. Variety said it was “breezy.” Watching it today, we see their point, and it seems like it’s far from connected in a myriad of ways. But that was in 1961. Elvis’ acting wasn’t well reviewed either.
The Los Angeles Times shocked its head when it said Blue Hawaii “does so much for a ‘Pacific paradise’, showing its foamy waves, palm trees, laos and a number of luxury hotels.”
Blue Hawaii was the romantic musical comedy starring Elvis Presley. Although it did not receive much critical acclaim, it was nominated for Best Written Musical, opened at number two at box office receipts, and grossed $5 million ($50 million in today’s money).
Elvis will make three films in Hawaii. After Blue Hawaii, Girls, Girls, Girls appeared in 1962, and then Paradise Hawaiian Style in 1965.
Lady Angela Lansbury played Elvis’ mother.
She was only 35 years old at the time and she was nine years older than Elvis. This month, Lansbury, 96, will receive a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement. She said of him in Blue Hawaii, “He was at the top of his game.” As for her experience here, she said, “We were on Kauai. I will never forget that it was really great.”
Coco Palms brought Kauai romance into mainstream focus.
Much of the movie was shot at the legendary Coco Palms resort on the eastern shore of Kauai, including the famous wedding scene. Other Kauai sites include nearby Lydgate Park and the Wailua River.
Coco Palms opened in 1953. Grace Guslander, the hotel manager, envisioned marketing the property as an upscale getaway for new visitors to Hawaii. While filming Blue Hawaii there was a huge feather in the hotel cover. A favorite among the stars, the hotel was popular for Hawaiian-style weddings, among other things. Coco Palms was also the place where the nightly torch-lighting ceremony began, which is very popular even today among Hawaiian resorts.