Hollywood loves Hawaii. And it really loves Kauai. Ever since 1934, when Universal Pictures came here to film White Heat, Hollywood has been carrying on a love affair with the Garden Isle. With its lush, spectacular scenery—including Waimea, “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” the towering cliffs of Na Pali and the white sand beaches surrounding Hanalei—Kauai has been the background star of dozens of blockbuster movies for nearly seven decades.
Oldtimers will remember such classics as Miss Sadie Thompson (Columbia Pictures, 1953), South Pacific (20th Century Fox, 1958), Blue Hawaii (Paramount, 1961) and Donovan’s Reef (Paramount, 1963). The younger set’s favorite top 10 movies would very likely include Mighty Joe Young (Walt Disney Pictures, 1998), Jurassic Park (Amblin Entertainment/Universal Pictures, 1993), Honeymoon in Vegas (Castle Rock Entertainment, 1992) and Hook (Amblin Entertainment, 1991).
It seems that just about everybody—from John Wayne and Elvis to Sarah Jessica Parker and Harrison Ford—has co-starred with Kauai. As you drive around Kauai you can conjure up your favorite movie images and stars, following in the footsteps of Mitzi Gaynor on Lumahai Beach, Harrison Ford swinging on a vine at Menehune Fish Pond, Elvis getting married in the coconut grove at Wailua, John Wayne cruising around Nawiliwili Harbor and Rossano Brazzi singing “Some Enchanted Evening” at what is now the St. Regis Princeville Resort.
If you are a fan of Hollywood biographies, you may have already learned some of the fascinating back stories of movie stars during their stays on Kauai, especially at the world-famous Coco Palms Hotel in Wailua. Among other films, this is where Elvis Presley made the hotel a star when he got married in a Hawaiian canoe floating down a stream in a grove of giant coconut trees in the film Blue Hawaii. Frank Sinatra had a less romantic experience when he left the hotel grounds for a relaxing swim at Wailua Beach. Unfortunately, there were no lifeguards there in the 1950s, Frank got caught in a nasty undertow that almost ended his career then and there. Fortunately, a local surfer was able to bring Sinatra to shore on his surfboard, according to a May 11, 1964, story in the Chicago Tribune, headlined, “Sinatra Saved in Rough Surf; Actor Almost Downs Off Hawaiian Beach.”
Photos by Brett Uprichard