Gotta Find My Baby!

November 11, 2022

November 10 and 11, 1957: Elvis' First Time in Hawaii

Over the years, it became evident that Elvis had a great appreciation for Hawaii.

It was there that some of the best moments of his career took place, such as the benefit concert at Pearl Harbor and the movie "Blue Hawaii", both in 1961. The islands of the archipelago would still serve as the backdrop for "Girls! Girls! Girls!" and "Paradise, Hawaiian Style" from 1962 and 1966, respectively, plus the special "Aloha From Hawaii" in 1973. In 1968, he bought a house on the beachfront in Lanikai, Oahu, and made it his retreat whenever possible.

But the love for the beautiful Hawaiian Islands had started much earlier, in 1957, when Elvis first visited them. The King of Rock was so delighted with the place that he decided that it would be his retreat, spending several of his vacations from there until 1977 in the archipelago. However, this fantastic discovery and the shows that would take place there would not have happened if fate had not interfered.

On October 29, 1957 Elvis performed the last show of that year in Los Angeles
and was preparing to shoot scenes for his next film (King Creole, at the time still untitled). Due to unforeseen circumstances, production was delayed until January 1958 and the singer found himself with a well-deserved two-month vacation on his hands.

It was then that tour promoter Lee Gordon suggested to Colonel Parker the idea that Elvis could vacation in Hawaii if he agreed to do a show in Honolulu. For Parker, the extra profit opportunity was perfect and everything was resolved in a half-hour meeting without the King of Rock present. Such abrupt decisions in the name of profit were already starting to be common and uncomfortable, but Presley always fulfilled his obligations to the fans.

Parker flew on October 30 to Hawaii to make preparations and took the opportunity to inform the Honolulu Star Bulletin about the arrival and the two scheduled performances of the star in the islands.

Elvis continued his journey on the USS Matsonia with his entourage on November 5, following a wish from Gladys and obeying his own fear of flying, since it had only been a few months that the plane he was on had made an emergency landing after a breakdown during a flight from Amarillo to Nashville.

 Full page poster in the Honolulu Advertiser;
November 4, 1957

In an interview on board on the 6th, the singer revealed: "It was a real rush deal. We were in Hollywood to make a picture, but it was postponed until the first of the year. We weren't doing anything, so Mr. Parker asked if we'd like to go to Hawaii. I said 'huh' and was packed right away."

Along the way, Elvis sought to relax and had the opportunity to socialize on board with people, many of them declared fans, as he could never do on land. He participated in daily activities, played bingo, sang and played piano in the ship's lounge, mingled with everyone, stopped to take pictures with crew members, and signed autographs whenever he could.

On November 8, Elvis gave a second interview where he talked about his clothing style: "I'm pretty green when it comes to clothes. I don't pay over $7 for a shirt and $10 for a pair of shoes... but I do plan to stock up on a Hawaiian outfit while I'm here."

About being called "Elvis the Pelvis", he said: "There's nothing I can do about it, but it sounds like little kids trying to find something to rhyme with Elvis."

When asked why he went by ship, the singer replied: "I don't like airplanes. I'm scared stiff of them. In fact, we could've been on the one missing now." (referring to a PAN AM flight that had crashed in the Pacific the night before and was missing).

In fact, Elvis even thought the Jordanaires were on the aforementioned plane and was relieved when the group arrived safely in Honolulu on a commercial flight that departed a few hours later from Los Angeles.

Elvis having fun on board; November 6, 1957

After 4 and a half days of traveling on a 2500 miles route, Elvis finally arrived in Hawaii at 10 am on November 9th. His teenage fans had been waiting at the port since 6:30 am and were in a chorus of screams of excitement and euphoria, sometimes reaching hysteria.

With the ship docked, the King of Rock waved to the 4,000-strong crowd and snapped pictures with girls dressed in hula for marketing purposes.

Snookie Skoglund from Minneapolis was one of the lucky girls who managed to deliver a lei and kiss Elvis, to which he replied: "Honey, it’s been five days since I’ve seen a girl. You better watch out." The singer didn't know it, but Snookie was only 15 years old, which could have created a problem if the scene had taken place elsewhere.

Elvis receives leis from Snookie Scoglund (holding him) and fans;
November 9, 1957

Elvis and his friends were then taken by car to the Hawaiian Village Hotel. That was the tallest building on Waikiki Beach at the time and the 14th and last floor was all reserved for the singer.

Security on the hotel's 18 acres, which had free access from all sides, was normally handled by five men, but due to circumstances, the contingent was increased to 12. Doors, stairs and elevators were closely guarded 24 hours a day to prevent anyone who didn't belong to Elvis' group or the press, when reporters had passes, from having access. Even so, some fans managed to get in touch with the singer through security breaches and were able to deliver leis in exchange for kisses and hugs.

As the 10th of November dawned, Elvis began to prepare for that day's performances. Ticket sales had opened on the 4th at the Honolulu Stadium box office and the Thayer Piano Company store, with prices ranging from $2.50 to $3.50 depending on the seat purchased and there were also quotas at $1, 50 for people who didn't mind standing.

In fact, no one had a problem with being further back or forward in the audience, standing or sitting, as the 31-year-old stadium had bleachers on only three sides and the stage was set up in the open area, giving everyone unlimited visual access.

The weather was quite unstable that day, with a lot of wind and sporadic rain, but nothing that could stop the show or dampen the enthusiasm of the nearly 15,000 fans who paid the sum of US$ 32,000 to see Elvis.

The audience waited patiently as the opening acts were performed and erupted into hysterical screams as the announcers announced the King of Rock's entrance. Elvis arrived by limousine on stage, which was customary when the performance was outdoors. In his gold suit, pants, shirt and black shoes, he swayed for a few seconds to test the audience. The response was explosive mass hysteria.

In his critique in the next day's Honolulu Star Bulletin reporter Bob Kraus would write: "From then on, the show was similar to a kind of primitive religious ceremony."

Elvis on stage at the Honolulu Stadium; November 10, 1957

Both shows that day, one in the afternoon and one in the evening, would be equal in terms of quality, Elvis' commitment to the band and audience, and fan hysteria. The King of Rock would swing, dance and move from side to side for about 40 minutes, yielding the greatest hits of the time: "Heartbreak Hotel", "I Was the One", "I Got a Woman", "Blue Suede Shoes", "That's When Your Heartaches Begin", "Don't Be Cruel", "Jailhouse Rock", "Love Me", "Teddy Bear", "Love Me Tender" and "Hound Dog".

Although Elvis was reputed to be "lewd on stage," as many conservative journalists described him, the Hawaiian population and press saw nothing absurd in his performances. In fact, Kraus wrote he was "relaxed but not lewd" and Tom Moffat from the Honolulu Star Bulletin complimented his "very slow, sexy version of 'Hound Dog'".

Elvis looked at the girls as if he wanted them intensely as he recited the verses of the song and swayed, deciding to get off the stage and kneel on the grass of the stadium to finish the rendition, ending the performance lying there. As soon as the music stopped and only the frantic screams of the fans echoed through the stadium, Elvis stood up, waved to the audience, got into his limousine and ran to the hotel.

The famed ending to "Hound Dog"; November 10, 1957

After the night's performance, the singer gave another interview in the hotel's auditorium and spoke about his experience in Hawaii, showing great satisfaction. One of the only people at the scene who didn't belong to Elvis' group or the press was Barbara Wong, 17, president of one of the Hawaiian fan clubs, who confessed to reporter Cobey Black from the Honolulu Star Bulletin that she hadn't slept in four days just to catch up with the idol's every step.

"She turned a pair of glazed eyes on me in proof of her sleepless devotion", Black wrote. When asked what she saw in Elvis, the answer was obvious: "His dreamy looks. His voice. His southern accent. He's just a livin' man!"

When the King of Rock entered the auditorium, Barbara flew from her chair straight into Elvis' neck, who, after hugging her for a few seconds, had to use moderate force to free himself from the girl and take her back to her place in the audience.

The first question, even before they were released, came from her: "Did you receive my letters and my teddy bear?" Bewildered, Elvis replied "I did, honey" and quickly changed the subject. Before the end of the interview, she would still read in a tearful voice an article that told how the singer allegedly took fans to bed and sneaked among reporters to hand him a necklace. Looking annoyed, Parker ended the press conference after another interruption.

Elvis and his "number one fan" Barbara Wong (L); November 10, 1957

Elvis and his troupe returned to the hotel and tried to rest before the next day's duties. Because it was Veterans' Day, the Colonel had arranged an impromptu performance for the military stationed at Schofield Barracks, an army area north of Pearl Harbor on Oahu's north side. Despite being designed for soldiers and their families, the show could also be seen by civilians, as the tickets cost only 1 dollar.

The venue for the presentation on the 11th had a capacity for 10,000 people and was packed. Elvis had never performed for so many people at once (the previous day's shows brought together almost 15,000 people, adding up to the audience of both, about 7,500 in each performance). All the songs heard at Honolulu Stadium were performed at the time, some quickly and briefly, and others in their entirety.

That was the perfect way to end the 1950s shows, as this would be his last concert until 1961.

Elvis performing at Schofield Barracks; November 11, 1957

Back in Honolulu on the night of the 11th, the King of Rock went to his hotel room and had the next day free. Despite this, he was afraid to go to the beach and preferred to stay in the Village, always bombarded by the chorus of fans asking him to at least go out his bedroom window. Fourteen floors below, a group of girls, which, of course, included Barbara Wong, had been staying overnight since the 9th. To everyone's delight, Elvis decided to throw records, photos, two ties, a bath towel and a scarf for them. As there were few items for so many fans, they decided to divide the pieces into equal sizes so that everyone would get something.

Later the same day, Elvis wanted to visit the beach and Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires encouraged him to go with him and the other members of the group. At first there were only older people on the sand, but they soon began to recognize him and ask for photos and autographs. Before the situation got out of hand, the singer decided to go back to his room and spend the night behind closed doors.

Elvis and a fan in Waikiki; November 12, 1957

The next day, Elvis was packed to go back to the mainland. No extra security was requested for his journey to the port, as Parker said he trusted Hawaiian hospitality and, in addition, schools would be operating normally until 3 pm, preventing teenagers from causing any chaos.

But, of course, there was one fan who had decided not to go to school that day and had managed to convince hundreds of friends not to go either. When Elvis arrived at the port, there was a crowd of 5,000 people who came to see him leave - including Miss Wong.

Elvis had to face the crowd, distribute kisses and hugs, prevent fans from touching him inappropriately, and receive leis from them. A few lucky ones were even able to board and socialize with him up to half an hour before departure. The singer set sail at 4 pm aboard the USS Lurline bound for Los Angeles. As the ship moved away from the harbor, he made a point of waving and blowing kisses to fans.

Elvis on board USS Lurline; November 13, 1957

Elvis arrived in Los Angeles on November 18, 1957 and headed for Las Vegas, where he stayed for a brief period before returning to Memphis.

On December 20, he would receive the note from the army asking for his presentation on March 24, 1958.
Research and structuring: Elvis Presley Index |
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