Far from Randolph

By Hank Nuwer

In the early 1950s an Admiral TV appeared in the Nuwer household’s living room. Because there were only four networks, even minor TV stars drew viewers the way Taylor Swift today transfixes fans. Everyone in America seemed to watch the same programs, newscasts, and daytime soap operas. Even my mother, at last, switched off her beloved all-Polish radio station in favor of the tube. She sang every hit of the day while I played under her ironing board.

TV stars weren’t just celebrities, they were family members. My mother and aunts were on a first name basis with TV stars Lucy, Ozzie, Harriet and the singer Haleloke.

My family members became outraged in 1955 when red-haired TV host Arthur Godfrey fired Haleloke, the daughter of a Kulania, Hawaii, prison guard.

Always with an orchid in her abundant hair, Haleloke Kahauolopua won America’s hearts with a live Wednesday TV show and a daily 90-minute morning program. She earned royalties from a doll set with her image. She sang, usually dressed in a stereotypical grass skirt and Hawaiian lei, accompanied by Godfrey strumming a ukulele. Her biggest hit was a rendition of crooner Bing Crosby’s Mele Kalikimaka.

It was 1955, when Godfrey fired Haleloke, acclaimed singer Marion Marlowe, the integrated Mariners quartet, a producer and three writers. Previously, he fired his 23-year-old singing star Julius LaRosa, allegedly for getting too big for his britches.

The Mariners once had drawn the ire of racist Eugene Talmadge, the Georgia governor who boasted he had “horse-whipped” a black man. Godfrey became a hero among civil rights activists after he told the politician off and showcased the Mariners. Likewise, Godrey’s firing the group angered their many fans.

The condemnation for Godfrey’s dismissal of performers, of course, was overblown by gossip columnists and TV viewers. Godfrey was held prisoner by ratings, advertisers, and CBS network brass. Popular entertainment programs stayed for decades on radio. TV audiences tended to be less loyal.

After sensational stories emerged that the Hawaiian singer had taken to her bed and Marion Marlowe implored her fans “to pray for her,” all America, including my mom, vilified that “dreadful man” Godfrey.

Haleloke retired as a singer because she couldn’t tour and break even paying backup musicians union wages. For a time, she worked as a spokesperson for an orchid company.

As Scott Shaffer reported in the March 28th  WNG “A Look Back,” Haleoke at some point forged a friendship with Union City businessman Robert C. Schemmel and, in particular, his daughter Estella (Mrs. Paul Keck).

One of Schemmel’s companies manufactured fender welts to reduce vehicle rattling noises. He served as president of Union City’s Kirshbaum dry goods store, as well as chair of a Detroit firm that made steel windows.

Back in 1944, Schemmel’s daughter Estella hosted the then wildly popular poet and entertainer Carl Sandburg during a gig in Union City. The eccentric Sandburg slept until noon, and he got his host’s goat when he chatted in his pajamas with Mrs. Keck’s daughter and her Indiana University college roommate Majie Alford—particularly after Majie penned a profile for her English class titled “I Met Him in Bed.”

At some point, Haleoke visted the Union City home of Paul and Estella Keck. The slower Randolph County lifestyle suited the onetime celebrity. She became a companion to Mrs. Keck after Paul Keck died in 1962.

A 1968 interview by Greenville reporter Kathleen Floyd described Haleoke’s life in Union City. She golfed, attended auctions, and refinished wood furniture.

Few, if any, national media outlets reported the death of the unmarried Haleloke Kahauelopua at 82 on December 16, 2004. The woman whose trademark once was an orchid in her hair requested donations to an assisted living home and local hospices instead of flowers.

To the end, she defended the actions of her former mentor Arthur Godfrey. Although her abrupt firing had ended her career, his show gave her years of stardom you and I could only imagine.

Rest in peace, Haleloke. Moe I ka maluhia lani.