Wayne Harada — The curtain is called
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
The Honolulu Advertiser
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Draped in lei and smiling through tears, entertainment writer Wayne Harada stood surrounded by friends and colleagues at a surprise tribute to him in The Honolulu Advertiser’s newsroom.
After being serenaded by some of his entertainment industry peers — including singer Jimmy Borges and columnist Eddie Sherman — and presented with goodbye gifts from his co-workers, Harada paused for a moment and wiped his eyes in a rare show of his softer side.
“With show business, you have an opening night. Mine was 44 years ago, and closing night is around the corner,” Harada said after the cheering crowd demanded a speech. “That’s the way it is. Nothing is forever. I’m sad to leave, but I’m happy to leave.”
Harada, 67, has retired from The Advertiser after more than four decades of covering show business in Hawai’i and abroad, offering readers a glimpse into the lives of entertainers — from newbies to icons — in music, television, film, theater and everything in between.
A true master of his craft, Harada wrote with authority and passion, earning the trust of his readers and sources in the entertainment community.
Through the years, Harada has amassed enough memories and memorabilia to last a lifetime — having birthday dinners with Don Ho (the two shared the same birth date), getting Elvis Presley’s autograph on a cocktail napkin, visiting an ailing Israel Kamakawiwo’ole, talking story with Auntie Genoa Keawe, receiving a phone call at home from Tom Selleck, and being photographed with Wayne Newton, Celine Dion and Yoko Ono, among others.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” Harada said. “I really have.”
Besides his popular “Show Biz” column and countless stories for the TGIF entertainment tabloid and Island Life features section, Harada has been a Hawai’i correspondent for Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter and People magazines over the years.
Borges said Harada has been an integral part of his 40-year career.
“He writes about what he loves, and that love shines through to his readers,” Borges said. “He’s been the driving force in Hawai’i for decades as THE voice of show biz. … Wayne is one of a kind and will never be replaced.”
Tom Moffatt, another prominent local entertainment figure and friend of Harada’s for more than 50 years, echoed Borges’ sentiments.
“Wayne has covered the scene here since the early days of rock ‘n’ roll and has helped so many of our entertainers further their careers,” Moffatt said. “No one alive can match his knowledge of entertainment in Hawai’i, past and present. Wayne Harada is Hawai’i’s ‘Mr. Entertainment.’ “
THE EARLY YEARS
Buried in a May 1956 issue of Kawananakoa Intermediate School’s student newspaper is a write-up that is among Moffatt’s prized possessions.
“Wayne was responsible for one of the early stories about my radio show when I began playing rock ‘n’ roll on radio station KIKI,” said Moffatt.
The Page 2 blurb by Harada, then 14, reads: “Starting at 10 nightly till 1 the next morning (except Sundays), you’ll hear dedications to and from Kawana-nakoans. Too late for you? Give it a try once. The swell d.j. is Mr. Tom Moffatt, who makes the dedications.”
Harada’s newspaper career began years before he joined The Advertiser. He was a reporter and editor for his school newspapers at Kawananakoa, Farrington High School and the University of Hawai’i.
His first writing job for The Advertiser was in the late 1950s while in high school. Harada participated in a job-shadowing program and spent the day with a reporter covering a story at the Legislature.
“That was the first time I stepped into this building,” Harada recalled.
Then in 1957, Harada began stringing for The Advertiser as a reporter for “Hawaii’s Youth,” a Sunday tabloid by and about students from local high schools. He continued to do this after he graduated from Farrington in 1959 and throughout college at UH, where he graduated in 1963.
After graduation, Harada applied at the Star-Bulletin; he attended UH, thanks to the help of a four-year scholarship awarded by the newspaper. But because there was no opening, Harada applied at The Advertiser. In 1964, then-managing editor Buck Buchwach offered Harada a full-time job on the copy desk, where he worked for about a year.
“It was probably the best training I could get,” Harada said.
Shortly after, Buchwach gave Harada the beat he would come to own.
“(He) was the one who appointed me to entertainment … only because I was doing so much of that already as a freelancer and during my high school years,” Harada said.
Between sips of coffee from his frowny- and smiley-face mug — those who know him well would appreciate the relevance, as Harada is a man who makes his feelings known — Harada recalled some of the highlights of his career. He began his new entertainment beat in the years following statehood.
“Hawai’i was evolving as a destination, and I guess everybody credits ‘Hawai’i Five-0’ for bringing Hawai’i to the world,” he said.
While the series was at its height during the 1970s, Harada got to know the show’s star, Jack Lord.
“He acted even when he was not on camera, but he had a very good heart,” Harada recalled.
Over the years, Harada got to know so many more personalities, reporting on countless names and events.
He has reviewed acts at the Hawaiian Hut and many long-gone showrooms throughout Waikiki, productions from Manoa Valley Theatre to the Great White Way. Harada traveled regularly to New York to see and write about the Broadway scene.
His columns and features have covered an array of performers: Gabby Pahinui, Paul Anka, Kalapana, David Copperfield, Jake Shimabukuro, Cris Gronendaal, Taimane Gardner, The Monkees, Cecilio & Kapono, Jackie Chan, Jim Nabors and Arnold Schwarz-enegger. The list seems endless.
In some cases, Harada developed friendships with his celeb sources.
“For those of us in the entertainment industry, he helped give us credibility, respect and … made stars out of all of us,” said friend Emme Tomimbang, veteran television producer and host. “It was truly ‘Wayne’s world’ that made Hawai’i’s foremost entertainment scene.”
Comedian Frank DeLima said he appreciated Harada’s reviews of his performances — even the not-so-glowing ones — because Harada was always honest.
“I have all his write-ups about me. I have them all,” said DeLima, who got his start in 1975. “It’s a nice history, because it shows how much I’ve learned.”
Tihati Productions’ Cha Thompson, a friend of Harada’s for more than 40 years, playfully refers to Harada as “a big ol’ grouch.”
“I know that in the early years, entertainers used to actually fear him because he’s not that warm and fuzzy,” Thompson said. “But they got to know him, and they all really love him now.”
Sitting at his desk — a dimly lit workspace filled with stacks of papers and dust-covered knickknacks, some of them handcrafted as an off-duty hobby — Harada responded to being referred to as an icon.
“What really is an icon?” Harada asked. “An icon is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t feel iconic.”
But many feel otherwise. “Only because I’ve been here too damn long,” Harada said with a laugh.
He no longer has to worry about the long hours and daily grind of employment. He was among 41 Advertiser employees who accepted buyouts from the company as it sought to cut expenses.
The offer was just one of the reasons Harada finally decided to retire. “Beyond that, it’s been highly stressful,” Harada said.
Musician and composer Audy Kimura called Harada a walking, talking, living history of the entertainment and music industry in Hawai’i.
“My conclusion is that the only reason he has been able to do all of this for so many years is that he truly loves the arts and the people in it,” Kimura said. “It is the only way Wayne could have performed his duties with such passion and dedication for so many decades.”
Loretta Ables Sayre, the local entertainer who was nominated for a Tony for her Bloody Mary role in “South Pacific” on Broadway, called Harada’s retirement an end of an era.
“Wayne has worked so hard for so long and is the most respected icon in entertainment journalism in Hawai’i,” she said. “I am happy that he is healthy and young enough to retire and enjoy the fruits of his labor.”
Harada will now have more time to spend doing what he enjoys, including traveling with his wife, Violet, whom he’s been married to since 1968. Harada also crafts original notecards, stationery and gift boxes as a hobby.
At Harada’s surprise newsroom send-off, he beamed at the well-wishers who gathered.
“I’ve had a boring life — this is the only job I’ve ever had,” Harada joked.
“But anyway, it’s been a wonderful journey,” Harada continued, wiping away more tears. “I’ll take away many memories, made a lot of friends in the process and had a wonderful time.”