She was born January 2, 1905 in Cleveland, the daughter of an Australian opera singer and an American vaudevillian. She spent most of her youth in Cincinnati, where she was enrolled in the city’s music conservatory.
Her family had been theatrical players and, as a result, she had been to Australia, Mexico, Canada, Europe and even Hawai‘i while growing up. She followed her family into the entertainment industry making a career as a dancer; her stage name was Norma Allen.
Just out of high school, she had eloped with a graduate of the Harvard dental school who was also a musician and moved to London, England. After a few years of traveling around Europe and competing in ballroom dancing competitions, the couple broke up.
Needing to support herself, she decided to continue dancing and to learn to teach as well. By marrying she had given away her opportunities to go to college. As she recalled, “they wouldn’t take married girls at Wellesley.”
While working at Arthur Murray’s dance studio in New York City, she had the opportunity to come to Hawai‘i to teach dance at “the Boleyn-Anderson studio at the Royal Hawaiian hotel.”
While in high school, she claimed to have seen a photograph of a man in a movie magazine posing with Douglas Fairbanks Sr and Mary Pickford; impressed by the “handsome, athletic young Hawaiian” whom the couple had “discovered,” she saw this was a chance to meet him.
She arrived on the Lurline just after Christmas in 1938. Several months later, she asked for an introduction to the man she had dreamed about as a teen-ager.
When she finally met the man (the most eligible bachelor in the islands, fifteen years older than she) “my heart went pitty-pat.”
While she claims it to be “love at first sight,” he took the relationship more cautiously. They dated for a year.
He almost lost her toward the end of 1939. While spending Christmas on the Big Island with friends she mulled over a marriage proposal from one of her “dancing pupils” who “was much younger than (him) and very wealthy.”
This young man “begged her to marry him and move to the mainland.” She called her earlier suitor to wish him a Merry Christmas. During the conversation she also told him about the proposal and he simply told her, “Baby, come home.” She did.
On August 2, 1940, the couple slipped out of Honolulu on an interisland flight.
Duke Paoa Kahanamoku and Nadine Alexander were married in Mokuʻaikaua Church in Kailua-Kona. A small intimate ceremony ensued with the Reverend Stephen Desha presiding.
“(O)ur attendants were Francis I‘i Brown, Duke’s best friend, and Francis’s lady companion, Winona Love, a fine hula dancer and movie star, and Bernice Kahanamoku.” Also in attendance were Kahanamoku’s brother Sam, Bernice’s fiancée Gilbert Lee, and Doris Duke, who had come with Sam.
They stayed at Francis Brown’s vacation home on the waterfront on the Kona-Kohala Coast. Nadine recalled it was “a charming place. Isolated. No Telephone. They had one of those generators as there was no electricity, which was lovely for Duke, but it wasn’t my cup of tea.”
Duke thoroughly enjoyed his honeymoon as “every morning, before the sun would come up, Francis would throw stones on the roof to wake Duke.” Nadine reflected, “he’d jump up, have a cup of coffee, and the two of them would go out fishing. All day, every day.”
They became Honolulu’s unofficial ‘first couple,’ frequently entertaining dignitaries and celebrities at their Black Point home. “They were a striking couple. They were awful good looking together.”
“Duke was always very well groomed and she looked very dainty next to him. She was a very pretty woman and kept getting prettier as she got older. Her features became very delicate and she became rather fragile.”
“She always dressed well and looked very elegant. She took pains with her appearance. I admired the fact that she was always vivacious and interested in everything, and a good sport.” (Aileen Riggin Soule, Olympic gold medalist (diving, 1920) Duke’s teammate on the 1920 and 1924 Olympic swimming and diving teams)
Duke died January 22, 1968; upon Nadine’s death on July 17, 1997, their estate was donated to the John A Burns School of Medicine to be used for scholarships awarded to medical students of Hawaiian ancestry. (UH) (All information here is from Nendel and Luis & Bigold.)