“They say she is the most photographed girl in the Islands …”
“(I)f you are really lucky … If you are one of those of whom refreshing and enchanting things sometimes happen. You will have wandered into the Hawaiian Room at the Lexington and seen her dance those ancient native hulas of Hawaii.”
“You will have hailed the first passing waiter and inquired her name. Let me beat the waiter to it. Let me tell you her name. It is Pualani, which in the land beyond old Diamond Head means ‘Flower of Heaven.’“ (Tucker, Man About Manhattan, June 14, 1938)
Pualani Mossman was born on April 16, 1916 in Honolulu. She began to work at the age of six in her father’s (George Paele Mossman) various Hawaiian ventures, which included ‘ukulele manufacturing and a Hawaiian language school. (Imada)
In 1932, her father opened the Lalani Village in Waikiki with demonstrations of traditional crafts, music and lūʻau as a way of preserving and teaching what he termed “Hawaiian lore that is fast vanishing.”
The family operation included every member of Mossman’s immediate family: his wife, Emma; several sons; and three daughters: Leilani, Piʻilani, and Pualani. Mossman and her sisters performed and taught hula.
Pualani was known for her “Volcano hula” dance, the highlight of the show. She would dance alone on a raised platform with another performer blowing fire and lighting a model of a volcano.
In 1934, Mossman was originally tapped by the Hawaiʻi Tourist Bureau to star in “Song of the Islands,” the first color movie made in Hawaiʻi, intended to promote tourism. After the film, she started modeling.
In 1937, Matson Navigation sent Mossman to New York City to be photographed for the company’s national advertising campaign. She became known as the “Matson Girl,” appearing in Life, Time and Fortune magazines.
“If you opened a major national magazine in those years it is very likely you would have seen Pualani in a Matson ad.” (Brown; Wilson) She was the face of Hawaiʻi in national travel advertisements.
“That photo appeared all over the country and was everywhere in New York City, even a year later. My, that was exciting, to be the Hawaiian poster girl.” (Mossman; Ryan)
For more than 50 years, Pualani Mossman epitomized the image of a Hawaiian hula dancer as the original poster girl for Matson cruises and the Hawaii Visitors Bureau. (Gee)
After the Hawaiian Room opened in the Hotel Lexington in New York City, Mossman, Meymo Ululani Holt, Mapuana Bishaw and Jennie Napua Woodd were dancers there – they were known as the “Aloha Maids.”
There, Mossman met her future husband, Randy Avon Sr, the hotel’s chief accountant; they married in 1939. The couple returned to Hawaiʻi for a few years, then relocated to Florida in 1950 where she taught hula.
Mossman was one of the most active fighters for statehood in Washington, DC, in the early-1950s. Her family later endowed the University of Hawaii with funds to perpetuate the Hawaiian language and traditions. (Ryan)
Pualani Mossman Avon’s hands symbolized the wind and the flowers when she danced and were like the song she inspired: “Graceful as birds in motion, gliding like gulls over the ocean.”
Mossman spent her last 55 years in Florida. She continued to dance hula and spread aloha well into her 80s, performing at senior-citizen centers during visits to Hawaiʻi and with Hawaiian entertainers appearing in South Florida. She died on May 8, 2006 in Palm Bay, Florida.
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Virginia Tolles says
Where can I find your bibliography for this article?
Tim Bowden says
Peter – Mahalo Nui for these posts. Your research and remembrances help all of Hawai’i to revisit the past, and to give us a clearer vision for our future. These posts must take a lot of work, please know that it is greatly appreciated.
Really enjoyed all historical stories of from old Hawaii .. Most grateful Mahalo