“No other clubs compared to the Hawaiian Room.” (Tutasi Wilson; Imada)
“Although the Lexington Hotel is located in New York City, it still had the ability to play an integral role in sharing and perpetuating the Hawaiian culture and traditions.”
“The Hawaiian Room was the hub of all things Hawaiian in the Big Apple, and these people were the ambassadors of Hawaiʻi to America.” (English)
‘The girls’ saw their mission as selling Hawaii in a nice way. (Imada)
From 1937-1966, in the heart of what was the largest city in the world at the time, the Hawaiian Room was a pioneering venue where authentic hula and Hawaiian music were shared with millions from around the world.
Its performers represented the finest talent Hawai‘i had to offer, and they were readily embraced and celebrated by the diverse New York community.
The Room itself was the first of its kind and featured a glamorous dining room with island decor, large dance floor and American orchestra, and a Hawaiian music and floor show that was unmatched in its professionalism, elegance, and beauty.
It was New York after all – the land of Broadway shows, fast- paced lifestyles, ethnic diversity, and celebrities. (hula preservation society)
Some of the important names in Hawaiian entertainment performed at the Lex. They include Alfred Apaka, Ed Kenney, Kui Lee, Manu Kanemura Bentley, Lei Becker Furtado, TeMoana Makolo, Mona Joy, Ray Kinney, ‘Uncle’ Keola Beamer, Olan Peltier Carpenter, Leialoha Kaleikini, Jennie Woodd and Lani McIntire. (Wood)
Tutasi was one of the performers at the Lexington Hotel’s Hawaiian Room.
Helen Tutasiilemauosamoa Wilson was born in Leone, Pago Pago American Samoa on March 7, 1914; she was the daughter of Helen Ripley of Leone, and Frederick Roy Wilson of Hope, Michigan.
In 1925, when Tutasi was 10 years old, she was sent to Honolulu where she attended Lincoln School and later Kamehameha School for Girls; thus, in 1933, becoming the first non-Hawaiian girl to graduate from the school.
Between trips back to Samoa, she studied at the University of Hawaiʻi, worked in social services, and later returned to Samoa to work in this field.
Eventually, Tutasi left Samoa for California to further her studies, but the offer of a role in ‘Mutiny On the Bounty’ was too tempting, and thus her career in movies began. (PPSEAW)
During her time in Hollywood, she was a roommate with actress Jane Wyman. She also met Jane’s boyfriend Ronnie, another actor, and quickly they all became good friends. (Ronnie was Ronald Reagan, the 40th US President.)
Movie life soon paled and she then accepted an offer to join the Honolulu Maids at the Hotel Lexington’s Hawaiian Room in New York where she started a new career that included Polynesian dancing, costume design and catering services.
Tutasi became a valued addition to Arthur Godfrey’s weekly CBS-TV program in New York with her dancing and acting. Also featured on the show was her lifelong friend Duke Kahanamoku. They were a big hit with the Hawaiʻi-conscious audience.
Later, Tutasi launched her own business called Polynesian Services and Entertainment, and became involved in the lucrative New York tourist business by featuring travel packages for a ‘Hawaiian South Seas Weekend in Atlantic City,’ where she supervised everything from the luau dinners to the Polynesian dancing and fashion shows. (SamoaNews)
Her first husband was Charles Simmons; they married in 1936, when she was 21 years old. Simmons, a Navy pilot, died less than two years later, killed during a test flight.
In 1960, Tutasi married Dr Lewis Steinhilber, the head surgeon at the American Samoa Hospital. Dr Steinhilber passed away in 1982; following his death, Tutasi relocated to Hawai’i.
“An advocate for education, Tutasi mentored many young Samoans, encouraging them to pursue professional goals not merely for personal advancement, but to help the aiga (family) and others. So many people have benefited from her kind generosity.” (SamoaNews)
‘Aunty Tutasi’ died April 5, 2013 in Hawaiʻi at the age of 99. She was buried in the Ripley Family Cemetery in Sogi, Saita’a. In her last will and testament she gave this tender farewell:
“My heartfelt wishes and aloha shall go to all my dear relatives and friends in Samoa and Hawaiʻi for their friendship and kindness extended to me throughout my lifetime. Aloha nui loa – Tutasi”. (SamoaNews)
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