Unmasking the


: : Recently, I happened upon a couple of slightly strange Tiki mugs at a garage sale in the wilds of Northern Ontario. Unlike the Polynesian barware everyone is familiar with, these were more like tall coffee mugs with a Tiki face stuck in the middle. I got curious as to what the story was behind them, and I was further baffled by the backs of the mugs, which were stamped: "Al Harrington, the South Pacific Man." : :

: : Turns out that Al Harrington is, or at least was, a pretty big name in Hawaiian entertainment. An actor, singer and performer, Al rose to fame as a supporting player on Hawaii 5-0 and subsequently launched a show business career that was popular enough to spawn the mugs in question. A Samoan by birth, Harrington was actually born Alvin Ta'a, but eventually decided to change his last name to that of his stepfather, Roy Harrington. On marrying Al’s mother, Roy – a Canadian as well as a former RCMP officer – promptly relocated the family to Hawaii, where Al spent the majority of his youth. : :

: : Al was working as a history teacher when he began taking bit parts on Hawaii 5-0, the unique new TV show filmed in Honolulu. In 1972, Al was asked to take on a permanent role and was brought in as Det. Ben Kokua for the next two years. Once that ended, Al looked for a way to capitalize on his new found celebrity. Although Hawaii itself was slowly starting to diminish in popularity, it was still a hot vacation spot, full of sunburned tourists looking for entertaining nightlife. Al decided he would try his hand at a Hawaiian stage revue. : :

: : Styling himself as “Don Ho gone Las Vegas,” Al sought to exploit not only the vacationers but a second market he felt Ho had ignored: the resident Islanders themselves. As a result, much of Al's material played up a Hawaiian patriotism missing from the shows of similar Island entertainers. Harrington’s repertoire of songs included I Love this Land, Island Woman, My Hawaii, and strangely enough, It's A Small World – over-the-top tourist fare that even Ho would never have touched. : :

: : Decked out in a white Nehru suit and oversized sunglasses (and looking somewhat like Bruce Lee's double in the film Game of Death), Al began staging his revues at the Sheraton Polynesian Palace, the Hilton Hawaiian Village, and the Outrigger Reef Towers Polynesian Palace (where he went on to spend ten years as the headliner). In addition to his middle-of-the-road Island crooning and witty stage banter, the audience was also treated to more typical Polynesian floor show acts, such as hula dancing from Tahiti, and a bevy of dancing girls in coconut shell bras. : :

: : There’s no doubt that these particular mugs were souvenirs some lucky Canadians took home after witnessing Al in action. But what's more surprising than actually finding a piece of Al Harrington merchandise is the fact that it took this long to acquire something with his name on it. Tons of Harrington products were made through the 1970s and early 80s. "I Love Al Harrington" T-shirts and dolls were two of his best sellers, and you could relive the South Pacific Man experience at home with his videos and records (including his "top hit" I Love this Land). : :

: : The mugs themselves are quite unique. Made of a light beige ceramic, including a handle molded in a bamboo pattern, they look like more likely to be filled with cheap American beer than a colourful, boozy concoction. But giving them away, a Tiki head proudly juts out in relief on the front. The dark brown paint used to make the Tiki stand out hasn't faired well over the years, giving the mugs a slightly cheap look. The back is emblazoned with Al’s name and the name of the establishment (mine are from the Sheraton Polynesian Palace). : :

: : Of course, by the 1980s, nobody was very much interested in Hawaii anymore, and Al and his mugs made a hasty retreat. Since his show ended, though, Al has managed to snag a few acting jobs thanks to his Samoan background. His “generic” foreign good looks are still considered profitable in Hollywood, and Al has been cast as everything from a Native American to a Latino. But now as Al is pushing 70, his stage show is nothing more than a fading vacation memory, a lost by-product of the Hawaiian craze. Well, at least until his merchandise starts showing up at thrift stores and garage sales. : :

Paul Corupe © 2003


Al Harrington
Al Harrington
Al Harrington mugs
Al Harrington mugs
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