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Tiki Central Forums General Tiki The poetry of Don Blanding / Vagabond's House
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The poetry of Don Blanding / Vagabond's House
Chinarose
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Jun 25, 2008
Posts: 34
From: Portland, OR
Posted: 2008-07-08 12:46 am   Permalink

I have this childhood memory of my grandparents taking me to a recital of Don Blanding's poetry when I was about 10 years old. My grandparents lived their retirement in Hawaii, and I would usually spend several weeks of my summer vacations with them. Anyway, I remember listening to the poetry reading and wondering how it could be so boring and racist and so unintentionally hilarious at the same time. Everyone listened, smiling in respectful silence, as I looked around at the other guests to see if anyone else besides me was reacting to words like "slant-eyed chink". Now, I think I can appreciate this poetry with a sense of irony, but it seems like fans of Blanding's poetry really enjoyed it at face value. I think Blanding was going for some sort of romantic whimsy, but it just seemed childish to me. Is he truly some sort of revered artist to Hawaiians? Or just to the haoles? Or was it a generation gap that I couldn't appreciate it?

[ Edited by: Bora Boris - Changed Title. - 2012-10-14 07:30 ]


 
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twitch
Grand Member (7 years)  

Joined: May 12, 2006
Posts: 425
From: Vacant lot where T. Vic's, Van. was
Posted: 2008-07-08 11:32 am   Permalink

Probably a generation thing. I mean, look at Rod McKuen. Guy sold jillions of albums of poetry and singing along with books in the 70's, but it all comes off as Hallmark-card runoff nowadays. (I collect his stuff like mad though - I find the music and poetry albums have a car-wreck quality, but funny. Like a clown-car wreck.)
Not too familiar with Blanding though. The casual racism was popular (not really consciously thought about) in my dad's generation: not really meant to hurt, as there weren't very many people of other cultures around back then to be offended by it, at least where my parents grew up.
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A Collection of Exotic Albums! & The Sandy Warner Files

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vegasvic
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Feb 17, 2003
Posts: 188
Posted: 2008-07-09 07:46 am   Permalink



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[ This Message was edited by: vegasvic 2008-07-09 08:14 ]


 
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Murph
Grand Member (6 years)  

Joined: Jul 11, 2006
Posts: 719
From: SoCal
Posted: 2008-07-09 10:28 am   Permalink

http://www.don-blanding.com/
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Murph


WaikikiWomb


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Chinarose
Tiki Centralite

Joined: Jun 25, 2008
Posts: 34
From: Portland, OR
Posted: 2008-07-09 11:00 am   Permalink

Whoops, I just realized that I posted this in the wrong forum. I asked for it to be moved to the general forum.

Twitch, I totally understand what you meant by funny "like a clown-car wreck".

Vegasvic, I wish I could get my hands on that album!


 
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bigbrotiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11140
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2008-07-11 1:13 pm   Permalink

You and many others! That Paul Page Don Blanding tribute LP is quite a rarity. And then there is this one:





You could listen to his voice reading Vagabond's House and experience those feelings of boredom and racism all over again!

What you wrote is a perfect example for the dated-ness of his oeuvre, he was really our GRANDparents' Polynesian pop hero, not our parents' so much anymore. His prose strikes one as corny nowadays, his humor too:



I like Twitch's comparison to Rod McKuen. Both were hugely popular among their generation, because they captured a certain Zeitgeist that people felt. They weren't accepted by the literati, but by the people, just like Tiki culture, they were POP culture.

Blanding was kind of outdated by the time Tiki rode high, but he definitely prepared the soil for it. The bohemian flair of the South Seas flotsam decor of Tiki palaces and rumpus rooms was foreshadowed in his poem "Vagabond's House":



in this pages-long poem, he goes on to describe all the things from his travels he will decorate his house with:



and uses "black man" references with the casual innocence of his generation:



He even touches on my favorite subject, the relativity of "bad taste"!:



I wish I had that nude painting on my wall right now! This was the bohemian escapism that normal people, unable to go as far because they were adhering to the social rules of the time, admired and dreamed of. His prose was ideal for the armchair traveller stuck in a grey 9-5 existence. His influence lasted until WWII and after, here is a good example from the liner notes of the LP I have:



Whatta guy! The fact that he belonged to the Pre-Tiki period of Polynesian pop is underscored by the fact that his work spawned only ONE supper club, in 1946:






The owner Joe Chastek used some Polynesian references, but it seems the place was more (like the poem) general Exotica themed:



...but by the 50s it called itself a Polynesian Paradise



This interior of the place can also be found on page 107 of Tiki Modern (early American example of a Tiki post):



The restaurant was housed in a typical L.A. 20s Spanish revival style building, which still stands today (?):



Right next to it stands the Vagabond Theatre, a movie palace undoubtedly also inspired by Blanding's poem. After the Vagabond's House restaurant closed, it became the La Fonda Mexican restaurant, famous for its live Mariachi music. I went there before that also closed earlier this year, and the 2nd floor balcony visible in the postcard of the interior was still there (but nothing else).

Of course we all know Joe Chastek as the proprietor of the Zamboanga:



which was discussed in length here on TC, in one of those fine threads that illicited owner family response!:

http://www.tikiroom.com/tikicentral/bb/viewtopic.php?topic=7557&forum=1&start=30

Two postcard interiors of the Zamboanga can be seen in Tiki Modern on pages 72 and 144 (thanks to Sabu and Jim Heimann)

Joe Chastek is also quoted on the back of that Paul Page album above.

And in closing, for everybody's enjoyment (also visible in Tiki Modern p. 327), one of those fine "embossed breast" feature match books:





..and, by the way: The collection of poems entitled "Vagabond's House", which became Don Blanding's greatest success, was first published in 1928. Don The Beachcomber opened in 1934. Has it been ascertained yet where Ernest Beaumont Gantt took his artist's name from?




[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2008-07-11 21:31 ]


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bigbrotiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11140
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2008-07-13 12:40 am   Permalink

Boy, if Blanding was already an old hat in the Tiki period, he sure ain't moving anybody in the Tiki revival! A post about Don Blanding? YAWN!!! --Next! (And anyway, one would have to READ the excerpts, and written in prose at that...forget it!)

But here for those who, notwithstanding important Tiki cruiser bike and Disney collectible discussions, quietly enjoy the poignancy of dated Pre-Tiki scriptures, two more telling quotes from "Vagabond's House:



...and this little, oh so politically incorrect verse which was quoted in the first post above:



So is this were future Polynesian restaurant proprietors got their idea for hired help from?
Dr. Fu







[ This Message was edited by: bigbrotiki 2008-07-13 10:09 ]


 
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Koolau
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Sep 23, 2006
Posts: 323
From: Oahu, Hawaii
Posted: 2008-07-13 02:18 am   Permalink

Sven - Don Blanding also contributed Hawaiian floral designs for a line of pre-war dinnerware from Vernon Kilns:




I'm a long-time Vernon Kilns accumulator, but I only have a couple pieces of "Hawaiian Flowers". It's quite busy, and doesn't seem very Hawaiian to modern eyes - maybe a lot like his poetry. Here's some photos pinched from eBay:








 
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bigbrotiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11140
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2008-07-13 10:20 am   Permalink

...and his work for Vernon Kilns eventually lead to him designing several Aloha shirt lines, as can be seen in the "Aloha Shirts" link on www.donblanding.com

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Bora Boris
Mr. Unreasonable

Joined: Mar 25, 2005
Posts: 2576
From: Boogie Wonderland
Posted: 2008-07-13 11:16 am   Permalink

Excellent thread!
It looks like La Fonda has reopened but their
website is a pain in the ass.




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bigbrotiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11140
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2008-07-13 12:10 pm   Permalink

Great. I need to get a shot of that old neon Vagabond Theatre marquee that one can see lit up in the background.

 
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Thomas
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 15, 2005
Posts: 372
From: Lake Mojave
Posted: 2008-07-14 01:36 am   Permalink

I like Blanding like I like Charlie Chan. And I like Charlie Chan a lot. My wife and I both do, though the racial stereotyping has all the subtlety of an anvil. I think the overtness of it defangs it to a large extent. Whereas when it is encoded and indirect, it often amounts to plausibly deniable malice and is thus both mean and cowardly. For example, the ditty about "Zamboanga" seems cute and harmless, but (call me slow on the uptake...) only much later did I "get" the chauvinistic dig: "...where the monkeys have no tails" is a jarringly racist putdown of people far away and of another color; I can't but see malice there. In contrast, Blanding's "political incorrectness," like the ridiculous caricaturing seen in material like the Charlie Chan movies, seems like a pretty harmless, even amusing, relic.

 
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bigbrotiki
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11140
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2008-07-14 5:06 pm   Permalink

I agree, especially because his and the Tiki generation's "racism" was grounded in a fascination and LOVE for the exotic, and any chauvinism was unintentional.

But to not let this thread go out on a "racism or not" note, my main point about my initial post was that, no matter how passe Blanding's work seemed by the 60s and 70s, his "Vagabond's House" was the predecessor and paved the way to the "Beachcomber" and "Trader" esthetic that became so successful after him.


 
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Koolau
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Sep 23, 2006
Posts: 323
From: Oahu, Hawaii
Posted: 2008-07-14 10:42 pm   Permalink

It's fascinating to find these type of people who were well known, productive and influential in their day, and are now all but forgotten (see bandleader Paul Whiteman).

By the way, Sven missed a dash in the website link above - the Blanding website is
http://www.don-blanding.com/. Very nice website - I wish there were more images of his Hawaiian pen-and-ink drawings.

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Bora Boris
Mr. Unreasonable

Joined: Mar 25, 2005
Posts: 2576
From: Boogie Wonderland
Posted: 2008-07-15 06:58 am   Permalink

I went by the other day and took a few pictures. I didn't notice this at first but it looks like they tried to incorporate some of the outside design elements into their 1950's logo. The building is covered in these guys.



Bigbro, the marquee no longer says Vagabond Theater it is now called the Hayworth Theater.


 
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