Edwin Kane Fernandez
He had the greatestBy John Berger
shows in Hawaii
Special to the Star-Bulletin
NORTH America had the Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey. Hawaii had entertainment entrepreneur E.K. Fernandez.
E.K. Fernandez became one of the most recognizable names in Hawaii this century. But Edwin Kane Fernandez didn't intend to be a showman, let alone a showbiz czar who would entertain people here with everything from trained seals to "bloodless bullfights."
When Fernandez went into business in 1903, it was as the proprietor of a photo supply company. He planned to show movies as a sideline but the films became so popular he was able to charge admission. From there, he branched into live entertainment.
In 1915, Fernandez presented the first circus in Hawaii, with 20 performers and six animals. The sky was the limit thereafter. He entertained Hawaii with performing elephants and lions, acrobats and dancing bears, rodeos, ice shows and specialty acts of all kinds.
"To him, the show was the thing no matter what the cost, and sometimes it cost him a fortune. You know he did all the 'firsts' here," his widow, Rose Fernandez, said in 1997. "He had tremendous personality and drive. He always knew exactly what he wanted to do and what he needed to do to get it."
The couple met in 1927. She was a 15-year-old high-wire walker in a family acrobatic troupe. Fernandez booked them for a three-week engagement that ran for a year. When E.K. traveled to California in 1929 to negotiate their return, a marriage proposal was part of the deal.
E.K. Fernandez died in 1970. The company that bears his name survives as a multimillion-dollar business that continues to thrill, amaze and entertain island residents of all ages. No fair or carnival in Hawaii is complete without the E.K. Fernandez midway with its food booths, games of skill, novelty acts (remember the diving mules?) and thrill rides.