DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
About 200 Elvis Presley fans crowded the Blaisdell Center yesterday for the unveiling of a life-sized bronze statue of the King.
A statue of the King becomes a permanent part of the Blaisdell
Elvis has left the building. No, Elvis is just outside the building. No, try wait, Elvis has actually become the building. Whatever. Al Dvorin's famous catch phrase was repeated by nearly every celebrity present yesterday at the unveiling of a new statue of Elvis Presley.
It is outside the giant clam of the Blaisdell Arena, site of Presley's groundbreaking 1973 "Aloha from Hawaii" telecast, which explains the presence of Larry W. Jone, president of cable channel TV Land. The all-rerun channel, devoted to establishing flickering memories of old shows, has been erecting statues of beloved TV characters around the nation, much as Greek philosophers put up graven images of Olympian gods -- Bob Newhart in Chicago as psychiatrist Bob Hartley, Andy Griffith in South Carolina as Sheriff Andy Taylor, Elizabeth Montgomery in Salem, Mass., as sitcom witch Samantha Stevens.
All characterizations. By the time he played the Blaisdell, Elvis was pretty much an Elvis impersonator himself, albeit a good one. How to capture that in bronze?
On hand for the unveiling was sculptor BJ Ervick from StudioEIS, the extraordinary Brooklyn firm that creates lifelike, original statues. "It has to strike a chord in people's memories of the subject, plus the event," said Ervick. "This is my baby. It has to be true not only to TV Land's vision, but to the fans. If we don't get his 1973 anatomy right, we'll hear from the fans. Not to mention every detail of the jumpsuit!"
It took about eight months to create, molded from clay over a foam and wire armature, cast in bronze, welded together and given a suitable patina.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Fumie Nakao brought along a photo showing her with Elvis (she's on the far right), taken in 1957, when she was 23, at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.
"We're real proud of the hair," said Ervick. "Hard to do Elvis' hair and not have it look like a helmet. And the patina is light-colored, like the jumpsuit. A dark patina would get shiny where it's touched, and this statue is gonna get rubbed every day."
Also in the crowd was promoter Tom Moffatt, who brought Presley to Hawaii and became a friend of Col. Tom Parker. Moffatt told a story about fellow disc jockey Ron Jacobs driving around in a 1957 convertible with an Elvis look-alike, creating radio-fueled pandemonium.
"You know, when Don Ho would get on the phone onstage during his shows, he was talking to his sound guy, but he always told the audience he was talking to Elvis," laughed Moffatt.
But the day belonged to the average folks, the working stiffs who watch TV, for whom Elvis shone like a beacon, wreathed in lightning and the crackling ozone of celebrity star power, a gas giant among red dwarfs.
Cino Torricer, of Hilo's Elvis Rock-A-Hula Baby Fan Club, visits the Holy Land -- er, Graceland -- in August every year for Elvis Presley Week. "That's when the people associated with him come out of the woodwork," said Torricer. "Elvis and I were born about the same time, and I studied him to find out what he did to drive the girls crazy."
Dana Anne Yee is the landscape architect who designed the space around the statue. "It has to remind people of Hawaii, so there's plumeria, coconut palms -- the lights are mounted on the trees -- lava rock, that sort of thing," Yee said. "We knew it had to be photogenic and that the statue needed to be designed so that you could hang leis on it."
Yee's mother, Jeannie, a retired teacher, had a more personal reason for being there. "I guess I'm one of the older fans. I liked his voice, his songs," she said, softly. "But my own mother -- who died at 91 -- was a widow for 49 years, and her favorite song was 'Are You Lonesome Tonight?'" Pause. "She was."
By this point a couple hundred people were pressing forward, buzzing in eager anticipation. A rumble like thunder from the stage. A 4/4 tsunami of Elvis' daunting, soaring voice. The crowd pressed forward, afraid to turn away, even to blink. TV Land's Jones commanded that the curtains part. They did.
Inside, in all his rhinestone-studded, pomade-crested, hip-shaking, guitar-slinging, lip-curling, doe-eyed glory, was the King.
"Oooooh," went the crowd.
TV Land (Oceanic Channel 36 or 441 digital) has made August "Elvis Month," showing films, concerts and documentaries.