COURTESY A.J. MCWHORTER
Bob Basso is a popular speaker aboard cruise ships. In the 1960s and '70s, he was an outspoken KHON news anchor.
Basso busy as motivational speaker
To say Bob Basso has accomplished many things is an understatement. On his list: actor, Navy officer, news anchor, teacher, author, motivational speaker and arguably Hawaii's first controversial television personality.
Where are they now?
Today we introduce a monthly feature by A.J. McWhorter, who will attempt to answer all those "what ever happened to ..." questions about local personalities once familiar on our television screens.
McWhorter, a longtime collector of film and videotape cataloging Hawaii's TV history, has worked as a producer, writer and researcher for both local and national media.
His column will run on the first Monday of each month, and he welcomes suggestions of celebrities worth tracking down.
Basso came to Hawaii during the early 1960s as a Navy lieutenant public affairs officer at Pearl Harbor. One of his many tasks was to help boost morale, and he did just that by bringing in a Hollywood "Who's Who" of entertainers, from John Wayne to Jack Benny to Lucille Ball.
Basso got his first chance on the air while working as a writer for KHON during the late 1960s. When anchor Charles Stubblefield went hoarse, he put Basso on the air in his place. Basso winged it without a script and was rewarded by being named the station's new on-air sports talent.
Brooklyn-born Basso had a sort of obnoxious, Howard Cosell-style delivery that was popular with viewers but also drew the ire of fans who did not like it when he criticized their teams. Local Chicago Cub fans painted his home pink; he received threatening phone calls; he was challenged to bullfights and boxing matches. A ton of cow manure was even dumped on his front lawn.
None of this seemed to deter Basso. He actually delivered the news one night while standing atop that pile of manure. In less than two years, the popular sports anchor moved his chair a few inches over and became the lead anchor for KHON News. While also serving as news director, he assembled an investigative reporting unit, the first of its kind in Honolulu television news.
Basso, who turns 70 this year, says his most memorable KHON moments include "having Bob Hope and Adm. John S. McCain, commander of the Pacific, surprise me by walking onto our set and inviting me to go on Hope's last USO show to Vietnam."
Celebrity drop-ins were frequent. "Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Muhammad Ali and dozens more would spontaneously walk onto the set, pour water over me and bring me chicken soup."
He reported on the first nude beach in the islands while in the buff himself. And that wasn't the only time -- in 1969 he did a one-act play at Diamond Head Theatre called "Next."
"I was completely naked and saved from prosecution (under) Honolulu's obscenity laws by the effective use of shadows and one very large hand-held rose."
COURTESY A.J. MCWHORTER
He interviewed Bob Hope, above left, and Adm. John S. McCain, father of the current presidential candidate, in 1972.
Facing criticism, the station management asked Basso to apologize on the air -- he told them he would, but ended up giving away tickets to the show as a prize in a trivia segment.
KHON, then mired in last place and with nothing to lose, even had a bikini-clad "Locker Room Lady" segment to promote local events. Sometimes the day's scores were read off the Locker Room Lady's body, painted by Basso himself.
In 1973, Basso headed to Hollywood to resume his acting career. He had parts on television shows during the 1970s and 1980s, including "Cannon," "Charlie's Angels," "Kojak," "Starsky & Hutch" and "Happy Days." During some of these acting gigs, Basso found himself back in the islands. Episodes of "McCloud" (with Don Ho and Lucky Luck) and "Barnaby Jones" were filmed here, as well as "Hawaii 5-0," in which he appeared more than 20 times.
During the early '80s, Basso earned a Ph.D. in mass communications and embarked on a career writing books, teaching, acting and giving motivational speeches. He is the creator of "Laughter Therapy": "If laughter is the best medicine, then Laughter Therapy is the most fun you can have making outrageous fun of all the problems threatening to take you down," he says.
Through role-playing with balloons, puppets, toy phones and costumes, Laughter Therapy relieves stress by, for example, letting employees make fun of the boss and learn that their jobs can be fun.
Basso frequently appears on cruise ships as "Hawaii Bob," speaking to tourists on the "Real Story of Modern Hawaii," so popular that International Cruise Letter magazine called him "the most popular on-board speaker in the industry today."
He has a new book coming out, "The Wisdom of Old Men," and spends more than 100 days a year flying around the country giving motivational speeches at conventions and special events. Though based primarily in Los Angeles, Basso still maintains a condominium in Waikiki.
Basso was named speaker of the year five times by the American Platform Association.
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Video courtesy Bob Basso, KHON and www.dcvideo.com