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'Televi Digest' host inspires others


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POSTED: Monday, November 02, 2009

During the 1950s and '60s, variety shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Lawrence Welk, Arthur Godfrey and others were among the most popular programs on television. During this time, "Televi Digest" was one of the longest-running and most popular shows in local television. The live, hourlong show produced by George Tanaka and directed by Clarence Chun was a fixture on Sunday afternoons for a decade on KONA, Channel 2 (now KHON).

Barbara Kim was the emcee-host for the show during most of its run, replacing the late Violet Niimi Oishi in 1956. During the series' run, Kim was known as Barbara Lee, a stage name the producer chose for broader appeal at the time.

A generation grew up watching Kim at a time when there were few TV channels to choose from.

Brenda Freitas-Obregon, a librarian at the Kalihi-Palama Library, said: "I have fond memories being at my auntie's and uncle's house in Wahiawa to watch 'Televi Digest' with the beautiful Barbara Kim on Sunday afternoons. She was always in a beautiful dress with beautiful makeup, impeccable.

"It really was an intergenerational thing, the kids and the elder generation sitting around and watching the show together. I have really warm, fulfilling feelings and good memories about those days."

During the mid-1950s, Kim was working as a teacher and decided to audition for the show to earn extra money to help take care of medical bills following her mother's stroke.

"A few friends told me about the opening on the show. They felt it was just right up my alley; they could picture me doing it," Kim said.

Due to her busy schedule both working and caring for her mother, she rarely had time to watch television and, in fact, had not seen the show before her audition.

Now she describes "Televi Digest" as an island version of "The Ed Sullivan Show." The variety show appealed to young and old.

"It was nice entertainment, like a family show that could appeal to all ages and all ethnic groups," she said.

During its run, there were talent contests with amateurs singing, dancing and playing instruments. Local entertainers Martin Denny, Ed Kenny, Arthur Lyman, Sterling Mossman and Teddy Tanaka all appeared over the years. Two early winners of the talent showcases were Danny Kaleikini and the late Dick Jensen. Art Linkletter, Dick Gregory, Frances Nuyen, Tommy Sands, Della Reuse, Miyoshi Umeki and Sophie Tucker were just some of the many nationally known guests who appeared on the show.

"We had a nice mix of professionals and amateurs. Friends at home enjoyed the fresh new acts and good talents we had," she said.

During the summer of 1965, after airing more than 500 episodes, Tanaka felt the show had run its course and decided to end the series.

"They felt we might as well end on a high note, go out while it was still good and well liked," Kim said.

KIM NEVER set out to be a television star. Her goal after graduating from Leilehua High School was to teach at her alma mater, which she did, starting in 1955. Her students from Leilehua's class of 1959 still remain close to her, holding reunions and get-togethers in Las Vegas, where she now resides.

After her mother's death in 1968, Kim earned, with magna cum laude, a master's degree in educational administration at Stanford University. In 1973 she married Hiroshi Yamashita, a longtime Board of Education member and personnel officer for the Oahu Sugar Co.

Kim retired from the DOE in 1982 as an administrator in communication arts in the Office of Instructional Services, where she oversaw program specialists in the language arts.

Sixteen years of lifting her mother in a heavy wheelchair took its toll on her body. She developed back problems that led to several trips to the hospital and left her in a wheelchair from the mid-1980s to early '90s.

Her doctors in Honolulu suggested she move to a drier region with low humidity. In 1992 she and her husband moved to Las Vegas. In 2004 her husband died after a brief illness. Kim recently started the Hiroshi and Barbara Kim-Yamashita Scholarship Program, awarded annually to promising teacher applicants.

Her book, "Mama & Me ... Words to Uplift," released last year, tells of her struggles as a longtime caregiver to her mother, relating how positive approaches can get one through circumstances, no matter how difficult it might be for you or the person being cared for.

"Try to always think positive and keep the faith," said Kim, whose book can be purchased through the Hawaii Education Association. Proceeds from sales will help fund a scholarship in the education field for a promising student from Leilehua's Class of 2010.

She is tended by a "Band of Angels," as she calls them, in Las Vegas. They comprise former locals who have also moved to the "Ninth Island." These friends, including Irene Matsuo, help take her to physical therapy sessions after recent hip surgeries. Kim otherwise gets around well walking with a cane, and doctors have marveled at her quick recovery.

Despite living in Las Vegas for nearly 20 years, she would love to move back to Hawaii one day.

"I miss the people, my friends and supporters. My students in Hawaii still keep in touch with me. I left Hawaii physically but am still in touch with them spiritually," she said.

A.J. McWhorter, a 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 runs on the first Monday of each month. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).