Friday, September 17, 1999

Lexington Hotel
singer, dancer
Momi Kai dies

By Harold Morse


Mary Jane Hair, better known as singer and dancer Momi Kai, who performed the hula in the Hawaiian Room of New York's Lexington Hotel in the late '30s, '40s and early '50s, died Aug. 26 at her Saint Lucie, Fla., home. She was 86.

Hawaiian Room band leaders who brought the aloha spirit to the Great White Way in that bygone era were Ray Kinney and Lani McIntire. She performed with both.

Press reports spoke of the world-famed Hawaiian Room being regularly packed with dinner guests who loved the show. "Momi Kai by her grace, charm and skill, has made a tremendous hit with the Lexington guests and New York newspaper (writers)," one story said. "The Hawaiian Room has proved a veritable bonanza for the Lexington and has become by a wide margin the most successful room of its kind in the United States," the April 12, 1938, item said.

"It has become a favorite rendezvous of the newspaper night life columnists who regard its increasing popularity as one of the most unusual phenomena in recent eating and dance place history. They are expressing in their columns the belief that the relaxing charm of its Hawaiian decorations, quiet songs and graceful hula dancing offer a welcome relief from the noisy swing music and jazz entertainment reigning in many other places throughout the city."

A 1951 Honolulu news item said Leilehua Becker was replacing Momi Kai in the Hawaiian Room of Hotel Lexington, New York.

A 1969 item said, "Momi Kai back in town after an absence of almost 20 years. Once long featured with Arthur Godfrey and also femcee (sic) at the Hawaii Kai on Broadway."

Her husband, Ernest Gustavson, a retired executive with Chase Manhattan Bank, arrived here this week with his two daughters from a previous marriage. His wife, Mary Jane (Momi Kai) born in Lahaina, had no children of her own and left no survivors, said friend and colleague Mealii Boyd.

"She appeared many times with Arthur Godfrey," four or five times a year on his TV show, Boyd said. Her hobbies included golf. "She was a wonderful cook," Boyd added.

Another friend and colleague, Tutasi Wilson, said the ashes will be scattered by her husband, his daughters and beachboys offshore in front of Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach at 2335 Kalakaua Ave. at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Brunch for friends and relatives will follow at Duke's Restaurant and Barefoot Bar at the hotel at 9 a.m.

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