Al Harrington Talks Story

by Ron Jacobs
Hawaii Magazine, June 1990

Entertainer, Executive, Family Man---He Would Like to Come Back as Frank Sinatra

They started out, man and boy, 6000 miles apart.

The year was 1939. Roy Milbur Harrington, a third-generation Irishman from Iron Mountain, Michigan, was in Saskatchewan, Canada, a driver for a Royal Mounted Police chief. Tired of the northwest winds blowing in at 40 knots, the temperature 40 below, he enlisted in the U.S. Army with the promise that he would be stationed in balmy Hawaii.

That same year, three-year-old Tauasu Ta'a set sail from Pago Pago, American Samoa, for the Territory of Hawaii. "I can remember being on the boat, getting seasick. And sleeping, it seemed like forever, in that little room." The Polynesian child crossed the Equator on a voyage of no return.

The senior Harrington spent World War II, as he describes it, "as a buck sergeant stationed at Fort Armstrong on Ala Moana." By 1950, he had joined the Honolulu Police Department. The boy, now his stepson, enrolled at Punahou, the oldest private school west of the Rockies.

The lush 76-acre campus was a second home to a student body of 1900. The newcomer was observed in awe by students and faculty alike. There were Hawaii-born part Samoans, like the Ane brothers, but no one had seen a kid as big, as fast, as akamai as Tauasu, now Alvin Ta'a, class of 1954. (In his sophomore year he changed his name to Harrington.) In Honolulu Stadium, he led the Punahou football team to the league championship. He stood on stage at Dillingham Hall and led the chorus in a prophetic, rousing version of "There's No Business Like Show Business."

"He was almost unstoppable," said Bill Kwon, a 31-year-veteran sports columnist for the Star-Bulletin. "It was like watching a man among boys. Harrington was the top player of his time, an all-star, a most valuable player and a gentleman off the field. He knew he was breaking new ground and accepted the responsibility."

Talk to anyone about Al Harrington and the phrase "hard worker" pops out. Industriousness and perserverance, more than anything, are what have taken him to where he is today, headlining his own Waikiki revue at the Reef Tower, in a showroom that bears his name.

The night before our interview, I threaded my way through a long line of aloha-garbed visitors, most in need of suntan lotion, to the reservations counter. Tourists browsed through assorted Al Harrington T-shirts, golf shirts, "I Love Al Harrington" dolls, fish mittens, calendars, videotapes, cassettes, albums and "Heather's Kitchen," a cookbook written by his wife.

Gracious Toni Yardley, one of Harrington's 125 employees, escorted us to The Park, a waiting area adjacent to the showroom, which was being readied for the second show. Alvin, looking very much like the 6-foot-2, 210-pound running back who starred in the same Stanford backfield with John Brodie, dropped by to say hello. (Actually, No. 19 didn't wear a feather headband in those days.)

During the buffet dinner, Harrington performed his own warmup, ten minutes of continuous, stand-up comedy and patter, full of audience participation, "Who's from Wisconsin?" Two raised hands. "Ah, land of milk and cheese and the Green Bay Packers. Those guys played good this season!"

After a break, during which a duo sang "Hanalei Moon" and "Waimanalo Blues," and so on, Al Harrington entered, wearing a bright red blazer, and drove a locomotive-paced production through a swift hour, accented by multi-talented percussionist Rod Tanu. It was a three-ring circus of music and dance, Polynesian and patriotic, with the ruggedly handsome, "South Pacific Man" the ringmaster. The audience, from Everywhere, USA, and Canada, flat out loved it. As we left, Harrington stood at the exit, autographing pictures.

I returned to his office at 10:30 the next morning. A small room, lacking ostentatious show business trappings, the decor consisted of family pictures and a collection of native American jewelry and art. Harrington, sans headband and sun glasses, sat at the desk, looking just like any business executive confronted with a stack of unsigned checks in front of him.

Go to Part 2

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