As a Pacific Islander, Duke Kahanamoku broke through racial barriers with his athletic accomplishments, earning five Olympic medals and introducing the world to surfing. Though he shattered records as a swimmer, Kahanamoku dreamed of being a Hollywood actor. Unfortunately, not only did he face discrimination, but his Olympic status prevented him from surfing, swimming and performing water stunts in any films besides newsreels. Though he was never able to escape typecasting or achieve Hollywood stardom, you can still spot him in small roles in the following 13 Hollywood films.
Ua Nake in “Wake of the Red Witch” (1948)
In 1948, Duke Kahanamoku portrayed Ua Nuke in “Wake of the Red Witch,” starring John Wayne. As part of the Museum of Modern Art’s restoration of 30 films from Republic Pictures, “Wake of the Red Witch” was restored and premiered in 2018 in a program curated by Martin Scorsese.
Manua in “Isle of Escape” (1930)
Although “Isle of Escape” is believed to be a lost film, a forty second fragment was discovered by a private collector in 2010.
Kalita in “Girl of the Port” (1930)
Starring Sally O’Neil, the film was based on a short story, entitled “The Fire-walker“ by John Russell.
Jaffir in “The Rescue” (1929)
Based on a novel by Joseph Conrad, only an incomplete print exists (missing one reel) in the George Eastman House Film Archive. This is the second Conrad adaptation Kahanamoku starred in.
Wild Animal Trapper in “Where East is East” (1929)
Starring Lon Chaney as an animal trapper, “Where East is East” was Chaney’s penultimate silent film. Kahanamoku also played an animal trapper, but the role went uncredited.
Guard in “Woman Wise” (1928)
Starring William Russell, June Collyer and Walter Pidgeon, this film is considered lost – though there may be some material in an Austrian archive.
Lono in “The Isle of Sunken Gold” (1927)
The film was was considered lost, but several chapters were discovered in the film holdings of Collectie Filmcollectief in Holland with Dutch intertitles. Footage was recovered of Duke Kahanamoku’s role, watch here.
Hawaiian Boy in “Hula” (1927)
Directed by Victor Fleming, “Hula” stars “It Girl” Clara Bow. This was the second time Kahanamoku starred in a Fleming film.
Pirate Captain in “Old Ironsides” (1926)
The movie was created with a widescreen process that Paramount promoted as “Magnascope.” It was used to heighten the visual effects by switching to “Magnascope” throughout the film.
Tamb Itam in “Lord Jim” (1925)
Directed by Victor Fleming, Kahanamoku played “Tamb Itam” in this Joseph Conrad adaptation. “Lord Jim” is preserved at the Library of Congress and the UCLA Film and Television Archive.
The Lifeguard in “No Father to Guide Him” (1925)
You can see Kahanamoku as a lifeguard in this existing clip.
Indian Chief in “The Pony Express” (1925)
Prints of this Western survive, see the full film here.
Noah Noa in “Adventure” (1925)
Cited as Kahanomuku’s first movie role, “Adventure” is unfortunately a lost film.