Elvis Presley’s Seattle movie co-star running for governor of Hawaii

Aug 3, 2022, 9:57 AM | Updated: 11:41 am
Vicky Cayetano, known at the time as Vicky Tiu, starred alongside Elvis Presley in a movie filmed a...
Vicky Cayetano, known at the time as Vicky Tiu, starred alongside Elvis Presley in a movie filmed at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair; she's now running for governor of Hawaii. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio and courtesy MGM)
(Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio and courtesy MGM)
Vicky Cayetano, known at the time as Vicky Tiu, starred alongside Elvis Presley in a movie filmed at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair; she's now running for governor of Hawaii. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio and courtesy MGM)

In other election news not related to Washington’s August 2 primary, in the summer of 1962, the World’s Fair was underway at what’s now Seattle Center. And though she didn’t know it at the time, the six-year-old girl who starred with Elvis Presley in a movie filmed at the fair in ’62 is running for governor of Hawaii 60 years later.

The story of Elvis Presley’s September 1962 visit to Seattle to film “It Happened at the World’s Fair” didn’t make it into this summer’s Baz Luhrmann biopic of the King of Rock and Roll, but the earlier film, released in April 1963, still reverberates, in its own special way, through Northwest history.

That old movie is no “Citizen Kane,” but it still stands up as safe, anodyne family entertainment from the simpler days of the Kennedy Administration, and it’s a classic Elvis vehicle with lush cinematography and plenty of forgettable songs. It’s also a nice time capsule of certain parts of Seattle 60 years ago, all shot on the finest early 1960s Hollywood film stock.

Along with Elvis Presley as a kindly and handsome crop-duster named Mike Edwards and Joan O’Brien as a kindly and attractive nurse named Diane Warren, the movie stars a six-and-a-half-year-old girl, originally from the Philippines, named Vicky Tiu. The Seattle movie was her first and last cinematic foray, and even so, it’s a pretty rare thing in 2022 for anyone to be able to say they co-starred in a film with Elvis Presley – or had dinner with the icon at the Space Needle.

“Elvis took me to dinner because I did one scene so badly, and I got more and more nervous and I was stuttering, and I was ready to cry,” Vicky Tiu – whose last name is now Cayetano – told KIRO Newsradio. “And then he said, ‘It’s a wrap,’ and I knew it wasn’t a wrap, because I had made so many mistakes.”

Presley, Cayetano says, was protective of her, shielding her from film director Norman Taurog as Cayetano made that particular scene impossible to shoot.

“He took me to dinner and I cried,” said Cayetano, who felt far away from her parents and eight siblings in California¬ “I still remember crying over dinner, telling him that I missed my family.”

Ultimately, all the scenes were shot – including several at what’s now Seattle Center, with World’s Fair crowds in and around recognizable places such as aboard the Monorail, and at what’s now the Pacific Science Center and the Climate Pledge Arena. Other scenes were filmed immediately afterward on a soundstage in California, including a dinner scene with Elvis and Joan O’Brien in an artificial Space Needle restaurant, complete with a painted backdrop – impersonating the Seattle skyline, and being moved slowly behind the actors to simulate the rotation of the Space Needle.

Vicky Cayetano says Elvis was always very kind to her, and he was handsome and a great listener. “I wish I was 26 and not 6” at the time, she said.

In the film, Vicky’s character Sue-Lin makes a visit to the World’s Fair with Elvis, aka “Mister Mike,” after he and a buddy hitch a ride to Seattle with Sue-Lin and her Uncle Walter. Walter suddenly must deliver produce to an important client, and so hands off little Sue-Lin to the handsome stranger for a day at the fair. This gives Elvis ample opportunity to ogle and flirt with pretty gals, and to break out, every now and then, in song. Drama intrudes when Walter goes missing, but before the lights come up, more songs are crooned, more pretty gals are ogled and flirted with, and it all wraps up with a happy ending.

As for Vicky Cayetano, she never made another film and never crossed paths with Elvis prior to his death in 1977. Cayetano moved to Hawaii about 40 years ago, and she met her second husband – Democrat Ben Cayetano – and they married when he was serving as Hawaii’s governor. Now, Vicky Cayetano – who runs a huge commercial laundry business in Honolulu – wants her husband’s old job.

Why, exactly?

“To bring our young people back here to Hawaii,” Cayetano said. “Hawaii is one of the few states has that’s lost our young people, our working people. For the last five years, our population has gone down, and that’s because the cost of living in an impossible housing market and limited job opportunities makes for a rather bleak future.”

“That’s why I’m running,” Cayetano continued. “And also to put my experience of running a business, not being a politician, and bringing common-sense, practical solutions.”

What are Vicky Cayetano’s prospects for surviving Hawaii’s primary election, which takes place on Saturday, August 13?

Chad Blair is politics and opinion editor for the online journalism outlet Honolulu Civil Beat. Blair says that Hawaii Lieutenant Governor Josh Green has a substantial lead in the polls over Vicky Cayetano and one other candidate in the race, but anything can happen in politics, he cautions.

And, it turns out, even 60 years later, there is a World’s Fair connection to the race: in the first political ad Cayetano’s campaign produced earlier this year, the video highlighted her cinematic experience with The King, and referenced the Elvis song “Little Less Conversation.”

“I don’t know how much the ad resonated with younger audiences,” Blair told KIRO Newsradio. “To someone of a certain age, it was very appealing.”

The Elvis-themed ad was released several months ago, says Chad Blair, and it simply may not have connected with voters too young to be impressed by a movie made 60 years ago.

“I noticed that she has really not focused at all on Elvis as of late,” Blair said. “She is really focused on her business experience running the laundry. So I haven’t seen as much reference [to Elvis].”

“But having said that,” Blair continued, “the older you are, the more likely you are to vote – that is common – but, just looking at how much he has struggled to raise money, I don’t know how much Elvis has really given her traction.”

Speaking of money, one fact about the production of the film during the fair that only recently came to light is what Colonel Tom Parker – Elvis Presley’s manager and the guy Tom Hanks is playing in the Elvis biopic – said to a Seattle Center executive back in 1970.

It was in November 1970 when Presley came back and performed a concert at the Seattle Center Coliseum (aka Climate Pledge Arena). Louis Larsen, who turns 98 later this year and is the only surviving member of the Seattle World’s Fair executive team, was on hand before the show started, standing in the Coliseum and speaking with Colonel Parker.

“And he says to me, ‘You know, you folks left a lot of money on the table,’” Larsen told KIRO Newsradio.

“I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about,” Larsen continued. But he soon understood that what Parker meant was all the support that fair management and the City of Seattle had provided the producers of “It Happened at the World’s Fair” at no cost.

“He said, ‘We were prepared to come in and we were going to pay for all the security, all the help, anything that that we needed. We were going to pay for it,’” Larsen recounted Parker telling him.

“And he said, ‘You covered everything-plus,” Larsen said, chuckling at the memory – of what seems like a foreshadowing of exploits which various sports franchises would attempt on an exponentially larger scale in subsequent decades.

Along with Louis Larsen, also working for the World’s Fair in 1962 was a young man from Louisiana named Albert Fisher, whose job was to serve as liaison to TV outlets and filmmakers, including the production company that made the Elvis movie. Fisher’s office was behind Seattle High School Memorial Stadium, and between that facility and what was then called the Opera House (and is now known as McCaw Hall).

From his office window, Fisher looked down on a cluster of trailers where the film’s producers and stars spent time between filming scenes, and where Vicky Tiu and other young stars of the production – including Kurt Russell – would attend classes with a tutor.

“Right out there where the trailers and all were, that’s where Elvis and his cadre of what they called the ‘Memphis Mafia’ at the time – his buddies that all wore these black jumpsuits – they would hang out there between takes and toss footballs back and forth,” Fisher told KIRO Newsradio.

“I’d sit in my office and look down below, and I’d see Elvis Presley and these guys playing tag football on the cement there,” Fisher said.

Fisher, who turned 21 that summer, says he got to spend a lot of time with Elvis on the fairgrounds, and he also went out with Presley on two double dates.

This gave Albert Fisher the opportunity to deploy one of the best “pickup” lines of the century, which he said to a young woman from Scotland he occasionally dated during the fair.

“Would you like to go out tonight with Elvis Presley and me?” Fisher recalled saying. “And she started laughing. She thought I was kidding.”

“Actually the first date was in the hotel,” Fisher explained. “We just stayed up in his suite at the hotel and ordered pizza and watched TV. And then the second date, we went to the movies and saw an Elvis Presley movie.”

The Presley film the quartet saw was “Kid Galahad,” Fisher says. Based on old newspaper ads, the theatre was likely the Music Hall, which stood at 7th Avenue and Olive Street until it was torn down in the early 1990s. Fisher says theatre management, in order to conceal Presley’s identity from the other audience members, helped the party sneak into the auditorium after the film began, and then sneak out before it was over.

Albert Fisher says Elvis was very polite and as regular as a guy could be during the brief time they spent together. Later, Fisher saw Presley briefly at the studio in California when Fisher served as a consultant to the production – helping, among other things, with that Seattle skyline backdrop – but he never spoke with Elvis again.

But, earlier in Seattle, the production crew took a liking to Fisher, and gave him a juicy cameo right at the end of the film. As Elvis and Joan O’Brien march around the fairgrounds singing the jubilant finale song “Happy Ending,” Fisher is a balloon vendor, clearly recognizable as he’s seen up close and then in a wide shot, handing a big bunch of helium balloons to the handsome couple right before they kiss and the balloons sail into the Seattle sky and the credits roll.

“I always point out to my daughter or somebody looking at the film, I say ‘watch, I’m going to release the balloons,’” Fisher said, who spent a long career in television working for Merv Griffin and others. “And as they go up past the Space Needle, it says ‘The End.’”

As kind as the crew was to Albert Fisher, with a few exceptions, film critics were rarely as kind to Elvis Presley’s film performances. When it was released in spring 1963, “It Happened at the World’s Fair” was savaged by The New York Times.

On May 30, 1963, Times’ film critic Eugene Arthur wrote:

“’It Happened at the World’s Fair’ is something that shouldn’t have happened at all. Elvis Presley’s budding dramatic talents have been neatly nipped in the Seattle story, which emerges as a dismal parody of the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals of old. Burdened with a dozen tuneless songs and a plot requiring him to play guardian to a mercilessly cute Chinese waif, the crooner merely swivels ingenuously through a morass of clichés.”

Ouch. Happy Ending, indeed.

Nearly six decades later, when it comes to Vicky Cayetano’s nascent political career, it’s up to the voters of Hawaii as to decide whether the August 13 will be a political finale, or simply the “Happy Ending” of a primary campaign.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or questions, please email Feliks here.

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Elvis Presley’s Seattle movie co-star running for governor of Hawaii