Archikulture Digest
The Donn of Tiki

The Donn of Tiki

directed by Alex Lamb and Max

starring Donn Beach

Enzian Theater, Maitland, Florida • April 18, 2024

Think of Hawaii, and recall a mélange of hula girls, surfer guys, and palm trees — and don’t forget complicated rum drinks served in flaming punch bowls. That image of the islands is about as true as the Disney version of space travel. But the Hawaiian vibe came from somewhere real, and someone somewhat larger than life. His real name is Don Beach, a wonderful irony in true life. He rearranged it to “Beachcomber Don” and made his mark on a post-war L.A. side street.

Don got his start in WWII, running messages up and down the Italian peninsula for the Army. When he mustered out, Don ended up with a small bar on a side street in Hollywood. His specialty was complex rum drinks, sweetened with fresh fruit juices. Cora Irene “Sunny” Sund stumbled in to the bar one rainy day, and soon they became partners.

Don took great care to keep his recipes secret, and to this day it’s not clear what all went into those magic bar glasses. Don hired a group of highly-skilled Philippine immigrants to work the back room, and soon his place was drawing movie stars and mobsters. Don was hitting it big when he took a visit to the real Honolulu. Here, he deiced to create a second front hosting the luau dinners we associate with the island. Don was now a fully-fledged icon.

Don’s story is fascinating, and this well-edited exploration keeps you involved with the right mix of facts and legend. He was a hustler, no question, but the hustle wasn’t evil. Instead, it was just what a post-war, post-prohibition America needed. A rather corny map acts as our guide through the tale, while Don’s story unfolds with archival footage or wonderful cartooning when images are not available.

Don became an icon, and the trademark fits him well: he’s a fast-talking bucket of charm mixed with a knowledge of rum and the mafia. I’ve been to the Hawaiian islands, and I’ll say that while Don’s name is passing away, his vision of marketing an admittedly beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean holds sway until today. Waiter! Another rum punch, and step on it. I wonder how the poi is tonight?

This film was part of the 2024 Florida Film Festival, an Oscar®-qualifying festival now in its 33rd year.


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