Duke Kahanamoku: the Hawai'ian Olympic Hero in Los Angeles

The United States took a total of 41 gold medals including eight in the diving and swimming competitions, but the 1932 Games were fondly remembered as the final hurrah for an Olympic hero by the name of Duke Kahanamoku.

While Kahanamoku wasn't technically American since Hawai'i had yet to join the union, his prowess as a surfing and swimming champion earned him a spot on the U.S. team starting at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics,winning Hawaii’s first Olympic gold medal for 100-meter freestyle, and a silver medal for the 4×200-meter freestyle relay.

Kahanamoku competed again in 1920 at the Antwerp Olympics winning two more gold medals and the 1924 Paris Olympics winning a silver medal in 100-meter freestyle race behind gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller.

Kahanamoku and Johnny "Tarzan" Weissmuller, 1920.

LAAC (Los Angeles Athletic Club) Swim Team posing in front of a mirrored pool. Some of the identified members are: Josephine McKim, Georgia Coleman, Buster Crabbe, Duke Kahanamoku, Mickey Riley, etc. Shades of LA collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Kahanamoku's dark, sensuous face and Adonis-like physique had caught the eye of Hollywood producers, who invited him to move to Los Angeles in 1922, where he was made a member of the all-white Los Angeles Athletic Club, an act that was unprecedented for a person of color.

From 1922-1929 he worked for various movie studios, usually portraying a native chief or a Hawaiian king while popularizing Southern California as a mecca for surf and swim.