Jennie Woodd was one of the many hula dancers and lei greeters at the Aloha Tower Boat Days in the 1920s and an original Royal Hawaiian Girl in the mid-1930s.

Hawaiian entertainer
inspired granddaughter

See also: Obituaries

By Gary Chun

Jennie Hanaiali'i "Napua" Woodd, who was a constant inspiration to her singing granddaughter Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom, died Sunday in her Kahului home.

Born April 3, 1912, in Waikele, the news release from Hanaiali'i Records stated that Woodd "was 90 years young."

A kumu hula for 70 years, Woodd in her prime embodied the word "entertainer": She was a Polynesian dancer, choreographer and songwriter who performed in clubs and showrooms from here and Tahiti to Las Vegas and New York.

Gilliom was photographed with her tutu for the cover of Gilliom's second album, "Hawaiian Tradition," and she spoke warmly of her to John Berger, Star-Bulletin reporter, on the occasion of the album's release back in late October 1998.

On hearing her album, Gilliom said: "A man in England sent me a two-hour documentary on my grandmother. ... In the first clip, she must be only like 18, and she's doing a song called 'Wiggles.' The rest of it shows her on the 'Groucho Marx Show' and with Sonny Kamahele and Hilo Hattie and all the entertainers she entertained with in Hollywood."

During the popular Boat Days in the 1920s, Woodd was one of the many hula dancers and lei greeters on dock at Aloha Tower. She then became one of the original Royal Hawaiian Girls in the mid-1930s, doing shows at the famous hotel with Ray Kinney's Hawaiian Orchestra.

She and the big band went to New York and performed for many years at the famous Lexington Hotel's Hawaiian Room. Woodd met her future husband, Lloyd Gilliom, there when he was occupying the first trumpet seat and playing steel guitar for other big bands, like Sammy Kaye's and the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.

Woodd was also known for choreographing a majority of the Polynesian-themed floor shows in Las Vegas, plus lending a hand in any number of movies and TV shows shot here from the '40s to '60s -- films like "Waikiki Wedding" with Bing Crosby, "Pagan Love Song," "Mutiny on the Bounty" and "Diamond Head" with Charlton Heston, to TV shows "Adventures in Paradise" and "Hawaiian Eye."

Her hula school was located across from Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

The multitalented Woodd was also a songwriter, and her most famous song, "Haleiwa Hula," was recorded by Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom on "Hawaiian Tradition." Listeners can hear Woodd's enthusiastic response to her granddaughter's rendition on that recording.

Gilliom said her grandmother, who had Alzheimer's disease, was a renewed woman when she performed.

"She won't know where she's at or what she's doing, but as soon as she's onstage, the Alzheimer's is gone and she works that stage. It's awesome for me to work with her and have people come see her who knew her when she was in Hollywood. It seemed like when people would walk into a setting where my grandmother was at, everything was Hawaiian," she said. "There wasn't one thing left out. They had to adapt to Hollywood with things like the cellophane skirts, but she still did a lot of chanting and things like that."

Woodd is survived by her children Lloyd B. (Marilee) Gilliom, Winona (Joseph Jr.) Lapilio and George K. (Lorraine) Harris. Besides granddaughter Amy, her other moopuna (relatives two generations later) include Timothy and Eric Hanaiali'i Gilliom; Corrine Kaonohi, Joseph III, Kirk, Jeff and Denise Lapilio; Kim, Dennis, George and David Harris; and the rest of her ohana.

"Napua's Celebration of Life" will be held next Saturday at Ballard Family Mortuary in Kahului.

Visitation will begin at 5 p.m., with the service at 6 p.m. Aloha attire is requested by the family.

The celebration of Woodd's life will continue on Oahu at the Oahu Cemetery Chapel on Jan. 25, with the same visitation and service times.

A private ceremony will follow on Molokai, where she was part of the fourth-generation ohana of Waikolu and Waialua.

Biographical material from The Honolulu Star Bulletin.