‘Hawaiian Eye’ Star Poncie Ponce Dies

Courtesy of Everett Collection
Poncie Ponce on "Hawaiian Eye."

The Maui native played the cab driver with the straw hat and ukulele on the exotic 1960s ABC detective series.

Poncie Ponce, who played a wise-cracking cab driver on the 1960s ABC detective series Hawaiian Eye, the first network series to be set in the 50th state, has died. He was 80.

Ponce, a native of Maui, Hawaii, who also appeared opposite Elvis Presley in Speedway (1968), died July 19 at his home in Los Angeles, his family reported.

During Hawaiian Eye’s opening each week, Ponce was seen floating in the ocean on an inner tube, wearing his trademark straw hat and stroking a ukulele. His character Kazuo "Kim" Quisado had a lot of friends in Honolulu, and he helped the show’s handsome private investigators (Anthony Eisley and Robert Conrad) crack cases. Connie Stevens played a nightclub singer/photographer on the series, which was actually filmed on a lot in Burbank.

Ponce, who served as a corporal in the U.S. Army stationed in Germany during the Korean War, came to Los Angeles to pursue a career in show business after entertaining the locals in Hawaii. He sang and did impressions on a live weekend amateur talent show called Rocket to Stardom that was broadcast from the Wilshire Boulevard showroom of automobile dealer Bob Yeakel. (Phil Spector and Lenny Bruce, among others, would also appear on that show.)

Later, Warner Bros. execs spotted his act at a Santa Monica nightclub and signed him for the role of Kim. In 1962, the studio’s record label released his album Poncie Ponce Sings.

When Hawaiian Eye’s run of four seasons came to an end in September 1963, Ponce traveled the world, singing and performing in nightclubs in Australia, Argentina, Japan and elsewhere.

In addition to playing a member of race car driver Presley’s pit crew in Speedway, Ponce appeared as Kim in 77 Sunset Strip, another Warner Bros. exotic-locale detective series of the era. He also had a bit role as Pineapple in the comedy The World’s Greatest Lover (1977), starring Gene Wilder.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Sherry; his daughters, Debra, Paula and Margaret; grandsons Dane, Devin, Jack and Charles; sisters Feliza and Juanita; and brothers Alfred, Joseph and Delphine.

Services will be held Aug. 1 at 2 p.m. at St. Monica Catholic Church in Santa Monica.