Searching For Don the Beachcomber
On the 114th anniversary of Donn’s birth, I wanted to share some exciting news with you.
- I have started on a biography of Don the Beachcomber with the working title of Searching for Don the Beachcomber.
- I have signed on as an associate producer on a full-length documentary about Donn Beach titled The Donn of Tiki.
- I have received the Phoebe Beach Archive of thousands of rare photos, documents, writings, and ephemera from Donn Beach’s estate for these projects.
The Tiki community has supported my work for nearly two decades. You are some of the best people I’ve ever met and many of you have become good friends. Even those I see but once or twice a year have become like my extended family. You’ve all lifted my spirits and continually inspired me to keep going and doing more. I am honored by the trust and support you give me to make these ideas realities.
My research into Donn started with my work on my Mai-Kai book. I have continued in various ways ever since. I feel called to tell the stories of the people who have shared their lives with me.
When I started working on a biography of Donn Beach in earnest, I felt there was no way to do a truly complete book without a few things. The main one was getting the information that Phoebe Beach’s late husband Arnold Bitner used to write his biography. After talking with Phoebe for a few years, she recently decided to entrust me with Donn’s estate. She very much wants to see a high-quality book done about Donn. I had planned to go see her and get access to the archive, but Covid ended that. She then agreed to send it all to me here, as a solid foundation for my work. It really is a huge amount of information. Countless never-before-seen images, business and personal documents, and his own writings. It is a mountain of information. We owe Phoebe a great debt for keeping all of this, organizing it, and carting it around the world for the last 30 years. I am so glad she has put it in my hands to use for my research and to try to find a permanent home for it in a museum or university collection.
With this information and the help and research from friends like Kapua Van Dorpe, Tom Duncan, Mike Skinner, and Wayne Upton, I have a great start. I know a lot of collectors who will lend me their help, but there is a lot of stuff out there beyond all that. It takes a village. With the demise of Tiki Central, it is harder to reach the collectors. So if you have something you think needs to be part of this work, please contact me and share. I don’t want to leave any stones unturned.
About the time that Phoebe was getting ready to ship Donn’s archive to me, she was contacted by Max and Alex of Surf Monkey Films about doing a documentary on Donn Beach. Since then I have signed on as an associate producer to help their project with all the knowledge, resources, and people I can offer. The documentary is in pre-production now. We’re gearing up for a post-Covid world where they can begin traveling around to interview some incredible voices from the life of Donn Beach.
The documentary project will be a much bigger labor of love than my book. It will cost much more to see this to the end. They will be starting a fundraiser in the coming months and I hope you’ll all lend a hand. We are working with Holden Westland at Tiki Farm on a mug as part of that fundraiser. The title of the documentary will be The Donn of Tiki and I urge you to go to their website now and sign up for their email list to be kept up to date on this fantastic project. And I urge you to share what you have that can help with that project, too. Vintage video is a high priority.
Be patient. It will take a few years to get these projects to the finish line. We do what we can, when we can. But I look forward to sharing it all with you in person when it is possible. I have already uncovered enough to greatly rewrite the history of Donn. There is yet more to find.
So happy birthday Donn! I can’t wait to share his life’s story with you in my book and in the documentary. I hope you’ll join me in helping to make those things happen.