Hollywood to Honolulu – Filming aboard the SS CALAWAII in 1932…


A Turner Classic Movies preview from ONE WAY PASSAGE aboard the SS CALAWAII in 1932 – great view of LASSCO’s steamship SS CALAWAII arriving in Honolulu.

Kay Francis and William Powell filming aboard the SS CALAWAII.

With three-quarters of its scenes actually made at sea aboard LASSCO’s SS CALAWAII, especially chartered and turned into a “floating studio” for the production of ONE WAY PASSAGE, starring William Powell and Kay Francis, established a new record for realism.

For an entire week, the SS CALAWAII, with its officers and crews, cruised about the blue Pacific at the behest of Director Ty Garnett and his company, who had the big ocean liner entirely to themselves for the filming. The ship had been chartered by Warner Bros.

The Los Angeles Steamship Company (LASSCO) was little-known steamship company founded in 1920 would dominate passenger service from Los Angeles to Hawaii. Its stylish ships and celebrity passengers made the voyage glamorous and helped establish the port of Los Angeles as a major passenger ship destination. In 1920 the only available steamship travel to Hawaii from California was from San Francisco. LASSCO’s directors envisioned the Los Angeles to Hawaii route as an opportunity for new growth.

In September of 1920 LASSCO general manager Samuel Naphtaly met with members of the United States Shipping Board to arrange for a charter of surplus World War I ships. The Shipping Board allocated the German liners AEOLUS and HURON later that year to LASSCO. Arriving at the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in 1922, the ships were refurbished for tropical service, painted white, and renamed SS CITY OF LOS ANGELES and SS CITY OF HONOLULU. These sleek passenger ships would soon be joined by the SS CALAWAII and later a second CITY OF HONOLULU. (The first City of Honolulu sank on her maiden voyage) A new service to Hawaii was born, with Wilmington as the port of departure for Los Angeles. In 1927, the combined sailings of Los Angeles Steamship Company vessels would carry more passengers to Hawaii than the rival Matson Line.

by Martin Cox

The Los Angeles Steamship Company came into being around the purchase of two ships already famous on the West Coast; the YALE and HARVARD. These two vessels were originally built for New York-Boston service, then later operated by Admiral Line on the West Coast before World War 1. The U.S. Navy purchased them both in 1918 for use as troop transports between Southampton and Le Havre.

When the two ships were offered for sale after the war, a group of Los Angeles business men, with the backing of the LA Chamber of Commerce, formed the Yale-Harvard Syndicate, and bought the ships from the Navy. Thus the Los Angeles Steamship Company was formed on June 10, 1920. Harry and Ralph Chandler of the Los Angeles Times were included on the Board. YALE and HARVARD were brought around from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and extensively reconditioned by the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and dry-dock Company, and converted from coal to oil burning.

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About Michael L. Grace

During the mid-80s, Michael Grace worked as a writer on the TV Hit Series THE LOVE BOAT. He wrote many of the two hour special featuring great stars of the past, including Lana Turner, Claire Trevor, Anne Baxter, Ethel Merman, Alexis Smith, etc. The public’s access to these stars, in familiar dramas and comedies, made them want to go on a cruise. They could see the stars in an ordinary world as “regular” people. The phenomenally successful series was responsible for creating the cruise industry as we know it today. By the time he was writing for Love Boat, the great steamship companies and their liners were flying hand me down foreign flags, painted like old whores, scrapped or doing three day cruises to the Bahamas. He had sailed on over thirty ships and liners with his parents, aunt and grandmother in late 50s to early 70s. The very successful CRUISING THE PAST website has been an outgrowth of Michael’s strong interest in cruise and social history. Drawing on his own knowledge and a vast maritime and social history collection, he is able to produce a very successful website. Michael is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. He has written for television and films. Read more by going to "About" (on the above dashboard) and clicking "Editor"…