& MONICA: A LOUNGE LOVE STORY
By Will "The Thrill" Viharo
met my wife-to-be on May 31, 1997, while hosting my cult movie cabaret
show Thrillville, then known as the Midnight Lounge, since it started
at midnight, at the Parkway Theater, a "brew and view" cinema, in
Oakland, CA. I had recently split up with my (first) so-called wife
of six months, a cute, wacky little number I picked up in the video
store where I worked and fool-heartedly wed in the comedy section
after a whirlwind four week courtship. She was my also my first
"lovely assistant" in Thrillville, meaning she spun the big carnival
wheel and gave out prizes to lucky ticket-holders. I hosted vintage
cult movies in my "lounge lizard" persona of "Will the Thrill,"
replete with smoking jacket, aloha shirts, two-toned shoes, tiki
bar stage set, and suave attitude. It was all an act. I was miserable
at the time. After the inevitable split, I was pulling lovely assistants
out of the audience, secretly auditioning them for a professional
and possible romantic position. On this particular evening I was
showcasing Jailhouse Rock, and this drop-dead sexy babe was in the
small audience, waxing enthusiastic about The King. Naturally I
chose her. She spun my wheel and for her efforts I awarded her an
Elvis towel. She showed me her tattoo on her right hip, a Navajo
symbol with the word "Elvis" inside. She was with someone else,
so I made no further overtures, and forgot about her.
Honeymooners at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's Mai Tai Bar,
Waikiki, June 2001
months later, on January 8, 1998, I was attending our annual Elvis
B-Day Bash at a cool, funky little neighborhood bar called the Ivy
Room in Albany, CA. Still lonesome and depressed, living in my personal
Heartbreak Hotel after several dismal dating experiences, I was
contemplating splitsville as I hung around the doorway casually
digging the street life when who should walk up but the Elvis tattoo
chick. "Hey, I remember you!" she exclaimed right away. "You gave
me that Elvis towel!"
to take the plunge, with Robert Ensler as "Reverend Dean
Martin" at the altar on the gazebo at Cal-Neva, 5/31/01
four years from the night I gave her the Elvis towel, on May 31,
2001, actress Monica Munoz Cortésnow locally famous as my
permanent lovely assistant "the Tiki Goddess"became Mrs.
Will "the Thrill" Viharo. Of course, now I am Will Cortés Viharo,
since I took her last name as my
middle name, so in effect, we have become Mr. and Mrs.Cortés Viharo.
of the reasons we immediately hit it off after that second meeting
at the Ivy Room was our mutual love of all things lounge. Her
favorite TV show was and remains The Dick Van Dyke Show,
and her favorite singers, besides Elvis of course, are Eydie Gorme,
Keely Smith, Rosemary Clooney, Sammy Davis Jr., Bobby Darin, Mel
Torme, and Tom Jonesto name a few. We even shared the same
favorite radio station: San Francisco's KABL 960AM, home of "standards,
swing and big bands, too."
Sinatra, my personal mentor, and Elvis Presley, the man who brought
us together, became the patron saints of our household, so in
their honor, we chose the Cal Neva Resort in North Lake Tahoe,
owned by Sinatra in the early '60s and a famous Rat Pack retreat,
to be the site of our wedding. In fact, we were so certain of
this location we actually booked it two and half years in advance,
a year before I even gave her an engagement ring (on January 8,
2000, announcing our engagement at a Blue Hawaii-themed
Elvis B-Day Party at Trader Vic's in Emeryville, CA).
details were astonishing, and most of the credit goes to Monica.
Our wedding even has its own logo! We were already known for giving
great "theme" parties, so this one had to be positively legendary.
Of course, I burned all the wedding music onto CD myself, a mix
we called "The Lounge-Soul Connection"meaning every performer
on our music selection most likely wore a pinkie ring, whether Tony
Bennett or Marvin Gaye. There were several volumes of pre-recorded
music; for instance, the "Cocktail Hour" CD featured classic mood
music by Henry Mancini, Esquivel, Martin Denny, and Jackie Gleason,
among others. Then there was our First Dance: "Can't Help Falling
in Love," by Elvis, followed by "The Best is Yet to Come" by Frank,
"More" by Bobby D, "Ain't That a Kick in the Head" by Dino, "This
Could Be the Start of Something" by Steve and Eydie, and "That Ol'
Black Magic" by Louis and Keely. All 20 tables were named after
our favorite singers and stars (the Frank Sinatra Table, the Elvis
Presley Table, the Tom Jones Table, the Julie London Table, the
Temptations Table, the Eartha Kitt Table, the Peggy Lee Table, the
Marilyn Monroe Table, etc.). We also had an open martini bar featuring
14 different recipes we chose and named ourselves: "the Tikitini,"
"the Dean Martini," "the Ann-Margretini," "the 007," "the Pin-Up,"
"the Lounge Lizard," "the Mariachi-tini," "the Sammy Davis Junior-tini,"
"the Sinatratini," "the Elvistini," and so on!
Mr. and Mrs. Thrill
live entertainment we hired a local mariachi band we'd seen perform
at a Latin jazz fest at Yoshi's Nightclub in Oakland. One of the
numbers they performed back then was a Spanish version of "My
Way," which immediately piqued our interest. For our ceremony
they learned "Love Me Tender" (for the bride's march), "All the
Way" (for the bridesmaids' processional) and "Can't in Help Falling
in Love" (for the recessional)in Spanish!
further cross-cultural kicks, we got our friend Robert Ensler,
a professional Dean Martin impersonator, to perform the ceremony,
Dino-style! He sported his full Dino regalia and persona in his
role as minister, and sang "Inamorata" backed by Los Mariachis
del Halcones before reciting the ceremony (which I wrote in a
Dino-flavored vernacular), and the ultimate exchange of vows before
a teary-eyed congregation of friends, family and hipsters. Monica's
recital of a Shakespeare poem was the highpoint, and the beautiful
backdrop of Lake Tahoe provided a stunning setting.
pictures, we all went inside the resort-casino for the reception,
held in the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Showroom, where famous entertainers
of the Kennedy era performed. The mariachis played on stage during
dinner, and later Ensler (www.TheRatPack.net)
returned to the stage to perform his Sinatra impersonations (yes,
he does Frank too) of "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Night and Day."
In the background throughout the reception I had Rat Pack footage
silently playing on a big screen behind the stage, followed by
the films Ocean's 11 and Blue Hawaii.
how did we top all this?
days on a Hawaiian honeymoon, that's how.
chose the island of Kauai for the first four days, staying in the
luxurious, lagoon-laced Hyatt Regency Resort, which is like something
out of a James Bond flick. While there we experienced out first
luau-pure Polynesian pleasure. We took a helicopter tour of the
island, which petrified me, despite the astonishing scenic beauty
of the Na' Pali coast and lush waterfall-laced jungles below. I'd
gone to face my fear of heights, but instead, I merely confirmed
them. The only thought that got me through the experience was the
fact that Sinatra, filming None But the Brave in '64, had been on
this same tour with this same outfit, Jack Harter, who also leased
out the copters used by Elvis in Paradise, Hawaiian Style. I was
in good company, dead or alive. I miraculously and mercifully survived,
and the next day we stayed on the ground all day for the terrific
Kauai Movie Tour (www.hawaiimovietour.com),
led by knowledgeable tour guides on an air-conditioned bus that
took us from the Coco Palms (where Elvis filmed much of Blue
Hawaii, including the famous floating wedding finale), to the
original Gilligan's Island, South Pacific, Fantasy
Island, Donovan's Reef, Corman's She Gods of Shark
Reefand Karloff's Voodoo Island. We also saw locations
used for Jurassic Park and Raiders of the Lost Ark,
which didn't interest us as much.
Honeymooners at a swing dance in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel
with Diamond Head in the background, June 2001
the island of Oahu, in fabled Waikiki, we stayed in a great tiki-populated
hotel two blocks from the beach called The Hawaiiana, a '40s flavored
spot that made me think of Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, whirling
fans, bamboo furniture and all. After three days there (during which
we visited Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Center and other
popular destinations), we spent our final three days in what is
now our all-time favorite hotel anywhere: the world-famous Royal
Hawaiian. The "pink palace" was built in the 1920s, went downhill
in the depressed '30s despite well-publicized visits by movie stars
like Shirley Temple, became an officially sanctioned furlough destination
for sailors during WWII, then achieved its greatest fame as a tourist
favorite in the golden era of the 1950s and beyond. Pictures of
famous vacationers like Esther Williams perfectly complement the
nostalgic, elegant atmosphere. Right on the beach is the Mai Tai
Bar, where we spent a lot of time and dough when not wading in the
emerald waters and white sands just outside the gate. Our next to
last night at the Royal Hawaiian we were thrilled to discover an
authentic swing band in the Monarch Room, the Willie Barton Orchestra,
who performed gems from Benny Goodman to the mambo, and an old Japanese
guy crooned Sinatra tunes. Blue hairs and swing kids mingled and
danced with Diamond Head in the background. Pure magic, baby.
Honeymooners with the Big Tiki at the Hawaiiana Hotel,
Honolulu, June 2001
now my lovely wife is making a martini with my name on it, so
I gotta go, cats and kittens. Elvis, Sinatra, a Dean Martin minister,
mariachis, martinis, the Cal Neva, the Royal Hawaiian, marriageI
highly recommend it all. Aloha and mahalo!
details on Hawaii and the Cal Neva, check out www.thrillville.net
and click on the July 2001 "Thrillville Beat" column under the