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Big-T & the Bada-Bings


By Will "The Thrill" Viharo

The Honeymooners at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel's Mai Tai Bar, Waikiki, June 2001
I 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.

Ready to take the plunge, with Robert Ensler as "Reverend Dean Martin" at the altar on the gazebo at Cal-Neva, 5/31/01
Several 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!"

Exactly four years from the night I gave her the Elvis towel, on May 31, 2001, actress Monica Munoz Cortés—now 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.

One 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 Jones—to name a few. We even shared the same favorite radio station: San Francisco's KABL 960AM, home of "standards, swing and big bands, too."

Frank 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).

 Mr. and Mrs. Thrill
The 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!

For 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!

For 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.

After 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 ( 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.

So how did we top all this?

Ten days on a Hawaiian honeymoon, that's how.

The Honeymooners at a swing dance in the Royal Hawaiian Hotel with Diamond Head in the background, June 2001
We 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 (, 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.

The Honeymooners with the Big Tiki at the Hawaiiana Hotel, Honolulu, June 2001
On 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.

Right 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, marriage—I highly recommend it all. Aloha and mahalo!

For details on Hawaii and the Cal Neva, check out and click on the July 2001 "Thrillville Beat" column under the Archives link.

Behind in your reading?
Check out past ATOMIC features.

Dear Dottie
1999 Articles List
2000 Articles List
2001 Articles List
2002 Articles List
2003 Articles List
2004 Article List
Classic Holiday Movies
  Holiday Gift Guide
The Ocean's 11 Boycott
The Tao of Lucy:
50 Years of Laughter
Frederick Ziv, R.I.P.
Freaks and Shrieks:
Classic Horror Movies
Dena DeRose:
Live at the Algonquin
Goodness Had Something
to Do With It: Mae West
The Saga of a Laughing Giant
60th Anniversary of Citizen Kane
Unity In a Time of Crisis
Good Swing Comes to Those Who Wait
Theatre Review: Preview of Murder
Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!
Revvin' with Ford
Will & Monica: A Lounge Love Story
For Dancer's Only:
Catalina's Casino Ballroom
WWII Comes To Life
at Reading Airfield
Ride the Moulin Rouge
The Last Word In Johnny Boyd
Cigar Store Indians Play Atlanta
Dita Von Teese:
Daring Dita and the Art of the Tease
Legacy By The Bay: USS Hornet
Swing Cats Help Local Charity

Hippy Hippy Shakin' Siblings:
The World Famous Pontani Sisters

The Passing of Peggy Cone
Timeless Fashions at the
ATOMIC Fashion Brunch
If The Shoe Fits: Two-Tone Style


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