HULA GIRL

At 94, JOAN AN­DER­SON, the sub­ject of the new doc­u­men­tary short Hula Girl, is fi­nally get­ting her due for help­ing kick off the coun­try’s hoop ma­nia six decades ago. She spoke with us from Cal­i­for­nia.

Smithsonian Magazine - - Prologue -

When did you first spot the hoop?

It was 1957. I was vis­it­ing my fam­ily in Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, and while I was at my sis­ter’s house, I heard peo­ple in the back room laugh­ing and car­ry­ing on. I said, “What’s this all about?” and my sis­ter said, “It’s a new kind of toy called the hoop.” Peo­ple all over were do­ing it. It looked like fun, but it was re­ally hard. I couldn’t do it at first.

Did you bring one home to Los An­ge­les?

It wasn’t pos­si­ble to bring one on the plane, but I told my hus­band about it. He had dab­bled in the toy busi­ness and thought it might be some­thing he’d be in­ter­ested in pro­duc­ing, so I wrote to my mother and asked her to send me one. The man who de­liv­ered it to the door said, “Who would have some­thing like this de­liv­ered all the way from Aus­tralia?” I’ve of­ten won­dered if he put it to­gether that it was the first hula hoop.

What did your Amer­i­can friends think of this wacky Aus­tralian fad?

We had the hoop at our house for months. The kids played with it and we showed it to our friends. One night one of them said, “You know, you look like you’re do­ing the hula.” I said, “There’s the name: hula hoop!”

You showed the hoop to the founders of the Wham-O toy com­pany.

Spud Melin in­ter­viewed us in the park­ing lot of the Wham-O plant in San Gabriel Val­ley, and I showed him how to use it. He said, “Is there any­thing else you can do with it?” He took it and kind of rolled it to see if it would come back to him. “It’s got pos­si­bil­i­ties,” he said. The next thing we knew, Spud called from a show at the Pan-Pa­cific in Los An­ge­les: “It’s crazy around the booth. Ev­ery­one is try­ing it. It’s re­ally gone wild!”

Did you make a busi­ness deal?

It was a gen­tle­man’s hand­shake. “If it makes money for us, it’ll make money for you,” Spud said. “We’ll take care of it.” Well, they didn’t do a very good job. We were in­volved in a law­suit with Wham-O. In the end they said they lost money, be­cause the sales died sud­denly.

To­day, no one knows about your part in cre­at­ing the hula-hoop craze.

In the be­gin­ning, ev­ery­one knew. Then I think they be­gan to won­der if that was true or not, be­cause we didn’t get any recog­ni­tion for it. Wham-O was the one that made the hula hoop big, but we brought it to the United States. I’m thrilled that the story—and the movie—is out there now.

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