‘American Masters’ recalls a forgotten giant | Culture & Leisure

Jason Momoa (“Game of Thrones”) narrates “American Masters: Waterman – Duke: Ambassador of Aloha” (8 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings). It’s quite fitting because its subject matter is literally larger than life.

This documentary makes it clear that Duke Kahanamoku is up to Jim Thorpe, Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson, sports legends who excelled in their fields while carrying the burden of breaking down racial barriers.

The film, and its subtitle, also assert that Kahanamoku embodied the spirit of the Hawaiian people, a notion of “aloha”, an openness to strangers that extended to a personal responsibility for the well-being of others.

Born in 1890, Kahanamoku would study and carry on the tradition of being a “waterman”, someone more at home in the ocean, fishing, swimming and surfing. His enormous size and giant hands and feet made Duke a natural swimmer. American competitors were amazed by his speed and the ease with which he broke world records.

But the advent of Americanization brought notions of racial segregation to the islands, and he was barred from some local clubs and competitions. Despite this, he would participate in many Olympic Games in the first three decades of the 20th century.

After aging from his Olympic glory, he would popularize surfing among Hawaiian tourists and rise to fame as the sport’s founding father. Almost incidental to his surfing prowess, he made headlines for saving lives. One day, when a boat capsized off Newport Beach, he saved eight passengers from drowning and then hid from the press, so as not to draw attention to himself. His life-saving use of a surfboard would be adopted by beach rescue teams from that day forward.

During the 1920s, his island fame and Olympic stature brought him to Hollywood, where his height, laid-back manner and brawn might have made him a natural star (think Momoa or Dwayne Johnson), but his skin dark kept him in little parts or menial roles. Ironically, he would see his 1924 Olympic rival, Johnny Weissmuller, achieve the fame he had been denied, starring in countless “Tarzan” movies as the white man grew into a noble savage.

Kahanamoku would also see his beloved sport of surfing co-opted by the Beach Boys, “Gidget” and others in the 1950s and 1960s. He had no bitterness for his many imitators, even as he faced the prospect of old age without a lot of money in the bank.

Much of the footage in this informative biography comes from a 1957 episode of “This Is Your Life,” hosted by Ralph Edwards. There, Kahanamoku meets some of his teammates and adversaries from the 1912 Olympics, shakes hands with some of the men he saved from drowning, and embraces Weissmuller like a brother.

A heart attack would cost him his life some 10 years later. He received a royal beachside memorial service, covered in a special hosted by longtime radio and TV star Arthur Godfrey. It was seen as a fitting send-off for a man considered the father of surfing and Hawaii’s unofficial ambassador.

The fact that his memory subsequently faded into obscurity is curious – an oversight that this “American master” hopes to correct.

TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

• Mules and Men on “FBI” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• On the two-part season finale of “Naomi” (CW, TV-PG): Interplanetary Visions (7 p.m.); an extraterrestrial entity has a personal grudge (8 p.m.).

• A sniper attack against “FBI: International” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• A shot for Rebecca on “This Is Us” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

• A sick killer recreates past homicides in “FBI: Most Wanted” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

• Max seizes on Fuentes’ intentions on “New Amsterdam” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

• A fading star in “Who Do You Believe?” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

Nicolas Cage, Elizabeth McGovern and Sean Penn star in the 1984 drama “Racing With the Moon” (7 p.m., TMCX), director Richard Benjamin’s evocation of the early months of World War II.

Hawaiian intrigue on “Young Rock” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-14) … Andrew McCarthy guest-stars on “The Resident” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14) … “Holey Moley” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG) … The recall campaign continues on “Mr. Mayor” (7:30 p.m., NBC, TV-PG) … “Name That Tune” (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG) … “The Chase” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

Jimmy Fallon welcomes Mandy Moore and the kids to the lobby on “The Tonight Show” (10:34 p.m., NBC) … Drew Barrymore, Rose Leslie, Mo Amer and Derrick Wright visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (11:37 p.m., NBC) .

“Okay, that was weird. The least anticipated story of the week was the scandal involving Felicity Huffman (“Desperate Housewives”) and “When Calls the Heart” star Lori Loughlin (7 p.m. Sunday, Hallmark, TV-G), in a bribery plot / cheating to get their respective daughters into elite universities.

This is obviously an ongoing case, and all parties must have their say, or one day, in court. But the motivation at the center of this story is worth discussing. It implies an overwhelming need to do anything to get children into elite schools. As if something “less” was unthinkable.

Television plays a significant role in this insecurity. I can’t remember how many times I’ve had to describe an ABC legal drama where every character hails from the most exclusive Ivy and spends most of the pilot bragging about it.

There was a time, not too long ago, when John Grisham wrote best-selling books about barely credentialed young lawyers from anonymous institutions who took on impossible cases against big corporations and ultimately won. And I got the girl, to boot.

Thus, the neurotic obsession of our present age with elitism and inequality is hardly entrenched.

If anything stands out from this sordid affair, it’s an appreciation that shoddy efforts at snobbery are still essentially pathetic. Or on classic TV, comedy. Watching “Gilligan’s Island,” we identified with Mary Ann and the Skipper, and felt sorry for the millionaire and his wife.

— CNN debuts the four-hour documentary “Tricky Dick” (8 p.m., Sunday), chronicling the life and times of Richard Nixon’s public career, which spanned decades from the dawn of the Cold War to the Clinton years.

— An anxious new mother joins a solidarity and support group, only to find he has darker plans on his agenda in shock 2019 “Mommy Group Murder” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

– The Thunder and Warriors meet in NBA action (7:30 p.m., ABC).

— A former kidnapper returns to form on “Ransom” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

— Program on “60 Minutes” (6 p.m., CBS): embassy employees in China and Cuba complain of mysterious ailments; AOL founder Steve Case and his plans to invest in the future of neglected small towns in America; a visit to Monaco.

— The duels begin on “World of Dance” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

— Auditions continue on “American Idol” (7 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

– Lex Luthor is free on “Supergirl” (7 p.m., CW, TV-PG).

— Mr. Wednesday prepares for battle on “American Gods” (7 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

— After discovering her royal lineage, an adopted 10-year-old girl becomes a little bully in the 2019 clash “Mommy’s Little Princess” (7 p.m., Lifetime, TV-14).

— A secret room harbors dangers on “Charmed” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14).

— Hidden secrets revealed in “The Walking Dead” (8 p.m., AMC, TV-MA).

— A new trial continues on “The Case Against Adnan Syed” (8 p.m., HBO, TV-14).

– Ax is determined to destroy Taylor in the fourth-season premiere of “Billions” (8 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

– Ulysses pursues a conspiracy theory on “Now Apocalypse” (8 p.m., Starz, TV-MA).

— “Unsung” (8 p.m., TVONE) portrays the Jets.

— Peaceful openings on “Madame la secretary” (9 p.m., CBS, TV-PG).

— The tension mounts on “Good Girls” (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

— Mo’s past is revealed on “Black Monday” (9 p.m., Showtime, TV-MA).

— St. Patrick’s Day inspires many traditions. Syfy offers a marathon of “Leprechaun” movies, from “Leprechaun 5: In the Hood” (Saturday 4 p.m., TV-14) to “Leprechaun 2” (8 p.m.). TCM takes the traditional approach, ladling the Technicolor blarney from director John Ford’s 1952 romance “The Quiet Man” (7 p.m. Sunday, TV-PG).

“Dateline” (7 p.m., NBC, TV-PG)… “NBA Countdown” (7 p.m., ABC)… The kids are fine on “MasterChef” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-PG)…” 48 Hours” (9 p.m., CBS) … A vintage portion of “Saturday Night Live” (9 p.m., NBC, r, TV-14).

A visit from an old friend inspires Miles in “God Friended Me” (7 p.m., CBS, TV-PG)… Homer can’t leave Bart’s virtual kingdom in “The Simpsons” (7 p.m., Fox, TV-14 ) … Empathy for all things on “Bob’s Burgers” (7:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

A walk down the aisle on “NCIS: Los Angeles” (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14)… On two episodes of “Family Guy” (Fox, TV-14), Meg’s Winter Olympics ( 8 p.m.), the fights on a dowager (8:30 p.m., r)… Aches on “Shark Tank” (9 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

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