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Hawaii News| Obituaries

Manu Bentley, 87, danced hula and produced shows nationwide

  • COURTESY PHOTO

    Manu Bentley died June 6 at home at the age of 87.

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Gloria Manu Kanemura Bentley, known in the entertainment community as Manu Bentley, was a show biz hyphenate: dancer, choreographer, producer, director and costume designer. She died peacefully in her sleep at her home June 6 at age 87.

“She was just a memorable person, beautiful not just outside, but inside,” said husband Lon Bentley, a veteran makeup artist who worked for Tom Selleck. “I will always remember her calmness and her patience, and, of course, her understanding and her beauty.”

Manu Bentley staged and appeared in a range of shows, from Honolulu to New York to Florida.

Her dance repertoire included hula, Tahitian and even Hindu on one occasion and has appeared on such national TV shows as “Today” and “The Jack Paar Special.”

“The night she died, she was watching TV and having a good time; I gave her her medicine, and when I went to see how she was later, she had died,” said Bentley.

“She had been in pain for 30 years, with five cancer operations, a double mastectomy, and surgeries in her hip, spine, and knees. She is at peace now.”

While attending the University of Hawaii, Manu Bentley was the soloist at the original Don the Beachcomber’s, performing Hawaiian and Tahitian dances. In later years, she danced with Ed Kenney at Duke Kahanamoku’s at the original International Market Place, the Martin Denny Show at the Kahala Hilton, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel’s Monarch Room, and was headliner of her own revue at the Peacock Room of the Queen Kapiolani Hotel.

On the mainland, she was featured at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and produced her own shows at the Lexington Hotel in New York, and the Yankee Clipper Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“She was the star of the show at the Queen Kapiolani Hotel in 1972,” recalled Joe Recap, a veteran singer- emcee who is married to Shirley Namakahulali Kanemura Recca, Manu’s sister. “I was asked to come and watch the show, and maybe get involved. Shirley was (on) stage; the show was exquisite, gorgeously costumed, just like Manu, professional all the way. Anytime we’ve gotten together as family, she was well put-together, from head to toe. She always looked like she was going to a gig, with nice makeup and jewelry. And yes, I did emcee and sing in this show.”

Her sister Shirley, also a hula dancer, said Manu was a good mentor.

“Once, when she was dancing with Martin Denny (the exotica music king), she wanted me to take her place because she had to go to California, and I had to learn eight numbers, but I was so nervous, I declined.” Drummer Frankie Kim, a Denny musician at the time, urged Shirley to take the gig. “So I ended up touring with Martin.”

Shirley said Manu accomplished a lot in her lifetime.

“Lei Becker asked her to come to the Lexington Hotel, where Kui Lee (the late singer-composer) was her sidekick. “Everywhere she went, he went, too.”

Her beauty and hospitality wowed the Hollywood crowd. At one point, Shirley and Manu “did Hindu dancing for Carlo Ponti (the late Italian producer- director, and husband of actress Sophia Loren), of all things.”

“Manu Kanemura Bentley lives on in the trade winds of her beloved Hawaii and in the hearts of those who will always love her,” said daughter Teina Lucas.

The Bentleys were neighbors of actor Tom Selleck at Black Point in the heyday of the CBS series, “Magnum P.I.,” and the star and the Bentleys became good friends.

Manu met and befriended a host of showbiz couples, including the Robert Wagners, the Larry Manettis, and TV icons such as Carol Burnett and Linda Evans.

Besides her husband and sister, survivors include their three children, Teina Lucas, Derek Bentley, Carrie (Kona) Bentley; and brother Jack Kanemura of Mississippi.

Services will be held from 10 am. to 2 p.m. July 14 at Oahu Cemetery, 2162 Nuuanu Ave. Her ashes will be scattered off the Elks Club in Waikiki on July 19, which would have been Manu Bentley’s 88th birthday.

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