Monday, November 20, 2006

The Santa Claus Lane Parade

When I was a kid growing up in LA, the Thanksgiving weekend always began Wednesday night with the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade down Hollywood Blvd. I looked forward to it every year. Unlike parades with elaborate floats and impressive marching bands, this had Hollywood B-actors, second bananas, local fringe celebrities riding in cars with their names hand painted on the sides, and a few 100 year old guys from an American Legion Post playing trombones. The big finale was the arrival of Santa Claus, usually on a float that looked like a Cub Scout project gone horribly wrong.

The parade began in 1928 as a way to lure shoppers to Hollywood. In the 30’s and 40’s big stars would participate. It was the only time Bette Davis would get within a hundred yards of real people. In 1946, the parade inspired Gene Autry to write “Here Comes Santa Claus, Right Down Santa Clause Lane”.

By the 50’s the luster had worn off and instead of Natalie Wood you’d see the kid who played Whitey on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. Once Bing Crosby was the Grand Marshal. By the late 50’s it was Oscar Levant who by then had a local TV talk show on KCOP, Channel 13. I was never sure if he was waving to the crowd or just having another seizure.

The parade was always televised locally on KTTV, Channel 11 in black-and-white, hosted by Bill Welsh. He’d interview all the “stars” as they passed. That was my favorite part. How do you ask Gypsy Boots what his next project was with a straight face? Gypsy Boots was a local health nut who dressed ridiculously and did anything he could to draw attention to himself. He was the Melrose Larry of his day. His next “project”??? Appear in next year’s parade.

Bill once asked Monty Montana, who had appeared in a bunch of B Westerns, what his next project was? His answer: giving a lasso demonstration at a local elementary school.

I was nine years old. I found this hysterical. Tomorrow I would watch the Macy’s Parade and there would be the original Broadway cast of WEST SIDE STORY, elaborate floats, a 200 member marching band from Ohio State, and those magnificent giant balloons. But tonight I was seeing Bill Welsh ask Iron Eyes Cody about his new book.

I never actually went to the Santa Claus Lane Parade. My parents were not about to wade through a million people so I could see local newscaster, George Putnam, on a horse. But I didn’t care. It was a TV event anyway.

The parade has been renamed the Hollywood Lane Parade and is now on Sunday night. And KTLA, Channel 5 televises it with Bob Eubanks and usually Lee Meriwether. It’s in color. It’s syndicated. It’s not as good. But every so often there’s a flash of the parade’s past cheesy greatness. The 2000 Co-Grand Marshals were Frankie Muniz and Dennis Hopper.

I love holiday traditions. Happy Thanksgiving!!

19 comments:

Mitch said...

Great column. It's just so hard for me to imagine Levant in that parade -- in any capacity (or incapacity).

Some of my colleagues in local tv have worked on those telecasts. They usually pull a pretty good number, so I guess it's still a good draw in L.A., at least.

I think the city of L.A. sees events like this as opportunities to add to the revenue base. Last year, scores of parade-goers had their cars towed.

Diane said...

You can always join us for the Belmont Shore Xmas parade the first Saturday in December - there generally are 2 actual floats sponsored by a local strip club and the gay and lesbian center to go along with the marching band and local politicians in convertibles. And, of course, Santa!

Douglas McEwan said...

From 1986-1989 I lived in a now-demolished apartment building on Van Ness, half a bock north of Sunset Boulevard - the apartment house in PULP FICTION. You'll notice that that intersection, 15 yards from my home, was the starting point for the Hollywood Christmas Parade. Oh, what joy. If I drove my car anywhere after two days before the parade, I wouldn't be able to park again within three miles of my home until about three hours after the parade ended. Santa's cheesy float was actually parked directly under my living room window for two days each year. You could hear Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards amplified voices coming through my window, in fact, you couldn't shut it out if, God forbid, I wanted to watch something else on TV.
My room mate would actually watch the parade on TV. This would make me nuts. It's happening RIGHT OUTSIDE! You could see it better from out the window (We were on the 4th floor) then on the TV, but he HAD to watch it on TV. I had to go outside and see it live. I just wasn't so far gone that I'd watch my own front yard on TV instead of in person. Look, there's Jaimy Farr! His next project is a Match Game reunion show. There's the cast of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, in make up and costume. Never thought I'd pity a Klingon. Look! The Grand Marshall is the corpse of Jimmy Stewart propped up in a car! His next project is decomposing. And there's all the rock jocks from various local radio stations. (KMPC was, after all, right across the street.)
I grew to hate that parade so much. Since moving out, I've never watched it again.
Yes, parades are fun, until they happen to YOU!

af said...

I hate this parade. With a passion. Everyone comes to park in my neighborhood and it's a complete disaster. Grrrrrr.

Caroline said...

Fun post. I love parades. But hate clowns. More parades with no clowns would be good.

Beth Ciotta said...

What a fabulous post! I loved reading this. Now I'll have a fun visual everytime I hear “Here Comes Santa Claus, Right Down Santa Clause Lane”.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Ken!

MassBile said...

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SharoneRosen said...

I loved the Santa Claus Lane Parade as a kid! So wonderfully cheesy! I haven't watched it in years... and yet, when I see the promos for it, I go all warm and gooey inside... and reach for the velveeta dip! George Putman on horseback... finest kind.

Herb Popsfarter said...

Hey, what's with the picture of Ron Perlman? Is that a scene from Quest for Fire?

J Lee said...

When Metromedia, KTTV's owner in the 1960s and 70s, began having its sister stations across the country air the Santa Claus Lane Parade on their stations, it always seemed a bit incongruious and some sort of attempt by Los Angeles to play catch-up to the Macy's Day Parade in New York (Hey, you people -- Isn't the Rose Parade being televised on four different channels on New Year's Day enough free publicity? Stop getting greedy!). It was kind of like the parade equivalent of what Ted Turner's Goodwill Games were to the Olympics.

Plus, back in ye olden days when Christmas hype really didn't begin until after the Thanksgiving parades were over, there was just something deeply, deeply wrong about having the first major yuletide event staged amid the palm trees of Los Angeles. Maybe if they had run the parade route through the San Gabriel Mountains during a freak November cold front the surroundings would have been a bit more appropriate, but for anyone watching outside the L.A. area who didn't have any background info, the SCLP came across as an event without a purpose.

zazupitts said...

One year when I was about 7 or 8, mom and dad took me to the parade, then decided to cruise Christmas Tree Lane - the street in the Valley - whose holiday decorations' electrical engergy consumption surpassed that of your average supernova. It was the electic company's favorite.

Anyway, after a hour of cruising the streets and snapping pix with his fancy new camera, dad climbed into our '56 Pontiac as mom taught me the first lesson of technical rehearsal. She said to him:

"Did you take off the lens cap?"

Dad didn't speak for a week...

zazupitts said...

One year when I was about 7 or 8, mom and dad took me to the parade, then decided to cruise Christmas Tree Lane - the street in the Valley - whose holiday decorations' electrical engergy consumption surpassed that of your average supernova. It was the electic company's favorite.

Anyway, after a hour of cruising the streets and snapping pix with his fancy new camera, dad climbed into our '56 Pontiac as mom taught me the first lesson of technical rehearsal. She said to him:

"Did you take off the lens cap?"

Dad didn't speak for a week...

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Hey, I'd love to have heard Whitey from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER being interviewed. Alas, he died last year in Portland, OR, after an adult life of drug abuse and homelessness.

Anonymous said...

Way to bring us down Bob.

Thanks......

EditThis said...

I really hate parades. Probably because I was in band as a kid and had to march in so many of them (you don't know marching in a parade until you do it with an electric bass). I have also found them to be more than just a little pathetic. Now, I live within a couple of blocks of the Rose Parade and can never even get out of bed in time to catch more than the tail end of it every year. And living that close, traffic blows on New Year's Day. Aah...happy holidays.

Ken Levine said...

Okay, if not Whitey then Lumpy. Someone in a supporting cast that is still alive so the joke works.

Benson said...

You mean Jerry Mathers didn't die in Vietnam?

And Ken Osmond isn't a porn star?

That's a lot to digest on this, the biggest eating holiday of the year.

Happy Happy!

Seymour said...

My parents must have loved me more than yours loved you, because in 1967 or 68 (Who remembers 40 years later?) they dragged my brothers and I out of bed at 3 AM on New Year's morning and drove us to Pasadena to see the Rose Parade live, so that I DID get to see George Putnam on a horse in person. I still have the 8mm movie dad shot that day, so my golden moment of seeing George on a horse in person survives in tiny home movie format. Oh, we also saw President Eisenhower roll by in a car, as he was grand marshall that year. That's also on our home movie. If someone had shot him, that film would be worth a fortune. That damn Zapruder bastard had all the luck.
Happy Thanksgiving one and all.

Lane Q said...

As a six-year old in 1955, I got the chance to ride in the parade. I remember throngs of people lining the sidewalk (although at the time I didn't know the word "throng"), and thinking to myself "Gee, this is keen but it's cold and I really gotta go pee". Another fond memory from my youth.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, Ken.