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!!