Saturday, November 27, 2010

Now THIS was a parade!

Being in New York for the Macy’s parade was special. But 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.  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 (at least I think it's still on). 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.


Dave Mackey said...

It's not Eubanks any more, Ken... the 2010 telecast is being hosted by Erik Estrada and Laura McKenzie.

There was a time when NBC telecast the parade... briefly, a few years ago... didn't do too well, so the parade organizers went back to the old model of syndicating it.

Michael said...

I wish somebody would show the Mummers in Philadelphia--great costumes, great string bands.

What drives me batty about parade coverage was, for example, Thursday's Macy's parade. Two people reading bad jokes, badly written, instead of just saying, here's this float by so-and-so, and then--a nod to Vin Scully--just shutting up!

Matt Patton said...

Bette Davis within 100 yards of real people? More the stuff of a haunted house than a Christmas parade.

Anonymous said...

Is it televised in color, or in living color?

Anonymous said...

@Michael: Have you been to the Mummers parade? It starts at dawn, lasts for three days and then the string bands parade down the street. Not really geared to Tv--but people should grab a soft pretzel and stand in the freezing cold and see the Mummers once in their life. They'd never watch any other parade again without thinking, "They call this a parade?"

Debby G said...

I used to go to the Hollywood Parade as a kid. AND Monty whatshisface showed my Brownie troop his lasso tricks. Good times.

James said...

I watched in the early 70s when I was a kid, and I remember most of the same stuff. That and the poor reindoor, which looked like a lab experiment in cross-breeding a deer with a coyote. It's 75 degrees and its pelt is patchy and it looks like it hasn't eaten in 3 weeks. The Southern California climate just doesn't fit.

frankie said...

I am a Valley Girl and grew up in the same time period. Gypsy Boots was one crazy person who ate healthy. He kind of scared me. The Hollywood Ranch Market was a place we stayed away from even if it was featured on The Steve Allen Show, which was done across the street. Now the ranch market is a parking lost. Sad.

Anonymous said...

Hollywood Lane Parade

TV Showtimes
Hallmark Channel
Friday, December 10, 2010 – 8 AM

Hallmark Movie Channel
Friday, December 10, 2010 – 8 PM

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 – 8 PM

Buttermilk Sky said...

The Mummers Parade, or part of it, is usually on WGN. Makes the San Francisco Pride Parade look like a funeral procession.

I remember Gypsy Boots from Steve Allen's Westinghouse show. With all that healthy eating, I assume he's still alive and marching.

Didn't Bette Davis organize the Hollywood Canteen during the war? I assume all those servicemen count as "real people."

Cap'n Bob said...

Whitey was played by Stanley "Tiger" Fafara. He had one of those sad Hollywood Kid Actor stories: drugs, booze, and homelessness. He died in Portland, Oregon, a few years ago. From all accounts he was a nice guy but couldn't get it together.

Monty Montana had a recent touch of fame when a guy entered the PAWN STARS shop to sell some of Monty's memerobilia. I wish my old shirts were that valuable.

D. McEwan said...

In 1987 & 1988, I lived in an apartment building on Van Ness half a block north of Sunset (It was where the empty field on your right as you exit the Hollywood Freeway southbound at Sunset is now. It was featured in the movie PULP FICTION.)

Now many will recognize Sunset & Van Ness as the starting point of the Hollywood Christmas Parade. In those two years I came to LOATHE that parade. Imagine your neighborhood invaded by a million people. It was on Sunday, but if I drove anywhere later than Friday afternoon, FORGET about parking again closer than two miles to my home. When I trudged home from my handy parking spot in Silverlake, there was Santa's float (which you described quite accurately) parked in my normal parking spot in front of my home. It was HELL!

During the parade, I went downstairs and watched it. (If I remember rightly, James Stewart was still in it then, but everyone else was from TV, local TV, and from radio, though they did have the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation in full costume, and for the Klingon, make-up.) But my roommate stayed up in the apartment and watched it on TV. To me, that was the height of apathy, watching on TV an event that he could have seen live just looking out the damn window, or stepping outside the front door.

I worked with Gypsy Boots on radio a number of times. He was very sweet, but he was nuts. That was no act. He was nuts.

I recently saw an old episode of Groucho's You Bet Your Life with Gypsy as a contestant when he was young, and somewhat less extreme in his insanity. What shocked me was that, young, he was really good looking and well-built. Damn it. He was sexy. His sex appeal was long, long gone by the first of the many times I met him.

But Gypsy was impossible to not like. He was crazy, but he was a good fellow at heart.

Bill Welsh. What a staple of early LA TV he was. He had some live daytime show in the early 1950s that involved interviewing and dealing with (and herding) housewives in supermarket parking lots. My mother used to love to tell of seeing me, at about age 5 or 6, using a tire iron for a microphone, walking about our driveway saying stuff like: "This way, ladies." and realizing I was playing at being Bill Welsh. Reach for the stars!

Matt Patton said...

Buttermilk Sky:

You're right -- Bette Davis and John Garfield did organize the Hollywood Canteen for soldiers, and both of them spent a lot of time volunteering their time there. It was a needless crack. And boy did those soldiers count as real people.

escalante blogger said...

That's an awesome event for them. Hope to be a celebrity also in the future. :-)

Dave said...

One of Gypsy Boots's sons was my musical director for a production of "Guys and Dolls" last year. A sweeter, more normal guy you'd be hard-pressed to find.

DodgerGirl said...

My favorite moment was in 2004 when Sofia Milos was riding in a float with Sheriff Baca that promoted Scientology's drug rehab program. The broadcast team cut her off pretty quickly.

Mike Bauman said...

This year's parade gave us Dick Van Dyke, Rip Taylor, Corbin Bernsen, and a whole bunch of 13-year olds named Ashley from Disney Channel programs.

I had the pleasure of standing next to a large group of drunk people who, whenever one of these unknown-to-us teen stars rode by, yelled "Who the fuck are you?"

D. McEwan said...

" Mike Bauman said...
I had the pleasure of standing next to a large group of drunk people who, whenever one of these unknown-to-us teen stars rode by, yelled 'Who the fuck are you?'

You've brought a sentimental tear to my eye. That's what Christmas means to me.