Saturday, November 03, 2007

Another (tradition) bites the dust...sort of

Sad news (with a silver lining) from Hollywood, especially for an old parade-goer like myself.

I see in an article in today's Los Angeles Times, via Yahoo!News, that after a close call the Hollywood Christmas Parade, now to be known as the Hollywood Santa Parade, will go on on the traditional Sunday after Thanksgiving.

However, it will be much scaled back and will no longer be produced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce after it washed its hand of the event after last year's parade lost $100,000. It has been rescued by the Los Angeles City Council, via council president Eric Garcetti, who represents the area of the parade route along Hollywood Boulevard, Highland Avenue and Sunset Boulevard. Garcetti, who got the council to act after protests from a private group which formed after it was announced that the parade would not go on this year, was quoted in the article as saying that he "couldn't in good conscience let die" at least in part because it is "one of the last free things families can do."

The plan is to build the parade back up to its former glory, but this year's parade will be just a shadow of its former self, with thirty-five bands signed up so far, plus some floats and equestrian units. Retired "Price Is Right" host Bob Barker has signed on, as has the cast of Disney's "High School Musical", slim pickings for a parade that once boasted the participation of some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. In fact, one of the reasons the parade was not able to make money recently was because broadcasters lost interest in showing the parade once ratings began to fall once "A-list" stars became more reluctant to appear in the parade. Much of the parade's revenues have come from broadcast fees.

Apparently the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce hasn't completely deserted the idea of a Christmas parade and is urging its members to support this year's parade. It is also offered use of signs and parade workers' vests if the new group putting the parade together, Pageantry Productions. Also, the Chamber has said it will consider letting the parade use the name "Hollywood Christmas Parade" in future years if this year's parade is of high enough quality.

This is all very sad for me. Growing up in Southern California, my family attended the parade several times in the early 1970s, when it was still known as the "Santa Claus Lane Parade" (which prompted Gene Autry to record the Christmas classic "Here Comes Santa Claus" know: "Here comes Santa Claus/Here comes Santa Claus/Right down Santa Claus Lane"). It was sort of the official end of the Thanksgiving weekend and the beginning of the Christmas Season.

I've got some lovely memories of going out on a cool (well, usually) winter evening to see the bands and the floats and the stars...who still participated in numbers at that time. There would be everyone from the old-time stars like Bob Hope to the casts of many of the network TV series then current. I'll never forget one time when the two elderly ladies next to my family on the parade route (I'd say they were probably in their seventies at the time) were there in their finest clothes, evening make-up and nicest jewelry, so excited because Cesar Romero was going to be in the parade that year. They were very cute ladies, just like a couple of teenagers. During the years I went to the parade, the tradition was that Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner (then on their second marriage to each other) and their children rode on the last float of the parade...with Santa Claus on his sleigh.

It was just a fun time. Not the big production the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day in Pasadena is, but a nice hometown Christmas's just that the hometown happened to be Hollywood and lots of the participants were very, very famous.

I hope the new version of the parade succeeds. I hope that the Hollywood community returns to participation in the coming years. I'd hate to know that this part of my growing up wasn't there any more.

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