Photo: Santa Claus Lane, shown in a postcard on EBay, listed as Buy It Now for $8.50.
On Sunday night, Hollywood residents will see the 80th Hollywood Christmas Parade, called the Hollywood Santa Parade, telecast live on the Hallmark Channel, and scheduled to be repeated throughout the next couple of weeks. Created by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 1928 as a way to boost holiday shopping on Thanksgiving weekend, the Hollywood Christmas Parade has endured for over 83 years under a variety of names. The first parade, called the Santa Claus Lane Parade, featured Jeanette Loff, Santa Claus, and a few floats. Its older cousin, the downtown Los Angeles Christmas parade, attracted tens of thousands and featured elaborate floats, like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, started by the New York Department store to increase sales.
The Hollywood parade quickly caught on, and employed film stars and celebrities to help attract crowds. In 1934, actors Evelyn Venable and Kent Taylor pressed the switch that illuminated the Christmas wreaths and trees down a mile and a half of Hollywood Boulevard between Vine Street and La Brea Avenue. Even then the parade featured elaborate equestrian teams, drill teams, and bands, including the USC Trojan Band. They promised that Santa would ride the entire route in his sleigh every night until Christmas.
In 1936, Bette Davis switched on the lights, and Mary Pickford cut the ribbon at Hollywood Boulevard and Argyle Avenue to start the parade. According to The Los Angeles Times on Nov. 28, 1936, “Heading the parade will be Victor McLaglen and his famous Lighthorse Troop, with Tom Mix and Leo Carrillo. Riding with Santa Claus will be Edmund Lowe and Miss Davis.”
The 1940 parade featured Roy Rogers as grand marshal, with Dorothy Lamour and Rudy Vallee riding with Santa, with Vallee singing Christmas carols. Charlie McCarthy wore an Army Air Corps uniform, escorted by Edgar Bergen. Rochester chauffeured Jack Benny in his old car, followed by Don Wilson on a horse. George Burns and Gracie Allen rode the “Nut House” comic float, while Bob Hope and Jerry Colonna rode in a decorated car. Other stars appearing included Fanny Brice, Connie Boswell, Bob Burns, and Fibber McGee and Molly, who rode in what the paper called “the parade of stars.”
Dec. 4, 1929: Santa Claus and his reindeer on Hollywood Boulevard.
When Gene Autry rode in the 1946 parade, he supposedly heard kids shouting, “Here Comes Santa Claus, Here Comes Santa Claus,” which inspired him to write the perennial Christmas song.
The parade was even featured in the 1951 film “Hollywood Story,” a film noir about a film producer (Richard Conte) investigating a long-ago Hollywood scandal and murder which threatens his life.
An estimated 500,000 people viewed the parade in 1956, which featured Red Skelton as grand marshal, with Eva Gabor, Tony Curtis, Glenn Ford, Donna Reed, and Richard Egan also appearing. The parade didn’t feature the lighted trees, as the Fire Department condemned the wiring as unsafe. While supposedly more than 150 stars of film, television, and radio participated in the 1958 parade, celebrity wattage was dimming, with Robert Cummings, Francis X. Bushman, Betty White, and J. Carroll Naish among the big names.
Renamed the Hollywood Christmas parade in 1978, it was broadcast locally by KTLA-TV Channel 5. A 2004 special on NBC about the parade flopped, eventually leading to the parade’s demise. In 2005, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced it would discontinue airing the parade on KTLA and its other affiliates because of operating costs. After losing $100,000 on the 2006 parade which featured few celebrities, the chamber canceled it in March 2007. Later that year, the city and county of Los Angeles created a new parade to replace it.