Harold Lloyd’s float in the electrical parade, courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Long before the Walt Disney Co. began presenting an electrical parade at its parks, Los Angeles offered electrical parades as part of the city’s grand La Fiesta de las Flores celebrations. In 1931, the motion picture industry presented its own lavish spectacular, a glorious, over-the-top affair that only 1930s Hollywood could produce, called Motion Picture Night and the Parade of Jewels.
Los Angeles began celebrating La Fiesta de Las Flores in the 1890s as a way to boost civic pride and awareness as well as lure tourist dollars. Floats, bands and equestrian groups decorated with flowers took part in the event. An evening electrical parade highlighted each fiesta, lending a magical aura to festivities.
Paramount’s entry in the parade from Motion Picture magazine.
The group that organized the yearly event proposed to go all out for the September 1931 celebrations, the sesquicentennial of the founding of the City of the Angels on Sept. 4, 1781. To make it even more special, the committee chose the name Fiesta de Los Angeles in recognition of the city’s birthday.
As Chairman Isidore Dockweiler stated to the Los Angeles Times, “In selecting this name, we are preserving the value of its historic association as the name of colorful celebrations held here with great civic enthusiasm in the ‘90s, and it has also the virtues of attractiveness and brevity.”
In order to legally obtain financing from the city for the event, the committee appeared before Los Angeles’ City Council on Feb. 26, 1931, offering to create advertising promoting the celebration for $75,000. The council heartily gave its approval.
The committee pointed out “that the celebration will mean much to the city in the way of advertising its charms, assets and accomplishments.” They would accomplish this task by publishing advertising, articles, brochures, pamphlets and booklets promoting the September event and the city, especially its Spanish heritage. Most events would feature a Spanish connection.
Events scheduled for the Sept. 4-12 event included ceremonies at the Plaza officially opening the celebration, an old-timers’ dinner at the Ambassador Hotel, a coronation ball at the Biltmore Hotel, fiesta and fandangos at the Plaza, Avila Adobe and Pico House, a parade presenting the history of California transportation, a parade depicting the history of the Los Angeles Harbor at the harbor, a rodeo at the Coliseum, program at San Gabriel’s Mission Playhouse honoring the local missions, a Spanish barbecue at Griffith Park, a Spanish California operetta on City Hall’s steps, a Venice water carnival, an air show at Los Angeles Municipal Airport and a motion picture ball and parade.
In the summer, the committee made two special announcements concerning what they called “Motion Picture Night,” the Friday, Sept. 11 motion picture electrical parade and festivities at the Coliseum. All money raised that night would be turned over by the fiesta committee to the Motion Picture Relief Fund to benefit those in need.
On Aug. 9, the committee reported that the “billion dollar turnout” on Sept. 11 would feature motion picture star Harold Lloyd as grand marshal. Interviewed by The Times, Lloyd stated, “Naturally I am honored in being asked to serve as grand marshal of the motion-picture parade. The entire colony will contribute the very best in entertainment and spectacular as well as novel forms of entertainment.”
On Aug. 12, the committee announced that the Western Assn. of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS) would introduce new baby stars at the event after a three-year hiatus. The next day, the Los Angeles Times ran photos of all the beautiful honorees: Joan Blondell, Rochelle Hudson, Anita Louise, Sydney Fox, Joan Marsh, Marion Shilling, Frances Dee, Judith Wood, Barbara Weeks, Karen Morley, Frances Dade, Constance Cummings and Marian Marsh.
A photo of the First National float is listed on EBay as Buy It Now for $17.47.
Overflow crowds surrounded the Coliseum Sept. 11, 1931, drawn by the promised appearances of a galaxy of Hollywood stars. More than 20,000 people stood outside unable to enter, as ticket sales overwhelmed seat capacity.
The fiesta’s program for the evening played up the spectacular evening to come. “All of the infinite resources of the great motion picture industry have been drawn upon to make this event a crowning feature of the La Fiesta celebration. Here, in a superb setting tonight you will witness the wizardry of studio electrical engineers through whose untiring efforts the pageant of jewels is made possible. Likewise through the cooperation of the producers, stars, technicians and others of Los Angeles’ famous picture studios, the field show and illuminated parade will offer a combined spectacle that could not possibly be duplicated elsewhere in the world.”
Per Waldo T. Tupper, managing director of the fiesta, the parade would form outside the Coliseum with float lights off. Once inside, entrants would be illuminated in dazzling brightness.
The program staged by Fanchon and Marco featured a Who’s Who of Hollywood. At 7 p.m., a concert by mass bands from the American Federation of Musicians opened the preliminary events of the Assn. of Motion Picture Producers’ sponsored production. Exhibition trick riding by cowboy stars Tim McCoy, Buck Jones, Ken Maynard and others, sponsored by actor Richard Barthelmess, followed at 7:20 p.m. At 7:30 p.m., rodeo contest winners took part in an exhibition sponsored by Victor McLaglen and Edmund Lowe. Comic team Bert Wheeler and Robert Woolsey sponsored an appearance by “The Great Lorenzo,” a straitjacket escape artist, at 7:40 p.m.
Five minutes later, a short polo game umpired by Hal Roach occurred, with Will Rogers, John Cromwell, Darryl Zanuck and Raymond Griffith taking part. WAMPAS President John Leroy Johnston and hostess Dolores del Rio presented the WAMPAS Baby Stars to the public at 8:15 p.m., followed at 8:40 p.m. by the Los Angeles motorcycle police trick riding team, sponsored by George Bancroft. At 8:50, Douglas Fairbanks, Bill Lewis, Chuck Lewis and Selmer Chalinf would perform the game of “Doug,” a quicker version of racquetball created by Fairbanks, sponsored by Mary Pickford.
Starting at 9 p.m. the Pageant of Jewels was broadcast on the radio, with William Ray of KFWB as chief announcer, John Medbury as master of ceremonies, and Conrad Nagel and William Coller Sr. providing commentary.
Parade participants even overshadowed preliminary guests. A military band trumpeting festive marches stepped off proceedings. Grand Marshal Harold Lloyd followed, with illuminated automobiles escorting Gov. James Rolph, Los Angeles Mayor John Porter and San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi, M. C. Levee and other organizers, Tupper, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, Richard Dix and Irene Dunne, Jack Holt and Evelyn Brent, Billie Dove, Lowe and Lilyan Tashman, Marilyn Miller and Barthelmess, Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell, Ann Harding, Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Carole Lombard and William Powell, Lew Ayres and Genevieve Tobin, and Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, with Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper bringing up the rear.
Pageant of Jewels’ elegant floats arrayed with spectacular light displays and a bevy of beautiful girls came next, separated by occasional bands. Studio and local floats appeared in the following order: Howard Hughes Productions, Educational Studios, Hal Roach Studios, Columbia Studios, Burbank Power and Light, RKO Studios, RKO-Pathe Studios, Christie Studios, Harold Lloyd, United Artists, MGM, Paramount-Publix, Warner Bros., First National, Fox Film Corp., Universal Pictures Co., Fox West Coast Theatres, L. A. Examiner Comedy Strip, Martha Washington and Samuel Goldwyn Inc. Electrical engineers were acknowledged by name following each entered float.
A patriotic finale followed, with the presentation of colors from the Goodyear Blimp. Massed bands and drill teams played for the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The Los Angeles Times called the event, “One of the most brilliant in the city’s history” in the Sept. 12 edition of the paper, accompanied by photographs of each of the studio floats. The paper called the Harold Lloyd float one of the most conspicuous, and described Warner Bros. Art Deco float as a symbolic representation of the growth of the city of Los Angeles. The Hughes Co. presented an elegant Venice gondola as its float, Universal’s featured a giant meteor, and the Goldwyn float contained a giant camera.
Motion Picture’s October 1931 issue announced that the Motion Picture Night drew huge profits, which allowed the whole Fiesta de Los Angeles to end up in the black. Some attendees were disappointed that Maynard refused to perform his riding act, and that the game of “Doug” was canceled when Fairbanks’ partner failed to show up.
The film industry soon requested that the profits of the night be turned over for the Motion Picture Relief Fund, but the committee refused to answer. By November, studios gave up on receiving anything for those in need during the dark days of the Depression.
While the city hoped to repeat the event before the 1932 Olympics, the film industry refused over the lack of charitable payment. Photos were taken of the dazzling floats, but they were soon dismantled. Like flowers, the floats bloomed for only a short time before being tossed on the rubbish heap. Decades later, the Walt Disney Co. emulated the Pageant of Jewels with its own miniature electrical parade at its theme parks.