The view down Hollywood Boulevard in 2014. Photograph by Mary Mallory.
Photo: Santa Claus Lane, shown in a postcard on EBay, listed as Buy It Now for $8.50.
Note: The 87th Hollywood Christmas Parade, with Nancy O’Dell as grand marshal, is Sunday beginning at 5 p.m. This is an encore post from 2011, with an update from 2014.
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.
Mary Mallory’s latest book, “Living With Grace: Life Lessons From America’s Princess,” is now on sale.
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.
Team Lasky. Photograph by Mary Mallory.
A month ago, I received an opportunity to take part in the Santa Claus Lane/Hollywood Christmas Parade myself on November 30, 2014. I volunteered to be part of an entry saluting Jesse L. Lasky’s producing “The Squaw Man” at Selma and Vine in Hollywood in 1914, the first feature length film made in the area. I helped carry the banner describing the group along the parade route.
We arrived for rehearsal this afternoon at 3, set up in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard at Orange Street, the official starting point of the parade. Our group consisted of the banner, Western reenacters dressed in period clothes, some performing rope and other tricks behind us, a Vintage truck resembling the one employed by Cecil B. DeMille and crew when making the film, and another lovely vintage 1920s-1930s convertible to carry family members. Acrobats and jumpers performed tricks between the cars. Because we were one of the longest entries, and consisted of different parts, they wanted to time us coming by the camera, to ensure that we hit our mark to match the script. During our rehearsal, we saw Stevie Wonder and band rehearse for the schedule concert for VIPs to proceed the parade.
The production company called for places at 5:30, having pushed the time of the parade for the finish of rain showers, and to hold the planned concert before the parade start. As it continued to drizzle and rain, organizers pushed the concert until after the parade conclusion, and announced start time as six. When we exited the Roosevelt Hotel to our starting point, many of us saw Johnny Depp and young son standing in front of the hotel, along the parade barricade. He allowed a few to take photos with him.
While we waited, showers strengthened, soaking us. As they slowed down around six, organizers decided to get the show on the road. They stuffed the U.S. Marine Corps band in front of us to lead off festivities, with the group marching to the camera on the red carpet and performing two numbers. Confusion reigned as the giant Nutcracker King balloon was supposed to be entry three, but deflation problems led organizers to put us next, especially when they couldn’t find Grand Marshal Stevie Wonder and his car, who were supposed to be entry two. As the parade event was being taped for later broadcast, organizers could not stop to reorganize entries or
Our group stepped off, with another woman and I carrying the banner down the intensely lit red carpet as the group marched behind us. Western performers mosied down the carpet, followed by a silent film director and cameraman pretending to shoot performances of the acrobats. As we approached the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue, vintage police cars from the LA Police Historical Museum like the ones in “Adam-12” and Car 54” pulled in front of us, as did several vintage fire trucks, all with sirens and lights blazing.
Thought it continued a slight drizzle, we happily marched down the middle of the street, following the glaring lights, waving at people. In the old days, crowds could easily line the streets, numbers deep, straining to catch a glimpse of the parade. These days, Hallmark Television and KTLA broadcast the parade, making it easier to watch from home instead. Drizzle and hard steady rain prevented others from attending as well. While crowds seemed to line Hollywood Boulevard, few watched from Vine Street or Sunset Boulevard, with some blocks holding only a handful of people.
A c. 1929 Lincoln touring car used in the parade . Photograph by Mary Mallory.
Security issues have forced changes as well. Whereas early decades saw people crowding to the corners, lining streets, coming and going, today, security concerns led to an increased police presence. Police with dogs came in and sniffed around the bleachers lining Hollywood Boulevard in front of the Graunman’s TCL Chinese and mall before the parade stepped off. A massive police presence guarded the route, with 4-5 police officers each lining Hollywood Boulevard from Hollywood and Highland all the way to Vine Street. Cops and traffic officers thinned out along Vine Street and Orange, standing at attention at important intersections, or buildings like the CNN Tower, Hollywood Athletic Club, Crossroads of the World, and the Cat and the Fiddle. Motorcycle cops patrolled near the beginning of the route, and drove through part of it After the problems with Ferguson, Missouri and other events around the world, police kept a sharp eye out for any would be terrorist acts.
Everyone loves a parade, and many children and adults happily waved at us and wished us a Merry Christmas, as we waved in return. It was a glorious and fun time entertaining people, enjoying the colorful sights along historic Hollywood streets
In past decades, major movie stars like Bette Davis, Mary Pickford, Claudette Colbert, and Ida Lupino took part in the parade, and popular television stars like William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Harpo Marx, Clint Eastwood, and others performed as well. Los Angeles politicians took part, as did several locate broadcasters. Most saw it as a popular career move, keeping their name in front of the public for a fun event.
After running through financial problems and falling television ratings several years ago as fewer big name entertains took part, Associated Television and the Hallmark Channel took it over, hoping to make it hip and fun once again. While they are attempting to recreate the innocent and glorious pageantry of years past with large marching bands, giant balloons, local entertainers, and fascinating entries, star power now dwindles from the glory days of the 1930s-1950s. Erik Estrada, Montel Williams, and others co-hosted the evening, with celebrities from cable shows, broadcast figures, and the like, riding in or on parade entries. The home town feel of the early parade has been lost, as entries try to act hip or play to broadcast cameras.
The Hollywood Christmas Parade contains a long, glorious history which Hallmark is thankfully trying to revive. Bad weather this year caused a lower attendance, as did lesser known talent and broadcast/game possibilities at home, but at least the 86-year-old event continues own, celebrating both the town and industry of Hollywood as it also promotes shopping in the district.