Photo: Mary Pickford in the 1933 Rose Parade. Courtesy of Mary Mallory
Note: This is a 2012 post with a slight update. The 131st Rose Parade is on Wednesday.
Tomorrow sees the 124th annual Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, welcoming the new year with magnificent garlands of fresh flowers. It also acts as the 80th anniversary of Mary Pickford serving as the first female grand marshal of the parade.
Begun by the Valley Hunt Club in 1890, the Rose Parade saluted the area’s wonderful weather and flowering paradise.Soon, the Tournament of Roses Assn. took over what they now call “America’s New Year Celebration, greeting the world on the first day of the year….”
Photo: A Rose Parade float. Credit: Courtesy of Mary Mallory.
Club presidents chose honorary grand marshals to fit the theme of each year’s parade, usually either past presidents or important civic, cultural and military leaders. This process helped promote the theme, lent prestige and honor to the festivities, and helped publicize the event.
California Gov. James Rolph acted as grand marshal in 1930, retired Maj. Gen. Charles Stewart Farnsworth, an Altadena resident, led the 1931 parade, and William May Garland, president of the 10th Olympiad Committee, organizing the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, served as grand marshal in 1932.
The organizing committee bucked precedent in the winter of 1932 by selecting actress Mary Pickford as the grand marshal for the 1933 Rose Parade, the first woman so honored. The Nov. 30, 1932, Los Angeles Times displayed a photo of Pickford receiving an engraved scroll from Dorothy Edwards, the 1933 tournament queen, as her official formal invitation. Pickford’s honor caused a small uproar among those upset that the organization should honor a woman over a man.
“Although the selection of a woman as grand marshal created somewhat of a sensation due to breaking a precedent of more than two score years’ standing, the choice was characterized as especially fitting. The fairyland theme of the pageant has a youthful quality, a quality that ‘Our Mary’ symbolizes on the screen,” as pointed out by a Tournament official to The Times. The designated theme for 1933 saluted “A Book of Fairy Tales in Flowers,” with the parade occurring Monday, Jan. 2, because Jan. 1 fell on a Sunday.
The Dec. 27 edition of the paper noted that Pickford would occupy a coach drawn by four pure-white horses, and decorated with lavender and shell-pink sweet peas, China lilies, and 5,000 pink roses. She would wear a green orchid satin court gown, over which she would wear an early 1870s period coat made of white velvet with matching jacket, muff and hat.
Mary Pickford in a “coach and four,” for the 1933 Rose Parade.
Her guests for the parade included her husband, actor Douglas Fairbanks, as well as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Joan Crawford, Mr. and Mrs. Leslie Howard, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Borzage, Gary Cooper, Countess Dorothy Di Frasso, Elsa Maxwell, and her niece, Gwynne Pickford.
The Jan. 3 Los Angeles Times reported that 15,000 rose blossoms trimmed the carriage, and marveled at how the largest parade crowd in history strained forward to see Mary, the most popular entry. The article also noted how beautiful Pickford appeared, and quoted a female spectator as saying, “Is she always going to be this way?”
In 1971, Pasadena Star-News sports editor Joe Hendrickson put together “The Tournament of Roses,” the first fully illustrated history of the 100-year-old organization, describing in detail the history of the football games, parades, and other events surrounding it. He wrote Pickford to obtain information about her time as grand marshal.
Her husband, Buddy Rogers, replied to Hendrickson on September 13, 1969, writing that Mary had been ill and they were catching up with her correspondence. He read her Hendrickson’s letter, and in turn, was sending back her remembrances of the event. “Her participation in the Tournament of Roses should have been one of the happiest experiences in her life, but unfortunately, it was one of her saddest days, owing to the fact that her beloved brother, Jack Pickford, was desperately ill and fighting for his life at the very moment. Although her heart was breaking, Mary was waving and smiling to the millions of people.
Her motivation for accepting the role was a complete dedication to California and its people. She was happy to be part of this important pageantry of beauty.”
Mary’s happiness was extremely short-lived however, with her brother Jack entering the American Hospital in Paris on the same day as the parade, and dying on Jan. 3, 1933. He was only 36 years old.