A half-hour into the 127th Rose Parade, KTLA co-host and New Year's Day icon Bob Eubanks was waxing rhapsodic about the American saddle horse.
Used to draw a Yellowstone tour bus that Scripps Miramar Ranch had sent to the parade to honor the first national park, these horses are, apparently, born with three gaits and taught two more, which Eubanks was just about to explain when longtime co-host Stephanie Edwards broke in.
“Are the three gaits anything like the three types of glue used to put petals on the floats?” she asked, inserting her own famously favorite bit of parade trivia into the commentary.
“OMG,” Eubanks sighed, with his equally signature disdain for the glue.
Edwards then went on to point out some of “our helpful Honda” friends in the crowd, causing Eubanks to gripe: “You interrupted me! I was talking about these horses, they were so beautiful.”
“I’m so sorry,” she said brightly, “you go right on.”
“Aw, they’re gone,” he sighed.
The exchange lasted just a few seconds and as the camera panned from the parade to the commentator’s booth, the two nudged each other and laughed.
“We’ve been fighting for years folks,” Eubanks said, “and it, well, it won’t stop.”
Except, alas, it will.
Jan. 1 marked the last Eubanks and Edwards Rose Parade. The two are retiring after more than 30 years of describing the magic of celery seeds and white coconut sparkles, of exclaiming over the glory of the floats and the hazards of the route, of identifying the various veterans, celebrities and notables waving to the crowds and explaining to national audiences the charms of “really neat” towns like Sierra Madre and Glendale.
We have a year to prepare ourselves, but it probably isn’t enough.
Their easy-listening commentary, rolling with the rounded tones of early television broadcasters, were often the first thing Americans heard as they shambled, squinting and rumpled, into the new year. Stepping over balled-up napkins and cups filled with flat Champagne, we switch on the tube and fall onto the couch, convincing ourselves that watching the Rose Parade constitutes activity and counting on Eubanks and Edwards to revive us.
And every year they did. Every year, Edwards and Eubanks could be counted on to explain what we were seeing — the number and types of flowers, the machinery that makes it move — and to give the holiday one final hurrah.
Watching the Rose Parade with them was like watching the Rose Parade with our parents, or at least well-informed, enthusiastic and gratefully functional versions of them.
Eubanks was the occasionally cranky one, who seemed to take it personally when the parade stalled or a float had to be towed. “Oh, look at that,” he would grumble while Edwards pointed out that the tow truck didn’t detract from the beauty.
In 2007, Eubanks kicked up an intergalactic dust storm by suggesting a group of costumed “Star Wars” fans marching in the parade might think about getting jobs. This year as “Star Wars” Stormtroopers swarmed the Disney float, he laughed and left the commentary to Edwards. “I’m not going to say a thing,” he said, “because I got in trouble last time.”
Edwards was the enthusiastic one, peppering her commentary with words like “wowzer” and “jeepers” and occasionally giving Eubanks a verbal poke.
This year, when Eubanks shared that he had gone to Pasadena City College for two weeks, Edwards quickly quipped: “What was your major? Talking?” And when he later mentioned that he had also attended Glendale High School for two years, Edwards asked “Did you flunk out of there too?”
It was all in good fun, of course, like the fond bantering of a long-married couple. When Edwards observed that the floats seemed to indicate a rebounding economy, Eubanks murmured “Hmm, you’re getting political now?”
More important even than their chemistry was the pair’s deep knowledge and unflagging devotion to the parade and the area. After 30-plus years, both Eubanks and Edwards know many of the float designers and parade producers personally and it showed. They mentioned many of their “good friends” by name and pointed out the next generation of parade participants.
And they gave the commentary a SoCal-specific tone. This year, Eubanks described a recent trip to Camarillo’s World War II Aviation museum and complained about the raccoons ruining his lawn. After Edwards described her experience in the Goodyear blimp, Eubanks countered with a story about an early job as doorman for the Egyptian Theatre. He was fired for hitting a man with a broom (it was a long story). When he asked Edwards what she would be doing now that she wasn’t hosting the parade, she laughed. “Writing the Bob Eubanks story, and it’s going to be a barnburner.”
The floats rolled by, the bands played on, and Edwards and Eubanks, the official guardians of the baby new year, sat with us, one final time, sharing information and memories. Though the pair went out of their way during the 90-minute broadcast to assure fans that the decision to step down had been theirs alone, it was hard not to second-guess it.
Not only are they iconic parts of the holiday season, their ages (Eubanks is 77, Edwards 72) make them part of a generation slowly vanishing from television; just hearing Eubanks refer to Edwards as “a redhead” made the parade worth watching.
Every Jan. 1 they reminded us of the year ahead, the many behind and the importance of acknowledging the past with as much enthusiasm as the future.
In that vein, Eubanks and Edwards warmly introduced their replacements, Leeza Gibbons (formerly of “Entertainment Tonight”) and Mark Steines (host of Hallmark Channel’s “Home & Family”). Gibbons and Steines will undoubtedly do fine in 2017, but Bob and Stephanie, well, they were a holiday tradition all their own.
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