Beverly Hills Returns to Rose Parade After 31-Year Absence

Times Staff Writer

It was cold that January morning of 1927, when 18-year-old Bettye Reeder donned her red woolen Austrian costume with its elaborate headdress and mounted a float called “Sitting on Top of the World,” Beverly Hills’ first entry in the Rose Parade.

Now 80, and perhaps the city’s longest-term resident, Bettye Reeder Dunnigan says she wouldn’t do that again, “not for all the tea in China.”

Instead, she will watch in the comfort of her home on South Bedford Drive as the mayor of Beverly Hills, his wife and four hired models wave to a television audience of millions from a float called “A Celebration of Style.”

Despite a record that includes three Sweepstakes awards and one second-place entry, the city’s participation in the Rose Parade has been spotty at best, apparently because of the cost. To date, there have been only four entries, the last of which rolled in 1957.


Why none since then? “That’s a good question. I think it was because of other priorities in the city,” said George W. Fenimore, a retired Litton Industries executive who serves as chairman of the city’s 75th anniversary committee.

He said the idea of sending a float to this year’s parade surfaced during a brainstorming session that sought ways to mark the diamond jubilee of the city’s incorporation on Jan. 29, 1914.

Planners chose “A Celebration of Style” as their theme “because of the city’s sophistication in terms of its shopping . . . not only in Rodeo Drive but throughout Beverly Hills,” Fenimore said.

Beverly Hills was decidedly more rural in the early days, recalls Dunnigan, who arrived with her parents from Missouri in 1914.

Beverly Hills Cows

Much of the flatland was planted in lima beans, she said. The post office shared a counter with arts and crafts in the Woman’s Exchange. When her parents put in a lawn at their new home north of Sunset Boulevard, a herd of cows trampled it underfoot.

“You don’t see cows in Beverly Hills any more,” she said.

The selection process for Rose Parade honors was also casual. “There were so few young girls around then, and the woman who ran it asked my family if I could go. We were seniors in high school.”

Things are not so simple today. Instead of Beverly Hills High School students or other attractive locals, float chairwoman Katy Sweet said organizers wanted to invite beauty queens from eight countries that are scheduled to stage trade exhibits in the city this year.

“At the last minute, one after the other were unable to send their various representatives, so it became a very last minute thing, and rather than put together some kind of contest . . . we had to put together these four models,” Sweet said. “Also, we ran into complications because so many people have a sister or a girlfriend or a wife, all of whom would be fabulous to ride the float. To make those decisions was not what I wanted to do.”

The 1927 entry won the Sweepstakes Award for most beautiful float, despite mechanical problems that made its huge rotating globe break down twice.

Beverly Hills entries also won the Sweepstakes Award in 1928 and 1930, and second place in 1957.

Planners hope that the 1989 entry, which features five pairs of formally clad mannequins spinning around a floral fountain, will also win a prize, while faring better mechanically.

“Look for it to win (the award for) Best City,” said designer Raul Rodriguez, who crafted the highly realistic faces of the 13-foot-high waltzers.

Glued-on layers of onion seed provide the black of the men’s tuxedos, while lentils make up the orange base of the fountain.

The float will also use 1,000 exotic cattleya lilies, along with numberless carnation and gladiola petals, irises, roses, delphinium, hybrid tulips and chrysanthemums, at a total cost to the city of about $150,000.

The money comes from a $1.6-million allocation from the City Council to the Visitors Bureau of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce to publicize the city’s 75th anniversary.

Municipal entries make up 15 of the 60 floats in the Jan. 2 parade, according to Julie Luna, float coordinator for the Tournament of Roses. The average cost of floats this year will be $125,000, she said.