Variety Marks Rose Parade : For a 100-Year-Old, It Rolled Right Along
They called it “Celebration 100,” and for a century-old party, the Tournament of Roses’ rolling festival looked positively blooming as it trundled along Pasadena’s streets Monday.
In the glut of color, scent and sensational effects that characterizes the New Year’s institution, only one participant among the throng of hundreds of thousands got left behind: a costly corporate float, a major prize-winner that broke three things--its steering mechanism, a Rose Parade record, and probably its builder’s heart--before it ever got near the television cameras or the vast crowds along Colorado Boulevard.
It was the first time in memory that a float had failed to make the parade, tournament officials said.
And in an event whose ornate floats have been a triumph of artifice, this year it was real people in the parade who charmed spectators:
Trapeze artists, skiing stunt people, a couple exchanging real wedding vows and a kiss before 300 million-plus television guests, cancer-stricken youngsters, two high school bandsmen playing tunes from their wheelchairs, two young Los Angeles boys hoping someone would see them and adopt them, and a Vietnamese refugee aboard a winter-scene float.
“It’s the best New Year’s I ever had,” said Vinh Nguyen, who escaped Southeast Asia by boat in 1980.
But as usual, the blossom-covered behemoths did not disappoint.
Spectators seemed as dazzled by variety as color. Subjects ranged from Verdi’s opera “Aida” to a circus wagon; from the Sweepstakes prize-winner “Mardi Gras” to the Mt. Wilson observatory; from a contingent of Los Angeles Philharmonic musicians to the grand marshal, Shirley Temple Black, accompanied by her 8-year-old granddaughter, two years younger than Shirley had been when she was grand marshal back in 1939.
The only disruption came well into the parade, when directors had to reroute entrants around the broken-down “Luau” float. Its tropical waterfall motif had won the second most prestigious trophy, the Grand Marshal’s, but only a few hundred people got to see it.
When efforts to tow the float in time to make the parade failed, tournament officials scratched it from the parade. “That was a rough call! I don’t agree with (it)!” protested veteran float builder Rick Chapman.
As the parade slowed because of the gap, broadcasters vamped for time, trying to sort out what was happening as cameras had to linger on bands marching in place. KTLA-TV parade commentator Stephanie Edwards finally settled on pronouncing the parade “rather confused but beautiful.”
The day was so gorgeously sunny that some USC bandsmen wore sunglasses beneath their golden helmets, and a helium Superman balloon tethered above one float expanded muscularly in the heat, apparently shedding much of its parade-required organic coating of powdered strawberries.
In the mellow mood, more than a few, like John Papp, 17, of Downey, snoozed through some of the grandeur, calling out to a friend from the depths of his sidewalk sleeping bag, “Can you see anything?” then snuggling back to sleep.
Police, apparently retreating from the standard party-line estimate of at least a million parade-goers, refused to fix on a number, saying only that an hour before it started, there were at least a half a million people on the route. Parade officials said crowds were “as big as ever.”
Lee Martin, who has watched every parade for 41 years from the same yard on Sierra Madre Boulevard, thinks television has reduced crowd size. “Before, you wouldn’t be able to walk by,” he said.
Whatever its size, the crowd earned praise as more peaceable than in years past, in part because New Year’s Eve, with its sidewalk celebrations, was long over.
Only 188 arrests, most of them for drunkenness, had been made by the time the parade ended--fewer than half as many as years before, and none for violence, police said.
In fact, the only known victim of parade-related violence was a Tournament official who broke his collarbone Sunday night in a spill from a parade scooter but was back on the route--on foot--Monday.
“Last year it was pretty rowdy,” said Will Schoonover, 64, visiting from Las Vegas with his wife, Dorlene. ‘It’s not over New Year’s (this time). That has a lot to do with the rowdiness.”
“It’s a very organized, very structured parade compared to New York,” marveled George Casanave of New York City. For one thing, “the people sit down.”
A rare note of disgruntlement was sounded by some Colorado Boulevard merchants not licensed to sell so much as a candy bar during the parade--so they gave it away: about $500 worth of balloons and chocolate.
“The Tournament of Roses controls everyone,” complained merchant Steve Vallas. ". . . They feel they’re God and they pretty well control the whole day.”
Well, not the whole day. At Colorado and De Lacey, one man turned his back on the spectacle and dropped his jeans and boxer shorts just as the Queen and Court float passed. The crowd cheered him, but neither Queen Charmaine Beth Shryock nor her six princesses seemed to notice.
After decades of themes celebrating Americana, children, sports, fairy-tales and such, the parade patted itself on the back with “Celebration 100.”
The 59 floats (minus “Luau”), 22 bands and 27 horse units took 4 1/2 hours to cover the 5 1/2 miles, the last reaching Victory Park, the post-parade viewing area pretty much on schedule at about 12:25 p.m., where sweating musicians threw water on one another to cool down.
University of Michigan cheerleader Ed Lynch had his fingertips bandaged after they had been torn and bloodied by performing stunts on the pavement. “It looks worse than it is,” he said of his blood-streaked legs and white shorts.
For once, there seemed to be as many verbs as adjectives to employ, as the floats’ participants schussed, bowled, flew and waltzed.
Aboard “Let the Good Times Roll,” an animated bowler hit a five-pin strike every 30 seconds. On La Canada Flintridge’s volunteer-made float, a kitten and mice played cat-and-mouse as a pair of chattering wind-up teeth snapped at the cat’s tail. And a pair of biplanes carrying wing-walking humans spun in barrel rolls--like one daring pilot did in 1926 under a nearby bridge.
A trapeze artist dangled from the mouth of a 67-foot-tall circus giraffe--'the tallest show on earth"--and the tallest ever in the parade. It won the mayor’s award for originality of design.
And one float ineligible for a prize--on purpose--was the Casablanca Fan Co.'s longest-ever parade float, 105 feet complete with eight hot-dog stunt skiers coursing down the ski ramp of a fictitious mining town.
“Go go go!” the crowd shrieked as a skier hesitated, then raced down into a front flip, the fringe on his costume fluttering.
At the first parade in 1890, winners were awarded prizes like a set of Dickens’ works, a brooch and a shotgun. Today, with as much as $200,000 invested in a corporate float, TV time is the real payoff, and an award can guarantee up to 30 seconds more air time.
So can spectacular effects like Casablanca’s. “We’re in it for the commercial (rewards), make no mistake about it” said Ed Hart, Casablanca president.
Bears and Dragons
As much as this was a parade of flora, the fauna got some attention too: a triceratops dinosaur; huge flowered koalas aboard Los Angeles’ float; threatened species like polar bears and sea otters; a tail-thumping dragon, and Bubbles the hippo, pink as raspberry sherbet, with orchids for eye shadow on her fluttering lids and a mouthful of balloons. (The original Bubbles was a free-spirited hippo who escaped from an Orange County animal park 11 years ago and, after a few days of freedom, died of heart failure after being hit by a tranquilizer dart.)
But people made a special hit.
Carie Humphries, 21, and Ron Simms, 23, of Los Alamitos, who won a contest to be married on the float, were pronounced husband and wife at 8:45 a.m. at the corner of Colorado and Orange Grove, by Humphries’ minister-grandfather. In front of as many as 350 million viewers--half the size of the TV audience for Britain’s royal wedding of Charles and Diana, but think of the money they saved on invitations--the couple kissed. But the bride did not throw her bouquet from the Huntington Hotel’s flower-covered gazebo under which thousands of couples have wed. “This is like a fairy-tale come true,” Simms said.
Learning of the nuptials farther down the route, Patrick Lampman, 42, of La Habra, quipped, “So this is their honeymoon, down here?”
Two young participants in the parade hope their own personal fairy-tale will come true.
For the third year, Los Angeles County’s Department of Children’s Services has placed hard-to-adopt children on the Kiwanis’ float.
This year, Samuel, 9, and Richard, 10, who has been in foster care since he was 2, dramatized the need for homes for older children like them.
The two children who rode floats in previous parades found homes.
Sometimes the crowds were as ingenious as the floats.
Brenda Rogers of Arcadia, who camped out with relatives, didn’t leave home without her portable phone. “We called home for extra blankets. Last night we called Domino’s Pizza. This morning we talked to the rest of the family and they’re coming with lox and bagels.”
Leo Black’s family, with the loyalty of Capistrano swallows, let people know it, when he hung from a tree branch a sign “our 25th year in this spot.”
Something for the Kids
Cynthia and Bruce Brito of La Puente fashioned a platform from ladders and wooden planks, and called it “the president’s float . . . It’s “for the kids because they can’t see when (people) stand up,” Brito said.
Going upscale, Pat Mount and Sharon Kaiser watched from invitation-only tables above the pavement, as waiters served wine to classical music. “I’ve been on the sidewalk,” said Mount, “and this sure beats it.”
And dangling from second-floor windows of an adult bookstore were Dave Winnert of Canoga Park and a dozen of his closest punk and biker friends, who had overnighted on leopard-patterned pillows. “We’re the privileged few,” said Winnert with a smirk.
They would have enjoyed KLSX-FM’s irreverent commentary. Disc jockey Frazier Smith saw Dan Quayle lurking in every band uniform, and described one float as “made of over 300 Denny’s grand slam breakfasts held together with frozen halvah.”
But more usual was the sentiment of an Inner Mongolian heart surgeon, Dr. H. D. Chaganbatu, visiting Loma Linda University, and here for his first (and probably only) Rose Parade.
“I think this is all very funny,” he said politely, in hesitant English. “Very interesting.”
Times staff writers Howard Blume, David Ferrell, Denise Hamilton, Amy Pyle, Sheryl Stolberg, Hector Tobar and Michael Ybarra contributed to this story.