Hold the Tortillas: Doo Dah Will March to a Smaller Beat : Festivals: Saturday’s campy parade is moving out of Old Pasadena, and admission will be charged. Organizers say unruly spectators prompted the changes.
Richard Reese’s broken-down, ’72 Chevy Impala--towed by what he swore was a stolen van--was just ahead of the Richard Nixon look-alike entry in the first Doo Dah Parade 15 years ago.
Parade-goers, all 2,000 of them, ate it up--especially when a man in a gorilla costume hopped out of Reese’s car and handed out old phonograph records to the crowd in Old Pasadena.
But over the years, from its humble beginnings as an annual spoof of the city’s much-ballyhooed Rose Parade, Doo Dah turned into a huge hoopla, much like the very event it mocked--with live TV coverage, crowds of 40,000 and corporate sponsors.
This year, Reese is grand marshal of a revamped Doo Dah Parade, downsized for the ‘90s into a back-to-basics promenade of the campy and vampy around the beaux-arts elegance of Pasadena City Hall Plaza on Saturday.
But, to the chagrin of some Doo Dah enthusiasts, organizers for the first time are charging admission--$7 in advance, $10 at the event.
Doo Dah also is changing its format to a small, festival-style event with a mini-parade.
Fed up with a growing number of unruly spectators, Doo Dah founder Peter Apanel will limit attendance to 5,000, cut the number of parade entries in half, drop TV coverage, fence off the event area and tighten security.
More like the old days, some veteran parade-watchers said.
“It was a small-town parade back then,” said Reese, 60, a domestic buyer for Poo-Bah Record Shop in Old Pasadena, who is leading this year’s parade because he was the first to sign up in the first Doo Dah in 1978.
But others fear that the parade is retrenching from its wild-and-woolly front.
In the past couple of years, said Doo Dah fan Bryan Rankin, 21, he has relished the parade’s spontaneity. Fans warmed up the crowd with cheers for USC, or UCLA, or another Rose Bowl favorite, or jumped off the curb on Raymond Avenue to dance alongside intriguing entries.
“You’re not going to have the same Doo Dah Parade,” mourned Rankin, a Pasadena resident and theater usher. “When you pay, you have expectations. When you go free, you make something happen.”
The move out of Old Pasadena for the first time to the more staid City Hall Plaza also riles him.
“It’s like taking the Rose Parade off Colorado Boulevard,” he said.
Entries--cut back from 100 to about 50--will include the traditional Synchronized Briefcase Drill Team, a suited, marching brigade of business people; the Electro-Bash Drill Team, which wields sledgehammers on pesky appliances, and Lady Steve’s Cavalcade of Beauty, an East Coast dowager portrayed by a man in fur coat drag.
The parade will loop continuously around a main stage in a Renaissance Faire-style procession, from 1 to 3 p.m. The stage will feature pre-parade entertainment, and booths will sell food and drinks.
No one quite knows what to expect of this year’s event, not even Apanel, 42, who has managed the affair from Day 1.
The new Doo Dah will be small-town warm, but wacky, “a cross between ‘Little Rascals’ and Fellini,” Apanel said.
“Now, we can concentrate on the performance art aspect of the event,” he said. “Let people interact with the audience. We got away from it because the parade got so big, and so many people were showing up who didn’t get it.”
In the past few years, Apanel had considered changes as some spectators began to get out of hand, spitting at people and pelting parade entries with wadded-up, hardened tortillas.
In 1992, the Pasadena City Council passed the “Silly String ordinance,” aimed at banning parade-goers from tossing sticky marshmallows and mucking up the streets with stringy aerosol spray foam.
Apanel, who runs the parade as a full-time job, also hopes to make money on the event. He declined to specify how much he makes from the parade, but last year, not counting TV revenue, he cleared $700 from vendor revenues and participant fees.
Privately, several Old Pasadena merchants said they believe that the revised event will flop. Publicly, they say they wish Apanel well. Some say the parade harmed business because spectators loitered and littered without buying, although other business folk say they made out like bandits.
Jack Smith, president of the Old Pasadena Business and Professional Assn., said he had no figure on how much revenue the parade generated for merchants.
“Any time you have 40,000 people, certain businesses are going to benefit,” he said. “A lot of people love the Doo Dah, a lot of people cursed it.”
Jennine Terzo, 31, who has been a spectator at every Doo Dah, said she does not know whether this year’s parade will fly, although she hopes it does. But she has her doubts.
“How can you charge for a parade?” said Terzo, a bar owner and Pasadena resident. “Parades are supposed to be free.”
Others said that “controlled” and “Doo Dah” are a contradiction in terms.
“It used to be such a freewheeling affair,” lamented Donna Cayson, 38, a Pasadena resident and restaurant owner who watched the parade on TV in past years and saw it in person in 1992. “People had a good time and did their own thing. Now it’s going to be so regulated.”
Doo Dah participant John Olsen, 35, said he hopes that the changes keep the crazies away.
“It really got ugly,” said Olsen, a graphic artist. “Everybody was feeling over the past few years that the parade had to change, or it would self-destruct.”
Olsen has a soft spot for the Doo Dah; he and his wife, Thea Olsen, got married in the parade in 1989, pre-tortilla madness and pre-TV. The two had met as participants in the Church of the Ornamental Lawn Decorations entry, dedicated to pink flamingos.
Olsen hopes that the same sort of closeness among strangers that prevailed at his wedding will return.
“It was just an incredible high,” said Olsen, a resident of Orange. “The crowd was so supportive. . . . We couldn’t have asked for a better wedding in the world.”
Parade Takes a Different Step
For the first time, the irreverent Doo Dah Parade is charging admission and moving from Old Pasadena. This year’s format is a scaled-down, festival-style event.
* What: The Pasadena Doo Dah Parade.
* Format: About 50 entries, including old favorites such as the Synchronized Briefcase Drill Team, will make a continuous loop, while roving entertainers carry on. Parade, which had been televised locally since 1990, will not be televised.
* When: Saturday, Nov. 27.
* Where: A fenced-off event at Pasadena City Hall Plaza, between Garfield Avenue and Holly Street.
* Time: Gates open at 10 a.m., parade is from 1 to 3 p.m., and festivities last until about 4 p.m.
* Tickets: 5,000 tickets available at Ticketmaster. Cost is $7 in advance, $10 at the door or free for children 3 and younger.
* Parking: $3 at nearby city lots.