Advertisement
Share

This Grand Marshal Keeps Officials Hopping : Rose Parade: Kermit the Frog presented planners with unique challenges, requiring an elaborate array of cameras, a microphone and speakers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If you think it’s not easy being green, try being the Green One’s handler during the Rose Parade.

In order for Kermit the Frog to thrill crowds as this year’s Rose Parade grand marshal, 6-foot, 4-inch puppeteer Steve Whitmire will have to spend three hours squished into the tarp-covered back seat of a 1948 Lincoln Continental cabriolet, lying on his back with his bent knees off to the side and a microphone strapped to his head.

Every other year, the Tournament of Roses Committee has faced nothing more difficult in coordinating the grand marshal’s transportation than getting the celebrity into the car on time and praying he or she had waving stamina.

Advertisement

But Kermit provides unique challenges to an event that thrives on complex staging. Have you ever thought about how to get a felt frog to flip a coin?

“You’re really coordinating with people still,” said tournament spokeswoman Caryn Eaves. “This just happens to be a real small, green, fuzzy person.”

A small, green, fuzzy person who gives phone interviews.

“It’s a special honor to be the first frog grand marshal,” Kermit told The Times (honest). “In the swamp, we’ve had a lot of grand marshes, but never a grand marshal.”

Tournament volunteers’ first task was to find a vintage car with an owner who would allow the modifications needed for the 27-inch green host.

Then they had to find a way to preserve Kermit’s image and still have him wave and talk to the crowd. After Riverside resident Roy Adcock stepped forward with his restored Lincoln convertible, the brainstorming began.

What they came up with is a system of microphones, speakers, cameras and a tarp large enough to hide the works. Kermit, they decided, will ride solo, sitting on the top of the back seat accompanied only by Adcock, the driver.

The flexible Whitmire will lie down in the back seat--which, unfortunately for Whitmire, is smaller than the back of a modern compact car--with a TV monitor on the floor, a bottle of water, and microphone headgear so his hands will be free.

Three tiny, car-mounted cameras, supplied by Henson Productions, will feed into the monitor so Whitmire can see left, right and straight ahead, allowing Kermit to “talk” to people watching the parade through speakers also mounted to the vehicle.

In previous years, grand marshals have complained that their arms got tired from the hours of waving. But at least they could switch hands. Whitmire will spend the parade with both arms straight up, working Kermit through a hole in the tarp.

The tarp is the same beige color as the convertible’s roof. Once it’s covered with the hundreds of flowers in shades of blue, purple and white to simulate a lily pond, the Lincoln will look like a two-seater car, with Kermit sitting on the trunk.

“Everyone thinks this is going to work,” said veteran tournament volunteer Libby Evans Wright, who, among other things, is in charge of Kermit’s car. “As long as they feel comfortable, we feel comfortable.”

Kermit’s carriage was just part of the planning. Volunteers spent months trying to find a way for Kermit to take part in perhaps the most sacred job of the grand marshal: the coin toss to determine which team kicks off at the Rose Bowl.

Working with the Henson people, they toyed with the option of modifying Kermit’s hands and then taping the coin down.

But there still was no way for Kermit to actually toss the coin, so Plan B was to have a child accompany Kermit to the bowl, take the coin from him and actually make the toss.

They finally decided on Plan C: Ditch the frog, ditch the kid in favor of someone more likely to be able to carry out the duty. Jane Henson, the widow of Muppet creator Jim Henson, said she would be honored to take part.

So after giving Whitmire a chance to stretch his legs, Kermit and Henson will come onto the field in the same Lincoln, the only way tournament workers could figure out to get him there.

“You try to save the mystique of Kermit, and there is just no other way to do that in the middle of the Rose Bowl,” Wright said.

The mystique of Kermit. OK.

After the toss, Kermit’s time is his own and it’s on to the VIP box--he’ll be carried in, out of the sight of fans--to watch the game.

He isn’t choosing sides.

“From personal experience,” Kermit said, “I’ve learned to never take sides in a game involving pigskin.”


Advertisement