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Hollywood Fine-Tuning Parade

Times Staff Writers

On Saturday, they took center stage to perform in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Today, they will make their live television debut before a cheering crowd at the 72nd annual Hollywood Christmas Parade. It’s quite a change of scenery for members of a high school band from Slinger, Wis.

“I’m so used to seeing cows on the road and looking into fields and seeing deer, this is like, wow, awesome,” Amanda Breauer, 16, said as she stood holding her alto saxophone on Hollywood Boulevard. “But here, all the buildings, all the lights.... I kinda miss home, but this is real exposure.”

The Slinger High School band will be among 20 bands, 16 equestrian units, 40 celebrities and eight floats that will parade down the boulevard for Hollywood’s version of a hometown parade.

It’s kitschy, it’s studded with B-level celebrities and the floats are festooned with tinsel, but the Hollywood Christmas Parade, which kicks off at 7 tonight, remains a popular Sunday-after-Thanksgiving tradition for generations of Los Angeles-area residents.

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“I used to come to this parade every year as a child,” said Ernesto Garcia, who grew up in Glendale and was visiting Hollywood on Saturday.

By chance, he stumbled onto the pre-parade battle of the bands, in which high school marching bands compete for trophies and awards. “This is great,” he said. “I get a sneak preview of the parade. It reminds me of being a kid again.”

Despite the immense popularity of the parade, which draws about 300,000 spectators, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is struggling to remake it into something more grand, more “Hollywood.”

Chamber officials thought they had found their niche for success last year, when they allowed the parade to be reincarnated as a one-hour variety show that aired on NBC a week later.

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For the first time in years, the event attracted marquee stars who performed for the network show, including Destiny’s Child and LeAnn Rimes. But for the first time in 40 years, it was not broadcast live in Los Angeles.

NBC decided not to do a parade-related special this year, probably because of lackluster ratings, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce could not secure another national broadcaster for its trademark event, said Leron Gubler, the chamber’s president and chief executive. NBC executives could not be reached for comment.

Although the chamber’s hopes for transforming the parade into a national event on par with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade evaporated for 2003, Gubler said the chamber “still hopes to stabilize the parade for the long term,” by granting rights to an entertainment company that could produce a show around it.

But locals don’t seem to care much about a slick national broadcast, Gubler said.

After last year’s network show, he received a deluge of e-mails, calls and letters from people upset by the lack of live television coverage. “People around here want it live,” he said. “I guess, this time of year, tradition is important.”

So this year, parade producers secured KCAL-TV Channel 9 to broadcast the parade live. No chart-topping stage shows. No costly grandstand seats. No paid extras acting like parade-goers and cheering for the cameras on cue.

Instead, “The 2003 Hollywood Christmas Parade Presented by Chrysler” will follow a two-mile route through Hollywood and is scheduled to showcase the Budweiser Clydesdales, a float sponsored by Sit & Sleep, and waving celebrities, who will include Ruth Buzzi, Lorenzo Lamas and Joanne Worley. The Pearl City High School band from Hawaii will play “Hooray for Hollywood” on conch shells.

Although Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger turned down an invitation to be the grand marshal, Hollywood’s honorary mayor, Johnny Grant, 80, will step in to lead the event. He is scheduled to be joined by veteran actor Joe Mantegna, now starring in the television series “Joan of Arcadia,” in the lighting of a holiday tree at the Kodak Theatre.

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Royal Robb, the horse that played the title role in the film “Seabiscuit”; former Los Angeles Laker James Worthy; and cast members from the TV shows “Gilmore Girls,” “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper” and “That ‘70s Show” also will appear.

And to 17-year-old Brittany Bloodworth of Milledgeville, Ga., the chance to march down Hollywood Boulevard along with Chuck E. Cheese, Ronald McDonald, the Painted Ladies Rodeo Performers and Santa Claus is “going to be awesome.”

For her, the aura of Hollywood is thick, no matter who the parade celebrities might be.

After all, this is shaping up to be a weekend of firsts for Brittany: first time away from home; first time on an airplane; and first time playing her clarinet in the shadow of a world-famous theater on a sidewalk marked with stars.

“It was such an adrenalin rush,” she said Saturday after her band played in front of Grauman’s Chinese. “It’s so incredible to stand where famous people have stood.”


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