The line’s still there. But the thick lines of people aren’t.
That’s what veteran burger shop operator Eddie Shiroma noticed when the Hollywood Christmas Parade made its way past his Hollywood Boulevard eatery Sunday night.
The blue line is painted permanently on the famed thoroughfare’s pavement. Each Thanksgiving weekend, it denotes how far out into the street parade viewers can stand.
“When we opened 15 years ago, people used to watch from that line,” said Shiroma. “Every year, the crowd is less and less. Now people stand on the sidewalk.”
Shiroma was among those in Hollywood who on Monday were lamenting the decline of the once mighty parade, which in recent years has struggled to lure big-name participants as spectator crowds continue to shrink.
In its heyday, the parade was packed with convertibles loaded with A-listers such as Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gene Autry and Natalie Wood.
For many, the most recognizable names at this year’s parade -- billed as its 75th Diamond Anniversary -- were Regis Philbin, Hulk Hogan, George Lopez and Michael Bolton.
There was even confusion over how many turned out to watch.
An initial LAPD estimate Sunday night placed the number at 15,000. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which produces the parade, quickly disputed that, agreeing with some parade-goers that the number was laughably low.
Monday afternoon, police recalculated -- but admitted they couldn’t really give a firm count. “Several hundred thousand is our estimate. We discussed it. It’s so subjective,” said Capt. Clay Farrell of the Hollywood Station.
Still, that’s a far cry from just a decade ago, when the LAPD estimated crowds at 750,000 or more.
On Hollywood Boulevard, merchants such as Shiroma sense that the decline is real. This year, parade-goers bought five times as many burgers and hot dogs as would be purchased on a normal Sunday night. But something seemed lacking.
“They have to get a teenage idol or rock group to perform,” Shiroma said. “That way they get kids saying, ‘Mommy, we’ve got to go see the parade.’ I remember years ago seeing girls screaming up and down. I didn’t know what group it was, but Regis? To these kids he’s just an old man.”
Over the last few years, officials has been trying to breathe new life into the parade. Johnny Grant, Hollywood’s honorary mayor and former longtime parade organizer, wrote an open letter to Hollywood begging big-name entertainers to participate. Last year he made Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa grand marshal as part of a strategy to lure young Latino families.
“The A-list stars are not around and not in the community to give back like the old stars were,” Grant said Monday. “Show business has changed because of television and the Internet. You have so many things going.”
In the past, big-name stars were required by their studios to participate in parades and other events to generate publicity for their movies. These days the top actors and actresses work on independent productions where studio heads have less clout, he said.
Others believe that today’s younger generation of superstars simply don’t have the same fond feelings about parades, seeing them more as a throwback than a civic event.
To overcome that notion, planners turned to the youth-oriented website MySpace.com to drum up interest in the parade. Set up like a typical teenager’s personal-interest page, with video and eye-catching graphics, it was accompanied by music by rap star Paul Wall and Hogan’s daughter Brooke Hogan, a singer.
The website identified the Hollywood Christmas Parade as a “male, 75 years old, Los Angeles, California, USA.” Some posted comments fondly reminiscing about the parade.
Still, planners probably winced at the last entry on the mock page’s “friends’ comments” section.
“You’re old,” wrote somebody named Jessica.
Organizers say they are nonetheless pleased at the way they reached out to a younger audience by including hip-hop artists and stars from TV shows that are popular with teens and preteens.
“I’d wager you’ve never heard of the movie ‘High School Musical,’ ” chamber President Leron Gubler said Monday. “But they show it all the time on the Disney Channel. We had four of the six major stars from that movie. Teenagers and younger kids were thrilled. Adults may never have heard of them, but kids have.”
Nine-year-old Claire Goldberg certainly has. And she was thrilled by the parade and hopes to return next year.
“I saw some of the cast from ‘High School Musical’ and saw some people from ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ ” said the Santa Monica schoolgirl. “That’s a reality show. I liked the floats and the dancers. The bands were really cool.”
Older celebrities didn’t ring a bell. “But I recognized Regis Philbin. I’ve seen him on TV,” Claire said.
Younger celebs certainly ring a bell with TV broadcasters seeking to cultivate a youth-oriented audience.
“You need their licensing fees or there would be no parade,” said Grant of the 25 stations across the country who paid to broadcast the parade on tape delay. “And you have to go with the demographics that the television stations want. They want to attract a younger audience.”
That’s probably a lucky coincidence.
The celebrities whom older viewers might rather see are no longer available.
Grant, who oversees the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in past years was able to use his personal clout and draw on long-term industry friendships to persuade old-line stars to participate in the parade.
This year, parade organizers used two public relations firms to line up celebrity participants.
On Monday, many along Hollywood Boulevard had ideas for beefing up next year’s parade.
Holly Louis barely noticed the parade from his perch inside the tattoo parlor he clerks in. He said the parade needs a mainstream music group like Aerosmith to draw large crowds. He said Hulk Hogan had just the right amount of novelty, but “they also need to stay away from actors. Back in the day, people would come see actors. But we don’t look at actors the same anymore.”
But this year’s parade worked as far as Carlos Rodriguez is concerned. He runs a clothing store west of the intersection of Hollywood and Las Palmas.
He’s been enjoying the parade since 1986, when jackets with beefy shoulder pads were among his shop’s top sellers. Now he sells baggy hip-hop-inspired wear.
But Sunday he closed several hours early so he and his workers could enjoy the show.
“Maybe they could get better celebrities, but I don’t know who,” he said.
“Tom Cruise!” shouted an employee from deep inside the store.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Stars on parade
Here are some of the celebrities who appeared in this year’s 75th Hollywood Christmas Parade -- self-described as “the world’s largest celebrity parade” -- and some past grand marshals.
Grand marshals 2006
George Lopez, grand marshal
Regis Philbin, diamond jubilee grand marshal
From the movies
Marlee Matlin (“Children of a Lesser God”)
Neal McDonough (“Flags of Our Fathers”)
Edward James Olmos (“Stand and Deliver”)
Drake Bell (“Drake & Josh”)
David Boreanaz (“Bones”)
Stephen Collins, Catherine Hicks (“7th Heaven”)
Hulk and Linda Hogan (“Hogan Knows Best”)
Vincent Martella (“Everybody Hates Chris”)
Hayden Panettiere (“Heroes”)
Nicollette Sheridan (“Desperate Housewives”)
Leeza Gibbons (KBIG-FM)
Past grand marshals
2005: Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
2004: Earvin “Magic” Johnson
2003: Johnny Grant
2002: Mickey Rooney
2001: Peter Fonda
2000: Frankie Muniz and Dennis Hopper
1999: Beau Bridges
1998: Robert Urich
1997: Tom Arnold
1996: David Hasselhoff
1995: Tony Danza
1994: Louis Gossett Jr.
1993: Bob and Delores Hope
1992: Roseanne and Tom Arnold
1991: Charlton Heston
1990: Arnold Schwarzenegger
1989: Sammy Davis Jr.
1988: Tony Danza
1987: Jimmy Stewart
1986: Mickey and Minnie Mouse
1985: William Shatner
1984: Michael Landon
1983: George Peppard
1982: Ron Howard
1981: Roy Rogers and Dale Evans
1980: Gene Autry
1979: Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner
1978: Bob Hope
Source: Hollywood Chamber of Commerce