A lovely teenager named Courtney Chou Lee wore the crown and rode down Colorado Boulevard.
But for many people who watched at home Thursday, the real queen of the 120th Rose Parade was the 65-year-old with the brilliant red hair and the relentless smile who described the pageant from high above the parade route.
Stephanie Edwards returned as television hostess of the New Year’s Day spectacle, causing a quiet celebration among fans of the tried-and-true, who raised a ruckus when Edwards was dumped two years ago.
There she was beside longtime co-host Bob Eubanks, in a return to a sugar-plum yesteryear, when no trivia was too trivial (Bob: “In Roseville, shopping is king. It’s got the 11th highest retail sales of any city in California,”) and no hyperbole too hyper (Stephanie: A “Sesame Street"-themed entry is “one of the favorite floats of all time”).
Most viewers who e-mailed the KTLA-TV website made it clear they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Thank you KTLA for correcting an error and bringing back Stephanie Edwards to her rightful spot in the booth,” a viewer named Kim wrote in an e-mail to the TV station. “It just hasn’t been the same without her over the past few years! Looks like 2009 will be a good year as the balance of order has been restored!”
Edwards’ ouster had been viewed as ageist, sexist or just plain foolish by thousands of fans, who considered her and Eubanks as integral to New Year’s Day as a midnight kiss, a hangover and a long day of college football.
Heaping indignity on insult, her fans had to watch on New Year’s Day 2006 as management of KTLA (which, like the Los Angeles Times, is owned by Tribune Co.) pushed their Stephanie into a street reporting assignment in a driving rainstorm. Edwards gamely soldiered on.
The next year, the station dumped Edwards altogether in favor of a much younger morning news anchorwoman, Michaela Pereira.
Pereira didn’t ask for the assignment and treated Edwards with deference, but that didn’t stop some disappointed fans from vilifying her as the brazen other woman.
The ever-chipper Edwards thought she had transcended the loss of her nearly three-decade assignment. But then she sat down to watch the parade with relatives in her native Minnesota in 2007. “I cried through the whole parade,” she recalled.
Edwards spent one more year on the sidelines before “the little miracle,” as Edwards put it, when new management at KTLA recalled her to her post.
That reunited her with Eubanks, a team that had been together since the late 1970s.
It started all over again at 8 a.m. Thursday, as the former DJ, rock music promoter and “Newlywed Game” host turned to his co-host in mock surprise and said: “Oops. I know you.”
When Edwards smiled and offered her retort (“Well, you better; I’ve spent more New Year’s mornings with you than with my husband”) a shiver of familiarity washed over the audience.
Mom and Dad. Uncle Bob and Aunt Stephanie. Together again. For the next two hours they were back at it, smothering each other, and us at home, with ample doses of affection, earnestness, tart ripostes and stale one-liners.
You’ve seen one floral dinosaur, you’ve seen them all. But among those of us who grew up with the parade, who can tire of wondering: Do Bob and Stephanie really get along? What do they say when the mikes are off?
Eubanks, 70, tried to settle that score at the outset. “You know, people write in and they say, ‘Do Bob and Stephanie like each other?’ ” he told the audience. “No, we don’t like each other. We love each other. This is one of my best friends and I’m thrilled to have her back.” Stephanie seemed to agree, replying: “It’s a treat to be back.”
To watch Bob and Stephanie’s parade is to cast cynicism aside and suspend disbelief. Yes, it really is a fresh new year. Yes, we can all get along. Yes, the live broadcast is “commercial free.” Just ignore the frequent blurbs in the corner of the screen, the Goodyear blimp overhead, the welter of commercial floats for companies that sell everything from hamburgers to lawn sprinklers.
Getting in the spirit, Eubanks even managed to plug his McDonald’s in Westlake Village (“wonderful coffee”) and his wife’s wedding planning business.
What the hell. Pasadena’s late 19th century burghers conceived the parade in part as a way to hype Southern California.
And, on cue, the weather Thursday returned to its flawless, crystalline norm.
Edwards made it clear from the start nothing would puncture the goodwill of her return. She laughed along with Eubanks’ ubiquitous zingers. (Sample: She announces that “aloha” can not only mean “hello,” but also “be quiet.” He retorts: “Well then, aloha!”) She warmly tossed air time to Pereira, stationed curbside, as Edwards was three years ago.
When she raised the debacle in the downpour, it was with a chuckle. Pereira apologized at her good-weather fortune. “I don’t mean to rub it in,” she said, “but it’s beautiful out here.”
Said Edwards: “Let me tell you, I am over that rain.”
Indeed, the one-time actress and TV pitch woman has a contract to return for the 2010 parade. And she and Eubanks made it clear they see clear skies, prancing Andalusians and giant floral clowns on the more distant horizon.
Eubanks gushed about how Joe Paterno continued to coach the Penn State football team at 82.
“You and I could be up here for a long time,” Eubanks mused. To which the newly restored queen replied: “Well, absolutely, and that’s the way we have to look at it.”