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For an event that eschews tradition, the Pasadena Doo Dah Parade marches knee-deep in it — if only because of the loyalty Doo Dah has inspired among a lineage of artists, barflies, bohemians, exhibitionists and so-called normals craving a chance to let their freak flags fly.
Born Jan. 1, 1978 as a spoof on formalities of the Rose Parade, the countercultural creative happening turns 36 — times, not years, due to erratic scheduling — when it steps off Saturday at the corner of East Colorado Boulevard and Vinedo Avenue.
Doo Dah spectacles of the recent past have been populated by entries such as Dead Robert Palmer Girls, Benzedrine Monks, a fleet of motorized Kinetic Pastry Science Mobile Muffins, members of the UFO-based Raelian movement, a Flying Baby Street Racing and Stroller Cross competition, sword swallowers, kilted bagpipers, belly dancers, cross-dressers, steam punks, a bell-bottomed disco drill squad, hula hoopers, a completely hairless Uncle Fester, a massive robotic cat, a troupe of baguette-wielding French stereotypes, Hare Krishna, Hairy Krishna, a drawling Howdy Krishna, the L.A. Derby Dolls, a pedal-powered movable feast and costumed paparazzi pestering parade-goers.
Many faithfully return year after year to toss tortillas at spectators and be pelted in turn.
But perhaps no figure of parades past has left more of a mark on the Doo Dah milieu than the late artist Jiryar “Jerry” Zorthian, whose son, architect Alan Zorthian, reigns this year as parade grand marshal, a title bestowed on the elder Zorthian 16 years ago.
Jerry Zorthian’s sprawling 40-plus-acre ranch in the Altadena foothills — then home to a menagerie of creative types and farm animals and a property that became littered with art objects, assorted junk and domiciles constructed from found objects — for years hosted raucous Doo Dah Queen selection ceremonies to kick off parade season before Zorthian’s death in 2004 at 92.
A celebrated sculptor, muralist and prolific painter of female nudes, Zorthian also threw himself elaborate birthday parties during his octogenarian years. On such occasions the wizard-bearded, five-foot three-inch-tall native of Turkey and childhood survivor of the Armenian genocide would emerge before hundreds of guests as “Zor-Bacchus,” a dancing, toga-clad reveler devouring grapes from the fingers of youthful, naked “nymphs” who served as his art models.
“There’s nobody like him anymore — the charisma, flamboyance,” said Jennifer Fabos Patton, 43, who began modeling for Zorthian shortly after high school and lays claim to the title of “original nymph.”
Fabos Patton, who in 2006 was half of topless Doo Dah Queen duo Saffrona and Saphira, the Siamese Serpent Twins, will reprise a nymph-like role this year as one of several body-painted living Greek columns in Alan Zorthian’s grand marshal procession.
Other nymphs will be drafted from The Gallery Girls, the art model agency she now operates and an annual progenitor of queen hopefuls for theatrical tryouts now held at a local American Legion bar.
Alan Zorthian, 54, and his father rode horses in the first Doo Dah, which capitalized on crowds camping overnight for the Rose Parade, delayed that year to Jan. 2 due to the Tournament of Roses’ never-on-a-Sunday rule.
“A lot of people were offended by it, much to [founder] Peter Apanel’s delight,” recalled Alan Zorthian, now working to revive Zorthian Ranch as an artists’ colony.
Apanel initially conscripted a handful of Old Pasadena barflies but was later forced to run the expanding parade as a full-time enterprise until 1994, when he sold it for $2 to the Light Bringer Project, a local arts education nonprofit that also produces the Pasadena Chalk Festival.
Light Bringer moved the parade east from Old Pasadena in 2010 to eliminate increasing logistical headaches.
But along the way the parade lost many members of the Barbecue & Hibachi Marching Grill Team, perennial Doo Dah favorites since the mid-1980s, which is planning a triumphant return for Saturday’s parade.
Team members wheel a fully operational open-fire grill down the parade route, roasting hundreds of hot dogs that are loaded into “bratzooka” cannons and launched at spectators.
Assembled grillmen, some harnessed to hibachis, wear charcoal bags as hats and march to military calls. “Condiment girls” in red-and-white uniforms assist those who catch edible projectiles that don’t explode overhead.
“This is our first year back in full regalia,” said longtime organizer Jennifer Schiller, promising under orders of the Pasadena Health Department that hot dogs will be wrapped more tightly this year.
Though sustained by its pedigree, Doo Dah day continues to attract new blood.
Various Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists working with the Mars rover Curiosity plan to join Sandra Tsing Loh, a Caltech grad and host of the syndicated radio show “The Loh Down on Science,” in a vintage Cadillac convertible, said show production manager Frier McCollister.
Altadena artist and specialty foods entrepreneur Susann Edmonds — a longtime parade-watcher but first-time participant — will reign as a nautical-themed queen with a seaworthy blend of fermented pirate elixir.
Also new on the bill are a walking Jiffy Pop popcorn dispenser, pizza-cooking dragon, tiki ukulele club and numerous entries with titles like “Surfer Jet Set Planet” that parade organizers have yet to fully decipher.
“I often don’t really know what they are,” said Light Bringer’s Patricia Hurley. “The parade is always different. We try to set the stage for new things to occur.”
For condiment-girl-in-charge Schiller, the spontaneous fun of Doo Dah comes as reward for the elaborate behind-the-scenes work that goes into a successfully carefree march.
“It’s funny because every year I say I’m done, I can’t do all this again,” said Schiller, a Pasadena native. “But I end up having the greatest time in my life.”
What: The Doo Dah ParadeWhen: Begins 11 a.m. Saturday, April 27Where: Along East Colorado Boulevard between San Gabriel Boulevard and Altadena DriveMore info: (626) 590-7596, www.pasadenadoodahparade.info
Follow Joe Piasecki on Twitter: @JoePiasecki.
FOR THE RECORD: An April 21 story titled “Definitely not the Rose Parade” stated that the late Altadena artist Jirayr Zorthian was born in Turkey. Zorthian was born in 1911 in Anatolia, an area within modern-day Turkey that was then part of the Ottoman Empire.