Beverly Hills is about to launch what its organizers hope will become an annual event--a mile-long St. Patrick's Day parade with celebrities, marching bands, 60 horses, a camel, floats and a green elephant strolling down Rodeo Drive on a green rug.
The parade was proposed by Jimmy Murphy, a 46-year-old native of Ireland who rose from waiter to owner of Jimmy's, a fashionable Beverly Hills restaurant.
"This country has been good to me and I wanted to show my appreciation," said Murphy, who is the parade chairman. "I see it as a way to give something back, and what better way to give something back than with a parade?"
Despite some reservations, city officials granted Murphy a permit to stage the parade at noon March 17.
They estimate that between 20,000 and 50,000 spectators will line the one-mile route beginning at Wilshire and Little Santa Monica boulevards. The parade will proceed east on Wilshire to Dayton Way, across Dayton Way to Rodeo Drive, and up Rodeo Drive past a reviewing stand to Little Santa Monica, where it turns east to Crescent Drive.
"St. Patrick's Day is special," Murphy said. "On St. Patrick's Day everyone is Irish. People wear green and put O's in front of their name . . . everyone loves the spirit of it. It is a day when, as we say in Ireland, 'the cares of tomorrow must wait until this day is done.' "
City officials have been reluctant to grant parade permits within Beverly Hills because of the potential traffic problems and disturbances in residential areas.
But this year city officials, encouraged by the success of the Olympic torch relay, agreed to permit the parade because it is scheduled for a Sunday when traffic is light.
The parade committee agreed to pay $17,000 for cleanup and for the 60 to 70 police officers expected to be on duty. The committee also agreed to take out a $10-million insurance policy to cover the possibility of damage from accidents.
"I think it's very exciting to have a St. Patrick's Day parade in our city," said Mayor Annabelle Heiferman. "But the most important issue is to protect the residents. I hope the parade will not have a negative impact on the residents."
Murphy said he understands the city's concerns, but is convinced that this year's parade "will be performed without incident and the city will welcome us back next year.
"Parades can become political, but I have tried to stay out of that. I don't want people to say the parade (is being held as an excuse to) demonstrate against what is happening in Ireland. And so far I have been able to keep away from it. It is a parade for people to have fun and not to air their politics."
Bill Lomas, parade coordinator, said that because of its location and the celebrity names behind it, "the Beverly Hills parade will accomplish more in its first year than most other cities accomplish in five years." Lomas is a professional parade coordinator and organizes 65 parades across the country, including the Hollywood Christmas Parade.
The grand marshal will be Ed McMahon. Some of the celebrities expected to participate in the parade are Zsa Zsa and Eva Gabor, Merv Griffin, Gene Kelly, Fred MacMurray, Jennifer O'Neil, Jimmy Stewart and Danny Thomas. The parade will also feature the Marine Corps Band and Drill Team and this year's Rose of Tralee, Diane Hannagen, who will be flown in from Ireland for the occasion.
Rodeo Drive's Giorgio's is expected to operate one of the dozen floats in the parade. The Giorgio's float will spray spectators with $200-an-ounce perfume.