The theme of the Tournament of Roses on New Year's Day is "A Celebration of Laughter," but the very first Rose Bowl game played inside the stadium, in 1923, wasn't one chuckle after another. Not for all the fans, not after the game had ended.
Take it from Lathrop K. Leishman, the 81-year-old elder statesman of the Tournament of Roses.
Leishman has been involved with the annual festivities more than half a century, is a former Pasadena Tournament of Roses Assn. president, longtime chairman of the football committee, former grand marshal of the parade and the son of one of the two persons mainly responsible for the birth of the bowl.
In keeping with the upcoming theme, Leishman can look back with a smile on some of the happenings over the years.
"For that first game in 1923, just about everybody who came by car, arrived in a black Ford, and were directed to parking areas that were unpaved and unlit.
"The team that was to play USC (who eventually won, 14-3) was Penn State. The trouble was, they got delayed in traffic, and the game was nearly an hour late in starting.
"When it finally ended, about 52,000 fans poured out. Those who wanted to leave by car were going around trying to find black Fords in pitch darkness."
Prior to that historic bowl contest, there hadn't seemed a need for a fence around the stadium.
"We were going to take the tickets from the people as they entered through the tunnels," Leishman said. "It was a mistake. Too many came in too fast, not everyone with a ticket. After that experience we put up a fence.
"Another thing I remember is that there were no toilets. Trenches had been built outside, and tents put over them. That, of course, was changed. In fact, the new toilets installed last year cost more than the $272,000 it took to build the Rose Bowl."
While it was being constructed, he remembered, there was a sign at the north end that simply read: "Stadium."
"Harlan Hall, a reporter for the Pasadena Star-News who was on loan to the tournament as a publicist, commented that we had a rose parade, so why not call this the Rose Bowl. That is what happened and that is what a new sign said."
Six years later after that first game came the famous one in which Cal center Roy Riegels recovered a fumble and in confusion ran the wrong way, toward his own goal line, eventually being chased and grabbed by one of his own teammates.
"My folks had given me a movie camera a week earlier for Christmas," Leishman recalled. "I had it with me at the game, and was going to use it at times. When Riegels started running, I got excited and was hollering along with everybody else. I completely forgot about the camera."
An omen perhaps of what was to befall Cal, which lost 8-7 to Georgia Tech, had occurred earlier in that 1929 game. Cal tried a quick kick, but as the ball left the punter's foot, it suddenly deflated and fell flat to the ground.
Sort of a prelude of what was to happen to Wall Street later that year.
Surrounded by Souvenirs
So many memories. Even though Leishman will turn 82 four days after the forthcoming game, he still shows up every working day in the office of his Leishman Management Co. (real estate developers), where he is surrounded by walls covered with souvenirs and photos attesting to his 55 years of involvement with the tournament.
At age 35, he was president of the roses association in 1939, when the grand marshal of the parade was a young actress named Shirley Temple.
"Because of her family's concern for her safety--the Lindbergh kidnaping had happened just a few years earlier--40 mounted sheriff's deputies surrounded her as she rode along in a car," Leishman recalled.
"After the parade, the men in her family stayed for the game, but she and her mother headed back to the old Vista del Arroyo Hotel. Shirley Temple suddenly stood up in the back of the Cadillac and asked me if I could get the officers in the motorcycle escort to sound their sirens, for the excitement of it all. They did, and it pleased her no end."
Named Grand Marshal
Forty years later, Leishman was honored by being named grand marshal, and he and his wife, Marie, rode the parade route in the back of a 1939 white Packard.
"It's a strange feeling," he said. "You can hear all these people yelling out your name, but you can't make out any faces."
The honor was a fitting one for the family name, inasmuch as it had come to be associated with the twin local spectacles after William L. Leishman moved from Connecticut to Terminal Island in the 1890s.
"My father was a tailor," Lathrop Leishman said. "He came out here because his own father, who owned a millwork, was dying, and the business needed to be run."
William eventually sold the millwork, and in 1904 took his wife and newborn son to Pasadena, to run Ye Arts and Crafts Shop. The father soon joined the tournament association.