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'50s Rock Float to Roll in '90 Rose Parade

December 22, 1989|COLETTE O'CONNOR | Colette O'Connor is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Brad Jansen is jazzed about the '50s.

It's not just his love of sock hops, malt shops and cool Caddys with fins that excites the 35-year-old Buena Park advertising art director. It's more that his design of a rolling rock 'n' roll-era float has been chosen to represent the city of Burbank in the 1990 Tournament of Roses Parade, to be held Jan. 1 in Pasadena.

Not only will 1 million people lining the parade route view his floral creation as it cruises Colorado Boulevard in the company of 59 other floats, 22 marching bands and more than 275 costumed equestrians, but his concept will greet millions of television viewers worldwide.

"If each of the more than 300 million people who will see this float were to send me just 1 cent, I would have more than $3 million," jokes Jansen, who's come a long way from his first design job hot out of Cal State Fullerton with a degree in art. He was drawing surfers on T-shirts. "Better yet, $3.33 each would net me $1 billion--before taxes."

The billion-dollar man will have to wait, however. The float Jansen "dreamed up" and spent more than 80 hours rendering and refining before the Burbank Tournament of Roses Assn. decreed it the best of 20 entries in its annual design contest is still parked in a Burbank warehouse. It has been under construction since March, and more work is needed before it can roll on New Year's Day.

Rock 'n' roll, that is. Called the Be-Bop Malt Shop, this flowered fantasy is a hoppin', boppin' blend of spectacle and showmanship.

Designed in Art Deco shapes and zingy neon shades, the float is a teen-age drive-in hangout where a giant double cheeseburger, extra large fries and a soda reaching the float's height--22 1/2 feet--loom over a guitar-shaped dance floor that's anchored by curvy counters, diner stools and--serving as a huge hood ornament--a jukebox.

Trailing behind the Be-Bop, below a sign proclaiming "Sock Hop Tonight!" are a '59 Cadillac El Dorado and '57 Corvette--two slick sets of wheels re-created to two-thirds scale in authentic detail.

"There will be two waitresses in bobby socks bouncing around and sock hop dancers in costumes flying all over the dance floor," Jansen said as he described the production number to be staged on the float as it glides for more than two hours and 5 1/2 miles along the parade route. "Do you believe it? It's all part of the concept, and it's neat. I hope people will notice."

His '50s flashback was definitely noticed by Burbank's Tournament of Roses Assn. when it was selected in February over all other contest submissions, some from such design heavyweights as the Walt Disney Co.

"Brad's design was absolutely the most exciting--a show float that would be fun to build--and it was almost a unanimous vote right away," says Erik Anderson, 23, vice president of the Burbank parade association and a member of the committee in charge of selecting a crowd pleaser that would embody this year's Tournament of Roses theme, "A World of Harmony," and show that Burbank could compete with the large-size floats.

"Usually during the parade we realize how, well, small our float is next to those monstrosities," Anderson said, referring to the works of animated art that are built by seasoned professionals. These builders are showered with corporate dollars in the hope of making an impressive New Year's Day splash with an elaborate, blooming testament to their corporate identity.

"Brad's concept is the biggest Burbank has ever had--55 feet long and 22 1/2 feet high. Plus, his idea of the '50s is it! There's a lot of nostalgia happening now for the era. You know, Elvis. Rock 'n' roll," says Anderson.

While Elvis won't be playing the Be-Bop Malt Shop on parade day, rock 'n' roll will be in full force, because Jansen is crazy about all those tunes beloved by baby boomers. Sock hoppers bop to Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire" while roller-skating waitresses balance trays. Radio station KRLA will broadcast the float's music live.

"This thing is going to come around the corner blasting Jerry Lee, Little Richard, everybody," Jansen said. "I hope everything works. That the straws on the soda twirl. That the dancers are hoppin' and boppin' with lots of charisma. And that there are no sudden stops where they all fall into the jukebox and knock it off."

Over the years, ambitious parade presentations have survived untold precarious moments from the time their concept is approved to their public debut. Design and construction disasters in the Tournament of Roses' 101-year history have resulted in floats limping toward the finish, their animation de-animated, their motors broken, their fresh flowers wilted, and their riders (some of whom must perform nonstop for two hours) exhausted, sunburned and blistered.

All of the disaster stories have failed to dissuade the Be-Bop Malt Shop's crew of volunteers. With a budget of $69,000, they will put in more than 1,000 hours building and gilding their float.

And they will be thrilled to do so.

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