When Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived in Los Angeles years ago, the first star-studded Hollywood event his friends showed him was the Hollywood Christmas Parade.
This Sunday, the star of such movies as "Twins" and "Total Recall," will be the grand marshal of that parade, towering atop a float filled with child actors.
"He's a box-office giant and everybody loves him," said Johnny Grant, executive producer of the Hollywood Christmas Parade. But even a tough guy like Schwarzenegger will need some prepping for the 3.2-mile parade, which is expected to attract 1 million spectators.
"We have to prepare (our grand marshals) for the rush of lights and the largest crowds they've ever seen. . . . Stars in the past have said they actually lose their breath when their float first starts down the route," said Grant.
Schwarzenegger is flying in from Tokyo just six hours before the parade begins; a helicopter will be on standby to whisk him to the parade. Grant said he has learned to prepare for the unexpected since singer Stevie Wonder's jet arrived late a few years ago, leaving that grand marshal stuck in traffic until the parade was more than half over.
"I love children and I'm delighted to be part of something so traditional," said Schwarzenegger, who will be the first grand marshal waving from a float rather than an antique car. "It's a terrific honor."
The former bodybuilder plans to ride with the director and young cast of his new movie, "Kindergarten Cop." The float has a jungle gym, school desks and a big movie camera swinging from a boom, replicating a film shoot for the movie. Schwarzenegger's wife, Maria Shriver, and their young daughter will watch the parade pass by from the stands.
"It's going to be the biggest parade ever," gushed Grant. But with only two hours of TV air time allocated to the parade, it can't get any bigger than years past. Parade organizers often hold their breath to see if they will get the last float--Santa Claus and his reindeer--on the air, said Ronnie Lomas, the parade's coordinator for the past 13 years.
"We've had some squeakers where some time was gobbled up and we wondered if we'd have to cut the show before the parade was finished," said Lomas, who added that Santa will be arriving on an 18-foot-tall, 62-foot-long sparkling float this year.
"We have a better line-up of stars than ever before," boasted Grant, reading off a list of names that goes from Ed Asner to Moon Zappa. Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows are the pre-parade show hosts for television, while Leeza Gibbons and Bob Eubanks host the parade itself.
Such established actors as Ned Beatty, Angie Dickinson, Connie Stevens and Michael York will be in the parade, along with teen heart-throbs Scott Baio, Kirk Cameron and Denzel Washington, and some faces well-known to children--Mr. T, the Simpsons and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The parade cast also includes the familiar faces of Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, local-DJ-turned-talk-show-host Rick Dees, legendary rocker Little Richard, game-show regular Charles Nelson Reilly and TV stars ranging from 1970s "Monkee" Mickey Dolenz to 1990s "Golden Girl" Estelle Getty.
The 84 celebrities, 60 classic cars, 19 floats, 14 marching bands and 12 silver-saddled horse teams make this an event to rival any partridge in a pear tree, say organizers. A sneak-peek at the float designs--this year they all arrived by FAX at parade headquarters--reveals a KTLA float honoring Operation Desert Shield, house-sized poinsettias from Frederick's of Hollywood and a Crystal Cathedral Nativity scene.
A giant guitar float will have rock singer Tiffany popping out of a box to boost Recording Artists Against Drunk Driving's bannered message: "Don't drive drunk, chose a designated driver." RADD organizer Bob Jenkins said the words may be sobering for such a festive event, but "it's a good place to speak out against the lunacy of driving drunk."
TV viewers around the world may get a better look at the parade than the throngs expected along Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. In fact, some crowd-pleasing floats--such as the giant Disney balloon--won't go beyond the 1,000 feet in front of the television cameras, said Lomas, whose family has organized parades for more than 30 years.
The Hollywood Christmas Parade is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Sunday at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue, traveling west to Highland Avenue, north to Hollywood Boulevard and then east to Bronson Avenue. Grandstand seats cost $15 and $20. For reservations, call (213) 462-2394.
KTLA, Channel 5, will broadcast the show live from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. and replay it Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 25 at 10 a.m.
The parade forecast--usually blustery, damp and cold--is expected to be clear and mild, but cool. "And even if it does rain on our parade," said Grant, "we're ready!"