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What a parade does to survive

November 30, 2002|Stephanie Chavez | Times Staff Writer

The Hollywood Christmas Parade, a 70-year-old Los Angeles holiday tradition that brings out hundreds of thousands of spectators, had come to this:

Television stations were reluctant to air it. Many celebrities wouldn't ride in it. One who did, a female wrestler, encouraged families in the grandstand to buy her new Playboy centerfold as "stocking stuffers."

After losing money two years in a row, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce debated last summer whether to cancel it.

But on Sunday night, the 71st Hollywood Christmas Parade, the working-class cousin to the elite Rose Parade (to say nothing of the rowdy family outcast, the Doo Dah Parade), will be reincarnated as a one-hour variety show to air Dec. 8 on NBC in a last-breath shot at the TV stardom organizers desperately say they need to keep the event alive.

Yes, the parade will kick off as usual in all its kitschy splendor, with throngs of adoring fans in antler headbands and Santa hats cheering the free show. Police guess their numbers to be anywhere from 400,000 to 700,000, a public gathering ranking up there with the Los Angeles Marathon and Rose Parade.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday December 06, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 6 inches; 248 words Type of Material: Correction
Hollywood Christmas Spectacular -- An article in Saturday's Calendar reported that stuntman Bobby Brown was going to jump off a 10-story building as part of the Blockbuster Hollywood Christmas Spectacular. Instead, stuntman Mike Kartvedt performed the jump from a 12-story building. Also, the story misidentified the longtime head of Western Costume Co. His name was John F. Golden, not Goldman.

But the live televised form of the event, seen in Los Angeles the Sunday after Thanksgiving since the early 1960s, has come to an end, an "old and tired entertainment form that isn't as interesting as it used to be," said the variety show's executive producer.

For its network make-over, the Hollywood Christmas Parade, like so many stars on the Walk of Fame, will have to change its name, let go of its past and leave old associations behind. It will emerge as the "Blockbuster Hollywood Christmas Spectacular."

Purposefully missing from the title is the word "parade."

"You are not going see marching bands and equestrian units and cars with octogenarian stars in them," executive producer Bob Bain said. "What you are going to see is a special specifically created to relate to a contemporary national audience that uses the parade event as its environment."

The parade will be all but gone -- "Eliminated! Eliminated!" Bain said -- from the network special.

And that's fine with parade fans -- just as long as the special doesn't ruin their fun.

"I can tell you what this parade is about, why it's so popular," said Jean Pearlman, 53, who used to watch it on TV and now volunteers at the event. "It laughs with you and stays with you like a little glow.... And being there is 100 times better than watching it on TV."

It's about crowds so excited that they break into cheering matches across Hollywood Boulevard. It's about kids giddy to be out at night and getting to wear snow hats and mittens because this is Los Angeles cold. "It's not about A-list celebrities. It's about celebration," said Lisa Wills, 40, of Chino Hills. "You get this feeling that you've just stepped into 'It's a Wonderful Life.' It feels like Christmas, I guess."

That's just the emotion the "Spectacular" wants to exploit, without actually having to show the parade. Bain, who also produces the Miss America Pageant, says you can expect to see cut-aways of the crowds, and host Nancy O'Dell of "Access Hollywood" saying something like "I'm live at the world-famous Hollywood Christmas Parade, a Southern California tradition for 71 years."

The street parade will star grand marshal Mickey Rooney, 82, who said he hopes to sing a round of "Jingle Bells" with the spectators packed 50 deep at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.

The televised "Spectacular" will star LeAnn Rimes and Destiny's Child singing cuts from their new holiday CDs as 200 paid extras surround the stage on cue and act like parade-goers.

The parade will go on with the Center Grove High School marching band from Greenwood, Ind., and its baton-twirling gymnasts.

The "Spectacular" will go on with stunt man Bobby Brown falling off a 10-story building to promote the December release of "XXX" on DVD.

The parade will end as it always does with Santa Claus, ho-ho-ho-ing greetings in five languages to wild ovations.

It's uncertain, however, whether Santa will make it to the final edit of the "Spectacular." In recent weeks, as both sides scrambled to assemble star lineups, Hollywood the Parade and Hollywood the Industry formed a delicate alliance. "Obviously there is trepidation, " said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "This is an enormous change for us, and we are hoping it will give us a long-term outlook for the parade." If the special flops, the chamber may not be able to resuscitate the parade.

But it didn't have any other options. And it wasn't the first time the parade had been in trouble.

It started out as the Santa Claus Lane Parade in 1928 as a way to attract shoppers to Hollywood Boulevard, but by the 1960s it had lost its luster and could not attract crowds or prominent celebrities. In 1978, the chamber recruited John F. Goldman, the longtime head of Western Costume Co., to restore glamour to the event.

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