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Santa steps up to save parade

Supporters of the canceled holiday event stage rally along Walk of Fame in Hollywood.

March 29, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

It was only a week ago that Hollywood leaders announced that there would never be another Hollywood Christmas Parade.

But there Santa Claus was Wednesday, parading down the boulevard's Walk of Fame with a ragtag band of supporters behind him.

"Save the Hollywood Christmas Parade!" they shouted during a three-block march as tourists snapped photos and locals stared.

"This is a grass-roots effort to get the community to launch a campaign that can save the parade," explained organizer Greg Durfee, a Hollywood resident. "Adults need to slow down. The parade doesn't have to be canceled."

Executives with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which staged the parade for 75 years, disclosed March 21 that they had reluctantly decided to cancel the annual Thanksgiving weekend event. The 2006 parade was the final one, they said.

"We're disappointed and sad. But we're out of the parade business," said Jeff Briggs, chairman of the chamber's board of directors.

Briggs and other leaders of the business group said the chamber had lost about $100,000 staging the 2006 parade. Financial projections indicated that losses would be double that if a 2007 parade were held, he said.

The parade cost about $1 million to produce. Most of its expenses were covered by television broadcast fees tied to a percentage of TV ad revenues, grandstand ticket sales and various sponsorships.

Durfee said his campaign would focus on finding major sponsors willing to underwrite the parade, preferably for a 10-year period.

"We're not taking any donations. We want people to e-mail companies like Coca-Cola and Paramount Pictures," said the 44-year-old Durfee -- who described himself as an operator of a small production company and a fan of the Christmas parade since he was 7 years old. He asked that supporters e-mail savetheparade@yahoo.com for details.

Durfee climbed into a red Santa suit and attached a white beard to lead the march. A costumed character, "Norky the Peneagle," joined him. With the body of a penguin and the head of an eagle, the figure is a "goodwill character" from the North Pole, said Marina del Rey entertainment promoter Brady Farmer.

The pair were quickly joined by several backers carrying hand-printed signs. By the time they walked from Las Palmas Avenue to Highland Avenue, about a dozen others had fallen in behind.

"It would be great to have another Christmas parade," said marcher Luciano Rauso, 11, of Burbank.

"Yes, it's very crucial," agreed onlooker Tom White, 29, of Los Angeles.

Near the Kodak Theatre, Santa and Norky began encountering Hollywood's other characters -- the costumed actors who pose for tourist pictures near Grauman's Chinese Theatre. One of them was dressed like a "Pirates of the Caribbean" buccaneer.

"Johnny Depp! Help save the parade," shouted one marcher.

"I've always wanted to be in a parade," replied Capt. Jack Sparrow look-alike Thomas Fox.

"This is a parade. Join us," Farmer said.

"I'm kind of on a break right now. I can't," Fox said.

The sidewalk in front of the Chinese Theatre was blocked off for the premiere of the movie "Blades of Glory," so the marchers crossed Hollywood Boulevard and briefly continued on. But they stopped before reaching the Chamber of Commerce office next door to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.

"We don't want to get into anything political," said Durfee. "I don't want to say anything negative about the Chamber of Commerce. They've done a great job for 75 years."

Briggs and chamber President Leron Gubler could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.

But a spokesman for Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who represents parts of Hollywood, said Garcetti is anxious to learn more about the save-the-parade campaign. "That's an interesting development, and our office looks forward to learning more about their efforts," said aide Josh Kamensky.

As for Durfee, he plans to parade down the boulevard in a Santa suit each Wednesday -- until a way is found to return Santa in a real Christmas sleigh.

bob.pool@latimes.com

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