There are those who have spent a lifetime in Pasadena, Calif. anticipating New Year's Day in the same way that the wheat field regards the oncoming swarm of locusts. The urge is to cut and run. Most of the locals, however, await the holiday with a blend of eagerness, pride, joy, hospitality, self-sacrifice, chauvinism and a little greed at the thought that a million and a half visitors (a convenient figure everyone has accepted for years) will inch their way along the freeways and up Fair Oaks Avenue and down Linda Vista and across San Pasqual and finally shoehorn themselves into position along a five-mile stretch of Orange Grove Boulevard and Colorado Boulevard to watch the parade.
For the first 60 years or so the parade was just the parade, a community ego-builder and something to keep the children entertained during the morning until it was time for Daddy to go to the East-West football game at Tournament Park and, in later years, down in the Arroyo Seco, where they had built the Rose Bowl. About 20 years ago television discovered the parade, and now it is the biggest TV show in the world: two hours of super living color for more than 100 million pairs of eyes watching on two coast-to-coast networks and in Canada and Mexico, by Telstar in Puerto Rico and South America, by video tape in Japan and, for some reason, by TV film in France and Spain. The number of people who would like to sponsor one of the 60 floats in the parade would stretch all the way to Albuquerque. And to show you how magnanimous Pasadena is, nobody except the television people makes any serious money out of the parade.
Pasadena is more a fantasy than a city anyway. In the minds of Ohio and Alabama, Pasadena is a football stadium called the Rose Bowl that fills up once a year. John O'Hara people think it is an expanse of interconnecting country clubs filled with Yalies in Brooks Brothers shirts and Junior Leaguers in tweeds and cardigans. All drinking martinis and divorcing each other. Hollywood, which is only half an hour away, thinks Pasadena is somewhere on Long Island and is inhabited largely by polo ponies and guys named Wainwright Stuyvesant Ill. Bob Hope's audience thinks Pasadena is a 78-room mansion owned by a little old lady in tennis shoes who drives a 1912 Baker Electric. The guys named Wainwright Stuyvesant III think Pasadena is getting to be a city of nothing but dentists and car salesmen. There is a little bit of truth in all of this.
At 8:40 on the nose each New Year's morning, the Pasadena City College Lancer Band, 154 strong, and simply stunning in their white uniforms modeled after those of the West Point cadets, starts up Orange Grove Boulevard from in front of an equally white fortress called Tournament House that used to be the winter home of William Wrigley Jr., the man responsible for putting wads of Juicy Fruit on the soles of countless millions of marching shoes. In the days when Wrigley and his family occupied this pretentious blockhouse, Orange Grove Avenue, as it was then called, was bordered for two miles on either side with equally expensive atrocities built by the Middle Western arrivistes of speedometers, beer, cigarettes and other recent fortunes. Naturally, the avenue was dubbed "millionaires' row." Each winter these people parked their private Pullmans on the sidings of the Santa Fe station on South Raymond and thus gave Pasadena an undeserved reputation for style and wealth. All but two of those houses are gone now, the victims of taxes, and the Wrigley place was donated to the city of Pasadena for the Tournament of Roses Association, the tax-exempt legacy of a gaudier age. Now, as the parade begins, every square inch of the wide expanse of Wrigley's front lawn is hidden by the litter of hundreds of bodies who have camped there overnight, restlessly awaiting the glorious pageant.
January 4, 1971
Next in line after the City College Lancers come the 25 matching palominos of the Long Beach Mounted Police, who are equally gorgeous in white Stetsons and white vestments with roses appliqued on the jackets, each mounted policeman carrying an American flag big enough for a battleship. For 24 years they have been in the parade's No. 2 spot, which may account for the size of their waistlines. In case they put anyone in mind of robbing a Long Beach bank, it should be noted that most are not really policemen, just middle-aged chaps who like to ride in parades and are deputized for the occasion.
With the patriotic motif established, the moment is ripe for the real showstopper of the morning—the Grand Marshal, who must epitomize all that is best in America at the moment. Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower both accepted the honor after they finished their chores in the White House. For the three years after World War II the parade honored such heroes of the struggle as Admiral Halsey, Bob Hope and General Bradley, in that order. Richard M. Nixon, who comes from just down the road in Whittier, was honored twice while Vice-President, Earl Warren was also twice a marshal, once as governor of the state and once as a new Chief Justice before all those controversial decisions by the Warren court. Charles E. ("What's good for General Motors...") Wilson made it while he was Secretary of Defense in Eisenhower's Cabinet. There have been no well-known Democrats, possibly because the Grand Marshal is the personal choice of the presiding officer of the Tournament Association. Further reflecting the spirit of their times, other Grand Marshals have been Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple, Harold Lloyd, Walt Disney and Arnold Palmer. Nor should one forget Coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and Kay (College of Musical Knowledge) Kyser. Several times there have been multimarshals. Right after Korea there was a group of Medal of Honor winners, and last year the Apollo 12 astronauts. Also, as one tournament official reminds us, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. The 124-piece U.S. Marine Corps Band follows the marshal with appropriate pomp and dignity.
Now comes the first of the 60 floats which are what the Rose Parade is all about. For the remainder of the two hours these floral dinosaurs, separated by either a marching band or a posse of bespangled horsemen and always seemingly teetering on the brink of disaster, creep up the boulevard, round "media corner" for anywhere from 18 to 31 seconds of full attention from the world's television lenses and then disappear down Colorado, their moment of glory fulfilled and remembered only by the people who built them.
The building of floats is a mini-industry that has grown up around the parade unnoticed by the busy outside world. There are six of these firms recognized by the Tournament Association, and among them they make all but half a dozen or so of the entries. It is not a business one enters with expectations of steady employment or sudden riches. The best a "decorator" can hope to net on a float, if all goes well and a late-December freeze doesn't wipe out the nation's flower crop, is 25%. Rick Chapman, at 27 the newest and youngest decorator in the business, contracted to make one of his first floats for the city of Los Angeles for $12,000 in 1968. By the time he had it rolling down the boulevard to the cheers of thousands it had cost him $17,500. After a year of thought the city fathers finally decided to pay him an additional $5,000 on the grounds that he had won them the Sweepstakes Award, the parade's most important prize, thus cutting his loss to $500.
Chapman, who is building five floats this year, likes the work, but hopes to expand his business into something more stable, "so I won't have to go around with my heart in my throat for six months out of the year."
Actually, the floats take a lot longer than that from drawing board to media corner. In April, after the new tournament president is installed, he assembles the decorators at Tournament House and announces the theme for the coming year. This New Year's it will be "Thru [sic] the Eyes of a Child," by edict of A. Lewis Shingler, a pious gentleman from somewhere in southern Georgia who spent 24 years working his way up the association ladder to the presidency. "I felt we needed to get through to the simplicity of a child's conceptions," is the way Shingler explains his theme. The Tournament Association members, volunteers all, habitually talk in lofty phrases. Shingler, who looks a bit like the late comedian Ed Wynn, grew prosperous selling Chevies but has lately been raising funds for worthy church groups. When asked what could possibly impel a busy man like himself to contribute all those hours of his time, year after year, to the parade, Shingler solemnly replies, "To have a part in something that's successful, beautiful and expressive of the spirit of gratitude for what we enjoy in Southern California and the good things of life."
Once the president announces the theme, the decorators dash back to their shops and offices to prepare some appropriate sketches of floats that might appeal to sponsors. Their establishments, scattered around the decaying areas of Southern California where land is cheap, appear at first glance to be little more than abandoned junkyards: a wheel here, a tire there, a rusty engine over in that corner, scattered pieces of pipe and chicken wire and steel tubing hither and yon. There is always a small office in some corner of the lot where, as Rick Chapman puts it, the "nutty artist" works.
Within days the decorators have their first rough sketches ready to submit to the Tournament Association's float committee, one of the 31 committees devoted to putting the parade on the road. The float committee referees such matters as duplicate ideas and whether the design is in the proper spirit of the parade. "We want something that is happy, cheerful, encouraging and bright," a committee member explains. Dignity is important, too. The slightly frivolous plan of the Pasadena Art Museum to enter a floral tennis shoe with a group of old ladies clinging to the laces never got past the drawing board.
As the sketches come forth, the float business begins to resemble the jungle warfare of Madison Ave. A million dollars is about to be spent on the floats, and most of the people who have entries—cities and hotels and large corporations and labor unions and whatnot—have queued up for years to get one of the 60 places. So they let the decorators chew their nails for weeks and months while they study the designs and try to make up their minds how they will spend their $15,000 to $35,000. "There is no such thing as loyalty," says Lee Miller, a chubby little grand-daddy type who started life as a florist in Alhambra and began to make floats with his brother almost 40 years ago. "You can win the grand prize for somebody one year, and the next year they will go off to somebody else. We've built three for Kodak, a couple for Chrysler and two for Bank of America, and we're not doing any of them this year. It's dog-eat-dog in this business." As Miller spoke he stood in the middle of his three-acre lot, surveying hopefully the half-finished floats around him.
The specifications for Rose Parade floats are as rigid as a banker's heart. The fuel tanks, the batteries, the fire extinguishers, the steering apparatus, the tires, the radiators, the emergency towing gear—everything must be just so. The flowers can begin no lower than six inches from the ground and go no higher than 16 feet or wider than 18 feet or longer than 50 feet. All floats must be self-propelled. Everyone connected with the float must ride aboard, and nothing may be thrown therefrom. Any artificial flowers or decorations are grounds for instant, unforgiving disqualification. Seventeen or 18 years ago someone discovered that some sweet peas on the Standard Oil float had been dyed, so instead of winning the grand prize, as it might have, the float was placed in purgatory. After a few more years Standard just gave up, which is regarded around Tournament House as Standard's tough luck.
Aside from the basic steel framework, a float prior to the onlay of the flowers is a sculpture of chicken wire covered with a polyvinyl cocoon. "You just love it to the way you want it," says Chapman. "Usually the float turns out a lot more lively and vibrant than the original rendering because you interpret as you go along."
In his office Chapman keeps a piece of paper handy on which he has written his basic philosophy for Rose Parade floats. It starts off with the reminder, "People are easier to entertain than inform." Then it continues:
"Primary Impact Elements: breathtaking floral beauty achieved with abundant use of 'impact' flowers (roses, orchids, carnations).
"Secondary impact elements: subject matter itself; animation; shape; sound."
"All this," Chapman says, "is more important than what the nutty artist thinks."
Chapman cares about the float's appearance from only one angle, what he calls the "primary camera impact." That is from 30° to starboard and 30° above, which is where the TV cameras will be when his floats first come into range on media corner. "The customer is not paying for what those million and a half people along the route think," Chapman explains. "He wants to look good for those 18 to 31 seconds he gets on worldwide television." Being of the Now Generation, Chapman puts realism on a very special pedestal.
By early November the floats are approaching the final stages of completion. One by one and two by two during the small hours of the morning when the traffic is light, they are ever so carefully driven to one of the three staging areas maintained by the Tournament Association within easy rolling distance of where the parade will begin. "The point," says Bill Leishman, chairman of the float committee, "is to bring them in where we can get them under our thumb. Sometimes I just can't believe it all gets done." Leishman, a handsome and aggressive young Pasadena businessman who helps to manage the family's land-development operation, is something of an anomaly among the 600 or so volunteer committeemen who struggle over the details of the parade. At the age of 37 he is practically a stripling among his associates, but his is a special case. His grandfather was the tournament president in 1920-21, and his father, Lathrop Leishman, now chairman of the football committee, was the president in 1939. In another dozen years or more Bill might be a third-generation president if he minds his sweet p's and q's. One tournament official concedes that "the age of our members is a soft spot with us. We are now in our 82nd year and our members are getting old with us, so we are reaching out for men of Junior Chamber age. But I expect we will last another 82 years."
The staffs of each decorator have been doubled or tripled to as many as 30 or 40 workers by early December. It is time to start attaching the first trimmings to the floats. The tulips which have been specially grown in Holland, the Louisiana galyx leaves from Florida which have been picked at the moment they turn a certain golden brown, the gladioli from Oregon and Washington and other floral finery from far and near are being assembled in cold storage.
It is time for the men in white to burst into action. Of the 1,400 Pasadenans who are dues-paying members of the Tournament of Roses Association, the leading 600 must shepherd the parade on New Year's Day. Their traditional uniform is what used to be known as the ice-cream suit. This is embellished with a red tie and the red-rose emblem of the association on the breast pocket. Close to 300 White Suits work through New Year's Eve getting the floats, 225 equestrians and 21 bands into their starting positions, and afterward are in attendance at Victory Park, where the floats remain on public display for three days. Other White Suits keep the parade going, and every entry has a White Suit alongside as it rounds media corner. There are White Suits on each block ready to summon emergency towing crews or an ambulance, succor a fallen bandsman, collar a runaway horse.
"We have bankers and lawyers and millionaires manning the barricades," one White Suit said. Although there are no regulations on the subject, most of the suits are made of Dacron and acrylic and sold at Hoelscher's Men's Store on East Colorado, where they retail for $79.95. Carl Hoelscher, the owner, has already worked his way up to seventh place on the 10-man executive committee, which means he will be president of the parade in 1977, barring unforeseen events. He is proud of the suits, which, he points out, are fully lined in the jackets and fully lined in the trousers "against shadowing." They will discolor with age, however, and ought to be replaced every 10 years or so.
Comes Dec. 29 and preparations for the parade become frantic. Now the bulk of some $250,000 to $300,000 worth of fresh flowers—a normal week's supply for the states of California and Nevada, or, to put it another way, the largest single order of flowers in the world—begin to arrive at the Los Angeles Central Flower Market, from where they must be delivered to exactly the right float in the right staging area. If the nation is gripped by a cold wave, the carnations might be only half the normal size; twice as many will be needed. As Lee Miller will tell you, "Flowers are probably the most unpredictable merchandise you can work with."
Each decorator must now enlist an additional 400 to 500 dependable workers to glue the flowers in position. They depend mainly on church and youth groups, paying these organizations a lump sum to deliver the willing little hands for the long hours ahead. Even this arrangement can have its problems. A few years ago, when the parade fell on Monday, Lee Miller suddenly discovered that most of his crew had opted for Sunday school and other holy obligations on the final day of preparation. "Now," he says, "we make sure there will be none of that nonsense."
The rest of the nation is just beginning its New Year's Eve revels when the moment arrives to start assembling the parade in its starting positions. From out of the staging areas the great floral monsters trundle at 2.5 miles an hour, weaving their way down the back streets of Pasadena toward the bottom of Orange Grove Boulevard and their assigned parking spaces. Van after van full of palominos and Appaloosas and pintos and other flashy horseflesh disgorge in the driveways of enthralled householders who must spend the rest of their humdrum year just tending banks, selling merchandise and otherwise eking out their suburban way of life. Buses by the dozens follow one another from the dormitories of UCLA and other neighboring colleges where as many as 3,000 musicians of every generation must be housed together during the Christmas holidays. It is a minor miracle that on the most bibulous night of the year, only rarely—as once on a street in Alhambra many years ago—has a drunken motorist careened into a float on its way to the parade area.
Meanwhile the three judges are making their final tours of inspection of the floats; they make their picks on New Year's Eve, not during the parade itself. These are pillars of the local business, professional and academic community—incorruptible as vestal virgins. Fourteen major prizes are at stake and a host of minor ones for the 36 classifications of floats, meaning just about everyone is likely to get some token of esteem, but the rivalry for the three top awards—Sweepstakes, Grand Prize and Theme Prize—is almost bitter. The prizes are presented later and in person by the outgoing president and his wife, who visit the home town of each faraway award winner and deliver a charming little speech of appreciation from Pasadena. It is no wonder that the tournament has lately been recruiting entries from distant countries and continents. At least the award trip will be more interesting.
There is apt to be a certain amount of grumbling over the awards. "If you don't win prizes, you don't get new business," the decorators lament. During the 48 hours before parade time, when the judges are wandering from float to float trying to make a decision, they are closely trailed by decorators briefing them on each little artistic nuance. "I don't want the judges leaving me without understanding what we're trying to do," Rick Chapman says. "That's when you miss the boat."
"If the judges make a mistake, you can complain to Max all you want," Lee Miller adds. "It just rolls off his back." Max is Max Colwell, who has been the full-time manager of the parade since 1952, one of only eight paid employees who labor at Tournament House through the year, keeping the books, distributing publicity, handling correspondence and otherwise wrestling with the day-today chores. Several years ago a decorator and his wife who had been building floats for years told Colwell they thought the judging was fixed. Max has a wry half smile he reserves for such occasions, and he gave it to them along with the brief riposte, "Look at the very caliber of the judges."
The following year this same decorator won three or four of the prizes. Colwell could not restrain himself from asking the man and his wife if they had fixed the judges. He was only joking, of course.
All this is a far cry from that first New Year's Day celebration in 1890 when Pasadena, looking like the set of a Tom Mix Western, decided to celebrate the ripening of the oranges. It had been only 16 years since the first Anglos had pre-empted that part of Rancho San Pasqual which became the city. Dr. Charles F. Holder, an early booster, invited everyone to come to Sportsman Park at the corner of Walnut and Los Robles and bring as many roses and other flowers as possible to impress any Eastern visitors who might be wandering around.
Next, people decorated their carriages with greenery and flowers for the trip to the park, and a kind of do-it-yourself carnival evolved into a parade. It was quite a sight in those days to see wealthy settlers like John B. Miller and E. H. Groenendyke driving their handsome four-in-hands and high-stepping Morgans. All that is left of this custom are the eight matched Clydesdales that have pulled the City of St. Louis float for the past 18 years, a clever soft sell for Budweiser that escapes the commercial classification.
As Pasadena grew, so did the parade, and it had to move to Tournament Park, where there was room to stage burro and bicycle and wheelbarrow and even people races. In 1902 Coach Fielding Yost was barnstorming with his point-a-minute football team from the University of Michigan, so the Wolverines were invited to play at Tournament Park against the infant Leland Stanford Jr. University from Palo Alto. When the score reached 49-0, presumably about the 49th minute, everyone lost interest and the game was abandoned.
After a while there was a restless feeling that the tournament was getting boring. D. M. Linnard, who owned the Maryland and Green Hotels and was later to make the Huntington world famous, said no. "I'm going to put on the parade," he insisted, "if I have to fill a wheelbarrow full of roses and push it down Colorado Street and hire a band to follow me. If we ever lose the date, Los Angeles will grab it, and we'll never get it back." Los Angeles seemed a long way away at the time.
So the parade continued pretty much as a family affair. With the arrival of the new century, gas buggies began to appear, but they were placed in the rear so as not to scare the horses. A quote that has survived came from Joseph M. Hixon, a wealthy lumberman who had moved to Pasadena. As his wife Irene drove past, surrounded by her many children, someone asked Hixon how long it had taken her to decorate the car. "Oh, about 20 years," he replied.
It was not until 1916 that football replaced chariot racing as the main attraction of the afternoon. The plan was to match the best Eastern team against the best Western. Brown was chosen from the East because it had an All-America halfback named Fritz Pollard, the Gale Sayers of his day and the first black football player to achieve real national acclaim. Unbeaten Washington State represented the West. About all anyone except the participants remembers of the game is that Washington State won, and it rained for the first of only three times in the history of the event.
Within a few years the East-West game was going well enough to justify its own stadium. A 57,000-seat Rose Bowl, roughly modeled on the Yale Bowl, went up on some useless city parkland, shouldering aside a number of the gigantic boulders that filled the Arroyo Seco in those days. It was inaugurated with the USC-Penn State game in 1923 (Andy Smith declined to bring his third Wonder Team from Berkeley), and there followed one of the least memorable occasions in the bowl's history. Six years later, Roy Riegels, the Cal center, made the best-known play in the history of American football when he picked up a Georgia Tech fumble and ran 79 happy yards in the wrong direction before his teammate, Benny Lom, dragged him out of the end zone to Cal's one-yard line. The subsequent safety from a blocked punt cost Cal the game 8-7, and wherever Riegels went for years afterward someone could be guaranteed to say, "Oh, you're the fellow who...."
In due course broadcasting turned the Rose Bowl into the single most profitable college football game in the U.S., with the highest TV rating. Although for the past 24 years it has consisted of nothing more than a postseason playoff between the champions of the Big Ten and the Pac-8, the demand for tickets would sell out the place two or three times over. Today it is the tail that wags the tournament dog. It grosses close to $3 million, 15% of which goes to the Tournament Association. That helps defray most of the year-round budget of the tournament, a matter of some $370,000. Whatever is left goes half to the city of Pasadena and half to a trust fund owned jointly by the Tournament Association and the city. This surplus has paid for such permanent facilities as Victory Park, where the floats are on display after the parade, and the staging areas where they receive their floral cosmetics. Through the years, according to Max Colwell's figures, the parade has brought $5,288,000 in "new money" into Pasadena, a most impressive figure no matter what it means.
Equally important to the parade are the Rose Bowl tickets. The only vigorish the White Suits get is the opportunity to buy a pair of good seats. Decorators also have this privilege and often use the tickets to pay those anonymous fellows who sit hidden beneath all the foliage and drive the floats. Only 3,500 seats are available to the general public, and these are distributed by lottery among the 45,000 who write in to apply. There are also two seats for anyone who is lucky enough to send in the idea of the theme for the parade that is chosen by the president.
A sideshow to the parade itself is the selection of the Rose Queen and her Princesses. The first queen was a kind of afterthought, a Pasadena High School girl who appeared in 1905. After that the queen took many shapes and sizes, from May Sutton Bundy (1908), a local tennist of powerful dimensions who had played well at Wimbledon, to May McAvoy (1923), a Hollywood maiden with Cupid's bow lips who played opposite Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer. In 1926 there was a Miss America, Fay Lanphier, but in 1930 the tournament reverted to the original idea of a local schoolgirl. This year the 472 applicants had to be whittled down to a manageable 26 finalists and then to the queen and six princesses by the appropriate committee. There is a saying among some of the less involved Pasadenans that they can always tell which of the seven princesses will be chosen queen. "The most dish-faced," they say, but that is unfair; the queens are O.K. Kathleen Arnett, who reigns this year, and also her six princesses are of impressive poise and intelligence, the kind of straightforward, well-groomed girls any mother would be pleased to entrust with her son.
The final, critical moment comes, of course, when each entry rounds media corner. More than one hard-boiled client has it written into its contract with the decorator that there will be a fine of several thousand dollars if the float fails to make it. The queen and princesses will arrive there in their own float, seated on a bed of roses and covered by nothing more than filmy chartreuse evening gowns no matter what the temperature. Just ahead of them will be the president and just behind them the mayor of Pasadena, each with their families in a white Chrysler convertible, because Chrysler devotes a lot of promotion to the tournament in TV commercials and other forms of hard, medium and soft sell. Eastman Kodak will have a float because more film will be bought, exposed and processed for the tournament than any other event in the world. The previous year's queen will be riding on the float of Occidental Life Insurance, an unintentional reminder that in 1926 one of the curbside grandstands collapsed, killing two, injuring 256 and halting the parade for two hours. Naturally, FTD (Florists' Transworld Delivery) will be represented, as will Knott's Berry Farm, Dr Pepper, the Sunkist Growers, the Salvation Army Band and God knows how many cities and states and counties and high schools and just plain egomaniacs on $30,000 silver-mounted saddles.
Round media corner they will go at 120 cadences a minute, the bands playing continuous music with drum rolls and with various TV personalities—comedians need not apply and Ronald Reagan has been otherwise occupied recently—describing it for the folks at home. As one White Suit puts it, "If all that's not enough to give you goose bumps, you're not human."