Like all good Southern Californians, I spent the first morning of New Year’s Day 2014 glued to my television set. The Rose Parade has been a January tradition for 125 years. I’m not nearly that old, but I’ve been watching the floats roll down Pasadena’s Colorado Blvd. ever since my parents bought their first Zenith. The parade represents a special kind of showbiz, one that combines sophisticated technology with the immediacy of a live event. In its razzle-dazzle beauty, it’s SoCal all the way.
The Rose Parade was founded by members of the Valley Hunt Club. They sought to promote local real estate to East Coasters who might be attracted by the San Gabriel Valley’s mild climate and genteel cultural attractions. So they paraded in horse-drawn buggies bedecked with flowers, in imitation of the rose festival in Nice, and then staged a football match. (Later came chariot races, before the Rose Bowl game was established as one of January’s premier college sports competitions.)
Spectators gathered to see the early parades. Starting in 1900, newsreel footage allowed audiences throughout the U.S. to participate vicariously. By 1947, the parade was being broadcast on a newfangled contraption called television. A few years later, the roses burst into living color. Then came the Sixties, when satellites delivered the Rose Parade to viewers across the globe. By now I suspect it’s been seen by astronauts floating through space.
Speaking of outer space, it was a popular motif on 2014 Rose Parade floats. This year’s parade, whose theme was “Dreams Come True,” featured flower-covered spacecraft, a space shuttle, and some oversized Little Green Men who spectacularly dismounted from their vehicle to explore earth’s surface. But movies were not forgotten. The float representing the city of Los Angeles paid tribute to our local entertainment industry by showcasing Universal Studios, as well as Hollywood’s Chinese Theater. Not to be outdone, the city of Burbank recognized its own role as a film production hub by depicting a movie set, on which a Perils of Pauline-style heroine is tied to the tracks in the path of an ongoing train, as an old-fashioned camera records the action. (Hollywood’s Garry Marshall sat in the director’s chair, waving to the crowds.)
If viewers of yesterday’s parade saw plenty of floral spaceships (along with several teddy bears and many cute dogs), they also saw some communications systems that would have seemed impossible even a few years back. The parade opened with a 274-foot-long entry from American Honda, depicting a string of futuristic vehicles. One boasted a long-armed camera that scanned the crowds along the parade route, then turned them into “virtual riders” on two enormous traveling video screens.
If Honda’s presence in the parade signified a triumph for high-tech mass communications, the folks in the KTLA broadcast booth were a throwback to a much earlier era. Savvy Californians know better than to watch Rose Parade coverage on the national networks, which are dominated by commercials and by hosts with little knowledge of parade history. Instead we tune in to folksy Bob Eubanks and Stephanie Edwards, who’ve been broadcasting the parade on KTLA for the past thirty years. They’re hardly youngsters: former game-show host Eubanks was born in 1938, and perky Stephanie in 1943. Stephanie’s age became a topic of much discussion a few years back when KTLA replaced her in the booth with a much younger (and more ethnic) female. Poor Stephanie was relegated to doing commentary from a grandstand, smiling gamely while getting drenched in a rare New Year’s rain shower. But now Stephanie’s back where she belongs. The tradition continues.