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.
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."