Sixty-seven years ago, Gene Autry was riding down Santa Claus Lane when he was inspired to write “Here Comes Santa Claus.” Today, his tune is still a Christmas mainstay, and the parade where it all began strives to be one, too.
The Hollywood Christmas Parade — which was called the Santa Claus Lane Parade in Autry’s time — has seen an ebb and flow in popularity since the glory days of Autry and Roy Rogers. Now in its 82nd year, the parade’s organizers say they’re aiming for another heyday. With Buzz Aldrin as this year’s grand marshal, a laundry list of performers that includes Stevie Wonder, William Shatner and Leann Rimes, and a goal set to break the Guinness record for the longest red carpet, producers at Associated Television Intl. want to earn back the parade’s reputation for the spectacular.
“In the ’40s and ’50s, with folks like Cary Grant, it was a very prestigious event,” said Jim Romanovich, prexy of worldwide media for ATI, who took over production of the parade five years ago. “It lost a little bit of its luster in the ’80s and ’90s, but I’m happy to say that it is that sort of event once again.”
ATI’s strategy for reviving the Christmas Parade is to bring it back to the basics. In recent years, the parade teamed up with retail centers like the Grove and Universal CityWalk, splitting producers’ attention and efforts between pre-parade tree-lighting ceremonies and the actual parade.
“But this year, we wanted everything to be about the parade,” Romanovich said. “Just one night, one huge spectacular and the largest Christmas parade in the world.”
Last year’s event drew 1 million people along the roughly three-mile route down Hollywood Boulevard, and organizers hope this year will see as at least as many. Those who can’t make it out to the parade route Dec. 1 will have the chance to catch it at home; the Hallmark Channel will air the event Dec. 11, before KTLA-Los Angeles televises it locally Dec. 20. After that, up to 350 stations will run the tape of the parade in syndication during the holiday season.
American Forces Network will broadcast the event to military troops across the globe — particularly fitting this year, with Aldrin at the head of a parade that benefits Marine Toys for Tots and features a special salute to disabled American veterans.
Studios like Disney (involved this year to promote the DVD release of “The Lone Ranger”) and Universal, who will have “Despicable Me 2” minions riding in a car, get involved in the fanfare each year. But Romanovich said he especially values the participation of local businesses and the city of Hollywood, for which the parade offers a big boost in consumerism.
“A lot of people look to Hollywood as a fantasy,” he said. “We want it to be the best it can be, so when people visit for the parade, they see what they think it’s all about. Show them two hours of magic, and we’ve done our job.”
The Hollywood Christmas Parade starts at 5 p.m. December 1 at the corner of Hollywood and Highland Boulevards.
Pictured: Comedian Joe E. Brown was the first grand marshal of the Santa Claus Lane Parade in 1932.