The Santa Claus Lane Parade

It was traditional that the Hollywood High School Marching Band opened the Santa Claus Lane Parade each year on Hollywood Boulevard. The Hollywood High ROTC also was given the honor of operating as security between parade goers and the floats and celebrities riding down the Boulevard in automobiles.

On November 21, 1962, Danny Thomas was the Grand Marshal. I had a press pass from the school newspaper and I used it to to do brief interviews with Pat Boone, Danny Thomas, Sheb Wolly, Skipper Frank, Bob Clampet and a personal favorite, Soupy Sales. Soupy was the biggest star in the parade that year. I was walking along the Boulevard in front of the ropes as kids broke through to rush his car. I approached him for a few words of “advice to teenagers” as the car slowly made its way down the parade route. He yelled at me to jump up on the convertible and ride with him. Thrill of a life time!

Back then, there was TV coverage up and down the Boulevard from Highland to Vine, unlike more recent times where the only TV camera is stationary at Highland. The Academy Awards presentations were held at the Pantages Theatre then and the local TV stations mounted cameras high above the crowd as limousines discharged movie stars in front of the theater. I attended the ceremonies every year in the bleachers with all the other fans. One year, walking home from Le Conte Jr. High on the afternoon of the Oscars, I saw John Wayne standing on the sidewalk in sports clothes in front of the Pantages. I asked him for an autograph and he kindly signed his name on a piece of notebook paper.

Digging up the past is an exercise in looking through rose colored glasses, but those days were exciting. Almost every weekend, Klieg lights criss-crossed the night sky above Hollywood Boulevard as new movies were premiered at the Chinese, the Warner Brothers, Egyptian and the Pantages theaters. First run movies, such as Sparticus, Westside Story and Cleopatra seemed to play for months at the same theater. There were about a dozen first run theaters in those days and every Saturday I would walk down to the Boulevard and pick a movie.

But the Santa Claus Lane Parade was the big event of the year. It opened the season for shopping on the Boulevard. Grand Marshals included Bing Crosby and Groucho Marx and many others. All the stores stayed open until 9 pm and families strolled along, stopping at the Broadway Hollywood and others shops for Christmas presents. Mission Pak opened specialty stores every year. Families started Christmas savings accounts at local banks in January and cashed them in to buy presents in December. Every night following the parade, Santa Claus rode down the Boulevard in his float and “ho ho ho” filled the air.

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