Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Santa Claus Lane

"You must think we're just awful. I mean you're here with your family, and ..." She gestured toward the gentleman on the parade sidelines and the lovely young lady and children next to whom he was standing.

He smiled broadly and lifted both arms in an open and welcoming gesture. "Come here, honey."

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This one left the ladies breathless.

Johnny Depp meets the Tombstone Legends
The Tombstone Legends had been invited to join Lasky Productions to celebrate 100 years of cinema in Hollywood, the place where it all begin. We would be the first group of performers on the red carpet at the 83rd Hollywood Christmas Parade. So off we trouped in full 19th century regalia (I mean, we are celebrating how things were a hundred years ago, right?) to Hollywood and our rendezvous spot in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater on the Walk of Fame. As the first group of performers, (following the Marine Corps Band who will kick things off with a bang at the start of the actual parade) the producers and "Others of Importance" responsible for getting this big show literally on the road (Hollywood, Vine and Sunset, to be specific), had us march back and forth across the red carpet for the better part of an hour so they could calibrate the cameras, sound, lights, etc. in front of the grandstands. 

Still a Wonder
We practiced our pacing, blocking out our walk while being serenaded by no other than Stevie Wonder, the Grand Marshall, as he warmed up at the keyboard. At the end of our final walk-through, the group ended in front the Wonder himself, broke formation, and started to dance with abandon. Partying like it's 1881, mind you, considering how we're dressed.  It was an exciting moment for a little group of Western theatrical actors from various parts of Southern California.

So off the carpet to dry off and prepare for the actual parade. It had been literally pouring all afternoon, a rarity in this part of the state and a blessing in the current drought. But that couldn't dampen the troupe's spirits as we shuffled past Erik Estrada and Montel Williams and the dozens of big names and familiar faces that make this parade such a favorite among the estimated 26 million who watch it every year on television.

Back to the Roosevelt Hotel where one of our group noticed a quiet man with his family standing at the guardrails awaiting the parade. He looked a lot like Johnny Depp. A LOT. But this is Hollywood and look-a-likes are everywhere. Still there was something about him. Will Roberts,internationally known roper and gunslinger was doing his best to entertain the little group braving the rain when he says to the gentleman, "I bet you get this a lot: but you look a lot like Johnny Depp."

The man smiles and replies, "Yeah, I get that a lot."

As Will started to walk away, he heard the gentleman's companion call his name: Johnny. Seriously?

J and L on the red carpet
Well, you know how that story ended. That's how we opened this blog -- and the proof is in the picture. He was nothing but a gentleman as John and Johnny spoke, shook hands, and wished each other and their families Merry Christmas. A wink and a nod to his companion from Depp and off we went. We were working, after all. Not too many can claim Johnny Depp came to see them perform. Okay, maybe he and his family wanted to watch the parade and not just us. But we all dream a little.

So about that parade.

This one is special. Star-struck or not, this one has lasted a long time and has quite an interesting history. It was originally known as the Santa Claus Lane Parade. In 1928, the merchants along a one-mile stretch of Hollywood Boulevard, would close down the road to hold a parade (and boost sales). The original parades had perhaps one float, a band, a celebrity and, of course, Santa Claus.

The parade was shut down during World War II, but in 1946, the parades began again with Gene Autry as the Grand Marshall. As Gene Autry headed down the parade route, all he could hear were children shouting "Here comes Santa Claus. Here comes Santa Claus." After all, Santa was in the vehicle behind him, and we all know who the kids really came to see. Sorry Gene. Did you ever wonder what the inspiration was behind the song that has become a perennial Christmas favorite: Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)?
Gene Autry, long-time grand marshal of Santa Claus Lane

The parade has grown. The route is now over three miles. (Try that in your high-heeled Victorian boots). And grand marshals have included astronaut Buzz Aldrin (last year), Charlton Heston, William Shatner, Ron Howard, Michael Landon and that other name you associate with Christmas, James (Jimmy) Stewart. There are floats, stars in fancy cars and on foot, marching bands, and such a festive holiday atmosphere, that if you weren't feeling in a Christmas mood when you arrived, we'd be shocked if you left without humming a little to yourself or hearing one of the songs in your head. That'll put you in the Christmas spirit.

And the purpose of all this? Well, of course, people love to see the floats, wave at the celebrities. Heck, we liked being psuedo-celebrities for the night. But Hallmark Channel, the primary sponsor of this parade, anticipates donating 1.5 million dollars to Toys for Tots through this parade and the related holiday season events. The US Marine Corps' Toys for Tots program provided over 16 million toys last year to 7 million children.

We certainly couldn't imagine a better reason to stand in the rain for hours than to benefit the children at Christmas.

Merry Christmas from Hollywood to you!

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