|Ready For The Big Parade, 1949|
A few years ago this story was published under the title "Buttons and "Bows" in Yesterday's Magazette, an online 'zine of the good old days. Shortly thereafter I was contacted by a biographer who was researching Chuckles the Clown, and had learned that the Carpenterettes used to be regulars on that early Los Angeles daytime television show. He asked it I'd been on the show...I hadn't...but he put me in touch with another Carpenterette, Lora Hudson, one of the "big girls" we younger dancers, acrobats and twirlers, looked up to. The two of us still correspond and exchange tidbits about the troupe. Not long ago she located a 1940 census record for our teacher, Bebe Carpenter, who had come to this country from Belgium and opened the studio on Slauson near Vermont in Los Angeles back in the late '30s. I studied there from 1948 to 1950.
"I wouldn’t walk across the street to see a parade,” Daddy announced that chilly morning in l949, the day before Thanksgiving. He never held with what he termed “razzle-dazzle.” I shot Mama a panicky glance, and then stared down at my corn flakes.
All autumn I had practiced my walkovers and finger twirls as one of three acrobatic majorettes in The Carpenterettes. Though the other girls rolled down parade routes on skates, those of us in the center row thought ourselves the stars. At parade breaks we twisted, twirled, and cavorted for the crowds like a pack of seals, outdoing one another with our twelve-year-old ingenuity, tossing batons as high as the telephone lines, turning quick flips before catching them.
For weeks every evening Mama sewed gold sequins onto the lapels of my aqua satin costume. We’d outgrown last summer’s purple velvets, so would debut new attire for the Santa Claus Lane Parade, second only to the Rose Parade in local fame. The two events bracketed the holidays like bookends.
“Don’t do this, Paul.” Mama said in a rare assertive tone, “Terri has to leave for school and I don’t want her worrying all day.” She handed me a slice of raisin toast with a reassuring smile.
Daddy sighed heavily, but nodded. “All right, we’ll leave at five,” he agreed. “But I’m not driving to Hollywood ever again, Hope or no Bob Hope.”
I breathed in the pungent cinnamon scent of my toast. I’d be too nervous to eat my lunch, and if we left at five, we’d have to postpone supper until we got back home. I took a greedy bite.
Hollywood, though just nine miles from our working class West 59th Place home, to us seventh graders often seemed a million miles away, as far as the moon or Mars or Andromeda, a beckoning, shimmering symbol of glamour.
Star struck, my classmates and I marveled at how sultry Lana Turner had been discovered as a teen, sipping a soda at the very Schwabs Drug Store on Sunset where they were shooting the new movie, Sunset Boulevard. We poured over photos of the filming in the Herald Express.
We whispered about how the sororities at Manual Arts High, the Scians, the Debs, the Vals, took new initiates to the exotic corner of Hollywood and Vine to scrub the sidewalks with toothbrushes on initiation night.
Every year we tried to guess who would be Grand Marshall. Just a few years ago it had been Gene Autry, who memorialized his experience by penning one of our favorite new Christmas ditties, “Here Comes Santa Claus.”
This year featured Bob Hope. While my parents still joked about Hope and Bing Crosby vying for the favors of Dorothy Lamour in the earlier Road movies, at Bebe Carpenter Studio we tapped and twirled to “Buttons and Bows,” an Academy Award winning tune Hope had introduced in l948 in The Pale Face.
That afternoon as Mama pinned my cap securely to my topknot so it wouldn’t fall off when I turned cartwheels, I wondered which troupe would lead the float carrying Grand Marshall Hope. I suspected our group would be fronting an American Legion Post color guard or a drum and bugle corps.
Mama applied mascara to my lashes, then rouged my cheeks. She handed me her tube of Tangee Pink Queen so I could put on my own lipstick. This past year Joan Blondell appeared in ads in Movieland and Photoplay, extolling the virtues of this new shade. Getting made up was one of the most thrilling parts of preparing for a performance.
As it neared five, Mama handed me my new baton and boots. They had been an early Christmas present and I had wondered how Mama had managed to buy them from her grocery allowance.
As our old Chevy headed north, I wondered if the magnificent Meglin Kiddies would appear. The Meglin Dance Studio had produced such young stars of the performing arts as Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple. Though we wished we could see them as our arch-rivals, in truth we Carpenterettes were second cousins twice-removed. We only aspired, while they already had attained.
When we reached the participant drop-off point, my parents promised to pick me up after by Grauman’s Chinese Theater at Hollywood and Orange. I looked around for my troop, and we soon connected. Our director, Bebe Carpenter herself, nodded her approval at our sparkling new outfits. Our sequins reflected the rays of the thousands of fairy lights decorating Santa Claus Lane.
“Good news, girls,” she said. We hushed our chatter. “You’ve been chosen to escort the Grand Marshall.” Our gleeful squeals probably could be heard all the way to Highland. We quickly assembled in front of the Cadillac convertible carrying Hope. He sat regally on the backseat, waving to the throngs lining the streets. We didn’t think he had noticed us at all.
Since this was the second year the parade had been televised, we knew that when we passed the booth with the cameramen and radio personality Bill Welsh, we were expected to turn and give a baton salute. Welsh would announce our name, a matter of great importance to Bebe.
Though November nights can be chilly, even in balmy Los Angeles, the exertion of performing soon warmed me up, so along the route I welcomed the occasional pauses to swipe at my forehead. At last we neared Welsh’s booth. Welsh seemed beside himself with excitement, leaping from the booth, carrying his hand mic out to Hope.
We couldn’t hear their exchange, but Welsh soon hurried back to us. “Hope wants to give one of you his autograph,” he said, grabbing my shoulder, as the cameramen positioned themselves to record this historic moment. “How about you, young lady?” He propelled me to the Caddy.
Hope leaned over, extending a hand with a pen at the ready. “Good evening, dear,” Hope said, in that familiar voice, “Where’s your paper?” I blinked, bewildered.
“I don’t have any,” I said. Then I tugged off my left boot, “Could you sign this?” Hope beamed, reaching for my tasseled footgear. He scrawled his name in letters big enough for the camera to catch.
On Thanksgiving the Herald Express came early. There I was on the front page, smiling up at Hope, as he autographed my boot. Mama clipped out the photo and framed it. “You’ll be a star,” she predicted.
My father never again attended another parade, nor did he venture north to Hollywood. A couple of years later I returned to scrub the sidewalks for Scians. I had my own Tangee Pink Queen by then.
In 2007 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which had staged this Tinseltown treat each year, announced that the 75th in ’06 had been the last. When I heard this I hummed a few bittersweet bars of “Buttons and Bows,” recalling that holiday season when Mama and I had been full of hope…and Hope.
Los Angeles revived the parade, though, renaming it the Hollywood Santa Parade. Daddy, who didn’t hold with razzle-dazzle, wouldn’t cross the street to see it. But if I could get to LA, I sure would. And Mama’d be with me in spirit.
|Our Belgian dance teacher Bebe Carpenter on the far left.|