April 6, 2011

Frankenstein's Flower Games

The Little Maria scene from James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) is rendered in petals, seeds and leaves on Universal Pictures’ float in the Tournament of Roses Parade held in Pasadena on New Year’s Day, 1969.

The Rose Parade is an American institution, first held way back in 1890 as a means of promoting Southern California’s year-round mild climate, exemplified by flowers in full bloom, even as the rest of America was laboring under cold and snow. The annual affair was originally accompanied by polo games, carnival exhibitions and exotic animal races until 1916 when a college football game, the Rose Bowl, became the Parade’s permanent companion event. By the 1930s, touted by newspapers as “the biggest thing of its kind in the country”, the Rose Parade was drawing over a million spectators and traveled across the country through movie newsreels and magazine spreads. In 1932, the Pittsburgh Press noted that the Parade and the attendant Tulane-Southern California football game would be “visualized for radio listeners” across America on the NBC network. In the Fifties, the Rose Parade was a natural for television, and even more so when color broadcasting began.

Universal’s 1969 float, called Remember When, landed the event’s Grand Prize with its rotating billboard-sized scenes from Frankenstein, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Phantom of the Opera (1925) and the then upcoming Sweet Charity (1969).

Details about past parades, anything ten years or older, is hard to come by. Digging through newspaper archives reveal a few more Frankenstein Rose Parade appearances. The 1993 event featured a gigantic Universal Monsters float with a tuxedoed, green-headed Frankie driving a massive vintage car with monster pal passengers The Bride, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Phantom of the Opera, and a 30-foot high Dracula. Sponsored by The Bank of America, this one brought home the Governor’s Award — for reasons unfathomable — as Best Depiction of Life in California. Fortunately, there survives a YouTube videoclip of the Universal Monsters float. It’s astounding how BIG this thing was.

Reports of the 1997 Parade single out the low altitude flyby of a B52 Stealth bomber and a Bride of Frankenstein float that earned a special award for humor. The Associated Press described the scene: “A giant black-and-white bride of Frankenstein clutching a picture of her beloved raised an arm and sat up from a laboratory table to the tune of ‘You Light Up My Life’.”

Another AP report from 1999 mentions a Classic Movie Monsters float sponsored by the United States Postal Service featuring Frankenstein and “real-life mistress of the night” Elvira appearing in a crypt setting. Yet another trophy-winning effort, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) remembers the experience as “pretty damn strange”. The float broke down and had to be unceremoniously towed along Colorado Boulevard. The Postal Service, quipped AP, “couldn’t deliver”.

Hopefully, photos of the 1997 Bride and the 1999 Elvira Meets Frankenstein floats will surface. Most of all, I’d love to see the 1969 Frankenstein panel in color, and the Phantom of the Opera image, too. If anyone has them, please share!

Frankenstein panel at top courtesy of journalist and film historian David Del Valle.

Color photo of the 1969 Universal float via JVH33 on Flickr.

Tournament of Roses Parade website.

1 comment:

Arbogast said...

In a word - wow! I've lived in Los Angeles for years but have never felt an urge to go to the Rose Bowl Parade; likewise, I never attempted to wait out the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in all of the almost 20 years I lived in New York. I got stuff to do!